Talking Politics With Your Au Pair

by cv harquail on July 3, 2014

“Obama never should have taken the soldiers out of Iraq.”

So opined my neighbor’s au pair, over dinner last week.

“Obama let the Iraq people down, because he promised that the US would protect their freedom,” she continued.

My neighbor choked on her caesar salad, fighting back the urge to scream “Stop watching Fox News!

Swallowing a crouton whole, she opened her mouth to change the subject just as her 10 year old piped in, “Do you think Obama is a bad president? My mom voted for him.”

au pair, talking politics, aupair-momMy poor neighbor. She loves her Au Pair, who is kind to their two kids, conscientious as a household member, and genuinely interested in being ‘part of the family.”  That means her au pair loves to be part of the family conversations.

The problem for my neighbor is that she and her spouse are well-informed citizens with strong political views. For them it’s hard to know which part of this situation is more upsetting: Someone being factually incorrect (see note) or someone advocating a contrary view on ‘freedom’ might be accomplished.

When holidays like Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, and 4th of July come around, it gives us a chance as parents to talk with our families about our country, our culture, our history, our interpretations of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, taxes, and any one of a long list of politicizable topics that Emily Post has long warned us not to discuss in polite company.

We need to have these conversations in our families so that we can teach our children about being engaged citizens. These conversations are hard to have in general, and even more so when you want to include your Au Pair.

The challenges of political conversations with Au Pairs often go beyond managing ‘cultural differences’.

Our au pairs come from countries with their own politics, and the positions they hold at home may not map well onto the American political geography.  For example, being a “Liberal” in the UK is not the same as being a ‘liberal’ here in the USA.

Our Au Pairs sometimes have limited experience with politics themselves. Their ideas may be new to them, and they might hold onto them so tightly that it’s hard to question the ideas without triggering defensiveness.

Au Pairs may also have a skewed and/or inaccurate understanding of American History. And, like my neighbor’s au pair, s/he may only get “news” from untrustworthy sources.

And, Au Pairs are living in your home. It’s not like you can hit the mute button if they say something annoying, or like they can just dismiss you without seeming rude.

So how do you manage it?

Do you try to have open conversations about politics in your family? Do you try to include your au pair?

Have you found ways to talk about tough national and international issues with your au pair?


note: What’s factually incorrect is the claim that “Obama took the soldiers out”.  The agreement to withdraw US troops from Iraq was negotiated and signed by George Bush in 2008.    

Image: AttributionNoncommercial by Thomas Hawk

See Also:

Celebrate Democracy: Take Your Au Pair to a Polling Place
Who counts as an “American” family?
Male Au Pairs, Revolutionaries and Change Agents


WarmStateMomma July 3, 2014 at 11:14 am

Our APs are raised in a culture where people are encouraged to be apolitical. They aren’t expected to have their own views on important matters and the public discourse is heavily censored.

The issue for us is teaching the APs how not to be racially offensive. They aren’t adept at recognizing racist remarks because it’s pretty well ingrained and they can’t understand why we find racism so offensive. I worry about what my daughter will absorb as she gets older if we continue hosting racist APs.

HRHM July 3, 2014 at 11:21 am

Most of our APs have been younger and seem to be clueless about politics. When I ask about opinions on there leaders, taxation systems, healthcare systems, educational systems, etc, I generally get blank stares. It’s kind of dissapointing since I feel like it limits the “cultural exchange” since they have little insight into a large segment of their own culture. Occasionally, I know more about their country’s inner workings from reading/NPR than they do!

Thank god none have been fox news watchers, I think we’d have to rematch LOL.

TexasHM July 3, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Here we go – I was just thinking thank God we haven’t had any APs that were Obama fans, we’d have had to rematch! LOL I don’t think ignorance is party specific, there’s plenty of that on both sides so I will treat the above as context in an example.

To answer the actual question – our APs have tended to be very openminded (we try to screen for this) and therefore have approached politics (which we talk about regularly as well as religion and all those other taboo subjects) with a perspective of seeking to understand and respect opinions. We ask how social problems are handled in their home countries, explain how its handled here and encourage them to read up on topics of interest.

I think this has less to do with specific political views and more to do with having an AP that is able to read social cues and communicate openly and respectfully. Had the AP asked questions about the situation in Iraq or expressed how people in her home country see Obama and the details behind that I would assume the HM would have been less irritated. Same goes for religion – I bet the HM would be much less irritated by an AP that asked questions about religious practices than one that announced at dinner that everyone who does XYZ is going to hell! ;)

BackHome July 3, 2014 at 1:31 pm

I remember at the orientation they told us better not to talk about politics with our host family and American friends…

I sometimes did with my host mom but it usually was about the differences between the American and the German system (health care, gun laws,…).

I guess Germans are more likely to go with Obama and the democrats because their position is much more “compatible” with our poltical system.
(I’m not sure if I used the right words but I hope you get what I mean)

WarmStateMomma July 3, 2014 at 1:59 pm

We caution our APs and exchange students not to discuss religion with other people here. We live in an extremely religious area and it’s caused trouble for them before. I tell them it’s ok to respond with something like “it’s a personal matter.” That said, we are very open to answering any questions they have at home.

They’ve all been surprised at the level of disrespect they seen toward Obama and W. They assumed that Americans generally like the guy in office and don’t realize how divided the country is.

German Au-Pair July 4, 2014 at 7:03 pm

I stayed in a very religious part of the country, too, but my HF was from the East Coast and not religious and politically liberal. I would have happily started a religious debate with people and actually did find some friends who were really hard-core Christian with whom I’d had long debates.
What I found interesting is how open people talk about for whom they vote. The whole sign-in-front-yard-business is so weird for German. Until a couple of years ago my own parents wouldn’t tell me directly for whom they voted and in the US people actually buy signs. So from this POV it’s actually fascinating that politics is a subject you shouldn’t discuss in the US.
Also, what’s really interesting to me is how passionate people are about the president. They either passionately love or hate him. When the FLOTUS had a guest appearence on a TV show many promised to stop watching the show. Over here, only very few people feel passionately about the chancelor. People may like her or not but there aren’t heated debates calling her a terrorist. So at least for me, there’s always this curiosity. You kinda want to start a discussion simply because religion and politics are not topics people are usually passionate about over here.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 4, 2014 at 9:46 pm

Actually, we don’t buy the signs – the candidates (or their representatives) encourage us to stick them in their lawns.

WarmStateMomma July 4, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Most Americans I know are too cynical to passionately support a candidate anymore, but it’s common to have strong negative feelings toward one of them. Most people I know pretty well deeply dislike either W or Obama. I don’t remember this kind of animus toward prior presidents, but maybe I was too young to notice.

NoVA Twin Mom July 3, 2014 at 2:58 pm

We’ve been told by our Swedish au pairs that our “liberals” are more conservative than their liberals. So they’ve been surprised at how “conservative” our entire country seems to them, and tend to align more with the liberals because they seem “more like home.”

I will say, regardless of who they normally “like”, we have been able to get tickets to the White House Christmas Tree Lighting for a few years running and have either taken our au pair (or exchange student, depending on the year) or let her take her friends without us. (It tends to be cold and rainy that day every time). Universally they’ve been excited to be at the same event as the President, regardless of which party is in power.

We’ve offered to take our au pairs with when we vote, but we vote EARLY in the morning to avoid the rush. So they don’t tend to join us. They are mystified by the chronically low voter turnout in this country and voting on Tuesdays (rather than the weekend).

We too warn our au pairs about discussing politics – or about the discussions they’ll hear – when visiting my family in the midwest. My family is considerably more conservative than I am, so I warn our au pairs upfront that they will hear opinions that I don’t agree with – but for the sake of family harmony I often don’t challenge them. It’s not a fight I can win and will only cause hurt feelings. So they also get a dose of “picking your battles.”

As the next election season ramps up, I’m sure we’ll have more discussions.

hostmommadison July 3, 2014 at 4:54 pm

I think it is okay to speak about politics as long as you convey positive information about Obama to your au pair. I think it is important for them to understand that he is doing a great thing for our country. As a result we give our au pairs a lot of information to learn about america and congress and how our country became great and we help them negotiate the news sources so that they know where to get accurate information. We all know that there is a lot of misinformation out there, as demonstrated by your au pair, and it is part of our job to educate her about trustworthy news stations as mentioned above

amb July 3, 2014 at 2:40 pm

{note: Here’s a perfect example of… many things, not the least of which is how people read far more into a comment than what was actually said. When someone’s commitment to a particular point of view takes them from being ‘offended’ to blanket, categorical criticism of others, there’s no ‘conversation’ to be had. Your mileage may vary. ~ cvh}

We have had plenty of au pairs and our family does talk about politics; our au pairs are always encouraged to spend time with our family and we feel that it is our duty to engage our children in political discourse, particularily at dinner and sitting around chatting after dinner. I find it interesting that you state that fox news is an “unreliable news source” for au pairs to be exposed to as you seem to be pushing to educate them in a fair and equal manner. Obviously this in not the news source that you choose, but we find liberal media about as inaccurate, biased, and one sided as you appear to find fox news. The difference is that we actually encourage our children, and our au pairs to look at all sides of the news. Our preference is conservative sources, but we also pay attention to the new york times, cnn, msnbc, and huffington post, all of which we consider unreliable news media. You cannot have an “educated” conversation unless you know both sides.

I thought perhaps I would find this blog helpful, but have been so “offended” by the obvious one sided liberal bent I think I will look at other sources. At least we are willing to educate our au pairs and children, rather than indoctrinate them as you seem to think is okay with the liberal media and liberal education system.

Wow! I have never posted a comment on any site on the internet ever, but I felt compelled to state that you seem to have a lot of “influence” over young foreigners in this country as a lot of au pairs appear to read your blog, and I am shocked that yet again you fail to open your eyes or even recognize this double standard.

And just so you have some background, unlike all of our liberal friends with au pairs, who fail to give them extra time off, free gas, extra money for things to buy (can you really enjoy yourself on $200 a week in the us) We go above and beyond and really go out of our way to make our au pairs feel welcome We have been told by all of our au pairs friends that the generosity of our family as a host family is unmatched. We believe that these young women are members of our family and we treat them as such. If they need time off we usually try to fit it in. We give them extra weeks off. We let them pick out any food that sounds good. We give them things to make them feel loved and welcome. We pay for their gas. We pay for their friends if they come out to dinner with us. We never have them work friday nights or weekends. They never hit 45 hours per week.

We are not rich. We find au pairs expensive. However, we also believe that this is a cultural exchange and we want our au pairs to have a wonderful year. All conservatives are not uneducated and liberals aren’t wonderful host families that “teach the truth”!! (although all of them think they do.)

Hopefully the au pairs visiting this site don’t so easily fall into the trap that, once again, the liberal media (oh and by the way, that is you, this blog) sends out an “unbiased” message.

You have lost one potential visitor.

WestMom July 4, 2014 at 9:03 am

I appreciate the other point of you, but I am curious about your assumption that this blog is ‘liberal’ (the word still baffles me as a Canadian, where ‘Liberals’ are a centrist political party…). This is the only political post I can remember reading on this blog. People have talked about patriotism, religion, and some people have clearly identified themselves on the conservative side of the spectrum. How is this blog ‘liberal’? We discuss suggestions on how to handle interpersonal issues, craft and baking ideas, how to welcome AP into our home, level set on benefits… Nothing to do with politics and ‘the liberal media’.

TexasHM July 4, 2014 at 10:07 am

Ok now I have to respond. I was trying to hang back on this because I was flared up but here goes. I too was VERY offended by this post. BUT – because after years of reading this blog and feeling like I kind of know CV and her intent I decided not to roast and freak out. Someone that has not been on this site as long and conservative – I can absolutely see them reacting this way. It does not surprise me at all that if someone that leaned liberal read this they would not see the issues above but as a conservative it was clear as day to me.
Yes, there are conservatives posting on this site (hello – me!) – the previous posters point was that after reading this particular thread it is clear that CV agrees with her liberal friend and shares similar views and anytime you have an author or site host (especially of an open blog) show their slant you can appear hypocritical if you then maintain that you have a neutral stance or open community. In fact I thought about not responding to this thread at all because I didn’t know that my conservative comments would be welcome here!
CV I love ya so I am praying this entire discussion will serve as an example of how to navigate hot topics but I am going to take a minute to explain why I felt offended by the tone of the original post.
When you said “My neighbor choked on her caesar salad, fighting back the urge to scream “Stop watching Fox News!“ – this is fine you are relaying facts. Also fine when you expressed empathy for your friend, talked about them and their views but the factual correctness is iffy because there was no conversation with the AP to get to the bottom of what she meant by “Obama taking the soldiers out” because while Bush did start that process there have been multiple phases of transition that Obama did handle directly so I am not going to make a judgment on exactly what she was referring to because theres not enough information here, but if you or your friend knew enough to know she was referencing the wrong things thats fine, I will take your word for it but there was no reference to that. By this same line of reasoning you would say that Clinton caused the housing crisis (example of taking a complex topic with multiple presidents oversight and assigning it to a singular signature). I won’t even begin to pretend that every AP (or liberal, or conservative) has their political facts straight all the time. Thats part of what makes discussing it valuable.
Here is where it went south and after rereading this post now multiple times I honestly feel if this one part had been left out the entire post would have had a more neutral slant (in my humble opinion only true neutral would be this taken out plus judgment on factual correctness):
“Au Pairs may also have a skewed and/or inaccurate understanding of American History. And, like my neighbor’s au pair, s/he may only get “news” from untrustworthy sources.”
The minute that you inferred that fox news is untrustworthy and that anything they report is “news” vs news you stepped out of the realm of mostly neutral reporting and into the realm of shared opinion.
Here is the problem – many people don’t consider fox news untrustworthy. In fact, they feel quite the opposite. Many of those same people would say that the liberal news is “news” and untrustworthy but I’m not going to go there. What I think can be fairly said is that ALL news has BIAS. A liberal bias, a conservative bias whatever and all media outlets – not just conservative ones – can be inaccurate which is why its important for all of us – HFs, APs HKs you name it to read up and ask questions.
Where I think the conservative poster above made a mistake was letting the emotion lead to criticism and assumptions. I know generous families – some conservative, some liberal. I am also pretty sure both sides have been kicked out of the program! Lets also not forget there are moderates too. I have friends that watch and listen to both liberal and conservative media outlets and I would venture to guess that they would tell you that they see them the same (fox news vs liberal sources) because they often tell me which things they agree with and which they don’t.
So there we go. Just as APs need to understand that politics can be a hot button for people and how not to flare them up, hopefully this will help show what happens when that does occur and how that can be navigated. I would never tell someone because they are liberal they are not generous and the incorrect facts reference likely flared conservatives (and this poster above) because if I had a dollar for every time a liberal coworker said I just didn’t know the facts or understand the issue or I would vote differently I would be a rich woman! I went to a prestigious private university on an academic scholarship, got a 33 on my ACT and read a lot (WSJ, several sources mentioned above plus mags) so just because I vote conservatively does not mean I don’t know my facts or am less educated than anyone else!!!
I hope I am still welcome to post here at APMom, I thought about sending this to CV off blog but thought it best to share with the whole in the hopes that we can all learn something from this.

Lastly, here’s some opinion for you! To the previous poster that said its important to share only positive info about Obama. First question – would you say the same if Bush was in office? Are you referring to the president in general or just Obama? Secondarily that doesn’t matter to me because one thing I am proud of is the fact that in the US you can have a negative opinion of anyone in government and the freedom to express that! I lived in Europe when Bush was in office and being conservative and living in TX you can imagine when I had to listen for 3 months to every stranger tell me my president was a moron and they hated him it was really frustrating to me but I didn’t freak out – I asked them WHY they hated him. NOT ONE person had a real reason based on fact. I got plenty of “he’s stupid” and “I just don’t like him” and “he’s bad for the US” but not one actual answer. That was usually enough for them to get embarrassed and say that they really didn’t know him or anything really about him. At which point I would tell them that was my president they were talking about! ;) Keep in mind I was 21 during this time so AP age.
Now, obviously if kids are in the room you temper the conversation and if the AP can’t do that you ask AP not to talk politics, religion, whatever in front of them but we personally have never had this be an issue. Of course its nice when the APs agree with me but I would never screen out a liberal AP in the interview process. In fact, all of our APs have been much more liberal than us. Just like we would never screen out an atheist because we are active evangelicals. In fact we almost matched with an atheist. The key being that she was openminded and willing to support our teachings and traditions with our kids (inc hanging head to pray at meals, not contradicting our views to the kids, etc). I figure if she was ok with living in that environment and supporting it then who are we to tell her she can’t match with us? That candidate was also raised in an overwhelmingly atheist majority country and said she was an atheist because her parents were. I don’t think that a true atheist could stand living with us. ;)
Anyway I digressed a lot but thanks for listening and I will go make myself a margarita to take the edge off and happy independence day everyone!!

Should be working July 4, 2014 at 10:28 am

It’s all off topic, but there is something I don’t get here: how can a blog be part of the supposed “Liberal media”?? How can we call it “biased”?? It’s CV’s sandbox, her party, her BLOG. Her name is on it, i think she “owns” it (I have no idea about blog-property laws). Anyone can start her/his own. It’s not a “media bias” because the medium of the Internet is not biased. Start your own blog if you want, say whatever you want, and see who comes. Them’s the rules of the blogosphere.

CV doesn’t have to be neutral, or she can choose her own “neutral”. People who don’t like it can comment, flounce away, never come back, happens all the time on lots of blogs. We can be grateful she has this unique (rarely the case on inter webs) forum for HPs. I for one would prefer she spend her time setting up new posts, not worrying about offending anyone or being “neutral”.

TexasHM July 4, 2014 at 2:17 pm

I guess I should have said not offensive vs neutral but it is what it is. I have to believe that CV looks to foster open communication and get multiple perspectives on this blog and in this instance, I did not feel welcome to participate because I felt it was clear my views were in contrast to the original post. Just sharing my feelings, not telling CV how to run her blog.
Warmstatemomma completely agreed on atheist APs from atheist countries. We gave very specific examples of what a day in the life here is like, what our church is like (APs definitely not required to go but like any other family activity they are always welcome) and what regular practices she would likely encounter. She asked a lot of great questions like “what if the kids ask me a question about God?” – we said you are welcome to tell them you don’t know or ask mom and dad or whatever you are comfortable with as long as she doesn’t – as mentioned below – respond with “God doesn’t exist” or something thats not in line with our teaching! It was a fascinating conversation and we would have matched actually – timing was the issue not religion and we are still in touch and working on plans to meet her soon. :)

German Au-Pair July 4, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Texas HM, has it ever happened to you that your kids asked your au pair about her beliefs? How did she respond. Would you be okay with your AP telling your child that SHE doesn’t believe in god (instead of “there is no god”)?
I would probably not have matched with a religious, conservative family because I couldn’t support those teachings, but I am curious about how open minded you are toward letting your children know that there are in fact other beliefs.

cv harquail July 4, 2014 at 8:27 pm

I was kindof entertained that someone would characterize this blog as part of the Liberal media. Then, I got offended that she didn’t say it was part of the ‘Liberal media *elite*’!

Seriously, though, no one is neutral. I’m certainly not.

I advocate positions all the time on this blog, from presenting gay au pairs or same-sex couples as perfectly fine all the way to treating your au pair with loving kindness instead of as a mere hired hand. Even having a blog to talk about improving your au pair-host family relationship is a political position. All of these are political positions, because they promote my values.

Other members of the community advocate their political views, too, since our advice to each other reflects our politics and values.

There are only a few kinds of views that are not welcome on this blog. The community itself does most of the work biasing the conversations to reflect our generally-shared values, and I do some work behind the scenes moderating out sexist, racist, mean, or unhinged commentary.

My perception is that the net result is an ongoing conversation that is helpful, productive, positive, and pretty honest– and in that sense, consistently welcoming. Ymmv.

I do think about how much of my own particular viewpoints to put into any given post — while I wish it didn’t offend people, I also don’t want to be so distant that I am inauthentic, or so censored that I / my writing becomes boring. To me or to you.

We should ask ourselves, too, why in some instances we don’t feel welcome if we disagree and in others we jump in happily to share our alternative point of view. On the blog and in life.

Okay that’s it for me, I am going to go to the fireworks. The actual 4th of July ones.

TexasHM July 5, 2014 at 1:08 am

GermanAP to answer your question we have not run into that scenario yet. Our first two APs were ex-catholics but said they believed in God. We explained what its like to live with us and what we would need them to support and it wasn’t an issue. Current AP is Easter and Christmas catholic and didn’t phase her either. Now, our kids are young (2 not in school yet) so when we spoke with the atheist AP we explained that while of course she is entitled to her own views we needed someone who could help us help the kids navigate understanding our faith. To tell preschoolers that you don’t believe in God but they should is confusing to children that age. We basically said if she felt comfortable with living with us and felt she could navigate scenarios like that (direct the kids to us with questions or whatnot) then we were fine with it. I would like to believe that when our kids are much older we could have conversations like that but like so many other topics you have to manage to what is age appropriate and because faith is #1 in our household we could not host someone that acted or spoke in direct conflict with that while we have young kiddos. But – like you said – odds are what I tend to call “decisioned” atheists (aka they made an actual conscious decision based on their own investigation vs how they were raised) would never ever have any interest in stepping one foot inside our house! ;) Since first 3 APs have been religiously curious and openminded and respectful to other views its never been an issue.

WarmStateMomma July 4, 2014 at 1:41 pm

@TexasHM: Having hosted 4 atheists from atheist countries, I can tell you that it’s not something they think about the way religious people think about religion. It’s just not part of their everyday life or something they’re used to discussing the way Americans talk about religion. I wouldn’t be worried about an AP from Asia contradicting what you teach your children about spirituality, because they are unlikely to have an urge to “correct” beliefs they don’t share. My guess is that an AP from an atheist country would partake in more superficial religious activities – like helping your kids make a craft project decorating a cross – but wouldn’t engage in theological discussions. Whether that works for your family depends on whether you want someone to share your spiritual life or whether it’s sufficient that they simply don’t contradict it.

DC Metro Mom July 4, 2014 at 4:18 pm

I feel better–I was really offended with the tone of this post, as well. I am a conservative in the DC metro area, and I hear this stuff all the time. However, I also have a ton of friends on every end of the political spectrum (those just left of Marx and those just to the right of Atilla the Hun).

Here are the places, that really bugged me:

1. My poor friend…as if having a person with a conservative mindset in your home is somehow a curse. Also, although the “facts” were pointed out at the end, the statement of something being wrong, in and of itself, was overly simplified, to be generous.

2. “My friends are well-informed” leaves to the inference, based upon her post, that all of we Neanderthals that watch Fox News and vote libertarian/conservative are ignorant, at best.

3. The whole reliable news source BS. Considering that WaPo actually admitted to bias against both McCain and Romney, not that they planned to change it, just that it exists, MSNBC announcers had a warm, tingling feeling running down their legs when the President started speaking, I mean, really, can we all agree that all news sources have some kind of bias?

As to the question at hand, I have had, predominantly, moderate APs, and we engage in discussion of their cultures, their perceptions of the US legal and political system, and compare/contrast. However, we do tell them that we are conservatives, we are Catholic, and we are pro-life and no conversations contradicting the latter two are allowed in front of the toddler.

In addition, I put in volunteer hours for the Romney campaign. Very hurtful things were said to us, and about us, from people that had been dear friends. I told our AP that if she wanted to go the inauguration, I would find a way to make it work, but that we would appreciate it if she would understand that we would prefer that she not drone on and on about how wonderful the whole thing was. She didn’t end up wanting to go…she said it was too cold (it probably was).

cv harquail July 4, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Hi DC Metro Mom-

I felt sorry for my friend because she had a situation where her au pair was not well informed– and she now had to not only help the au pair realize she was un/under-informed but also have a discussion about the issues themselves. It’s one thing to discuss a complex topic with a well informed person with whom you disagree, and it’s a whole lot harder to have a conversation with a person who is not well informed. Her au pair? Not well informed.

What’s interesting, and unfortunately all too common, is how quickly people choose to infer a blanket accusation from a reference to a single person. My neighbor is well-informed. That doesn’t mean that anyone else automatically is a neanderthal. My neighbor is liberal– that doesn’t mean all liberals are well informed, or for that matter that all non-liberals are not well informed. But notice how quick we are in our culture to make these inferences — which is of course why the conversations are difficult to have.

Like your family, we have a couple of issues that are completely off the table when it comes to conversations in front of the children, or for challenges to the parents. These include: ‘Dinosaurs and humans did not walk the Earth together’, ‘the Holocaust happened’, ‘People’s religion, ethnicity and class don’t change their humanity and rights’, and ‘Women should have the right to make decisions about their bodies, not the government.’

I think in our own homes we can and should set a few topics where our family’s beliefs must be respected, even if someone else disagrees. That makes it safer, somehow, to be open to conversation about most everything else.

OpinionatedHM July 23, 2014 at 8:21 am

Just read this post. A presidential inauguration is an important historical moment regardless of the person who was elected. It’s great that you were willing to help your AP attend, but to then make it clear that you didn’t want her to talk about how great it was, wow. A Presidential Inauguration is an incredible event that signifies so much more than the person being sworn in to office. I am proud every time. Even if my candidate didn’t win the election.

AlwaysHopeful HM July 4, 2014 at 4:58 pm

I feel I have to weigh in and say that, while I am a liberal, and support the perspective in CV’s post, my initial reaction was “wow– that’s really bold!” I can see how some may have found the post to be unwelcoming, although I really doubt that was CV’s intent. I think we can still discuss the topic, though– handling discussions of political topics with au pairs whose views are different from your own. Of course, that’s easy for me to say!

cv harquail July 4, 2014 at 7:49 pm

Hi TexasHM-

I’m just seeing this comment now… I’m glad that you kept it ‘on’ the blog. You’re right, I am a liberal, and so is my neighbor. I do sympathize with her.

You’re right that I believe that Fox News Channel is a bad source for accurate actual news. The degree to which Fox News is accurate in what it reports, and what actually constitutes ‘news’ on Fox, is up for debate. Fox News Channel broadcasts programs that look like news coverage but arent actually news (and are more opinion, such as Fox & Friends. The liberal equivalent is Rachel Maddow’s ‘News & Opinion’) as well as programs that are intended as actually newscasts. When someone says “Fox News is biased and inaccurate” you don’t know which programs they mean. I’ll bet this Au Pair didn’t know whether she “learned” this from chit chat on the couch (aka opinion) or someone from behind an actual news desk.

You’re right, too, that whether or not we agree on Fox News’ bias/accuracy is not really relevant to appreciating the point of the post. In fact, it kind of makes the point. :-)


Anonymous in CA July 3, 2014 at 2:40 pm

I would chalk it up to youth and inexperience generally and use it as an opportunity to ask probing or thought-provoking questions. Not to say an opinion is right or wrong and definitely not with any judgment at all. But to use it as a spring board for a conversation at an appropriate time in appropriate company (e.g., I could not have a discussion about war in front of DS).

I say this because I still remember a similar conversation with my father and it’s been nearly 25 years now. I’d expressed an opinion about something based on an article I had read in the Wall Street Journal. I think I was maybe 17 or so (just shy of voting age, probably, so probably a tiny bit younger than most APs). I know now that what I expressed was pretty contrary to what my parents believed, but I didn’t know it then. My father asked some thought provoking questions that pushed me to dig a little deeper and to dig more broadly about the overall effect of the particular policy we were discussing. That digging was very eye-opening for me and resulted in tremendous personal growth. I would not have had that opportunity if my father had told me he didn’t like my opinion…he recognized right away that I had not had sufficient time to rationally formulate a true opinion on the topic and he helped me gain information to do so.

I would genuinely be inclined to view the AP’s comments along this line and encourage her in a totally non-judgmental way to do some digging on the topic so that she understands the differences of opinion. She might still come out with the same opinions, and that’s of course totally fine! But she may also gain a more expansive view of the topic at hand, as well as learn something valuable about what is reported in the media. You can teach a nice little English idiom about a grain of salt at the same time! :-)

NJ Mama July 3, 2014 at 3:11 pm

I haven’t had too many political convos with my au pairs. Most seemed pretty oblivious. I have only had one who has read our newspaper regularly. I have spoken to them about the differences in health care, maternity leave, how we’re taxed and, for me the most popular, why you have to pay to use the public beaches in the summer. (One of my au pairs would go to great lengths to sneak onto the beaches – to the point where I think she spent more time trying to sneak in than actually enjoying the beach!)

I think the hardest one to explain is, why do Americans celebrate Memorial Day with barbecues? It’s a good question!

Angie host mom July 3, 2014 at 5:14 pm

I handle political conversations with our au pair the same way I do with all relatives. I listen and add a few fact comments and no opinion comments, and end the conversation rather early! Probably from so many different political hotheads in my family, I’ve learned to basically duck and cover and vote the way I want to vote.

Hubby engages with AP and will have spirited conversations they both seem to enjoy.

My biggest issue with current AP that is related to this topic is not exactly racism like warmstatemommy but cluelessness about sensitivity on race and sexual orientation.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 3, 2014 at 6:04 pm

We regularly talk about politics at the table, and I don’t just mean Republican-Democrat, but about the Clean Water Act, the history of Civil Rights, the Red scare, etc. Even our youngest teenager prefers to listen to NPR over top-40 radio in the car, and I have heard him discuss with other internationally-minded teenagers what he felt the best method was to intercede in Syria.

Most APs from Europe have found our family in line with the politics with which they grew up – but we don’t question them on the specifics of their political beliefs. Few of our APs have read the newspaper for news, and so we point out articles about their country in the newspaper. We live in an area where politics is part of the spectacle and many of our APs have taken advantage of it.

I have learned over the years that the topic with which APs have the most trouble navigating is race. Coming from countries in which citizenship is not necessarily conferred by birth, some have brought attitudes toward non-whites that can be dangerous if expressed out loud in our community. We make it clear that we selected our community because no one race is in the majority, and our children are exposed to a wide variety of economic and social backgrounds. Others have decided to throw themselves headfirst into relationships with African Americans or Latinos for the thrill of it.

At no time do we say, “You’re wrong.” There have been occasions where we have said, “You may believe that, but you should be careful about where you say that out loud here. Don’t assume that just because you are only in the company of whites that those words are okay.”

Mimi July 3, 2014 at 6:19 pm

We do a lot of talking with our AP about politics only when they’ve expressed an interest. Usually we get direct questions about social issues like health care and maternity leave, etc., but sometimes there are bigger questions they have about how we as Americans approach politics in general or how we feel about certain international new events. We have also asked them similar questions in turn. (Our latest AP is Italian and I was curious how the Amanda Knox trial and subsequent drama was viewed there.)

Like TexasHM we also approach politics (and religion) with a perspective of seeking to understand and respect opinions. Also, asking how social problems are handled in their home countries, etc. I also have helped them look up info on certain items of interest especially when it’s something I can’t answer or share an interest in.

HD’s family is much more liberal than mine (and HD and I are in the middle) so they usually get a wide variety of perspectives. We will sometimes steer them away from certain relatives for the sake of everyone’s sanity, but have actually had one AP seek out that relative to listen to their ranting on purpose. :) We have also heard a wide variety of opinions which has taught me to be careful with some of my comments after I offended one AP by making a snarky comment about a news item that had to do with creationism vs evolution.

AlwaysHopeful HM July 4, 2014 at 8:01 am

And…? How was the Knox trial viewed in Italy? I’d be really interested in knowing!

Should be working July 3, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Abortion has been quite a topic with us–after our AP thought she might be pregnant after a casual one-night stand, we suggested the morning-after pill, and said she would never “kill a baby”. And another AP also announced how she was entirely anti-abortion, but then when the morning-after pill came up in a positive light in a conversation (on her part), and we pointed that out, she refused to believe that that might involve the destruction of a conceptum (which in her definition would mean it’s a form of abortion).

These are educated north/central Europeans, so I was surprised at these attitudes. Mainly I was worried that our 19-yr-old would end up having a baby from a stranger and alter the course of her life drastically (she wasn’t pregnant after all). I suggested she talk to the Episcopalian priest nearby, an open-minded guy who I imagined might make her feel less sinful. She wouldn’t do it.

Should be working July 3, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Hmm, seeing how the comments above produced some offense, I’m thinking maybe I should have held back on this one.

Let me clarify that I respect any AP’s or any woman’s choices. I was mainly worried about how the first AP felt that God would “hate” her if she didn’t carry a pregnancy to full term, and how fear of God’s hatred might lead her to continue a pregnancy for which she had no interest or desire. The second AP’s view the morning-after pill was to me more remarkable in being inconsistent with her hardline antiabortion stance.

BackHome July 4, 2014 at 4:08 pm

It is highly unlikely that you can “kill a baby” with the morning-after pill… It basically causes a delay of the ovulation by slowing down the increase of the luteinizing hormon level (the sperms die before the delayed ovulation). That’s why you should not take the morning-after pill after you had your ovulation. It does not stop the fertilisation or the implantation of the embryo in the uterus. To be fair I have to admit that some scientists and doctors do think the morning-after pill may affect the implantation negatively.

Should be working July 3, 2014 at 8:14 pm

Oh, wait, the better story is how a central-European au pair basically told us that most of the teens at her high school, and most of her friends, were neo-Nazi types, and she had only heard bad things about Jews and was surprised at how nice and generous with money I (a Jewish HM) am. At some point on a Jewish holiday (that we mildly celebrate) she asked if Jews believe in Mary, I said no, and she said, “Oh, ok, just Jesus then.” I explained a lot to her after that, she had no idea of what Jews are or believe or even historically the relationship to other religions.

Then some weeks later, in some context concentration camps came up, she said her grandmother had been in one, and I asked why. She answered, “Because she was Jewish.” I almost fell over. A maternal grandmother . . . which means some people might consider HER, the AP, Jewish. She was strangely nonplussed by this info. Didn’t seem to register.

All of our European APs have not been clear on the fact that Jews don’t celebrate Christmas (or at least not AS Jews). They can’t imagine what that means. They imagine there MUST then be a “Jewish Christmas”, and I try to unmake that thinking. (Even a lot of Jews actually participate in that idea with Chanukah though.) I try to remind them not to assume that everyone they meet celebrates Christmas or any particular holiday.

Emerald City HM July 3, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Politics in our household don’t actually come up that often. I’m sure they are aware of some of my political views due to being friended on FB, but I don’t rant or anything, I post a few articles every couple of weeks depending on what is going on. We have discussed some differences in like healthcare and the like.

Observant au pairs notice Some of our quirks, like we don’t buy stuff for our girls that is made in China, but we do not hold them to our beliefs that do not directly impact the care of our girls.

We also aren’t religious, but respect others religion as long as they aren’t shoving it down my throat. We were at my mother in-law’s house one time and her boyfriend started ranting about the catholic church in front of our Mexican au pair (who was pretty new to our family at the time). My husband and I got up from the table. He did stop shortly after and we told her that she did not have to ever subject herself to listening to others rant, family or not. She was free to politely excuse herself. We actually don’t know for sure that she was catholic, but she did have a picture of Mary in her room and like 80% of the population of mexico is.

Angie host mom July 3, 2014 at 9:42 pm

We had a Eastern European au pair once who decried how racist Americans were from what she saw in the media, and how wrong it was to judge anyone by race.

Then in the same conversation she talked about “gypsies” and how they were all crooks.


AlwaysHopeful HM July 3, 2014 at 10:20 pm

Great topic! And it reminds me that I need to add a description of our political beliefs when talking to candidates (in the matching process now). I do try to be open-minded, but I live in a very political area and it is almost impossible not to develop strong views. I would be very uncomfortable if I felt I had to hold my tongue in my own home so it’s better to know up front whether our views are compatible.

On the race issue, I did have a circumstance where my au pair used the n word with a friend. I was so shocked that I actually burst out laughing because I knew instantly that he COULD NOT appreciate what he was saying. He used it in the casual, slangy, jokey way that he’d heard rappers and others use it. After I caught my breath, I explained to him that I knew he didnt intend to be offensive, but the word was offensive, and had a long, dark history in the US. I also told him knew there were mixed messages in the media about the word, but that we didnt use it (we’re a black family), and that for his own personal safety he wanted to make sure he didnt use the word in front of the wrong person (and there’s no way of knowing who that might be). Not a conversation I ever thought I’d be having!

Should be working July 3, 2014 at 11:03 pm

AlwaysHopefulHM, that’s a story with a lesson for a lot of us, the APs could really get into hot water quickly with a misunderstanding like that about what words are ok and what not.

Skny July 4, 2014 at 6:37 am

I just would like to add that where I am from calling someone black is considered pejorative and one could be sued or arrested for racism. In my home country the politically correct term and preferred by black people is neger.
So it was indeed a chock when I was told African Americans here like to be called black

Skny July 4, 2014 at 6:42 am

Also, my 17yo adopted at 13 from an Eastern European country had never seen a black person in her life up to the point she stepped in USA and was somewhat scared of them. She also had prejudice against Roma population, and described how Roma children on her orphanage were separated so to not steal or contaminate the other kids…

WarmStateMomma July 4, 2014 at 11:03 am

Ah, the n-word. We’ve discussed that with our APs and exchange students. They don’t really get how a word can be so taught with meaning. Luckily, they’ve accepted our strong advice that they not use that word.

None of them had met anyone who wasn’t Asian or white before. Living in our multi-cultural community and getting to know people here has been a real eye-opener.

Should be working July 4, 2014 at 11:28 am

One au pair came from a small, very conservative village and family. I asked her in matching about how she would feel about our diverse area, how she felt about race, sexual orientation, our gay friends who have kids, etc. She said she was so open-minded and eager to be somewhere with such diversity.

On her second day I had (as I usually do) a driving instructor scheduled to take her out, show her American and local driving norms, and provide me with an evaluation of her driving. The instructor shows up, and my AP was horrified, could hardly contain her freakout. It was pretty clear to me that this instructor was transitioning from female to male, but our AP wasn’t sure what was going on, what gender this was, looked at me to silently ask, “Do I have to be alone in a car with this person??” I smiled and said, “Welcome to our area! Have a great driving lesson!” She glared and looked like she was being dragged to her death.

Came back later and said, “Whatever that person was, she/he was a great driving instructor.” Months later we laughed about it. She got used to it here. Didn’t blink an eye at transgender once she had been explored a bit and settled in.

German Au-Pair July 4, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Excuse me for taking the opportunity but this has been an issue I have always found fascniating. People spend so much time trying to be politically correct and every few years there’s a new word that seems more correct. It seems to me that you call yourself black and the few black people I met (very very white community…) also refered to themselves with black. Do you prefer that over being called African-American?
Also, I have always wondered if it is okay, within a group of friends to use the word, use the stereo-types in a joking way. This recently came up when me and my multi-cultural friends jokingly threw every single stereo-type at each other that we could find and everyone in the group was okay with it. Is that ever possible in the US?

As to the word…HP should probably teach their AP the absolute no gos. My boy once dropped the c-bomb and I reacted appropriately but when I talked about that to my friends NO ONE knew the word. Actually my friends loudly repeated it to me in a very very small café. :D
The f-word used for gay people is also one that no one seemed to know about…and if they knew it, they didn’t know how terrible it is.

Seattle Mom July 5, 2014 at 3:29 pm

You have to be careful when you use African-American, too.. I work with a few black Europeans who spend time here on business and they get very annoyed when someone refers to them as African American. I mean, they aren’t even remotely American, duhhh…

Always Hopeful HM July 5, 2014 at 3:43 pm

@seattle mom, I agree. That’s one of the reasons I find the term to be not useful (but not offensive). I think the key is just to be aware of the words we use– not political correctness just sensitivity to the impact of language.

Always Hopeful HM July 5, 2014 at 3:38 pm

@ German Au Pair, I typically refer to myself as black, as do many of the other black people I know. I less frequently say African American because the term just seems unnecessary and limiting to me. It also became popular when I was in college, so by that time, I had gone for 18 or so years as black–seemed like a silly time to switch away from something that was not objectionable!

As for the conversation with friends, I think it would depend on the individual friends, their relationship to each other and the intent of the participants. I personally can’t imagine feeling completely comfortable in such a conversation, even if black stereotypes were not involved. But, I can only speak for myself. I have to confess that I haven’t been able to figure out what the c-bomb is that you mentioned. But it sounds like that’s probably a good thing!

So, I agree that I probably should have “the talk” with incoming au pairs. It’s a bit like talking to your kids about sex, though…awkward and uncomfortable!

WarmStateMomma July 5, 2014 at 4:56 pm

@ Always Hopeful: We struggle with teaching our APs whether to use “black” or “African-American.” They don’t get why we’d call some people “black” (those in other countries) and some “African American.” So we usually just stick to “black” and hope their foreign-ness protects them from people being offended by their word choice. If you have a better suggestion, I’m all ears.

I also am curious about the c-word. One of my exchange students credited me with teaching him all the bad words he knows in English, but perhaps there were some gaps in that education. :)

Returning HM July 5, 2014 at 6:56 pm

We had a very engaging conversation with our black German AP, who used the word “colored” to refer to himself. It was an interesting process to explore the historical uses of the word “colored” and why it wasn’t a comfortable word for him to use here in the US, whereas “black,” which he thought would be taboo, is actually more acceptable. We also had a complicated conversation about how he might react to being stopped by the police in our racially mixed but historically racially frought city (Boston). It was also an important lesson for my (white) children to understand how the police can be viewed as other than simply “protectors” depending on the color of one’s skin.

German Au-Pair July 5, 2014 at 8:04 pm

@Returning HM
As far as I know the direct translation of colored -farbig is what’s politically correct in Germany now. To me personally, it sounds like a rainbow unicorn in English.

The c-word I was referring to is -CV, feel free to delete if necessary- c*u*n*t. I’ve been taught that this is one of the worst English curse words and reacted accordingly when my 14-y/o said it (luckily for him not TO me but about someone…). I was under the impression that those three are the worst?
(Funny anecdote: apparently the translation for that word is horrible in all languages, but the Portugese translation means bus in Spanish. We had a good laugh about that one.)

Actually I don’t think that conversation is too awkward and every family should have it at some point. Especially with younger children. It would NEVER have occured to me that butt or hate could be bad-words.

AlwaysHopeful HM July 5, 2014 at 9:01 pm

Oh, THAT c word! Yes, it’s incredibly offensive. I guess I never really hear it, so it’s not been on my radar!

As I think about it now, our handbook has a list of words we dont use in our family– quirky choices we’ve made to not use everyday words. I wanted to highlight them because there’s nothing wrong with the words other than our family’s choice to use an alternative (for example, using anatomically correct words instead of euphemisms), but nothing about language to use out in society. Even now, I’m not sure I would want to include that in the handbook.

Also, re the word “colored”… I know some are offended by it, as they are by the word “negro”. I tend to just view them as antiquated, and notice that usually the people using the words are either elderly or otherwise people who have had limited exposure to blacks. I personally use the term “person of color” quite freely, to describe any non-white person (not just a black person). I don’t know if anyone is offended by it, but it’s intended to just be inclusive and descriptive.

Returning HM July 5, 2014 at 10:41 pm

AlwaysHopefulHM – We actually ended up laughing about how “person of color” was fine but “colored person” wasn’t. There is a great cartoon re: this. I’ll post it if I can find it :-)

AussiePair July 6, 2014 at 1:31 pm

I definitely think a handbook section with words not to use would be one as a “must include”, it would help to ensure you never had to pick up on what your au pair was saying and correct it. For example, my host mom is opposed to the host kids hearing someone say that something “sucks”, which had I have known before, I would have never had said it around the children, rather than needing to be corrected a few days into living there. While it shouldn’t, it can cause a bit of embarrassment when you’re being corrected for a word you use all the time at home (or even in a previous family) with no problems

WarmStateMomma July 5, 2014 at 5:03 pm

I was doing study abroad and hanging out with a gay American friend. The word he used all.the.time for “gay” was in fact the f-word. I learned that at my internship office when I mentioned to a co-worker that I went to a specific bar that weekend and he asked if it was a “gay” bar. I said, “I don’t know that word, it’s a bar for f___s.” My co-worker fell out of his chair and then he explained the word. So embarrassing!

German Au-Pair July 6, 2014 at 11:46 am

Wait, HE himself referred to gays with the f word? Haha, I can only imagine how embarrassed you must have been.
I was actually afraid I wouldn’t find a family because the German guy who filled out my reference for working with a girl with Down’s syndrome seriously wrote “working with retarted children”. Language barrier combined with political correctness can lead to some pretty embarassing (but also quite funny) situations.

WarmStateMomma July 7, 2014 at 7:30 am

Yes, my friend used that word. It’s one thing for gay people to use it, another for me to use it. I exchanged with a French girl one summer in high school whose explanation of her brother’s medical/developmental conditions left us surprised, but it was just the language barrier. She was super loving and protective of her brother.

AlwaysHopeful HM July 21, 2014 at 8:24 am

More on the n-word… I learned very recently that our au pair has been continuing to use the word freely and frequently with his friends (some black, some not). It’s just a word in their lexicon that they toss around back and forth. As he explained it to me, I “need to know that it is not a bad word anymore, as it was back in the day.” I am horrified– shocked, insulted and so, so deeply hurt that he would think this is okay after nearly a year of living with a black family that already explained how offensive the word is generally and personally. We’re in rematch now, for other reasons, but I can’t tell you how sad this new discovery makes me feel.

German Au-Pair July 21, 2014 at 9:03 am

It is impossible for a white person -and maybe even black people from other countries?- to understand what that word means to you. Maybe in the newer generation it’s actually not such a big deal? I think if everyone in his group of friends that includes black kids uses that word, it’s natural that he would use it, too. However he shouldn’t tell youhow you should feel after you explained to him how it makes you feel. It doesn’t matter if he understands, he’s supposed to respect you views.
It’s similiar in Germany. Some people find it horribly offensive when someone calls them a nazi for fun, I use that in a sarcastic way (like “of course I don’t like him, I’m just a nazi” or something like that). It really depends on the group your with -which brings back my initial question. For those kids apparently a joking use is okay, for you it’s not. It’s not his place to comment on that.

AlwaysHopeful HM July 21, 2014 at 9:28 am

Thanks German Au Pair. Your perspective is always interesting to me, in part because our au pair is also German. I do think the word can be confusing because so many people use it, even in my generation. I appreciate that he chose not to use the word around us, and I know that it is unreasonable to think one could control how another person thinks. I actually have friends and relatives who use the word freely, and although I find that grating, I don’t feel personally betrayed by it. For me, i think the difference is knowing that someone living in our home– our sanctuary– could think it is okay is what makes it almost too much to bear. The whole idea of home as sanctuary is something I hadn’t really given a ton of thought before in considering whether AP’ing is right for us. We have our views, but we tend to be open to hearing and learning from others. There are some differences that just cut too close to the core, I guess.

German Au-Pair July 21, 2014 at 3:22 pm

In the Germany the amount of black people is so small that we usually don’t hear about the major issue until we learn about American History. In contrast, the German word “neger”, which basically is the same (maybe with a bit more positive connotation) was oficially (and still is inofficially) used for a very popular candy (Negerkuss -meaning “n* kiss”) and the word Mohr, meaning almost the same was connected with an expensive chocolate brand for a very long time. They changed both now for political correctness, but I still call the candy by the old name because it’s simply how it used to be. So even after having talked about this with several black people and after having a class on American History in the 60s, I still can’t quite grasp what that word means to black Americans. I know, but I can’t feel it, if you know what I mean. I guess it’s the same for most Europeans which is why I asked you about it before. It’s super interesting to me.
I do get your point about your home as a sanctuary though. Maybe it’s easier for you when you consider that even after explanation and giving it some though it’s still hard to grasp why a word can evoke such strong feelings. Before I came to the US I had no idea that there are words considered so horrible that you would refer to them by initial-letter-word. We don’t have that at all -you can say every word out loud (not around children of course but even that is much more relaxed than in the US). So in his mind it can never be as bad as it is in yours. The only thing that would irk me is if a 20-sth-y/o who clearly doesn’t understand told me what I needed to know and how I should view things. If you don’t fully graps the concept, be respectful about it.

Dorsi July 21, 2014 at 5:24 pm

GermanAuPair: FYI, the word “neger” probably more correctly translates as “negro” and the word “Mohr” as “Moor”. These are not exactly correct terms to use in English, but are not nearly as contreversial as the “n-word”.

WarmStateMomma July 22, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Nope. Still a bad word.

German Au-Pair July 22, 2014 at 5:26 pm

It probably does translate to that but it’s the closest we have. And the fact that is has been used that freely -for a candy, so in absolute positive context (the Mohr was the mascot and printed on every chocolate bar of this very exclusive brand)- shows that we simply don’t get what it means in this very different, historical context. Maybe it helps a bit with the betrayal to know that there’s this big cultural thing.

Skny July 22, 2014 at 7:07 pm

In Brazil the politically correct is Neger. You can be sued for discrimination if you call someone black.

HRHM July 22, 2014 at 9:54 pm

There really is such a cultural context to color/race descriptions that you really must take the time to talk to each AP about it, preferably at the very beginning of their year, so mistakes are avoided up front.

Their exposure to the N word is via rap music and Kanye West tv appearances! They have no idea of the painful, dark historical context that this conjures in America. Just as we could never understand their countries historical dark periods, many of which we don’t even know about.

I was told that in SA, the description of “colored” refers to people of mixed race. When I was a kid (showing my age here) we commonly referred to mixed race individuals as Mulatto. I’m pretty sure this is totally not PC in 2014 and verboten in the US.

WarmStateMomma July 24, 2014 at 9:20 am

@German AuPair:

I meant to respond to the comment about the AP using the n-word in the US. I have no idea how it comes across in other cultures, but here it has a history of being used to dehumanize people.

German Au-Pair July 24, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Oh, I see. I wasn’t arguing about against that though. I totally understand and I do see your POV. But I stick by it -there’s no way someone from another culture can fully really grasp the entire concept and what it really means to black Americans. We can study the history, we can ask about it -I love that we’re having this exchange!- and broaden our minds and try to be respectful and understanding but even then, the history and the experiences that many blacks had and still seem to have are something that we can’t imagine.
Again, I agree that after living with a black family who’s obviously explained it to the AP, one should understand a bit better at least and even if not, should not lecture them how the enw generation doesn’t mind anymore.

I love to have exchanges like that because it’s so different from what we experience. I can’t imagine that this discrimination still exists to some extent nowadays and I can’t imagine that this history is pretty recent measured by European standards…a friend of my mine lives in a regular, not-special house that’s older than the entire country of the USA so the history seems incredibly recent and that’s hard to wrap my mind around. Thanks for hanging in that OT here :)

WarmStateMomma July 24, 2014 at 12:55 pm

@German: I can’t speak to what it means to black Americans, but it’s a complex issue. I know you weren’t arguing with what it means in the US and that you were just explaining the German words – I just wanted to clarify that using the n-word in the US is still not ok.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have an AP live with a black HF for almost a year and then have him tell the HF how they should feel about such a sensitive issue that he has no real-life experience with. Maybe he’s just immature; we’ve all said things that our older selves wish we hadn’t.

AlwaysHopeful HM July 24, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Well, I think one complication is that even within the black American community there is strong disagreement over whether the word can ever appropriately be used. I come out strongly on the side of “no.” Our au pair had black friends who felt differently, so in his mind, I was just being prudish.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 24, 2014 at 10:57 pm

Each year I think of “handbook edits,” and here is one for you. “You are going to hear many words used by and about African Americans while you live in the United States. There are words that your friends will use to describe themselves that may not be uttered out loud in my house…”

As German Au-Pair has made clear, it is very hard for non-Americans to navigate the United States. I had an au pair who described a Hispanic man as “black.” I warned her, “In Europe, everyone who is not white may be considered black, but that’s not how it works in the United States.” She asked him, and sure enough, he was offended. I also had a an AP whose best friend was an Afrikaner South African. Her language was very offensive to me, and I warned her, “Just because I am white, don’t assume that I share your opinions about people who are not. You must be very careful in this country.”

4th time lucky?! July 25, 2014 at 5:37 am

I just keep thinking that in the case of your AP, AlwaysHopeful HM, it sounds like a case of cultural insensitivity or ignorance coupled with youthful arrogance and a big dose immaturity (causally related or not – whichever came first, I don’t know).

As others have pointed out as well: it doesn’t matter why you (you personally in this situation, and you, people in general) feel a certain way about the use of language, and others don’t have to understand but they should accept. It’s a sign of maturity to be able to navigate different environments appropriately and appreciate that you can be true to yourself even if you have to adjust (yourself/ your attitude/ your language) in the presence of different people.

Dorsi July 4, 2014 at 12:30 am

I actually have a line in my handbook that it is okay to discuss anything with us, but in front of the children to be careful to always qualify things, such as, “I believe that….” Or “my opinion on this is, ….” The one exception is that we are atheist and we ask that they not have any discussion of religion with the kids.

Really, our bigger problem is the gender stereotypes that pervade the thinking. Boy things, girl tags, etc. My kids are quick to buy into that stuff and the APs never want to correct them.

AlwaysHopeful HM July 4, 2014 at 9:25 am

Yes, gender stereotypes are a problem, but those are bombarded from every direction, not just the au pair. I just try to gently correct when I notice things going afield.

The religion thing is interesting. We are nondenominational Christians, but both of our au pairs so far have been “no religion.” I am comfortable with any view, as long as it’s not communicated to my son as an absolute. (So for example, “I do not believe in God” is okay, but “there is no God” would not be okay).

SwissAuPair July 4, 2014 at 12:30 am

I had a hard time to have conversations with my HD. But once I found out that he loved to talk about “his” country and about politics and such, we had a lot of great talks. Before I started to tell my opinion, I asked him a lot about local and national politics. I asked him about the different parties, I asked him how happy he is with the current government, and much more. Just to have an overview about what he thinks and how strong his opinion is.

I love politics and I love to do “debates” about everything that is up. It’s maybe a swiss thing, since we vote 4 times a year (for more or less important things) from the age of 18, we are into politics very early and have to build opinions early. I always discuss before I vote but once I’ve made a decision, I have a strong opinion and I try to defend it. But if I would do that just into the blue with my HD, it would end in a dispute. And that exactly is why I asked HD about his thoughts first. To see what I can say, and what I should not. To see if I can have intensive discussions with him or not.

And yes, we had a LOT of very intensive discussions (in a positive way). At the end HM was just like “yeaah you two should be a politician and the world would be sooo much better…..*eyeroll* “

CapitolHostMom July 4, 2014 at 10:53 am

I’ll let my kids and step kids hear any opinion a family member has, no matter how ill informed. I only correct when it’s racist/sexist/fear mongering like some things shock jocks on a.m. Radio say. Our country is a melting pot of ideas- embrace the crazy ;). And statistically, most people are uniformed of current events and political matters. But that’s usually the hardest point for people to accept. Even if you disagree with other people’s political opinions, rest assured, the stats overwhelmingly show that parents pass their ideology down to their kids. Anything a temporary au pair can say isn’t going to stick in their brains for very long.

NJmama July 5, 2014 at 3:30 pm

I completely agree with this. If someone – including an au pair – says something to or in front of my kids that I think is insensitive, the complete opposite of my views, or even wildly misinformed or inappropriate, for me it’s a learning experience that spurs discussion. We’re big talkers in my family. Perhaps it’s because I come from a family where people have strong views on both sides – one liberal parent, one conservative; two siblings that are strongly liberal, two that are strongly conservative; and extended family that falls all across the spectrum. (This includes family members who have run for local office and a brother who has worked for a state senator.)

I may not like it when people who are misinformed spout off stuff about the president in office – no matter who that is — but that’s the great thing about our country – we are free to express our opinions. And like CapitolHostMom, I am not so concerned that my kids would be swayed by what an au pair says to or in front of them. It’s our job as parents to instill good values, and our kids are with us far longer than any single au pair.

I also found it interesting that the way HPs responded to CV’s post probably mirrors what happens when an au pair does just what she says – some people cheer, some are offended, and most fall somewhere in the middle. In any event, it certainly spurred some interesting discussion.

PhillyMom July 4, 2014 at 1:26 pm

We have strong political views and would ask anyone with different ones, including our Au Pair, relatives, friends or neighbors, not to impose them on our children. We are open and love good, educational and well-informed discussions with adults:))), but would never argue against other person opinion or believe just because it is different from ours. I prefer to let other people BE:)). I would not tolerate any sexist or racist remarks from my children or Au Pair. Unfortunately, I find it very hard to explain “other” families behavior to our kids:))

WarmStateMomma July 4, 2014 at 1:49 pm

+1, PhillyMom.

SwissAuPair July 5, 2014 at 1:06 am

I think that “impose” is a hard word here. Why do your children have to think the same about politics as you do? To me it sounds like you do not let your children have other opinions than yours. I think it is good for the children to get different informations about a topic. There is not only one “right” opinion, and the kids can have their own political view. Give them all the information and they will find out what they like better.
When you do not want to let your children hear other views, to me that is some kind of indoctrination.

WarmStateMomma July 5, 2014 at 4:37 pm

My extended family/in-laws include a mix of conservatives and liberals. The conservatives in our family come in two flavors: thoughtful/informed and bitter/prejudiced. The first group’s opinions are different from mine, but they can discuss politics/religion all they want with my kids and exchange students. However, no one benefits from discussing politics/religion with the second group. Some views are simply “wrong” – especially when they come from a place of hate or ignorance. The younger and more impressionable our kids are, the more we have to insulate them from immoral influences. Older kids and teens are better able to think critically and ignore this kind of stuff.

Skny July 25, 2014 at 6:24 am

We have a 16yo nephew who is homosexual and came to visit (lives far and comes once or twice a year). He does not dress in a “different” manner or is inappropriate in any way. One of the times he came a friend of Au pair took pictures of him and posted for her family (as American gay, with some indelicate comment). I did request she doesn’t come here anymore, but if it was my Au pair I might rematch… What could this person teach my kids?

WarmStateMomma July 25, 2014 at 7:38 am

I’d feel the same way, Skny.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 25, 2014 at 9:28 am

I have found, when an AP speakings in a demeaning or derogatory way about anybody, to kindly take her aside, and say, “I’m trying to raise my kids to think of everyone as equal. When you say things like that, it undermines what I am trying to do. Please be more considerate about how you talk about people and treat people in my house.” Sometimes it’s not necessarily them, but other au pairs, or Americans they meet – and they’re anxious to practice new slang words without completely understanding the cultural context.

HRHM July 25, 2014 at 12:14 pm

This is actually on the cover page of my HHHB. There is a list of our family values, including things like “girls can and should do anything that boys can” “all people are valuable, regardless of skin color, religion, sexual orientation” and “we don’t ever call each other names or say a person is bad, only that we don’t like what they are doing”. The last sentence is, “I can’t make you think these things are true, but to my children, you will act like they are”.

Skny July 25, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Great idea (specially the girls can do anything boys can do). Amazing how I can always see some new things to add in here

DC Metro Mom July 25, 2014 at 6:14 pm

HRHM, that is a great idea! We discuss those issues in our interviews, and, to be honest, sometimes I worry that we are too candid about it. I think that it is a great idea to put it in writing, though.

And, Skny, that is awful! I think that, had it been an au pair of mine, we would have had to rematch (I know that, in your situation, it wasn’t). It is just a basic issue of attitude toward others, and we strive to teach DD that you love everyone and treat everyone with compassion (the whole Golden Rule standard). I would worry that someone who would make such a post might have issues with modeling that behavior.

German Au-Pair July 5, 2014 at 8:14 pm

It’s actually anti-idoctrination. I think in Western European culture this issue is not as big as it is in the US so for us the word choice might seem ignorant. For us political views only co-occur with strong, hateful views in very rare, extreme cases -like nazis. You would not want anyone imposing nazi-views on your child, right? In the US being conservative often -not always!- means being incredibly narrow minded. I’ve read comments about Obama like “Go home to Africa” and there are camps to un-gay homosexuals. I assume that’s the second group WSM is refererring to and this is something we just don’t really have on our radar.
Just so I don’t offend anyone: I realize that’s not true for everyone. I definitely have well informed conservative friends who are not hateful to anyone no matter what they personally believe is right or wrong.

WarmStateMomma July 6, 2014 at 8:11 am

@German: Yes, you understood the point I was trying to make about the two groups. They are both conservative, but my feelings about the two are vastly different.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 4, 2014 at 10:07 pm

One of my favorite things about this blog is that no one ever agrees 100%. That way, not only do we HM get to see (and hopefully respect) the opinions of others, so do APs. On the 4th of July, I’d like to share one of the things I try to teach my teenagers. I try to convey to them not “My country right or wrong,” but “My country to be made better when it is wrong” and the fact that I expect them to participate in volunteering their time to make this country a better place in which everyone may live (believe me, I’m right beside them, setting an example – it makes them roll their eyes and drives them nuts). I know there is a lot of variety in what making the country better means to people and I respect it. On July 4th, I personally groove on how much we’ve changed as a country to give more people a place at the table.

ExOzAuPair July 5, 2014 at 12:31 am

I am an American who au paired for two different families in different states in Australia. For me, talking about politics with them was a fabulous educational experience. The Australian political system is just very different than the American one, and Australia was in a sort of political turmoil when I was there, so it helped me to be less confused about what I was hearing on the radio, the news, the newspapers, and from the family and their friends. By the end of my time with the first family, I had a better handle on Australian politics than they did, and I think they learned a lot about American politics which made them better able to understand what they were hearing about what was going on in the US.
Of course, I think this only works if you remain open minded and you’re at least mostly politically similar. My first host family was not all that political, they were conservative, and were high school dropouts. So sometimes it was hard for me, a political, liberal, college educated person to sort of get on the same page. I think also the culture they were raised in made things difficult: they were white, rural Australians, and I’d be lying if I said they weren’t incredibly racist (I had several conversations where I had to tell them not to use horrible racial slurs, and they had a hard time understanding why those slurs were not acceptable ever), and the dad was so misogynistic, which was difficult to deal with because of the way he talked about Julia Gillard, the PM at the time.
I rematched (for a plethora of reasons) and my second host family, a single, college educated, liberal mom who lived smack dab in the middle of the city. Talking about politics with her was awesome, because we were usually on the same page, and she really took the time to teach me the little intricacies of the Australian political system. So the first family kind of taught be via “what not to do/think” and she taught me via “what to do/think and why.” We talked politics pretty much every evening, we watched the news/read the paper together and she’d explain things, and it was just so refreshing and great.
So in sum, I think talking politics can be an amazingly education experience and a great part of cultural exchange. But it can definitely end up being polarizing and if you’re already sort of having problems, it can make it worse if you’re not at least a little similar politically, or agree on the big issues. So I guess don’t shy away from it, but don’t take it lightly, either. Also, really think about how you go about it, how you phrase things, and how defensive/offensive you are in how you talk about things you disagree on.

AussiePair July 6, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Off topic, as sad as it is, in general I would probably describe Australia (my country) as a fairly racist country. We’ve all been brought up with the aboriginal jokes (none of which are in the aborigines favour) and because of this it can be very hard to see them as wrong, when it has been such a “normal” part of life. Often the same goes for sexist jokes, however a change does need to be made, and the only way for this to happen is for the peers of the people expressing the racist/sexist view to stand up and say that the view is not an acceptable one to be shouting around in public… Unfortunately I think this will take a long time to happen because of Australia’s propensity to shoot down anyone who stands up/out or who they deem to be “attention seeking” (tall poppy syndrome).

Seattle Mom July 5, 2014 at 3:49 pm

So far none of our APs have expressed much interest in American politics. Our first AP was French and she had a PM election back home while she was with us, so we learned her views on that. And it was interesting because they were different from my husband’s views (I do not follow French politics enough to have an opinion, but my husband has lived in France & has family there and is always interested in politics). But it’s her country, not ours… I think she had the same idea of the US- she seemed interested but recognized that since she is not staying here she doesn’t really have as deep an appreciation for the issues.

It would be interesting if we had a politically engaged AP. If they were smart and well-read it would be great, no matter what their political persuasion. My husband would love it- he loves to debate. I would probably avoid getting into it much :). My husband & I generally vote for the same people but we still debate about a lot of issues- we don’t agree on that much actually. I think we probably intimidate our APs when we get into political arguments. But we don’t ask them for their opinions, and so far no one has been brave enough to offer theirs.

Now if my MIL came to visit it would be another story… she’s a lifelong political activist and she likes to question everyone on what they think of specific issues, and she has no problem laughing cheerfully and saying “well I disagree with you entirely!” and then picking apart all the nuances. I have been on the end of this interrogation and it used to make me uncomfortable before I understood where she was coming from and that it wasn’t at all personal. She is super liberal and founded her local green party, has run for a major city council on the green party ticket (and did well- but didn’t win!), testifies before city council all the time because she goes to all the meetings, knows all the stake holders and follows *everything* – you cannot beat this woman on knowledge of what is actually happening in her municipal government. She’s over 80 years old and still stands out in the heat with her picket sign.. I love her but she does drive me crazy and I am nowhere near as liberal as she is… Ralph Nader is a personal friend… And guess what? She has some great friends who are conservative republicans- the only prerequisite to be her friend is to be an intellectual and have everything you say or believe in challenged, and to be able to back up what you say. It is exhausting to be around her sometimes!

My husband is actually a bit like that, though politics are not his life or his livelihood, they just run in his blood because of his family background. He has an intense intellect and he has no problem being argued with and arguing and never takes it personally- but he doesn’t tolerate fools well and I think he intimidates people. My family is politically divided and they love to rant and rave and pretend to be big shots with each other, but when DH is in the room they don’t bother- he’ll school them all and they know it. I love it… it’s partly why I love him (even though I don’t enjoy it when I get schooled).

So no, we have no problem discussing politics with au pairs or anyone else, and I am not concerned that anyone’s views will rub off on my children because we believe in openly discussing and considering every possibility. And it’s ok if our kids end up believing things other than us, as long as they are grounded in real probing of all sides of an issue. There’s a lot of grey out there…

So my own background in politics is part of this- I used to work as an analyst for a major non-partisan policy research agency.. we had to consider all sides and not make recommendations. On occasion this would be problematic because I had to consider a side that was completely laughable, but that’s what it was.. I took it seriously and it has definitely changed the way I view politics to this day. I have a hard time tolerating ideologues of any stripe. If you’re not willing to hear anything that conflicts with your views then you are insecure and you probably realize deep down that there’s not a lot holding those views up.

Aussie HM July 24, 2014 at 12:46 am

Best thread EVER!!!

AP’s, HM’S and CV, thankyou for all of your input into this thread, which at different times had me filled with despair, hope, laughter, nods of agreementand sand shakes of my head……(and saying some naughty words at my desk)

While some people may have been offended by certiain posts – I think this thread is such a beautiful reflection of everything that makes Au – pairing/ hosting great!

An exchange of ideas, a differnce of opinion and a new look at ways of doing things.

Im new to AuPairMOM, but if you dont mind… I’d love to stay.

Thanks again

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