Teaching Your Au Pair Real American Values: Celebrate #Giving Tuesday

by cv harquail on December 2, 2014

Just when we’re trying to celebrate the most welcoming American tradition, and start off the winter holiday with a warm, family gathering, we get

Black Friday.  The annual celebration of consumerism and low low prices that results in shoving, pushing, overspending, and spiritual emptiness.

Black Friday is American culture at its worst. 

So you can imagine my horror when one of our au pairs announced that she and her friends were planning a Black Friday outing– first to Walmart, then to the mall, with a pit stop at the new MacDonald’s.

Our Au Pair couldn’t wait to participate in what she saw as an annual celebration of shopping. Of course, she couldn’t see past the sales circulars and crazy tv ads to recognize that someone else had to leave their family celebration early to open the store doors at 11 pm on Thursday evening.

That someone had to stand guard at the entrance, to keep people from trampling over each other in a mad rush to a cheap flat-screen tv.

That someone else felt she *had* to shop that day, or her meagre budget couldn’t meet her kids’ hopes for something special from Santa.

World Homeless DayThis year, there’s a national, organized antidote to the insanity and the vulgarity that BlackFriday has become.

This antidote is #GivingTuesday, a day of giving that can help us remember that the holidays are about not only ‘giving’ but also ‘giving back’.  


#GivingTuesday is a day to demonstrate that giving back to our communities is part of a great tradition of philanthropy and volunteerism that helps keep America strong.

#GivingTuesday, being celebrated next week on November 26th, is a national initiative that brings retailers, charities, online organizations, community centers,individuals, families and more together with one common purpose —  to help and encourage each other to give more meaningfully, and celebrate the great American spirit of generosity.

What Can You Do for #GivingTuesday?

To prepare for #GivingTuesday, you, your family and your au pair can talk about what people or organizations in your community are making a positive difference. You can brainstorm around ways that you can contribute to these organizations and the work that they do.

Some ideas we came up with included:

  • Hold a bake sale and donate the proceeds.
  • Get out the crayons and posterboard (and glitter and glue gun– the whole 9 yards) to create some thank you notes to organizations we appreciate. Take these down to Starbucks and post them on the community bulletin board.
  • Set up a ‘matching challenge’, where you and your host parent partner  double the amount of their own money that your au pair and your kids agree to donate to a charity.
  • Have the kids look through every junk drawer and under every cushion, gather up the loose change and take it to the Salvation Army kettle downtown.

Here are some more suggestions for families, from the #GivingTuesday site:

  • Honor the people in your community who keep everyone safe and healthy. Prepare a meal and deliver it to their place of work. Include hand made cards, placemats, and thank you notes so that everyone in the family gets to contributes something. Deliver the meal together as a family.
  • Have a family conversation about your favorite foods and the healthy foods you having been trying to eat. Take some of those foods from your cabinets (non perishable) and bring them to your local food pantry.
  • Home Treasure Hunt! Look in your closets at home …kitchen tools, dishes, toys, books, school supplies. Collect what is not being used, what hasn’t been used in a long time, and the extras you have, and donate to a program that sets up families in new homes.
  • For an entire week, everyone in the family skips the “extras” Take the money you would have spent on after school treats, a special ice cream, or coffees from your favorite vendor, and collect it all in a jar. Donate to your local food pantry to help others get the essentials foods they need.

What We Host Parents Know

We host parents know that for our kids, and probably our au pairs too, it matters less what you do, or how much $$ are involved, than that we do something. We host parents can lead the way. We can show our kids, and our au pairs, that giving doesn’t require low low prices, a special sale, or a day of frenzied shopping.

We host parents can demonstrate that giving is something we do to support each other’s efforts to make this world a better place.

This Tuesday, November 26th, is #GivingTuesday. Give your kids and your au pair the gift of a positive example.

What might your #GivingTuesday gift be?

Share you ideas below!!


For more information on #GivingTuesday:

  • Like #GivingTuesday on Facebook =>  www.facebook.com/GivingTuesday
  • Follow #GivingTuesday us on Twitter @GivingTues
  • Follow #GivingTuesday on Pinterest  =>  http://pinterest.com/givingtuesday/giving?quotes/

See also:

The Five Actions of Gratitude
Leftover Thanksgiving Tips for your Au Pair Relationship
Our Au Pair Doesn’t Understand How Her Actions Affect Our Family
Holiday Gift Idea: The Gratitude Jar
Tip: Family Fun for Thanksgiving


WestMom December 2, 2014 at 3:41 pm

I have also had a few au Pairs who were really into Black Friday. I guess it’s a once in a lifetime experience for them, just like going to Times Square on New Year’s eve might be (you would have to pay me to go!). But I also want to add that consumerism seems to be a very big part of the AP’s experience in America. Our Au Pairs come from Europe where the cost of clothes and shoes is expensive. Black Friday or not, all of our APs seem to buy beyond their means/needs just because everything is cheaper. Converse, Levi’s, Abercrombie, Forever 21, Apple, you name it. The biggest drama of the year is figuring out how they will bring everything back home. I find this somewhat amusing… America being notorious for being such a consumer driven society, and here we are, little American family where the biggest spender/shopper is the foreign AP!

Thanks for all these great suggestions for giving back! Planning a trip to Goodwill tonight!

DowntownMom December 2, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Interesting! We have had APs complain about materialistic Americans and then ask us for an iPhone, new car, and so on (I am too old to remember whether I said that sort of stuff at that age…).

Our APs are absolutely the biggest spenders in the family. I am happy for them as long as they are having a good time. At the same time, I do try to make them aware of the fact that not everyone has an easy time making ends meet.

Thank you for posting this, CV! One of the best qualities of Americans is the care they show towards others in their community.

AupairInMadrid December 3, 2014 at 1:38 pm

That definitely would be me. :D I’m from a European country and an au pair in Spain at the moment. They don’t really have anything here that I couldn’t get at home for pretty much the same price, so I don’t really buy any stuff and spend all my money on food, drinks and travel. But you have so many shops and brands we don’t have at all. I for example would definitely spend loads of money on make up if I were in the US.

TexasHM December 2, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Hey CV it says Nov 26th but isn’t it today? I would think Cyber Monday/Giving Tuesday but what do I know?! :) And agreed, we have a Costco membership and have had APs and their AP friends ask to buy all kinds of things on our card (they give us cash upfront of course) but everything from tablets to laptops to cameras and beyond! We joke that we spend as much on that stuff as we do annually for our large family! We haven’t had an AP do traditional Black Friday, we are usually somewhere else and not at home and our family despises BF and plans other things that day to avoid it but several of our APs have shopped online that weekend or bought at traditional Christmas sales and like I said before, large membership discounters.

Seattle Mom December 4, 2014 at 12:56 am

We are definitely not a consumerist or materialist family by any means.. you should see our kitchen…and I do most of my shopping at thrift stores.

But all of my au pairs have gone out at midnight on black friday and I understand the draw. It’s this weird cultural phenomenon that they don’t have in their home countries. As far as I can tell they haven’t bought all that much either.

Of course I’ve never done it, beyond accidentally when I went to the grocery store on black friday and couldn’t understand why there were a lot of people there (our grocery store is more than a grocery store, it has clothes and electronics and housewares and toys too).

But I like the idea behind giving Tuesday too.. unfortunately I’m out of town for work and just saw this today. Maybe next time. I have cousins who always spend Christmas volunteering in shelters and soup kitchens.. we’re Jewish so it kind of makes sense.

used2beAP December 4, 2014 at 3:21 am

I spent A LOT of money on clothes, shoes and other things I didn’t necessarily NEED when I was au pairing. I admit it was fun being able to “go crazy” since I didn’t have to pay rent or buy food like I did back home. For me and many of my friends that was our last chance to be a little careless about money. Having a 100$/week to use on nothing but fro-yo and a new pair of boots is never going to happen again. Or not for me at least.

I don’t think going crazy over the low prices rules out the possibility of giving to charity. For example, for me the concept of volunteering at a soup kitchen is as American as it gets. So in addition to the consumerism-angle of AP experience maybe try to sell volunteering as a part of the American culture as well?

Also, where I live, most adults give each other immaterial gifts. I don’t know if that’s a thing in the US, but we’ve done things like buy a cow, vaccinations, water purifiers or built a well in the receivers name. I think this is also worth thinking about.

UKAuPair December 4, 2014 at 10:02 am

It’s interesting that you think Black Friday depicts American culture at its worst.

For most of my friends who APed in America, Thanksgiving and Black Friday seemed fairly normal. The things that really shocked them, and actually made one of my friends end her year early because she was so offended by it, was the hyper-patriotism. Swearing allegiance to the flag? The first time my friend’s HK told her about this she phoned her LCC in a panic because she thought the family she was living with were Neo-Nazis. Veneration of soldiers in uniform, lack of public heathcare. Paying to receive texts, weirdly, is always the example that my Bro-pair friend uses to describe his time in America.

I completely understand why some families wouldn’t want to encourage materialism in their au pairs (and my friends and I are all English, so we do have more in common with America than, say, Thai au pairs, which might be why things like Black Friday don’t seem so awful to us). It’s interesting that the things my friends, as foreigners, found to be the worst things about American culture are so different to the things that Americans consider to be the worst.

WarmStateMomma December 4, 2014 at 1:14 pm

It’s interesting to hear Americans express disdain for materialism and consumerism in our culture because it’s all just so relative. Having spent time in both developing countries and in Western Europe, my impression is that the US falls in the middle of the spectrum on materialism. Americans buy too much but we also find overt materialism crass. First-world problems…. Part of the cultural exchange is accepting that my AP comes from a culture that views materialism differently from me, but also letting her see how our approach differs. It’s not my place to “fix” her world view (despite how much they might shock me). :)

RE the hyper-patriotism: there are people in the US who confuse nationalism with patriotism and this was pretty overt following 9/11. My guess is that most families who host APs are unlikely to be nationalists, but it’s unfortunate that your friend ended up with such a family. Again, I think this is an aspect where the AP’s own cultural background will inform his or her impressions. I imagine it looks pretty different to a British AP than an AP from Thailand or China.

UKAuPair December 4, 2014 at 2:31 pm

It’s interesting to hear your perspective. I do find that there seem to be inherent contradictions involved in both American and British culture, perhaps because of the fusion of capitalism and socialism whereby everyone wants the best, but not (in general) at the expense of other people.

Thank you for your response regarding patriotism v. nationalism as well. I was under the impression that swearing allegiance to the flag was normal practice in America, not merely for nationalists? I think in my friend’s case it may have been a case of culture shock; British patriotism is much more quietly expressed than American patriotism. Very, very few people fly the British (or English) flag, for example, except during sporting events, and those that do tend to be right-wing. Seeing the Welsh flag is more common. Americans seem to be much bigger, louder and brasher than the British- this was something that my American friends said they found really difficult to adapt to when they started university- so it’s very possible that my friend simply had problems understanding your culture.

WarmStateMomma December 4, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Pledging allegiance to the flag is something that happens every morning in schools around the US and it’s been that way for decades (at least throughout the cold war). I don’t personally think of that as nationalism, but maybe that’s just because I’m so used to it. (In one country I visited, movie theaters presented their national anthem before each movie started and everyone had to stand.)

In my view, patriotism is more like how you feel about your family – you love your family warts and all. Nationalism is more like believing your country doesn’t have any warts and is superior to other countries. Americans are probably more open about patriotism, but that’s also a reflection of how open Americans tend to be about our feelings in general.

Also, we have 300 million people spread across a vast territory – what seems normal in one location is very likely less accepted in another location. Lots of Americans move to be someplace where the local norms are more in line with their own.

WestMom December 4, 2014 at 3:51 pm

When I first moved here as a foreign student, it did strike me that Americans appear more patriotic that people from many other countries, including very own (Canada). Over the years (and now that I am a ciziten), I have developed a keen appreciation for these opportunities that remind us that we are one people despite our politics and opinions. I proudly rise for the pledge and sing the anthem before any sporting event. I would hope that someone here on a cultural journey would be open to understand this custom, and reflect on the reasons why it it might be different in their home country.

TexasHM December 4, 2014 at 10:55 pm

You also have to consider the historical context of the United States vs other countries. I believe we tend to be more patriotic for several reasons but one of which being we are a melting pot of individuals that largely came here (often sacrificing everything) from around the world for freedom and opportunity – the American dream. The early “patriots” fought for independence and as shown by our immigration challenges, people to this day often give anything and everything for the opportunity to live here so we are perpetuating future generations of people “proud to be Americans”. Think about all the first generation Americans and what they go through to become citizens. I am grateful to have been born into this country and have the opportunities I do (after my German ancestors gave everything to get here a long time ago) and maybe that plays into it too. Having several relatives including my brother in the military likely inspires patriotism as well – as a show of support to those that volunteer and sacrifice (where I don’t) to protect us all. This is in stark contrast to countries that have been in existence far far longer than the US and whose citizens didn’t have to migrate or battle to get there but have had ancestry in the area for perhaps hundreds or even thousands of years! Not saying either is preferable, just saying it makes sense to me why Americans tend to be or be seen as more patriotic.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 4, 2014 at 1:46 pm

It’s not the materialism of Black Friday that bothers me, it’s the fighting and trampling over people to get that last sale item. And now, it’s forcing low-wage workers to give up their holiday and work so people can shop on Thanksgiving. I have participated in an early Black Friday – when child #2 had saved enough money to purchase a treasured item on sale, but not at full price. We went together and got what he wanted. (But then two weeks later, after a bake sale, he went and purchased two cart loads of toys for homeless children without once asking for anything for himself.)

Neither of my kids are permitted to request a gift that costs more than $50 and they know it. If they are offered the gift, then they may accept. Child #2 did his Bar Mitzvah completely unaware that people would be giving him gifts or money until I asked him what percentage of the gifts would be donated to charity (he doesn’t have any Jewish friends outside of Sunday school). Is he spoiled anyway? Yes, but he also is a generous person.

I don’t worry about teaching my APs about being generous. I worry about my kids. I want them to be friendly and thankful for everything that is given to them, no matter if they have another exactly like it or hate it. I want them to volunteer because they want to, not because they have to. I want them to think about people who have less than they. It’s up to me to be their role model.

My cluster counselor does organize some charitable activities, like making scarves or sandwiches for the homeless. She also participates in outreach events which require AP voluntarism. I feel like she offers our APs opportunities to experience American generosity toward others.

exaupair December 6, 2014 at 9:30 am

Black Friday is scary not only in Europe then. Over here people beat one another up, pulling hair etc. to get £30 off a coffe machine. IMHO it takes the ultimate lack of class to behave like that. I try to avoid shopping on Black Friday at all, not because I don’t like or need to shop, but the same items I can buy any other day, maybe I will have to pay a bit more but at least I’ll keep my dignity.

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