Themes, Perspectives, and Cultural Stereotypes, Ideas from TexasHM

by cv harquail on April 25, 2014

Just days before a demonstration of how stereotypes about certain nationalities can feel unkind and unhelpful, frequent contributor TexasHM sent me this guest blog post. Perfect timing!

4931524858_7bd9f9e7ce_zWe’re always working to generalize wisdom from our individual experiences, so stereotypes and national personalities are a common topic of conversation among folks in the AuPair community.

TexasHM offers a different approach, below, to raise the question:

How do different cultures bring forward certain themes — conversations, views, perspectives — that contribute to our cultural exchange?

Over the years we have been blessed to host and meet au pairs from many different countries and have been reminded that while we are all different, we have a lot more in common than most would expect.

From the same expressions in different languages (give someone an inch and they take a mile = give your hand and they take your arm in French) to similar fears, dreams and struggles we are often all united in commonality. On the other hand, there is no doubt that cultural influence just like environmental influence and parental influence shapes who we are and who we become.

While I definitely don’t condone thoughtless stereotyping, I do love open and constructive conversation of cultural differences and norms. There have been a couple conversations on this blog previously around which countries generate the “best” IQ au pairs, drivers or English which countries generate the “best” IQ au pairs, drivers or English speakers.

While those stereotypes are interesting and may often be the majority, there are other cultural traits which could provide even more insight and prove to be more prevalent in the AP pool from a particular country. These are more constructive to talk about.

The View From Brazil, via Our APs

For example, we had two Brazilian APs who were very different. However, they both heartily agreed on certain “Brazilian” cultural traits that influenced them like the fact that Brazilians are rarely direct. They are much more likely to agree to your face or pretend to be your best friend to keep the peace, not because they like or agree with you. This tended to make them much more sensitive to constructive criticism or honest feedback than other cultures.

Our Brazilian APs also believed that Brazilians tend to have close family ties, often living with their parents well into their 20s or often until they get married themselves. The extended family is a large and continuing presence in the life of a Brazilian person. This helps to explain whyBrazilians are very social in nature and often have a lot of experience with caring for younger family members. And, this translates in part into the stereotypes that Brazilians are warm, social and great with young children.6899208848_f424a310d8_z

Meanwhile, on The Continent

Our French AP often tells us how crazy it is that Americans openly talk about what the French would consider to be taboo topics. Things like marriage, having children, religion and even goals are not commonly discussed even among friends in France, let alone acquaintances or even strangers!

The French are also known to love life and love and have an empowering child rearing style that begs many other cultures to wonder if they aren’t targeting the wrong things in life at times. The French APs we have known made friends easily, generally traveled more and opted in to more activities to try to get as full an experience as possible and treated children as small adults, earning their respect and bonding easily.

What cultural


HRHM April 25, 2014 at 10:30 am

We had multiple struggles at the start and were ready to give up! We were told by everyone that we should get a German. Their reputation states that they are 1)all great drivers, 2) all have strong English language skills 3)are punctual & hard workers, 4)are not overly emotional and 5) will not suffer the cultural shock of many other countries.

Well, we’ve had 2 so far and they are as different from each other as could be! Both have had car accidents (minor at least!) Both did have good English. One had to be woken almost EVERY DAY for the entire year! She was also lazy as the day is long – so much for using near-professional comittment to sports as a marker for motivation! The other has never been late yet and is a fairly good worker. The late one also cried at the drop of a hat…ugh! But I did feel like life here was not much different for either of them as it was at home.

So much for stereotypes! LOL

Host Mom in the City April 25, 2014 at 10:42 am

Unfortunately, this was my first reaction to this post too. I had two German au pairs who were also as different as could be. Both were actually good drivers, began with good English skills, and were punctual, but that was where the similarities ended in any way that could be seen as a cultural stereotype. You are right, though, HRHM, that life here was pretty much like life in Germany, it seemed, so there was no big adjustment period. I’ll be interested to see what others post.

SingleHM April 25, 2014 at 4:10 pm

I have had 2 Germans. One had poor English and the other Fair. Both good drivers, but one was punctual, one was not. One was hard worker, one was not. One was emotional one was not. Neither had cultural shock.

I think it can’t be determined a pattern from just two, but mine were so different.

My current AP is from Finland and her English is far superior to either of my Germans, and driving is just as good. Bigger cultural shock though. Far more friendly and personable.

Texas HM April 25, 2014 at 10:51 am

Just to clarify the question/intent of this post – looking for examples of cultural differences that your APs brought to light for you (in the spirit of communicating with them better or understanding a different viewpoint) and want to hear about any strengths that you have seen trend across a certain country or culture.

If possible, if we could entirely avoid weaknesses or negative feedback that would be fantastic. Things like “I have had two South Africans and both were extremely courteous house guests because in their culture they highly value hospitality” or “Both of my German APs have been extremely organized and self motivated because in their culture if you are not you are looked upon disrespectfully”. (I have no idea I just made these up.)

Things along those lines that might help host families look for certain traits that might be very amenable to their family situation. With my experience above if someone told me they needed an AP that was affectionate, used to a large family environment and good with young children I would definitely recommend they consider a Brazilian (still thoroughly screening of course). However, if they said they wanted more of an employer relationship with their AP and wanted a very independent AP I would tend to recommend they consider a European.

We have only had one French AP so I can only speak for our experience with her culture and I would love to hear some of the strengths of other countries. As we all know, all APs are different but there are some unifying cultural themes that can affect how they need to be managed as an AP and what would be the best environment for them.

I personally am very intrigued at the moment by Slovakians. I have heard rave reviews from a long time LC in a major city cluster that said they are great drivers, she’s never had one leave early or even go into rematch and their English is very strong. I asked her why the difference and she said Slovakia has been more stable than some other eastern european countries, they openly like Americans, their driving test/req are very expensive, takes a very long time and is very difficult to pass and most learn English in school at a young age and see it as a critical skill for their future careers.

I would REALLY LOVE it if the APs would chime in and tell us what strengths they think their cultures provide to the AP program and what cultural themes impact their success or could be useful for families to know.

AKA – when interviewing a French au pair, don’t be surprised if she is hesitant to talk about religion or her boyfriend because that is something that she likely wouldn’t discuss with her friends, let alone a stranger!
Clear as mud?

Host Mom in the City April 25, 2014 at 10:59 am

For those posters that are not Americans, also – what are American traits you’ve observed? Besides a propensity for junk food, please :) I mean what personality traits have you experienced as pervasive and as different from your own culture’s?

Anna April 25, 2014 at 1:16 pm

I can answer as both a hostmom and someone who was born and grew up abroad.

We’ve had many Brazilian au pairs, and most of them were great with direct criticism approach. But they were from a particular large city. I think it is true, there are national qualities and values that each nation/country prioritize, as well as accepted forms of expression of these values in those countries. These are good to know and understand, because superimposed on our requirements for childcare and getting along, they make some matches easier and some harder. But there are even cultural differences within each country; for Brazil for example those could be rural vs. from big city, North vs. South, well off vs. low middle class. For a huge country like Russia for example there are whole regions within Russia that see themselves as culturally distinct, for example Siberians vs. someone from middle Russia vs. someone from St. Petersburg who in turn thinks they are more refined and cultured than someone from Moscow.

As someone coming to America more than half a lifetime ago (so I am now americanized and american values resonate with me more than those of my country of birth), I really noticed the following American qualities as different in the beginning:
1. Pervasive smiles of the Americans. Russians don’t smile much, that smile has to come from the very bottom of their tortured soul and be an expression of a true and rare moment of sublime happiness. Since Americans smile all the time, the smiles are fake, Americans are an insincere bunch, because they can’t be so happy all the time, can they?
2. Asking “how are you” without meaning to really ask HOW ARE YOU, i.e. not being prepared to listen to your whole life story – another proof that Americans are emotionally fake.
3. American friendships are not close and not as real and genuine as those of former compatriots. Proof – they don’t share the most intimate and personal things with you, and gossip with you about most intimate and secret aspects of lives of others you both know. These confidences are a sign of true trust and true friendship in former USSR. Turns out Americans genuinely don’t like to pry and don’t like to gossip – but it doesn’t mean they are not your good sincere and reliable friend. But that takes a while living here to understand, and to believe.
4. Honesty with authority, and honesty in general – in former USSR mindset is considered a shameful trait of tattling. That originates from the fact that authority was out to get your, your enemy there; and is here to protect you and is your friend here. Law and law enforcement work here better than in some other countries and it wouldn’t be possible without the trust in authority and cooperation from the people

I may get some dislikes from more recent immigrants from my native lands for saying this, but America is more evolved emotionally and culturally. Behaviors that are routine there – bullying, shaming, demeaning, gossip, etc…. – are mostly viewed and acted upon as unacceptable here, there are laws protecting people from it here, and are very common still there. A typical example – I recently read an article about a woman from Russia who came to America to birth her second child. SHe commented on the contrast on her treatment by medical personnel. There, when she asked a nurse to hold her hand during labor, she got a typical response from the nurse – shaming by an institution of power – “you knew how to split your legs apart for sex, and you now don’t know how to give birth?”. Here she was treated with dignity.

So coming recently from such a brutal environment it may be hard to quickly adapt to American expectations of careful sparing of other’s dignity and emotions. I pointedly don’t recruit au pairs from former USSR countries and former Eastern Europe for these reasons, among others.

Should be working April 25, 2014 at 3:09 pm

All the Euro APs talk about how fake and insincere Americans are. There is another way to look at this. We could say it is a more rhetorical culture. There is a rhetoric of friendliness–that insiders know is a rhetoric and so it is not superficial to them, it is just how things are done. Certainly to outsiders it feels just plain fake, but it could also be seen as a sophistication of sorts.

I have had to unmake some APs beliefs about honesty being a supreme value. E.g. I have asked them to try not to be so grumpy in the mornings, but to try to act a little cheerful, and they respond “But that would be dishonest!” And I point out that in America it is a virtue to act cheerful, even if you don’t feel that way, and I don’t care if you are feeling grumpy and don’t want to have to deal with it while we are in the midst of breakfasts and lunches. A “fake” cheerful demeanor sure makes our mornings more pleasant. And in fact we do precisely try to educate our children this way: Be polite with others, say good morning, say “great cake” even if it wasn’t.

Our last AP, upon returning to her country, wrote to me that the grumpiness was unbearable and she really missed the American cheery style.

HRHM April 25, 2014 at 3:27 pm

I think it’s also important to note that more than a few studies show that happiness, love and other emotions are not just emotions but actions. That if you smile, you will eventually experience a higher inner sense of well being from having done so. Your insides will reflect what your outsides show. So people who smile more tend to be happier (not the other way around, surprisingly!) Not sure where it came from, but the saying “Fake it until you make it” applies here. If I put on a brighter mood, people will generally be nicer to me and then I’ll feel better. It’s not about lying for me, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. AND, be a grumpy b!tCh and the opposite applies as well! LOL

Taking a Computer Lunch April 25, 2014 at 10:34 pm

I had a colleague who told me that my cheerful demeanor, despite raising The Camel, made her think twice before complaining about her own problems. I’m actually a “glass half full” kind of person, who when people ask, “Why aren’t you crying in your cups because you have so many problems?” use the Monty Python, Life of Brian song, “…always look on the bright side of life!” Americans may be accused of being Pollyannas (all you AP who don’t get that reference – read Anne of Green Gables – it’s a children’s book), but I actually think a smile and a kind word raise other people’s spirits and make them far more willing to go the extra mile for you.

Americans want connection with other people, even if it’s only superficial. I say “Good morning to several people I encounter every day in my walk to work.” Sure, I don’t KNOW them, but that daily hello raises my spirits and makes me want to be kinder toward the other people I encounter. What can I say? I’m American.

German Au-Pair April 25, 2014 at 6:10 pm

LOVE this topic.
Germans have a certain picture of Americans and it’s not good. So basically whenever I say that I’ve lived there for such a long time, I’m confronted with things like “Oh wow, how are Americans really like?” and “Uhg, are Americans really so horrible?” When I say I lived in the South, people usually picture your typical Redneck -even though they have no clue what the term means, of course.
So I find myself explaining away the American superficial culture quite a bit.

I think that to us Germans Americans seem terribly fake and we simply don’t understand going to the supermarket, having smalltalk and smiling at everyone. We wonder why you would pretend you’re happy when you’re not. We wonder how on earth it’s a good lesson for kids when adults are fake-cheerful in the morning because hey, the world is a terrible place (there’s a saying in German that translates to “Life is not a pony farm”) and children might as well learn that people can be grumpy in the morning. At the same time we want people to treat us nicely of course and moan when our children take out their grumpiness on us.
To me, the thing that shows the different mindset most is paying someone a compliment for a piece of clothing. I’ve gotten a lot of “Oh, I love your necklace” during my stay in the US. That made me happy. In Germany you just think it or tell your friend under your breath that the person next to you as an awesome purse. You thought or said the same thing, but it didn’t make anyone happy.

My HM once told me that just because your day sucked you don’t have to make someone else’s suck, too. That’s what stuck with me. I always tell others that no, Americans don’t want to know about the blister you have on your toe when they ask how you are but when they compliment your nice new scarf they also don’t secretly think “man, that’s ugly”. Being nice and friendly, making an effort to leave a positive impression on others who are clearly not the reason for your troubles and just trying to have a positive attitude when dealing with people is something I really had to put some work in. I had to learn not to be grumpy but cheerful and I found it actually helped with BEING a little more positive yourself. I found that when you go through life trying to ACT happier, MADE me happier. So what may have seemed fake in the beginning, became genuine very quickly and now I’m that strange German who fake-smiles at waiters and clerks and compliments people for having a nice purse.
And sometimes, when I find my fellow Germans to be too German to ever understand that, I just tell them that unless they’ve experienced this culture for themselves, they should keep their mouth shut and stop judging something just because it’s different.

kat April 27, 2014 at 7:48 am

i love this topic too! and agree with almost everything that has been said.
the general grumpiness and judging other people publicly has always been a shock and and issue for me, when i came back from my stay in the UK /back home to Czech Republic/. I often the odd one out smiling at and talking to strangers, for the above mentioned reasons.

Always Hopeful HM May 9, 2014 at 10:13 am

Funny– our au pair recently had a German friend visit, and she said EXACTLY the same things! I think one reason Americans may be viewed as fake-friendly is a misunderstanding of the difference between someone being friendly (pleasant smile, paying genuine compliments, helping a stranger, greeting passengers in an elevators) and someone wanting to be your friend. Many Americans I know are rather discriminate in picking friends, but are generally friendly to those around them unless there is some big issue causing them to focus inward, like a personal crisis, or if the person is very shy. Otherwise, as children are taught, their behavior is considered rude, and more importantly, their day is far less enjoyable! Interestingly, my au pair is also German, and he is remarkably friendly and outgoing, so i guess it really does depend on the person!

I believe in allowing oneself to express the full range of authentic emotions (within reason, or course!), so occasional grumpiness, especially in a “safe place” like home, is okay. If it’s more than occasional though, it suggests to me that there’s an emotional concern, and we need to figure out how to fix it and get back to the default friendly. Incidentally, I feel the same way if someone appears to be trying to appear pleasant, but it’s clear that it’s a cover. I don’t like fake-friendly either!!

Should be working May 9, 2014 at 12:01 pm

don’t get me started on preschool cultural differences! We lived in Germany when my kids were in preschool–and my German friends were shocked at how much emphasis I thought the school should be putting on teaching kids social skills–like including others who want to play, being polite, not taunting. The German attitude where we were was, “the kids have to work it out themselves”, “your kid has to learn how to fit in”. I really appreciate American “niceness training” as a result.

Mimi May 9, 2014 at 12:32 pm

I agree, although on the flip side, I wish the kids here had more chance to work things out themselves sometimes.

German Au-Pair May 9, 2014 at 4:50 pm

I actually like a balance of both cultures here. I think making people invite the whole class to a child’s birthday is a weird American thing. In Germany parents usually make you invite people who have invited you too and even that was annoying sometimes. I really think children should be allowed to celebrate their birthdays with their friends and not everyone.
I also strongly believe in parents not getting involved in harmless arguments amongst children because they can work it out themselves.
What I do love about American culture -but what’s actually starting to be a big thing here now, too- is teaching social skills. There used to be a lack of this here but luckily that has changed. I’m in my teacher education now and have friends who are preschool teacher and can assure you that all of us are taught how to teach those values, too now.

I think my ideal balance would be to teach children to respect and include others in group activities but still let them choose who they want to be with. And to help and encourage them to work things out themselves.

Should be working May 9, 2014 at 7:41 pm

German au-pair, I had SUCH BIG arguments with German preschool about birthday parties.

Fine if the kid doesn’t invite each kid in the whole class. BUT then the kids shouldn’t be handing out invitations at school! My poor kid was never invited (didn’t speak the language yet) but watched invitations get handed out every week or so and didn’t get one.

I brought it up with the teachers as a matter of kindness to the kids AND teaching the kids to have manners. They said, “But the parents don’t want all the hassle of MAILING so many invitations!” I didn’t say that then perhaps the parents need to learn some manners. They thought I was crazy. Although they did acknowledge it would be more polite and easier on the kids who weren’t getting invited.

HRHM May 9, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Yes, our school’s policy (every one we’ve attended thus far) has been NOT that you must invite the whole class, but rather if you hand out invitations at school, you must invite the whole class. If you only want to invite certain kids, you are free to do so. But those invitations must be sent or delivered to the home of the child in that case. Reasonable compromise…

German Au-Pair May 10, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I honestly wouldn’t have come up with this solution. It just seems very normal to us that invitations are handed out in pre(school) because that’s how it’s always been done. To some extent I believe it’s a learning opportunity for kids, too. I was never one of the cool kids so hardly ever got invited to socially desirable birthday parties (yes, even in elementary school there’s such a thing). But for me it was a good way of learning who my real friends were.
However, I do see the point when it comes to children who are never invited. And while I think another solution would be to encourage children to not exlude others but help them in situations like language barrier, I think your preschool teacher handled it badly. Because then it doesn’t matter if he/she agrees with you, if a parent asks if such a minor thing could be changed to make her child feel less excluded, why can’t you just do it? (Alternatively, find a great solution like talking to so parents you know well and suggest they might try inviting said child so he/she doesn’t feel excluded anymore. Not doing anything is not acceptable.) If it makes you feel better, even though this is a custom here, I don’t know any (preschool) teacher who wouldn’t react to the situation anymore. Things have changed here, too.

LondonMum April 25, 2014 at 12:33 pm

It’s funny you mentioned German AP, we had the opposite advice to you and we’re recommended not to have them 1) because they lack a sense of humour, 2) they are too “straight” not very flexible in their out look 3) they are quite strict and not much fun. Well we got a German au pair and she was none of those things! A lovely person who we had a good year with. Since then we have had quite a few Swedish au pairs, one commented that in the Swedish language it is not common to say please and thank you a lot. In UK we say it all the time and she got used to this, when she went home her Dad said to her, “why are you being so polite”! Her Dad thought it was nice but very funny.

We also have a reputation for not complaining about bad service or food, it drives my husband crazy that I always say “please don’t complain, we just won’t come here again”! Also, if someone slammed into us because they are not looking where they are going, we will say “sorry” to them. However, we will then complain bitterly about something when out if earshot! We should not worry so much about appearing inpolite.

As for Americans, they are always very friendly, in shops or restaurants, “have a nice day” etc, in UK if someone serving you was this friendly people would think they were being sarcastic and probably take offence! We are all about being understated and not too pushy but as I said we then complain a lot to friends/partners later! People are strange and funny!!

Taking a Computer Lunch April 25, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Your remark about the Swedish AP is interesting, because our Swedish AP always thanked me for dinner – she also always asked me about my day when I returned home, before jumping into a list of things she wanted to know. She taught us to be more grateful and receptive to the day of others.

As someone who has lived away from the States for long periods of time, the first thing that struck me when I returned was how loud Americans are!

LondonMum April 25, 2014 at 1:27 pm

By not say please and thank you I meant more “please pass the salt” rather than “can you pass the salt” and saying “thank you” when it has been passed. My Swedish au pairs also always thank me for dinner and are very polite generally. Another comment is that in Scandinavian countries people keep their houses a lot more tidy than in UK! I was once told, “In Denmark, when you have finished using something, you put it back and if you don’t someone will tell you to”! But they also said they found our house of organized chaos “charming” haha!

LondonMum April 25, 2014 at 1:30 pm

They do also always ask about my day too, and genuinely listen to and comment on the answer!

AussiePair April 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm

For me there wasn’t so much of a culture shock but a few things do strike me as different…

-Nobody uses their indicators when driving and in general drivers are much more aggressive than back home (although you notice it less/more in certain states)
-Here it is much more common to send food back if it’s not how you ordered or like, as is returning an item of clothing, people back home rarely do this, to me it feels rude (I don’t THINK it’s rude, but it is an ingrained feeling)
-Some children are more spoiled here than I have ever seen, parents want to give their child anything and everything that might make them happy (I honesty thought Australia was as bad as it could get, but this also varies between families)
-In general it seems that American children are “cotton-wooled” more, and parents tend to hover more than parents I know from home

AussiePair April 25, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Also children are much more likely here to go to preschool, if there is a SAHM, or a nanny it’s unlikely for the child to go to any sort of childcare or preschool until they are 3.5 or 4, only 1-2 years before they would start the first year of school. I also think children are expected to know more before their first year of school, back home it is seen more as the parents job to teach reading and writing, not for the children to know it beforehand

AussiePair April 25, 2014 at 5:51 pm

That was supposed to say the teachers job, and that back home children wouldn’t go to some kind of school until 3.5 or 4

Friendly Confines Mom April 26, 2014 at 11:05 am

Such an interesting and relevant topic for us right now. We have two AP’s we are interviewing that we like for different reasons. One is Brazilian. She has the stereotypical outgoing, friendly, smiling, “I love babies” personality. When she sees the kids she says how cute they are and tries to talk to them. She is talkative and easy to interact with. Her English is superb. The other is German. She is kind of shy, straight forward, not too much smiling or humor but enough for it not to be completely awkward. But she also seems really intelligent, mature, and no nonsense. When the kids are around during the interview, she does not really interact with them much, but does say hi and smile. Her English is just ok, not great. They both seem genuine and sincere. They both ask good questions. I think they could both fit with us in different ways. We have young girls, 9 months and 2.5 years old. I am leaning heavily towards the Brazilian, my husband is leaning towards the German. What’s interesting is that my husband and I have different personalities. While we are both pretty outgoing and social, he is more of a straight shooter, and not very emotional. Where I am very emotional, and I avoid confrontation. He likes the German AP for her “German” personality, because it is more like his, and I like the Brazilian AP for her “Brazilian” personality, because it is more like me. Both of these stereotypical personalities bring very different pros and cons to the relationship. I can see myself having a more friendly, personal relationship with the Brazilian, and a more professional relationship with the German. But I think the kids would respond better to the Brazilian, but really, who knows until they get her and interact with the kids.

I am home a lot more and my husband works long hours, so I think in the end, he would let me make the call, it’s so hard! I’m a first timer and this is emotionally overwhelming and draining for me. It’s also exciting and fun in a way too though. It is a great learning experience. Reading through these comments, I wonder, does the German think we are fake? We are both pretty outgoing, happy and smile and laugh a lot! But we are honestly happy people, we love life and have fun.

Momma Gadget April 26, 2014 at 11:22 am

Although both APs sound lovely- what do think childen need more at this tenderd age, nurturing or strait shooting?
I know which way I’d go.

Seattle Mom April 25, 2014 at 2:31 pm

We have had 3 French APs and they are all so different from one another. One was very emotional and kind of sullen at times, but when she was happy she was joyful. She was also a crier. Our current AP is not emotional at all… she is like a blank wall in many ways. Not sullen, but not happy either, never laughs, never cries. I actually find it a relief, though I feel like I can never really know her. She makes the appropriate noises when working with the children, but it doesn’t feel like her heart is really there. Our other French AP was an outlier.. looking back I’m pretty sure she must have had aspberger’s or something like that… I really wouldn’t base any cultural observations on her (she was also only with us for 6 weeks in total).

All of our French APs have taken great care with their appearance, and made friends immediately. One was more social with a wider range of people, but even the one who seemed socially tone deaf to us made a great show of making friends immediately- I think this might be a clue to French culture, that it’s very important to have a social circle. Though I guess that could just be a human quality :).

Our other au pair was Thai. Since she is the only Thai person I’ve known well I wouldn’t base too much on her… but my husband has traveled in Thailand and has known many more Thai people. She seems like an unusual Thai person, and unusual in general- she is extremely energetic and worked hard and played hard all the time. A very strong person who is not afraid to stand up for herself in any situation, but at the same time very sweet with the kids and deferential to us, the host parents. One thing that made me sad about her, and I think this might be cultural, is that she is SO beautiful but she was never satisfied with her appearance. As soon as she got home to Thailand she had some completely unnecessary plastic surgery done- to make her lip thinner. She also talked about her weight a lot, she was very conscious of whether she thought she should lose weight. She was sort of obsessed with all kinds of beauty products, she had shelves and shelves of them in her room. She would dress up to the nines on the weekends as well as any of our French APs, but she would also wear things like sweatpants during the week and dressed very casually in general when taking care of the kids. Sometimes she would still be in her footie pajamas in the kitchen when I left for work… that’s not something I’d ever see a French AP do.

Angie host mom April 25, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Hmmm.. aside from stereotypes and generalizations, I can say that the Germans have all been aghast when we’ve gone to a nice restaurant on BYOB night and actually brought our own wine. I can also say that the Polish au pairs have been negative initially to the ideas of homosexuality, to females as firefighters and doctors, and that’s been odd for us.

Also, apparently all the New Years Eve parties in the US stink.


Realistically, the Polish au pairs are coming from a country that is 95% Catholic, you are going to get Catholic values in there somewhere. The German drivers license is difficult to obtain, so if they have a license in Germany they have a good chance at being able to drive in the US if they are on the same kind of streets.

They all think Hollywood is this amazing place until they have been there, but I think that is true of the whole world.

Mimi April 25, 2014 at 4:04 pm

One of the features I like about the CCAP website is that there is quite a bit of information available on the countries they recruit in. Each AP profile will have a quick link to some basics for the country the AP is from. I’m not sure if other agencies have this info available.

Most of our APs have been from Austria. My family is of German/Austrian heritage and HD and I have lived in (him) and travelled much of (both of us) these countries. I have been told by all our European APs that I run a ‘very German household’ (I take that as a compliment ;) ) and I think we’ve had a lot of success with APs from here because of it.

Here is a link to their information about Austria . I think it is reasonably accurate, but of course each person is different. We’ve also found variations based on family circumstances and even geographic location. I’ve found that the DISCS profiles they include are helpful at determining how much someone might follow a particular cultural description.

We’ve found our German and Austrian APs to have the best English skills of the APs we’ve interviewed. (This makes sense since English is a Germanic language.) Their driving skills are always excellent based on the rigors of getting licensed in their home countries. Our Ukrainian, Polish, and Italian APs needed a lot of remedial help and the Ukrainian girl eventually admitted that she had purchased a permit with bribes. Socially, the Austrians were the most happy with our somewhat rural locale.

We purchased homeschooling materials for the twins to help occupy the long days at home and the Austrian girls were the ones who got the most out of them. They were also the most understanding when it came to misbehavior. The Ukrainian gal was mortified when one of the boys had a public meltdown and was unsure how to react at first. She wasn’t alone in her staunch belief that my boys should be compliant and obedient at all times, but our Germans/Austrians were much more accepting of them questioning decisions or opinions as a matter of their stage of development and independent personalities.

None of our APs so far have had trouble with our highly structured household, but I can tell our current Italian AP is a little out of sorts with it. She’s much more laid-back and social by nature and I’m hoping that this doesn’t become an issue down the road. She was the first of the APs we’ve had who was more concerned about fitting in with our family and being treated as such. For the rest of the APs, that was a matter of course. Her approach to spending time with the boys has been very different but in a positive way. She is more demonstrative than previous APs and I’m pleased to say that she has a better relationship with my oldest, who at 10 has been known to butt heads with the more staid of our APs.

TexasHM April 25, 2014 at 6:03 pm

APIA has limited country profile info, interexchange actually has entire packets of information for each country but just like their packet on the US (yes they send this to the APs upon match) its accuracy often varies based on the region but does a pretty solid job of covering everything. I thought this topic might save me reading 15 pages per country though. ;)

Momma Gadget April 25, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Fabulous topic!
Let’s see-

French- Our first AP didn’t last. But she was very social… but only with other french APs. Infact the 3 french Aps in our cluster would only talk to each other at any of the cluster events. She was lazy with a sense of entitlement… but I think that was just her.

South African- we had 2 , and met many other South African APs from our cluster, Some of the coolest people. Both ours were from Johannesburg, which from the way they described it was not very safe, Both their homes had elaborate security systems and razor wire topped fences . They loved the relative sense of safety & security in our family oriented suburban town. They were both very social and made lots of friends from all over the world, yet still were there for family events. Inspite of learning to drive on the “wrong side” of the road, their were both safe drivers. Their english was perfect.

Netherlands- This is my husbands heritage. We were so excited… until a week in. She was extremely nationalistic, rigid, narrow minded, had no sense of humor and was easily flustered when things did not go as she wanted, as was her other dutch friend( who ended up going home). She could not manage to even humor the kids when they would enthusiastically try to introduce her to some american treat our other APs had enjoyed. Everything was snarled ” We have better in Holland”. The kids revolted week 2 , and we went into rematch by the end of the first month. Even years later the kids will chant ” if your not Dutch, your not much” when ever her name is mentioned. But her english and cooking skills were both superb.
Hungarian- we had 2 hungarian Bro pairs- One was a rockstar- the other uh, not so much. We met many of their friends, and their family … all very warm lovely people. Though they do have a tendency to have strong opinions. I have the distinct feeling that the life style here is not so different from back home, (aside from the food, and language) and they assimilated easily without much culture shock. All have been good drivers, and been great at balancing their social life while still being part of our family. Their English was fair to good in the beginning, but bother were dedicated quick learners and improved tremendously before going home.

On Americans- having been an exchange student myself, and traveled to Asia quite a bit I agree- Americans are loud. We tend to wear our emotions on our face, and can be overbearing. I always think of Pride and Prejudice – we smile too much. LOL!

Seattle Mom May 1, 2014 at 2:36 pm

It’s funny, I would really like a Dutch AP at some point. I was a camp counselor for a few years when I was young, and my summer camps always employed a lot of “Camp America” counselors from Europe. For some reason I seemed to gravitate more towards the Dutch counselors as friends, and I liked how they were with the children. But I also had good friends from England, Ireland, Mexico, and Australia. The Dutch were just my favorite. I had a co-counselor from the Netherlands who I remember as being so sweet.

But I know that there are individuals everywhere.. the one French AP who didn’t work out for us was “more french than the french” in a lot of ways, and that was her problem.

NJmama April 25, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Great post TexasHM!
Although I hate to think of myself as someone who stereotypes I will admit I have been guilty of doing it and of course proven wrong.
My first au pair was a Brazilian in her mid 20s who was an immature party girl. We ended in rematch and as stupid as it sounds I swore I’d never match with another Brazilian – despite the fact that Brazil is a ginormous country.
Well right now I have a brilliant, mature, kind, patient and very social Brazilian – but not a huge drinking party girl – in her mid 20s whom my kids and I adore.
After the first Brazilian I matched with two 19 year old Germans in a row. Yes both spoke near perfect English and were excellent drivers. They were also very loving and had this quiet, firm patience about them. They would never fall to the level of my kids and fight with them when my kids were being obstinate or difficult. Instead they just very quietly and patiently waited them out. They were sticklers for the rules but not mean or overtly strict and my kids responded so well to that. They also really enjoyed playing with my kids and having fun!
And then I had 2 more 19/20 yr old German girls in a row who were nothing like the first two. When we rematched with the first we had very little to say to our area director about her childcare skills because they were just so weak, and boy was she immature. But she was an excellent driver and her English was good. The second we got in rematch and quite honestly she was not at the top of our list, partly because her English was not good at all. But we went with her because her area director gave her such a high recommendation it put her at the top of our list. Well she got here and not only was she just plain mean to my kids but she got into a car accident about a week after her arrival.
So all that goes to show you just never know. And it’s a great reminder about how silly stereotypes are.

CapitolHostMom April 26, 2014 at 11:22 am

My previous Au pair from France taught me through example and some conversation that I can be content not being number one at everything. The French seek balance in food, in child rearing and in life. This calmness extended to everyone in the house and was just so pleasant. Balance is not found running to the gym for yoga class after work or slamming down a glass of wine before you must get the kids ready for bed. I was initially aware of the stereotype that Americans are fast and on the go and driven in a way the French are not. But instead of accepting the au pair’s cultural differences, I’ve embraced them and it’s made all the difference.

WestMom April 26, 2014 at 12:00 pm

This topic is always so much fun to talk about but can quickly turn into gross generalizations… CV, it would be funny to also hear APs describe the American culture as they lived it with their host families. I am sure some of us would cringe at the description (as some APs will cringe at ours!).

We have had 4 full-term French APs. I love our French girls… We have a connection to the culture in many ways (kids in bilingual school, ancestors from France, many French friends, regular travels), so I feel I understand the culture pretty well. But the culture varies greatly depending on the area, and social class. I can only imagine that it would also be the case for even larger countries like Brazil and China. I’ll stick to what I see as the commonalities between the 4 who lived with us…

I agree that with Seattle Mom that our girls took care of their appearance, but in a very simple and understated way. One might like shoes, or bags, or clothes, but all wore very little makeup and were happy in sweats for the morning shift.

English is not a strong suit. English is poorly taught in France, and the majority of our APs came with a pretty low level of English. It’s fine with us bc we ask our APs to speak French in our home. But unfortunately, I think this language barrier encourages APs to stick with other French APs (the clique symptom Momma Gadget mentioned above…) and often go back home with rudimentary English skills.

All were excellent driver. We only had two minor fender benders (not their fault).
Family is important in French culture. I think it’s the only other western country to rival the US in birthrates. I find that French families generally develop a strong family bond (perhaps from eating together every day, and long family vacations). I see that strong bond in our candidates, and it feels natural to spend time together to prepare and have a long meal together and talk about our day. Unlike Texas HM, we’ve enjoyed talking about religion, politics, world events and happily collide in our opinions. And they should be ready to get an earful when they visit either set of grandparents.

I have heard many in the past speak about the lazy, entitled, complaining AP. Quite frankly, I have never encountered this. We have never heard a complaint about working too much, or working Saturdays, or having too many things on their plate. On the contrary, they have been excellent at following instructions and many have gone out of their way to do little extras here and there, like fold our laundry out of the dryer, or baking something special. Our current AP bakes from scratch almost every day. We do screen for this, but all our APs have enjoyed food and eating, and come with at least basic cooking skills. Cooking is a big part of our cultural experience.

None were into sports (the next one arriving is). Our APs are impressed/surprised by how active American families/children are. I can say that from my interaction with French families that women/girls typically don’t actively participate in sports. Our APs start to express an interest after they have gained their first 10lbs…

And finally yet, all took advantage of their long weekends and vacation to explore and travel with their newfound friends.

Side note: I hear about a high rate of rematch with French girls although we have luckily never had any. Would anyone know of rematch statistics per country or origin?

TexasHM April 27, 2014 at 11:55 pm

I want to clarify that I never said we don’t enjoy talking about religion, politics etc with our French AP. We talk about all those things and love it! What I said was my French AP was shocked that Americans talk about all these things with friends, acquaintances and grocery clerks where in France these things are not discussed often times even with close friends. I heard a similar story from our brazilians. For example, if you ask them if they want to get married and have a family and you’re a guy they literally think you are asking them if you will marry them and start a family right now! Because these things aren’t discussed even when you are in a relationship, let alone on a date. Our French AP now loves discussing all the “taboo” topics and finds it really interesting to hear different thoughts and opinions on all these things.

Bruna April 28, 2014 at 10:17 am

Omg, I LOL’d here! The thing with asking guys if they wanna get married and stuff is SO true!

WestMom April 28, 2014 at 10:35 am

Oops THM, I guess what I meant to say is that I haven’t had the same experience with our French APs or French friends whom I find quite open about any subject, and in some cases quite opinionated and always up for a healthy debate. Actually I find the French willing to talk about religion and politics much more openly than Americans do! Did not mean to say you do not enjoy these topics as well, of course!

TexasHM April 28, 2014 at 11:19 am

Too funny. I wonder if its a regional difference. Our AP often talks about the variances between Parisian APs vs APs from Nice, etc. I wonder if perhaps the city APs are more liberal in their discussions (not unlike in the US some could argue) than the APs from more suburban/rural areas in France.

Seattle Mom May 1, 2014 at 2:42 pm

I agree with everything you say- this really does capture our experience with our 3 French APs. And the regional differences are so interesting.

Our first AP was really exceptional though- she came to us with rudimentary English and left with almost native fluency. She is a smart, sharp girl who watched a lot of American TV in her spare time. She did socialize mainly with other french girls but also went out with some Americans. I introduced her to my friend who is her age (but american) and has kids the same age as mine (yes, a young mother) and they had many playdates together. I think that open attitude really helped with her language acquisition. My other APs (french and thai) have not been interested in playdates with American parents. Though my Thai AP had an american boyfriend and lots of american friends… she didn’t learn english as well I think because she just isn’t as intellectually strong as our first French ap.

hOstCDmom April 26, 2014 at 2:09 pm

This is a side tangent, but WestMom’s last sentence made me wonder if rematch rates are higher with APs from countries from which people can easily get visas to the USA? And for whom rematching and going home doesn’t mean that they will possibly never get a chance to come visit/live in/work in the USA again? (I guess this is more appropriately posted on the open thread for this weekend, so I will dbl post it there also.)

Bruna April 26, 2014 at 5:44 pm

That’s a very interesting topic. I’m a 22yo Brazilian AP-to-be and read the website a lot (and love it, it’s very helpful), sometimes I get a little concerned that Brazilian stereotype might confuse some HFs then they won’t even check my profile because my nationality.
It’s true that we’re very friendly and warm people, but many other characteristics come from our families and from where we live. Brazil is huge, and it’s very different from state to state, when we travel around here we find very VERY different cultures. I was born and raised in a smalltown of São Paulo state where everyone knows and greets everyone on the street. I moved to São Paulo by myself for almost 5 years now, I live in the same place and don’t even know my neighbor.
It’s also true that most of people live with their parents until they get married themselves and when young, they don’t leave the state to study like in the US, so the level of resposability and independence changes a lot.
I traveled to US once and met many Europeans, the Italians and Spanish people seemed as warm (or more) than the Brazilians, and I also made many lovely German friends.
I think we can’t stereotype anyone anymore, there are so different kinds of families everywhere nowadays…

JenNC April 28, 2014 at 7:48 am

Totally agree with you, same as Americans, you can’t stereotype because we are a huge lot of people, with many different cultures, from living in different areas of the US it almost seems like different countries Ina. Country because culture is very different all over th US. We are American, and other than that we are all different. Jen

Didis April 26, 2014 at 8:43 pm

as au pair, I remember my first months in US where really strange. People talking to me all the time, everywhere, was really hard adjustment for me, since I am just not very talkative at first. It did seam to be fake, all those compliments and interest, and kindness it was bothering me because I was finding myself not trusting anyone in this country.

If I know that my English was not so good and I asked people to correct and everyone kept saying how amazing I am, am I really amazing or are they being nice? How will I improve? Still is struggle for me not to ask people to stop saying sorry for weirdest things and being noisy occasionally.

I am now trying to find myself in middle of best from US culture and best from my Balkan culture. I come from Croatia.

I was raised very differently and I believe that many people would be shocked if they heard half of what’s normal back there.
Kids are raised very simply and in past few decades after war, many people were so consumed with all that happened that kids had to raise them selves. I believe I was lucky enough to always search for better, for more, and educate myself.
I have noticed that my culture is very grumpy, negative, we believe, as in one of previous blog posts was discussed, that kids should not be treated as something special and with so many privileges, unlike in US everything is revolving around that.

I believe if you ever choose au pair form East Europe, you will get hard worker, responsible person who will openly say what they believe and think and they will ask the same of you. Some will find that to be bad thing, but I function the best if I know how I stand, what is expected from me and what will happen next.
Eastern girls will help you raise your kids the way you want it, but they will help RAISING THEM, they will not just count hours for their 45 to be over and they can be done. We commit to what we choose and it is in our culture to work and deserve what we get.
also we are very proud and we will never mistreat someone, but we will not sit and watch someone mistreat us. I think if you are willing to treat your au pair nicely, you can get amazing helper in your family.

Also, when it comes to US culture, it was pretty hard for me to hear all the praise parents give to their kids, all gifts, all yes for everything and it was hard to find balance, at least for me, in between showing them how special and loved they are, but that I will not let them wear summer dress on a snow day just because they scream, can’t understand why did I say no for no reason, and they are not used to hearing no just because.
People in US often wear smile on their faces and chose to go through day without showing their true emotions, but I believe that sometimes its ok to show weakness, to show that not everything has to be perfect all the time, so even kids as they grow up can learn that it’s nice to be polite and not grumpy, but no one will judge or think wrong of them if they have bad day. That is not happy or sad day. that we all have good and bad moments, and just because occasionally will happen they are really in bad mood, it’s ok, and they will have to accept and embrace their feelings, without making big deal about it and expecting world to stop because of it.

I wrote lots stuff, hope it makes sense, and I didn’t mean to insult anyone, if someone founds themselves offended :)

London Mum April 27, 2014 at 4:32 am

Good post, nice to get a different perspective

JenNC April 27, 2014 at 12:51 pm

I find it interesting the perspective on American children. I try really hard to not spoil our kids, to teach them respect of things, other people,and other peoples property. I talk about money and let them know that things are expensive when I tell them no. I tell my aupair she is the boss when we are not around and the children are to listen and respect her. I think America is huge, and also many different “American cultures”. I was raised in the west and most kids are physically working on ranches from an early age. I had a real job at 14 and have never stopped working. I have found living In the south that in “general” children are more spoiled but I think it is because of the exposure to so much more, tv etc. sweet 6 parties, new cars etc….. Not how I grew up or most of the people I know from the western states. But in the south for those that can afford it is very normal it seems. It’s just interesting, I think “American children” are different depending on financial ability of parents, and also what part of country you live in and living I small towns versus big cities also big influence. Jen

WestMom April 27, 2014 at 2:14 pm

I find you comment about ‘it’s ok to show that you are having a bad day’ super interesting… I never realized that, but I think there is some truth to it. I personally try very hard, especially at work, to make it seem like everything is going great and I can handle anything no matter how I am feeling. I think this comes with the fact that most people in this country have little to no job security, and have to show their best side at all times. Women are also judged differently in the workforce. Showing too much emotion, bring grumpy or complaining is not acceptable by most standards…

Seattle Mom May 1, 2014 at 2:48 pm

So true! I remember reading in my intro to sociology class, some twenty years ago, about “emotional work.” Most people in middle class professions have to regulate their emotions as part of their work. It’s part of being in the service sector- you are not just selling a product & service to a customer, you are also selling a positive attitude. It takes a lot of effort to do this emotional work and it takes a toll. But we have to do it to stay employed, and then we expect our employees & family members to do the same. It’s why children of middle class people are much more employable in middle class jobs than children of working class or poor people- it has not much to do with intelligence and skills, it’s more being brought up learning how to regulate emotions and how to be more positive.

Momma Gadget May 1, 2014 at 6:25 pm

This makes me chuckle- the patriarch of our company makes the rounds everyday. He always asks ” Any problems? Everything OK?” when he enters my department. The building could be burning down around us, but we would all declare with broad smiles that everything is busy and perfect… I was warned early on that he is just taking attendance. He doesn’t really want to hear about any of our “challenges”.

OpinionatedHM May 2, 2014 at 12:12 pm

I never thought of it this way, but it is so true!

Bruna April 26, 2014 at 9:04 pm

That’s a very interesting topic. I’m a 22yo Brazilian AP-to-be and read the website a lot (and love it, it’s very helpful), sometimes I get a little concerned that Brazilian stereotype might confuse some HFs then they won’t even check my profile because my nationality.
It’s true that we’re very friendly and warm people, but many other characteristics come from our families and from where we live. Brazil is huge, and it’s very different from state to state, when we travel around here we find very VERY different cultures. I was born and raised in a smalltown of São Paulo state where everyone knows and greets everyone on the street. I moved to São Paulo by myself for almost 5 years now, I live in the same place and don’t even know my neighbor.
It’s also true that most of people live with their parents until they get married themselves and when young, they don’t leave the state to study like in the US, so the level of resposability and independence changes a lot.
I traveled to US once and met many Europeans, the Italians and Spanish people seemed as warm (or more) than the Brazilians, and I also made many lovely German friends.
I think we can’t stereotype anyone anymore, there are so different kinds of families everywhere nowadays…

Anna April 27, 2014 at 9:16 am

I had one Croatian au pair who was a terrible au pair, she was one of those nightmare stories that you hear about but hope they are urban legends. Lied multiple times, put kids in danger, left them alone in the car, left them unsupervised… was sent home eventially. Don’t think it was because she was from Croatia, but I have never met a more skilled liar than her.

HRHM April 27, 2014 at 4:00 pm

I had both a Serbian and Bosnian AP (although Croatia is a separate country now, they were all part of former Yuogslavia) and both were soooooo different than Americans. They didn’t have car safety seats back home, thought nothing of leaving very small children (by US standards- 4 or 5) on their own for periods of time, AND it seems that in their culture, the best liar wins. It wasn’t that they were bad people, but when you live in a culture of corruption and scarcity, the person who is honest often comes in last and is considered a patsy. While all former Yugo people think of themselves as separate and distinct, they all have appeared to have this same attitude.

Always Hopeful HM April 27, 2014 at 11:01 am

I’ve had one Brazilian au pair and one German. I don’t think either really fit cultural stereotypes. The Brazilian au pair was very professional, kind but reserved, friendly, but not a lot of friends. I viewed her personality more a result of her age (26) and experience (she was an extraordinaire) than culture. One thing– a Brazilian coworker had suggested I make clear to her that rolling stops are unlawful. AP was really grateful that I did, because she said she had emblazoned in her mind her dad yelling “Don’t stop!” whenever she approached a stop sign!

German AP is consistently warm, friendly, outgoing and cheerful. But punctual, so I guess that fits the stereotype!

JenNC April 27, 2014 at 12:52 pm

I find it interesting the perspective on American children. I try really hard to not spoil our kids, to teach them respect of things, other people,and other peoples property. I talk about money and let them know that things are expensive when I tell them no. I tell my aupair she is the boss when we are not around and the children are to listen and respect her. I think America is huge, and also many different “American cultures”. I was raised in the west and most kids are physically working on ranches from an early age. I had a real job at 14 and have never stopped working. I have found living In the south that in “general” children are more spoiled but I think it is because of the exposure to so much more, tv etc. sweet 6 parties, new cars etc….. Not how I grew up or most of the people I know from the western states. But in the south for those that can afford it is very normal it seems. It’s just interesting, I think “American children” are different depending on financial ability of parents, and also what part of country you live in and living I small towns versus big cities also big influence. Jen

LondonMum April 27, 2014 at 4:08 pm

It’s the same with many UK children, I think they are too spoiled and I often say “no” even when something is affordable because I don’t want them to get used to having whatever they want. I too often tell my children that things are expensive so “no”. They totally get this and never ask for things which is quite unusual for London. I also often say “there are 5 people in this family and we all need a turn at doing something we want – it’s not all about you”. It teaches them to think of others and have empathy, also if they do something someone else wants they might actually find something new they enjoy. Also, going to someone else’s house and being given food, they would, never say “I don’t want this” or “can I have something else” I think this is so rude, they know that being given a meal at someone’s home is like a gift and you just say “thank you”, no one would deliberately give you something you don’t like! Some mothers think this is very strict but I have to say honestly, many, many people have said to me “your boys are so lovely” and one mum I know will only ever have my son over for a sleep over as she knows he is no trouble and pleasant company. Having said all that we have a very laid back and fun household and my sons do get rewards and treats but is a magazine or a mini bag of chocolate buttons, not something expensive, and a fun time for them is a family bike ride or rowing on the lake in Finsbury Park – no need for a big expense, what most children want is just your time and attention. For us, although both my husband and I came from a poor background, we now are very financially secure but it’s about teaching our children to value people over possessions and stuff. I’m with you all the way JenNC!

German Au-Pair April 28, 2014 at 5:05 pm

On a different post I have told the story about how my HM’s friend just dumped her kids (9-11) at our house just after lunch time and expected me to feed them. After they’d been through the pantry they appeared at my doorstep and aksed to be fed right now. I was amazed.

I love that you mention empathy. My kids had a disability and therefore and especially hard time with that. But they’ve also been raised to think that their emotions are most important, aside from homework they never had to do anything they didn’t want to. They got to be grumpy but adults didn’t.

What was shocking to me was when we were on vacation and the kids (pre-teens) got tired, we immediately stopped sightseeing and got them back to the hotel. I once took my little brother on a day-trip to the zoo. He was 7 and we spent about 6 hours just walking and watching the animals. Of course we did have breaks, he got to go to the playground and I adjusted the pace to his needs but he also had to power through being exhausted and hurting feet. I explained to him that his feet didn’t hurt because he was little but that mine hurt too and that’s the price you pay if you want to do something fun all day. We were both exhausted but he had so much fun and never complained. I think that was a valuable lesson and felt like my kids never had any life lessons like those.

Seattle Mom May 1, 2014 at 3:02 pm

I think you hit the nail on the head of a big problem with American parenting culture- people are afraid to let their kids feel any discomfort at all. Not everyone is like this, but it’s pretty pervasive. Not just physical discomfort, but emotional discomfort, or recognition of failure and frustration.

I am nice to my kids and treat them with respect. That is important to me- I listen to them and try not to yell, and I always have a good reason when I say no. I will listen to their arguments and sometimes give in if they make a good point. But I also push them a little. I don’t buy them stuff when we go shopping (unless I was planning to get them something in particular). Not only because of the money, but because they have too much stuff. We don’t need more kid junk in our house. And we have less than most people I know. There’s this whole culture of toys and kid stuff.. it’s so weird.

The thing I find hardest is to let them be hungry.. I know that Americans are obsessed with snacking compared to others and our kids just stuff their faces way too much (as the adults do too). Every single kid event seems to have a snack component. I use snacks to keep my kids compliant at times, but I’m aware of it and I do say no sometimes.. it’s just really hard for me. My husband is the one who makes me aware of this- he grew up with no snacks and a lot less stuff than me, so he has an easy time denying food. And you know what? The kids are fine with him and they even enjoy him more. It’s just harder work for him to do it. This is part of why I want APs with healthy attitudes toward food- I don’t want them to deny my kids, but I also don’t want them to give in to every whim. I’d like them to be more strict than me.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 3, 2014 at 7:51 am

My first AP gave in to child #2 at the store because she didn’t want him to fuss loudly. He came home with junk to eat or a little junky toy and I was shocked. He tried that with me at the check out line, and raised a fuss, and I held, so he stopped. Kids like boundaries – although they will always see if they can be pushed. When they were little and a snack was called for – I always brought (or sent in) something healthy – raisins, pineapple, sliced oranges, apples. What shocked me was that every elementary school teacher thought the kids needed a snack – which means my kid ate 3 times during the school day (he did Spanish for a half-day and English for a half-day), including lunch. Right now child #2 is a teenager, and often skips his lunch – and then runs up to the 7/11 around the corner to buy chips and soda (with his allowance money). We’re trying to put and end to that – he’s getting chunky!

As for all the junky toys – I round them up once a year and give them to the local elementary school. Most of the classrooms have “stores” in which kids can select prizes for the tickets they have earned for good behavior.

The only thing I don’t know how to recycle are all the “awards” my son won for participating in sports. We’re awash in them! (And of course they were meaningless, because everyone received one.) IMO, it’s okay for there to be winners and losers.

My weakness is books, a passion that child #2 shares.

German Au-Pair May 4, 2014 at 9:03 am

That’s actually the one aspect of American culture that I could never come to terms with. I think many kids are somewhat pampered until they are grown and then suddenly they are expected to handle things.
I once had a fun outing planned with my visiting family and the kids and my boy was supposed to do his homework. I gave him every help he needed but not only did he not want to do it, he also tried lying about having read his texts. I caught him, offered him a second chance and told him he needed to do it know beause I had my class in an hour and would leave for the outing right after. And that he couldn’t come if it wasn’t done. He refused to do it, very calmly after weighing his options. I made sure he understood that he’d have to do it anyway and that he couldn’t come if it wasn’t done. He agreed to that.
I would have stuck to my word because I do think teenagers need to be able to make decisions and then deal with the consequences but while I was in my class, my HM persuaded him to do it so he could come. Of course I loved having him with us so I was glad on some level but it also really annoyed me because I just think that life doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t give you a fourth and fifth chance. And when the consequences aren’t harmful or have any greater impact, I’m all for letting children experience them.
When we would go to the zoo, we would go right when the kids were tired. Of course my perception was colored from my own upbringing but I constantly felt like the children never had to live through something (minor) in order to respect others’ needs and wishes, too.
I understand that their school life was rough for them, but again, pampering them in their free time doesn’t help with that either.
When the kids “apologized” (as in, justified their actions…) for something, everything was okay. I always made a point of letting them know that we are good now but that they’d hurt my feeling and that doing whatever you want and apologizing later is not exactly the way it’s supposed to go.

German Au-Pair May 4, 2014 at 9:10 am

Oh and another thing I noticed: help is thrown at children most of the time. Whenever they express something like “I don’t know how to do it” or “it doesn’t work”, someone will jump in and help them. I learned pretty quickly that when you actually let them try -and experience failure and then try again- they can figure out things by themselves. I would only help when directly asked for it. When they’d whined constantly I would remind them to ask for help if needed in the moment, sometimes I would only tell them afterwards “you know, you could have asked for help and I’d happily done that”.

JenNC April 27, 2014 at 1:10 pm

I am on our second aupair from Colombia South America. I have been very pleased with both of them, but. I am enjoying our second aupair even more. In my first aupair I needed a good English speaker, I was new to this child care option and felt it important for my children to be able to communicate with ease with our aupair, as well as my self. Our second aupair was more shy and her English not as good, however it felt more comfortable because I can communicate better and speak more spanish now. After some English classes she is speaking very well . I also prefer spanish speaking aupairs and request they speak primarily spanish with my young children, and I think both aupairs know that we appreciate their language and culture. Colombians driving ability varies greatly. Both of my aupairs can drive however laws in Colombia in driving , some are “suggestions” and their driving ability also depends on where they live in the country. If they live near big cities and drive they will be okay in America. But if they live in small town then driving skills will be less. My second aupair required more time to the adjustment of driving here. I was worried but after about two weeks she was doing fine, knock on wood no accidents and we are on month 5. Colombians are friendly, warm, loving, and in general appreciate a sense of family. Both wanted to be treated like a family member, although our first aupair was also very interested in a social circle and going out at night and weekends when off, I think more so because she is single. Our second aupair is more of a home body, enjoys going out but truly likes to be with us and will opt to go with us whenever we do anything. I have been lucky to meet other ” Colombians” on accident on vacation and they are always hugs and warm when they meet a fellow Colombian, like they are old FAMIly even if they are meeting for the first time. And they have been very Friendly and warm to me a strange American. Many young Colombians reside with their family into their late 20s and even 30s, owning property together etc. Although some have lived independently or traveled because of school, many are used to influence of their parents, I think you have to really investigate family dynamic, my first aupair was baby of the family, and after time realized she was kind of a princess, although we liked her, she also had a normal 9-5 job in Colombia and when time was up she was done and gone. Our current aupair is the oldest of her family , has a boyfriend of 7 years and just seems more grounded not so worried about external appearances etc. she is a hard worker and loves our kids, her job in Colombia in emergency dentistry with kids requires working shifts, nights, weekends and holidays…. So far she has been more flexible with us and the hours we need and I think it’s because of her work experience. Overall I think Colombia is a great place to choose an aupair from, most of the girls are educated and want to improve their English as this is very important for postgraduate in Colombia or for advancement In the companies they work for. I plan to continue to choose Colombian aupairs for our family. Jen

WarmStateMomma April 27, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Our two APs have been from China and they are as different as two people can be, so I’m not sure what’s cultural and what’s attributable to the individual. They both have endless patience with my toddler, have health-related beliefs that throw us for a loop, and dislike Western food. My impression is that Chinese culture embraces earnestness in the way that we embrace irony or sarcasm. They do feel comfortable criticizing someone’s cooking or appearance in a way that seems rude here. They are less informed about the world than you’d expect of a 20-something with a college degree. Both APs said they didn’t really know how to cook, but they are capable of making really delicious food without resorting to a recipe.

I was fortunate to stay with a host family in France many years ago and would echo the comments made by others that French people have a knack for finding balance in their lives.

Old China Hand April 28, 2014 at 12:44 pm

We are still finishing up our time (2 of 18 months left) with our first AP from China and some things she does are what I expected (drink only warm water, for example, especially when women are on their period), but others are totally different. She is really open, friendly, and more outgoing than Chinese girls I have known before. Of course, my friends in China are now like that, but they weren’t when I first met them. She also exercises regularly, which is unusual, but we were attracted to her partly because she played basketball in college. She doesn’t hate western food, which is normally pretty common.

On a not totally related note, since I can’t compare multiple APs from the same country, I thought of something that people here might be interested in. The Geert Hofstede cultural dimensions indices are really useful for looking at broad characterizations of cultures ( They are individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, power distance index, and long-term orientation. You should check out the website for the details on each, but on a quick screen after skimming these comments, I noticed that Germany and the US are similar on many of them. That could explain reduced culture shock. In any case, it’s a useful way to characterize yourself and to think about what countries an AP could come from to share those characteristics.

WarmStateMomma April 28, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Interesting site! Thanks for sharing.

WarmStateMomma April 28, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Another thought: China seems to be one of those countries where young people want to be in the biggest city possible. My impression is that people with education or resources flee the countryside for the big city – a big contrast from the US or Europe where you could easily find great professors, authors, doctors, etc. in smaller cities and towns. Someone else mentioned her Chinese AP feeling stranded on a rural island vacation and it’s something I’ve heard before on a couple of our vacations.

Old China Hand – Is this your impression?

Old China Hand April 29, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Sorry for the delayed reply… Wasn’t working today so I was busy with my son all day. In any case, I don’t know if that is the case for Chinese Au pairs coming here. Our ap thinks it may be, but she is from a rural area, has a ton of friends in the states through the orphanage she trained at, and is really busy. She said that people who like to shop or eat out may have a hard time in our town but if you like free activities, it’s a great place to live (small college town with a ton of stuff going on). I meant to ask one of my students from shanghai at lunch today but didn’t get a chance to. In any case, I think that it would be a huge adjustment going from a city that you can get anywhere easily on public transportation to suburban us. It certainly was for me when I started college and I was a college student. I had moved from Hong Kong (albeit a somewhat outlying place, but we still had good bus service) to a small us town and it was kind of a shock, even taking into account that college kids usually don’t leave campus much, especially first years, at residential colleges in the us.

WarmStateMomma April 30, 2014 at 8:08 am

I sometimes wonder how to drive home the lack of public transportation here, so a candidate knows what to expect. I told both APs that we don’t have public transportation but they both seemed surprised by the fact when they arrived.

Old China Hand April 30, 2014 at 2:36 pm

We have none either and don’t allow our AP to drive. We provide a bicycle and in our case there is a ton going on in town, so it’s not so horrible. Would suck if you wanted to get somewhere outside town besides walmart on a regular basis. It sucks for us getting her to cluster events.

TexasHM April 28, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Very cool site. I wish I was smart enough to glean tips from this! ;)

Now NZ former HM May 4, 2014 at 1:01 am

We had 4 Au Pairs. 1st from Brazil, she was an awesome Au Pair(once trained in regards to the fact that we did not have a maid, gardener etc) but crazy and got fired after 4 months/ 2nd Au pair Belgium and awesome, still in contact with her. 3rd from SA and crazy as a bessy bug, truly a princess, we sent her packing after 6 weeks, 4th one from Austria(a rematch for her) was just plain dumb. Apparently we were to poor for her!!!!! She was at end of her 1st yr and wanted to extend, we refused and she went home.

We are contemplating an Au Pair here but we will be very wary and I am not fussed where they are from. My post just trying to show that you cannot tell whom will be a good or bad Au Pair based on culture and country.

exaupair May 4, 2014 at 9:01 am

So the AP1 was awesome and still got fired?

Now NZ former HM May 5, 2014 at 1:02 am

The first Au Pair was awesome but liked to party hardy and did something highly illegal and so we told agency she needed to go, agency fired her and then she became illegal in the US! When she was on duty she was great.

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