Water-Conserving Host Parents Challenge Au Pair Cleanliness Preferences

by cv harquail on November 11, 2015

My host parents are very, very concerned about conserving water. We live in a part of the US (not California) where there has been a normal amount of rainfall– so a lack of actual water is not the reason.

5318518796_3dfd669c6f_mIn the house, the bathroom sinks have no hot water. I have to wash my hands always in cold water. There is also almost no water pressure — water comes put in a trickle.

It’s even worse with the shower. At home I would shower every day. Here, my host parents have made it clear that they don’t want me to shower every day. So I shower every second day.

The host dad has even explained to me that I should only turn the shower on when I am ‘using’ it. So, for instance when I am applying shampoo, body wash, conditioner I should turn the shower off and turn it back on only to rinse. I have been doing this even though it means that I’m often freezing cold. My host dad seems to hover near the bathroom when I am showering and I am sure he is listening to the water turn on and off. I use as little water as is humanly possible. It’s hard to feel clean.   

My host parents themselves don’t shower more than once a week. The kids are only bathed once or twice a week.

Then there’s my laundry. I can feel my host dad get upset whenever I go to laundry room. For myself, I have been doing 1 load a week. Every second week I use the super-short water conservation cycle. I only have the clothes I brought in one suitcase, so I don’t have many clothes to change into between wash loads. I don’t believe I’m being obsessive about my own cleanliness.

My own parents have offered to pay a gym membership for me so that I could shower there daily and save on towel usage and laundry. I am very tempted by their offer, but at the same time I feel this issue should be resolvable.

I am not interested in quitting– I really want to keep my commitment to this family. I have managed to adjust to a lot of cultural and personal differences, and I believe that these are good people. But the showering issue for me is very personal.


Should she reconcile herself to feeling (and being) dirtier than she’d like?

Depend on her parents for a gym membership so she can shower more often?

Or talk to her host parents point blank about different expectations about how clean one needs to be?


See also:
What To Do When Your Au Pair Doesn’t Bathe


LuckyHM#3 November 11, 2015 at 10:09 pm

This is kinda crazy! For me, the only option is to talk to the HF to at least change their “water usage policy” for the AP. If they refuse, I would rematch. HF are supposed to provide room and board, any the ability to shower at least one a day falls squarely in that space and AP’s parents should not have to pay for gym membership for their daughter to be able to shower. Now if AP, if AP was showing multiple times a day then perhaps the HF can complain. Also 1 load of laundry a week is more than appropriate IMHO.

If my AP bathed only 1x a week and after me offering feedback on this and she refused to change to my ” Cultural preference ” then I would rematch so I believe the opposite is only fair. I understand every family is different but this is a crazy situation. If I dont shower at least once a day, I feel dirty, my body literally itches.

My kids are bathed every night and cleaned/wiped every morning because of time pressure and this took me a while to be okay with. I couldn’t live with a HF who only shower once a week if I was an AP. AP2 initially thought bathing the kids daily was too much but we explained that this was our preference despite living in a very high water cost area. Not sure if she agreed or not but she kept her opinions on that to herself and actioned our requests regarding baths for our children.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 11, 2015 at 10:38 pm

Nothing in your letter suggests a reason why you enjoy living with this family. Are you their first AP? Did you communicate with your predecessor? I recommend talking with your LCC and asking her to communicate with your HF to let them know that a daily shower and weekly water is normal.

Every family has quirks, but this is bordering on the irrational! (Who wants to smell adults who only bathe once a week?!!!)

exaupair November 14, 2015 at 12:18 pm

That is the first thing that comes to my mind, boy they must smell!
If the OP is complaining then I’m guessing the HF didn’t communicate it prior to matching. That is a really bizarre situation to be in, to me showering at least daily is a must. Asking me not to do it would be a deal breaker.
I don’t think the OP should rematch just yet, but she absolutely needs to have her agency involved. If she can’t put her foot down with a very unreasonable request from that family then maybe the LCC will. Also if the OP is certain the host father creeps behing the bathroom door when she takes a bath she should speak up, this isn’t just stingy anymore it is borderline creepy.

On the other hand (not defending this host family here!) not using the water when you don’t need it (while brushing teeth, washing hair etc.) is not unreasonable at all. I do it, I would like my child to make it a habit and I would certainly as my AP to do it even though there’s no water crisis where I live. I like to live environment friendly life but I would never ask anyone living in my home to wash once weekly.

TexasHM November 15, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Agreed except for this: “If the OP is complaining then I’m guessing the HF didn’t communicate it prior to matching”. I hear APs complain ALL THE TIME about things that HF disclosed before matching/arrival. The problem is, as others have mentioned, when most APs are in their home countries they are excited and at times desperate to match and “finally” live their dream.

We are EXPLICIT during interviewing about pretty much everything you can imagine and even after reviewing multiple times we still have moments of “let’s reference the handbook”. Our first AP was good with everything until the end of her first year (when she got an American boyfriend) and then decided she didn’t like a rule and we were unfair and we should “rewrite the handbook” so its not at all uncommon for something to be discussed during matching when everything is hypothetical and not seem like a problem only to arrive and realize it really is going to be a problem. Or, for something not to be a problem all year and then become a problem because circumstances change.

The only reason I wanted to know if it was disclosed upfront is because it would color my response/reaction. Meaning if they told her in detail upfront and now she is realizing it isn’t for her then I would likely tell her to get the gym membership and adjust to finish her term. If they did not tell her any of this upfront then I would probably tell her that she needs to have a sit down with them immediately to get to the bottom of it and to go into that conversation with solutions (let me bathe every other day however I want, I am getting a gym membership but occasional showers here still however I want, or whatever other scenario you are comfortable with). If they tried to keep you from doing the gym membership or wouldn’t discuss in a compromising manner then I would involve LC and discuss leaving. Something this restrictive isn’t fair to surprise an AP with after arrival.

Mimi November 15, 2015 at 5:14 pm

I think there are occasions where the reality of what you agreed to is beyond something you can actually deal with, regardless of how carefully it is explained beforehand. Until you actually live in a situation, you can only imagine how it might be and most APs may not have a realistic idea of their personal limitations if they’ve never been challenged in these ways before. Even the most circumspect person can make a judgement error in assuming that they can handle a conceptual scenario. The reality is they won’t know until it happens.

Meg November 11, 2015 at 10:43 pm

Did they communicate this during matching?

TexasHM November 12, 2015 at 12:42 am

+1 need to know if this was discussed upfront. Where I go sideways is the description of the shower “rules”. IE – turn off water when shampooing, doing body wash, etc. That’s very obtrusive. I will own the fact that I don’t shower everyday but I also don’t workout everyday and I am a unnaturally low sweat/not oily person (hubs showers twice a day usually he is the opposite) but I also realize that this is highly variable and largely personal. If an AP showered multiple times a day I would probably mention it. We make fun of our APs that shower to go to the gym because I think that is ridiculous but again, unless their showers are 30+ minutes long I probably wouldn’t bat an eye. And if they got long I wouldn’t tell them how to shampoo I would just ask them to either take a bath or hop to it a little more.

We have hosted 4 successful APs and never had showering be an issue. The bigger concern I have reading this is actually for the APs stress level. Living under this kind of perceived scrutiny can make you crazy. It’s not clear how long you have been with this family or why they are so passionate about water usage – causal (environment), financial (expense), OCD (control) what is the deal?!

My APs have mentioned that in orientation they are told to shower daily because Americans value cleanliness and they have more issues with APs NOT showering for extended periods than they do APs showering too much. In almost 5 years in the program I have never heard of a scenario like this and I was beginning to think I have heard it all. If they told you beforehand then its tricky but if you were told this after arrival I would borderline consider this a hostile working environment and although I appreciate your commitment to the family, you have to have some level of personal comfort/authority.

German Au-Pair November 12, 2015 at 10:30 am

We also get (or got, it’s been a while..not sure if that changed) a paper that literally said if we wanted to take part in American culture we need to shave regularly :D
While I personally wouldn’t wear shorts with hairy legs, I was shocked to read this.

TexasHM November 12, 2015 at 12:45 am

LOL I just reread my post and cracked up – I said it was obtrusive and meant intrusive.

BearCo Momma November 12, 2015 at 10:05 am

I agree with others that if you were told about this before, it is technically fair. That said, lots of APs agree to things they maybe shouldn’t without thinking through what it will really mean on the ground, and I still think you’d be well within your rights to rematch over this. I FOR SURE could not live in this environment myself – no way.

If they didn’t tell you about this coming in, then that is truly unfair to you as this is not a typical situation at all and I think very few people would be okay with it. Not saying they couldn’t find an AP who would be okay with it, but that it would be a lot harder and definitely this should be disclosed CLEARLY upfront. I don’t think you should worry about your commitment to them much (if that is the only thing keeping you there) because this is almost deceptive on their part to ask you to commit to them for a year without this info beforehand on how it would be.

As for whether you should stick it out, it’s up to you and how much it bothers you. If you love them for other reasons, maybe consider your parents offer for the gym membership. You could think of it as your Exciting Adventure with the American Environmentalists! Like a year long wilderness camping expedition! I think it’s unlikely they will change their habits through a conversation, though, if they are already so extreme.

Meg November 12, 2015 at 11:34 am

Just to clear I wasn’t asking meaning if it was discussed AP has to put up with it. More if not discussed I think it could be a bad sign. Not showering would make her stand out negatively in American culture. It’s not fair.

ChicagoHostMom November 12, 2015 at 10:11 am

Agree – a daily shower is a basic human right in my mind … And a real shower even if limited to 5 minutes flat – with soap and continuously running warm water and all those wild luxuries. I think you should talk to your counselor. If this is a money or Eco-issue for the family, why are they offering to pay a gym membership to enable long showers? I guess it just doesn’t make sense to me. Given your admirable commitment to the family, it sounds like it is worth trying to understand the rationale. If they can’t compromise on something like a daily (warm) shower, then I’m not sure they could compromise on anything. Having just come out of rematch, there are plenty of nice rational families who will let you shower daily AND wash your hands with warm water! If you don’t raise it as an obstacle and get help from your counselor, it surely will not change.

BearCo Momma November 12, 2015 at 10:14 am

I think it’s the APs REAL parents offering to pay for the gym membership. ( I had the exact same thought – thinking that sounded totally hypocritical – so I went back and re-read that part )

ChicagoHostMom November 12, 2015 at 10:14 am

Sorry I just saw it is your own parents offering the gym membership! I still recommend talking with your counselor but this might be a deal killer with this family. Even if they disclosed it up front, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to rematch if they are not amenable to letting you bathe regularly.

Boy Au Pair Spain November 12, 2015 at 10:29 am

You should talk to them. It does seem pretty crazy but maybe there is a reason we are all missing. Maybe they have limited water because they are very rural and are using collected rain water?? haha.I really have no idea what the sane reason could be but it doesn’t mean there isn’t one. I know sometimes in Europe fairly poor families get au pairs and dedicate a large proportion of their wage to them so that their kids learn English. I suppose in this case it is possible that the family would be so strapped for cash that they are watching very carefully how much water they use. However, I believe this is not the case in the USA with the cost of an agency etc prohibiting such cash strapped families from getting an au pair. I would be tempted to believe that it is part of an underlying control issue the family have over the au pair but then I don’t think the use of the water would be the only thing they would want to control and that you would be complaining about many more things too.

I would try an appeal to their emotions… start by saying everything is great and you are really happy etc etc but you are getting stressed about the shower situation. You worry that you are starting to smell and don’t feel clean. You could explain how everyone’s body is different and that you produce a lot of sweat (even if you don’t produce an abnormal amount of sweat you surely do more than them if they can get away with only showering once a week and not stink!). Mention that your parents even offered to buy a gym membership to shower because you were so upset about it.

German Au-Pair November 12, 2015 at 10:35 am

This soudns SO Unamerican to me…it’s usually the other way round -while most Germans I know will wear their clothes a second time (and with pants also more than that), Americans tend to produce an amazing amount of laundry. My girl changed her undies twice a day.
Honestly, I couldn’t live like that…if I don’t shower daily my hair looks like I fell into a frying pan. I have friends who only wash their hair once a week though so I see why it would work for others.
What I don’t think is unreasonable is to ask the people in your household to turn off the shower while you’re not using the water. It’s a very basic yet effective principle of conserving water and everyone I know does that (when possible…when it’s freezing, I just turn it down for example).
I would absolutely talk to them about this and tell them you need to feel clean and that has something to do with your quality of life.

Old China Hand November 12, 2015 at 7:34 pm

I’m with you on turning the water off. My dad tells people to do that when they visit in New Hampshire. We used to have a shallow well problem and don’t anymore, but my dad still is anal about it.

NBHostMom November 12, 2015 at 10:46 am

This is a big NOPE for me. I personally couldn’t live like this, I love my showers, baths and fresh smelling laundry!

For you AP, are you enjoying other aspects of this quirky host family enough to live like the for a year? Guessing ‘no’ as you’ve written in about this issue. If you otherwise enjoy your host family, maybe a gym membership compromise could work (host parents should contribute to cost in this scenario, in my opinion)

Talk to your LCC, it is probably time to have a difficult conversation with your host parents. You may end up in re-match or you may find a compromise. Remember, host families agree to provide room and board. In my book, that includes more than 1 express shower per week.

Mostly curious, are you living in a rural area with well water (as opposed to a city water supply)? Their well could be running low, which could explain the logic of this and the low water pressure (but does not make this more tolerable for you).

calihostmom November 12, 2015 at 10:49 am

The HD listening to you shower sounds like a disturbing invasion of privacy to me. If you want to talk to them about it, I’d ask the LCC to be present, and maybe set some guidelines that they can trust you not to exceed — 8 minutes a day, one load of laundry a week, etc. Are they saving money or concerned about the environment? Either way, allowing an AP to shower “at will” (within reason) is, to me, part of the “room and board” that they are under obligation to supply. I can’t see this being comfortable for you unless they accept that these are your cleanliness standards for yourself. Just as you accept their standards for themselves.

Personally, I’d be very bothered by the fact that someone was listening to me shower. How is it his business what you’re doing in there? It sounds completely unreasonable. And gross.

calihostmom November 12, 2015 at 10:51 am

To add: it boggles my mind that parents will trust an au pair with their children’s lives and wellbeing but not trust them to know when, for instance, they need a shower.

NoVA Twin Mom November 12, 2015 at 10:54 am

I agree with everyone above, it’s time to talk to the LCC because this isn’t “normal.” And I hate to use the word normal, because it’s normally so variable.

Once you’ve determined it isn’t an actual water supply issue (potentially a well?), my snarky side would suggest showering when HD isn’t home…

NJ Mom November 12, 2015 at 11:04 am

I’m curious as to what the HF reasons are for the extreme water conservation. Are they environmentalists? Are they from a background where water conservation was a necessity and they want to keep those habits? Understanding where the rules are coming from might help.

My opinion is that some sort of compromise discussion needs to ensue. And if a middle ground can’t be reached, then perhaps rematch is best for all parties. Perhaps 1 week the AP follows the HF customs, and 1 week the HF adjust to allow the AP’s normal regime. Then coming to some sort of middle ground that can be agreeable to all parties. The AP program is a cultural exchange program, and some adjustments are to be expected by BOTH HF and AP. That said, for me personally, I am much more likely to compromise and adjust on lifestyle things if I feel that the AP is doing a great job in childcare. I am far more reluctant to change how my household is run if I feel the AP is not meeting their responsibilities.

My immediate advice to the AP is to find alternate showering and laundry options (a gym next door to a laundromat? A sympathetic friend?) while stepping up the childcare temporarily to see if this alleviates the water use tension. But I would only do this in the short term until some sort of long term compromise can be made.

If no long term solution can be agreed upon, I would say rematch may be the way to go. The LCC may want to suggest that the HF describe what their lifestyle is on their family profile. I can’t imagine an AP candidate asking during matching whether they can take hot showers or not..

calihostmom November 12, 2015 at 2:44 pm

See, if they’re okay with the AP showering elsewhere, then they’re not really concerned about conserving water. They’re just trying to conserve the amount of money they spend on water (unless, as others have pointed out, the well’s drying up or something, which is a problem that needs to be addressed by HF anyway).

If they begged her to think of the environment and forego using the gym shower or a friend’s shower, that would at least show that they’re truly committed. But if they’re willing to let her pay to wash her own clothes at a laundromat or use someone else’s shower, they’re being sanctimonious and not fulfilling the promise of sufficient accommodations they made as a HF. (Unless all this way made clear prior to matching and the AP has just realized that she’s not happy living within their standards.)

I’d be curious to know if they’re excessively frugal in other ways.

Rural host mom November 12, 2015 at 8:05 pm

I don’t know – it might be a “not under my roof” kind of thing. We’re pretty eco in our house. We only have cloth napkins and dozens of “un-paper towels”- (but we regularly stock paper tissues and toilet paper). If AP had some regular need for disposable paper towels, she’d be buying them herself. As I mention below, we ask them to be conscientious about consumables.
I do think this hot water example is rather extreme, but maybe they’re coming off a previous AP who astronomically increased their water bill and now they’re being super vigilant.

spanishaupair November 13, 2015 at 5:47 am

Thats a good point the aupair who astronomically increased the water.
One of my HF told me in the house rules “dont take baths or use dryer without asking for permission” they had an issue with their current aupair using them too much and increased too much the electricity bill, they had a shower so you vould shower and you could hang the clothes to dry

Another DC HM November 12, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Sorry, I think this whole thing is bat_ crazy. The family really sounds as if they aren’t ready for an au pair. How often she showers, along with all other issues of personal health and hygiene are none of their business so long as it’s within the bell curve of reason (which showering daily is.) The family should ask themselves if they were vegetarians would they require their AP not to eat meat? Do they require their guests to turn off the water while shampooing?

OP, I think you need to rematch and I think this family is not set up to actually host an AP. They seem far too inflexible for hosting.

HRHM November 12, 2015 at 2:33 pm

It sounds as though this AP is never home alone.

If it was me, I would limit my use of both the laundry and the bath/shower to the hours when the HF was gone. I don’t normally advocate lying or breaking rules, but if you want to avoid the HD stalking you every time you shower, just do it when he isn’t home. I realize this isn’t a solution but it may at least keep you sane temporarily.

You also don’t mention if you have your own bathroom or if this is a one bathroom house, but if you have your own, you can go under the sink and turn the hot water on (it’s most likely connected but just shut off) when you’d like some warm water to wash your hands

Rural Host mom November 12, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Eco-green host mom here … We shower and launder with the best of them, but we do ask our AP to be mindful of trash, recycling, and general resource consumption (and we were clear about this in our materials).
If everything else is going well, and you really do want to stay, I think approaching this as a whole picture might be helpful. Let them know that you’re willing to conserve on xyz but you need a daily shower and to be able to do weekly wash. Be specific about strategies – tell them you’d like to use an egg timer for your showers. I would definitely bring in the LCC and address the creepiness of having HD lurk outside your bathroom door.
I’ve stayed with over a half dozen host families on different continents, and everyone has their quirks. I’ve stayed places where there wasn’t enough hot water to keep the water running while I soaped and lathered if I wanted it to be hot to the end. I stayed with a family where the hot water heater broke (a local one just for my shower) and it took 2 months for the repair man to come …. So, it’s not typical American, but hot water *is* a luxury.

Seattle Mom November 12, 2015 at 5:00 pm

So, I’m going to out myself as far to the left on environmental conservation issues… I shower either every time I work out, or once a week if I haven’t worked out in a week. My husband is about the same. We also don’t bathe our kids more than 1-2 times per week. And I only wash my hair once or twice a week, no matter how often I shower.

It’s not only for environmental reasons- it’s actually healthier to allow a certain amount of bacteria to live on your body. The good bugs fight the bad bugs. And all that soap isn’t actually good for your skin or your organs.

I promise you that I don’t stink- I wash my face 2x per day, any stinky parts get washed with a wash cloth in between showers if necessary, and I wash my hands frequently. That’s really all you need. If you feel itchy if you don’t shower every day you’re just conditioned to think you need it more than you really do.

HOWEVER almost all of my APs have showered daily, if not more. And all I ask is that they don’t shower in the morning when we’re getting ready for work, or during the pajama time happy hour with the kids (we are a one bathroom house). I wouldn’t dream of telling them to do it differently, and standing outside the bathroom when the AP is in there is downright CREEPY.

So yes, even to this environmentalist who agrees with some things the family is doing, this doesn’t seem fair or right. Actually I would go straight to the LCC to have a talk with the HP, because they do not sound rational on the subject. Maybe they can come to a compromise… but I think LCC intervention will probably be necessary.

Also, we have a HE washing machine and that takes care of a lot of the water use concerns with laundry. The dryer is another issue… but we just live with it. It’s part of the deal with having an AP.

German Au-Pair November 13, 2015 at 1:22 pm

You are so right! I was raised bathing once a week and using a cloth for the important areas every night and that was fine. I have now gotten used to showering daily and constantly felt dirty when I couldn’t (when I broke my leg). However, it’s a myth that you can “train” your hair to not get greasy. I have super long, straight, heavy hair and I have tried to train it not to need washing every day during school breaks but it just gets greasy after one day no matter what I do.
So while I personally don’t think it’s digusting to only shwoer once a week, I know I’d *be* disgusting if I did that.

New to This November 18, 2015 at 11:23 pm

I don’t think it’s exactly a myth about training hair, but I think the way it actually works is that while different people’s hair naturally gets greasy at different rates, anyone can train their hair to need MORE washing than it otherwise would. So once a day might be the least you can manage, but I’m guessing that if you tried washing your hair three times a day for a few weeks, it would become difficult to last even that full day. :-)

I’m reading this discussion with interest, because I live in an area where water shortages are at emergency levels, and while I’m not NEARLY as cautious about it as the OP’s host family, I do expect my soon-to-arrive AP to accept some restrictions that I know many people would find annoying if not intolerable. But, what it comes down to for me is the sense that people who wouldn’t be okay with those restrictions shouldn’t be living in an area where conservation is so important, and that it would be irresponsible of me to invite another person to come live here if they’re going to drain more resources than the environment can support.

So, I included info about our household’s water conservation rules in my matching profile and made sure the applicant we selected was on board with that. If the OP’s host family DOES have some good reason for needing to restrict water usage (low well-water supply, as somebody above suggested, or whatever else), I see no reason they couldn’t have done the same at the time of matching. Whatever restrictions might be reasonable under their particular circumstances, there’s nothing reasonable about springing them on someone without prior warning.

Old China Hand November 13, 2015 at 1:55 pm

I don’t shower much when I’m in rural China and its winter. No one does and I join the club. But my hair gets nasty and I have to cover it up. Everyone else seems ok, but I’m not Chinese.

To the point of this question though, I don’t think it’s ok to tell someone they have to be dirtier than they are used to unless they knew ahead of time. So it’s ok for me to take my students to the field where they can’t shower for two weeks because I told them. Not ok to tell my ap she can’t shower daily.

Seattle Mom November 18, 2015 at 8:37 pm

I agree.. it’s definitely not ok to tell an AP to shower much less than they were used to, as long as what they are used to isn’t outlandish (I can think of examples).

Also wanted to add that when I lived in Ghana I generally bathed twice a day, and washed my hair daily. The climate, the amount of dust EVERYWHERE, and the fact that I only used about 3/4 of a bucket for each bath (no running water!) and never hot water made it both necessary and minimally resource intensive. It’s partly why I don’t bathe much here- most Americans have not experienced true dirtiness. Everything is paved- you don’t get gritty all over just by walking down the road. And the dirt we have tends to be more moist- not as much random dirt & dust flying around.

Seattle Mom November 18, 2015 at 8:38 pm

Oh- if a family really cares about this, they need to bring it up during matching and make sure the AP agrees.

Seattle Mom November 12, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Here’s an article on the subject, that made me feel less weird: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/31/fashion/31Unwashed.html?_r=0

Mimi November 12, 2015 at 5:57 pm

Don’t feel weird. I’m anti-deodorant unless you have a serious need for it and then it’s only on accasion and all-natural.

Mimi November 12, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Cold water is just as effective for handwashing as warm water. The warmer water usually just helps with solvency and washing your hands in hot water can cause irritation of the skin that affects the protective layer on the outside, which can cause it to be less resistant to bacteria as Seattle Mom suggests.

I was raised on showers like the AP describes, but for daily showers, mostly because six people were sharing one bathroom. I still do it out of habit. We are a family with a well and although we don’t have concerns for our water use, we try not to be wasteful. We have a HE washer and low flow toilets; our water pressure is actually really good for a well water supported house (low flow/pressure helping heads). My youngest kids bathe three times a week, HD about the same, me (my peri-menopausal sweating) and my oldest pubescent-athletic-man-child shower every day out of necessity. Although we encourage quick showers (in the interest of getting to bed in a timely fashion) we don’t hover like this HD is doing. Most of our APs have been what we call “Hollywood” shower types and we don’t begrudge them this.

TACL, I’m also curious about what the AP likes about her arrangement with this family that she would want to stay when personal hygiene is affected. IMO regardless if this was discussed upfront or not, the reality is that it isn’t working for the AP. I like Rural Host mom’s idea of using the egg timer and talking about compromise. If the OP doesn’t feel comfortable bringing this up by herself, I’d involve the LCC for help.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 12, 2015 at 10:01 pm

Most of my APs have taken what I call “military” showers (exactly as this AP describes, which my HF in Europe also took). Never could bring myself to stop the flow of water – I like my American hot shower – which is less hot in the summer). Only one AP used excessive amounts of water – the Chinese AP who never mastered the clothes washer. Literally used $800 more water every quarter than every other AP. I thought something was wrong with our meter – until she left. I think she washed everything by hand. (This all being said, I did grow up with an egg timer and a father who yelled “Time’s up!”

Mimi November 12, 2015 at 10:54 pm

This is exactly what they are, as I’m a third generation Army brat. We got 3 minutes instead of 2 growing up because we were girls with thick long hair. :) My FIL, who was career Navy, called them “sea showers.”

hOstCDmom November 12, 2015 at 11:33 pm

TACL–your Chinese AP cost you $3200 more/year in water..???!??

GermanHostMum November 13, 2015 at 10:35 am

Well, our water consumption has almost halved since our last AP left us….

Taking a Computer Lunch November 13, 2015 at 3:56 pm

Yes, in one three-month period I had a $1,700 water bill. I sobbed, and called the water company, thinking it was a leak or my meter. They checked. It wasn’t. I scraped up all my loose change and paid the bill. After the AP left we never had a problem like that again. The only thing that explained it was hand-washing clothes.

hOstCDmom November 13, 2015 at 4:06 pm

I’m stunned- we are 8 people, 9 with AP; daily showers for everyone- quick, but not military style; 3 teens among us; and LAUNDRY like you wouldn’t believe! Probably 12 loads/ week. And our water bill is ~$200/quarter. (We don’t have a pool, don’t water a lawn, but run a dishwasher twice/24 hours; and wouldn’t rank high as conservationists). Perhaps I should send my water company a holiday gift!

BearCo Momma November 13, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Ours is running about $350 a quarter (5 people – 2 of whom take a shared daily tub – yes thats my kids :-) ). Originally (pre-AP) it was around $250, went up to $450 the full year AP1 was here, and now is down where it is now. I just mention it because it’s funny – I also called the water company to report a leak (after the $250->$450 jump!) but I guess it really just was her personal usage!

Taking a Computer Lunch November 14, 2015 at 12:04 am

Make-a-Wish gave The Camel an above-ground pool 7 years ago. Occasionally her parents do something stupid, like accidentally partially drain it. It’s expensive, but never $500 for the summer quarter expensive. My water bill is usually well under $200 (even when I host Brazilian APs who feel they must shower twice a day – and who can blame them in the summer?!) I was ready to foot the bill to put a meter on the tap I use to fill the pool (because where I live, you can buy a separate meter for pools, because the water company understands you’re not using the sewer too), but when the AP left and the bills returned to normal, all I did was breathe a sigh of relief!

Old China Hand November 13, 2015 at 2:02 pm

I’m not surprised about the extra water use with the Chinese ap. Our flat mates in China in 2010 only used the washing machine for their sheets and went through all the hot water to hand wash laundry. It was so annoying. I also don’t think they really showered, but rather took sponge baths in the middle of the bathroom. It left the floor so unbelievably wet. I suspect they didn’t have showers regularly in the dorms they had previously been living in and were more comfortable sponge bathing.

I teach our ap to use the washer and the shower first thing. I don’t want the problems we had with our flat mates.

For what it’s worth, we found it really hard to live with two Chinese girls in China but easy to live with our Chinese aps. I think it has to do with who is in charge. There we were all assigned to the flat for our housing for work. My husband and I were there first but the other girls were longer term. Here the ap comes into a situation that is undeniably our house.

With the cleanliness thing, I do tell our aps that they don’t have to shower daily but do have to after exercising (before work if they work out in the morning). I also tell them that while most American women shave, many in our town dont, so I don’t care what they do. Our lcc seems confused by me clarifying that, but we live in liberal hippie land here. She isn’t local to our town.

German Au-Pair November 15, 2015 at 11:26 pm

We actually got a little pamphlet before orientation that was suppsoed to educate us about American culture. And it actually said if you want to take part in American culture you need to shave. I am not kidding.
So it’s not stupid at all that you addressed this.

AuPair Paris November 12, 2015 at 5:58 pm

I was told the shower thing in my first family too. It was a money saving thing, which I didn’t understand at first, because where I’m from, we pay a fixed monthly bill for all the water we use. As for conservation and eco-friendliness – that’s great and all, but if they’re asking you to shower elsewhere (the gym) and use the towels there (laundry), you’d still be using the same amount of water – just not in their house… So what difference can it make? Presumably, no matter what you do, they’ll still be as eco-friendly, and can console themselves with that? I think I’m missing an obvious point, but I don’t know what it is.

Is it a money issue? If it is, I can understand, but it’s another one of those expenses that comes with adding another person to the household! Everyone has different needs with bathing and cleanliness. I have to wash my hair every day (once every two days with the right kind of hard water!). My sister washes it every three days. My friends with curly, thick hair, wash it once a week, and consequently probably use a ton less water than me, spending less time in the shower, and maybe just washing in the sink some days… I don’t think telling you to be less clean is fair on the HF part. More clean, sure! Because being unclean can actually impact on them. But it’s not fair to ask you to make yourself uncomfortable based on their principles in this case.

Wrt the cleanliness of the children, you can only obey their guidelines of course. But wrt your own, I think it’s necessary to have a sit-down talk about it. As a first step. And from there you’ll know your options – whether it’s asking the LCC to intervene, hashing out some more appropriate compromise rules or, in the worst case, rematching.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 12, 2015 at 8:03 pm

It sounds to me like this is a case of mismatched expectations. It is unlikely that the HPs are going to change their views on water usage, so even if they allow you to shower and launder more often, you will be able to sense their disapproval.

I am a person who takes crazy long showers, likes the water scalding hot, and loves strong water presssure. I’m probably on the extreme in that regard (I’ve done the water off while soaping thing, but only because otherwise I sometimes run out of hot water after about 30 minutes or so), but because it’s me, and just how I live, I never think about it as either normal or abnormal. It just is. It’s possible that the HPs may not have thought about whether their conservation views were “normal” because they were accustomed to them. Especially if they are first time HPs, it may not have occurred to them to even mention it.

In fact, their views don’t seem completely abnormal to me. A lot of people shower less than daily, rewear clothes, etc. Not to mention toilet flushing rules, lol! OP, you mentioned that they had other quirks. Are they consistent with this one?

If all else is going well, I do think it’s worth talking to the family and considering the gym solution. I don’t necessarily see it as hypocritical if they get comfortable with that. I would actually see it as their being respectful of the au pair’s right to control her own life. It would be the family saying: these are our values, and in our home, we ask that you respect them. What you do outside of our home is your own business, and we will not interfere.

Rematch is a also a valid option. While I don’t find it in anyway abusive to restrict showering to every other day, I know that would not work for me personally. But I wanted to make the point that I don’t think the HF is behaving outrageously, or that they necessarily were intentionally hiding info during matching.

HRHM November 13, 2015 at 2:40 pm

LOL. I too am a confessed lover of the scalding hot, long shower. We recently moved into the first house to have an “on demand” water heater so the hot water never runs out. It’s a dangerous combination, I could be in there all day.

FWIW, I was in the Navy and even out at sea, I could never do the “military shower” thing. I never saw the point, being so miserable in so many ways while being deployed, to be miserable in the shower!

Seattle Mom December 4, 2015 at 7:49 pm

I may shower less frequently, but when I do I like them hot & long! I feel justified :).

Meg November 12, 2015 at 9:40 pm

Opps. I misread this the first time. I thought they were only allowing showers once a week. This is still pretty weird, but not as crazy as I first thought.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 14, 2015 at 12:05 am

On a side note – thinking good thoughts for the families and friends of French APs.

Mimi November 14, 2015 at 12:17 am

Amen to that. I’ve been worried about AuPair Paris and her HF especially.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 14, 2015 at 2:23 am


LuckyHM#3 November 14, 2015 at 8:44 am


LeeLee November 17, 2015 at 11:03 pm

Rematch. The stress that the AP is going through is not worth it! I especially don’t like that the host dad lingers around the bathroom to make sure that she is turning the water off.
We have good friends who live in a strictly solar powered home and this is how they live. In addition to showering infrequently and turning the water off while soaping up, they also have the rule, “if it’s yellow, let it mellow…”
Personally, I can handle staying with them for one night and then I’m ready to move to a hotel. It sounds like this just isn’t a good fit. My advice would be to call the CC, explain the situation, and ask to rematch. No one would fault her for that, and the HF can find an AP who likes to camp out.

JHM November 18, 2015 at 7:50 pm

I think it’s inappropriate what the host family is requesting. I think every AP should be allowed to shower daily. I don’t mind putting a reasonable minute cap on it, if they want to save on water. Letting her freeze while she’s using soap is ridiculous as well.
and the host dad listening to what showering to make sure she complies? creepy!

I shower daily, because otherwise i don’t wake up. That being said, people who shower 1-2/week don’t necessarily smell. it’s actually healthier for your skin. I have plenty of friends (German) who are doing this, and all have a heightened sense of hygiene (many are actually doctors) and need good body odor in their jobs.
I bathe my kids only every 2-3 days unless they smell or are dirty, because it’s better for the skin.

WarmStateMomma November 19, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Regardless of whether the family doesn’t have the water because of a well, or doesn’t want to pay for it, or doesn’t want to use it for environmental reasons – the AP has a right to take reasonable showers and do her laundry as part of her room and board. If the family isn’t willing *and* able to provide this, they shouldn’t be hosting an AP. We don’t get to pay APs less than the minimum stipend for financial or advocacy reasons, so why would we provide less than room and board?

I’d ask my daughter to consider rematch if she were an AP faced with these limits on personal hygiene. I’d be very upset if I knew her host dad was hanging out in the hallway monitoring when she turns the water on and off. It’s just creepy.

Tomas_APF November 23, 2015 at 3:13 pm

I’ve seen Host Parents limit the time in shower, and I think this is reasonable, like they do limit their children’s time.
But all the rest is really not appropriate and going against their obligation to provide room and board.
I think you should talk to them. If they don’t change this policy, you should seriously think about rematch.
Or at least do not worry about what they may be thinking or saying, and do take a normal shower every day as you (and most normal people) do. If they complain and want a rematch, then this is better for you. Your sponsoring company should back you up, since this is nonsense and probably also against standard labor laws.

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