What’s the most “American” thing you’ve had to explain to your au pair?

by cv harquail on July 2, 2010

4th of July is one of my favorite holidays… all about family, community and abstract patriotic notions.

4th of July is also the holiday when I am most likely to embarrass my children– apparently, as they get older, it is no longer cool to dress up in red, white & blue and cheer wildly at the Girl Scout float in the parade, or to shriek and clap during fireworks.

india 4th july.jpg

4th of July is also one of my 2 favorite holidays to share with Au Pairs.

Although many of our au pairs have preferred to high-tail it into the nearest city for more grown-up partying and fancier fireworks, often they’ve spent the earlier part of the day with us — usually catching the ‘exciting to me, kinda boring to them’ town parade.

On the 4th, even more than during other times of the year, I find myself fielding random questions about the USA. I also find myself offering up what seem to me to be wise insights about the ways that our country works.

(Some recent winners have included trying to explain Sarah Palin as a VP candidate choice, how the electoral college works, why NASCAR exists, and why professional  soccer just hasn’t caught on in the US.)

pepi usa.jpg

For us Host Parents, 4th of July creates an obvious opportunity for questions and conversations about being “American”. It’s a chance to catch up on  some of the “cultural exchange” part of the au pairing experience.

So, over this holiday weekend, as you sneak inside the house for some quiet time at the computer and maybe a cold beer lemonade, want to tell us about a time you’ve tried to explain something really “American” to your au pair?


Noelle July 2, 2010 at 8:09 am

Central heat and air conditioning seem to be a challenge, even after explanation.

Mumsy July 21, 2010 at 12:11 pm

We have our new au pair (arrived about 10 days ago) and this has proven to be a challenge. She feels cold so she turns off the aircon without asking the kids or I if we mind. The other day she even put the heat on! It has been in the high 90’s all week outside! I set my thermostat to 76 during the day so the aircon hardly blows at all and it is comfortably warm inside (even maybe a little overly warm for my liking). I advised her to put on a sweater and to leave the aircon alone. She is from northern Europe and is not skinny so I was not expecting this.

CS Nanny July 21, 2010 at 12:14 pm

When I lived in Switzerland, a lot of people did not have air conditioning within the house. And I know that is the case in many of the other European countries. It is so expensive compared to here. So, yes, sometimes they houses here can seem really cold in comparisson. She should not just turn it off though, I agree. That is rude, and she should just put on a sweater. But I don’t agree with your comment that “because she is not skinny” she shouldn’t be allowed to be cold. Larger people can be cold, too!

Calif Mom July 2, 2010 at 8:23 am

peanut butter: its ubiquity and its cement-like quality in the dishwasher

Hula Gal July 2, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Yes – peanut butter is very American. Even the British think it is weird and you are hard pressed to find it there and if you do it is not at all like we get in the US.

Az. July 2, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Really? I’ve never been to America so I don’t really have a comparison, but I wouldn’t have said it’s out of the ordinary in the UK. It’s in every supermarket and almost all smaller shops, almost all my friends/family have a jar in their cupboard and I ate it all the time growing up.

Calif Mom July 2, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Here’s the lineup of APs (or foreign exchange students, going back 25 years) who needed peanut butter explained to them in my personal experience:

2 Swedes (counting friends here)
4 Germans
1 Yugoslavian (see–I told you this was going way back)
1 Ukrainian (thought it was the most disgusting thing ever)
3 Brasilians
1 jeune fille francaise

Of those, 1 Swede would eat it occasionally, and 1 Brasilian loved it as much as we do.

So I’d say it might be a UK/US thing. Any Australians or South Africans care to weigh in on the PB Issue? :-)

Chev July 2, 2010 at 10:17 pm

It’s super common in Aus…. Just not with jelly :)

Mumsy July 3, 2010 at 9:15 am

It is very common in South Africa (a daily norm), England, The Netherlands (Holland) …. definitely not just American. Also, all 4 of our German au pairs used to eat it in Germany and did not need it explained to them (it may be a regional thing as to whether or not they are familiar with it).

Mica January 22, 2011 at 8:19 pm

I am south African

and if you dont know what peanut butter is I’m sorry youve been living in an air bubble we have lots of different kinds and even us kinds ive never met anyone that doesnt know what peanut butter is

Hula Gal July 3, 2010 at 12:36 pm

My husband is from Northern Ireland and my brother-in-law is from England. From my experience with them, their families and my numerous visits there, peanut butter is not considered a staple as it is here. And it is most definitely not the same as peanut butter in the US. A cousin to my husband is originally from the US and she begged me to bring her some Skippy peanut butter because what she got in the UK was not the same. While the British certainly understand peanut butter, my point was that it is not as part of the daily diet as it is in the US, from my experience. Therefore I would say that peanut butter is quintessentially American. I do recall having to explain peanut butter to my Dominican friends when I studied abroad in the DR. One of the girls asked me if it was fat free (in Spanish) and I laughed. I wish!

Taking a Computer Lunch July 2, 2010 at 10:19 pm

The last time I visited England was for the wedding of a close friend. She arranged for us to stay in a B&B not too far from the wedding with other American friends. She told the owner that I didn’t eat meat, and she kindly purchased peanut butter for me to eat for my breakfast. The only problem was – I had just had all my top teeth smashed in from a spiked softball bat (I was playing catcher without a mask) and was wearing a ridge brace to prevent the loss of my top teeth. I couldn’t eat a bite!

When I went to New Zealand it was served to me as a savory – and quite delicious! It was hard to explain that Americans think of it as a sweet. To them, the thought of eating it with jam was disgusting!

I had a Swedish au pair who was grossed out by the mere thought of PB (as is HD), but when my son’s beloved hamster got caught in a glue trap meant for house crickets, she had to give him a PB massage to loosen the glue. She photographed the event and blogged about it. It was the same day she had to do a crash course in replacing The Camel’s g-tube over the phone because both HD and I were at work. That evening I came home laden with little gifts, because no where in the handbook does it say an AP has to save a beloved pet with a substance she finds disgusting! (Not to mention being grossed out first thing in the morning looking at the hole in The Camel’s stomach!)

iMom July 2, 2010 at 9:33 am

Here are some I have been tripped up on trying to explain –
– Why the school year is still only September to May
– Why American kids have sooooo many toys
– Why Americans feel the need to exhibit their wealth or would-be wealth
– Why Americans don’t get more excited about soccer
– Why Americans smile so big in photos

Taking a Computer Lunch July 2, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Don’t tell my son – his school year goes from August to June!

My 2 cents July 2, 2010 at 9:33 am

To always say please and thank you.

I know, pretty ridiculous and not necessarily just an “american” thing, but I had to explain this to an au pair for whom this was plainly not the norm and it really bothered me. Everything from not thanking the waitress who refilled a coffee cup to not thanking us for taking her on vacations or relatives who gave her small gifts. Over time, I did learn that though in large part it was her, there was likely a cultural aspect to it as well.

CS Nanny July 2, 2010 at 9:49 am

It can be very cultural. Drove me nuts in some parts of the world where I traveled. People thought I was trying to impress them, etc. And I’m like, it’s just normal manners…

courtj July 2, 2010 at 12:57 pm

That is our au pair too. She also doesn’t acknowledge another other events…where a happy birthday, congratulations or happy day would be involved. Although somewhat cultural, really think most of it is her.

Talliecat July 3, 2010 at 7:48 am

This drives me nuts! We took our au pair to Disney World with minimal work time and all I wanted was a thank you. This is after I had a conversation with her about how it is important to model good manners for the children. I am glad that I am not the only one :)

NY Host Mom July 4, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Wow! Same experience. We take our aupairs on vacation (Grand Canyon, California, etc) and have minimal work from them and NEVER hear a thank you. I thought it was just us, maybe it’s cultural…

Jan July 4, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I don’t think it’s cultural. From some conversations I’ve overheard I think the au pair feels like it was a burden to go along with the family for their vacation because she felt like she had to work / wasn’t sure if or when she was supposed to work. I also think the au pair’s are concerned that family vacation will be counted against their vacation time.

Our first two au pair’s were great with saying they had a great time and thanks for taking them along.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 5, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Well that’s really sad. We’ve always taken our APs along. When we spent Christmas at the Grand Canyon my parents not only foot the entire bill for our AP, but for her friend that came along (and gave them both little Christmas stockings). They were both verbally appreciative and my parents received notes from each after they returned home.

When it is possible, we tell our friends that it is okay to invite a friend to accompany them (it rarely works), and we always give them a day off to do some exploration on their own, or when transport is needed, pay their way.

No one has ever been a princess about “having” to travel with us – not even the ones dragged to see various great-grandparents!

CS Nanny July 2, 2010 at 9:52 am

As an American who spent years abroad, I explained many things. LOL. One of the things that came up time and time again, was national patriotism. Other cultures don’t understand why there the average American flies a flag, why we say the Pledge of Allegience, or sing the National Anthem before EVERY sports game. Another one was how our government worked, and why we still use the same voting system.

NY Hostmom July 2, 2010 at 10:24 am

-why Americans don’t watch soccer
-why Americans like football
-that Americans are friendly and courteous until they are driving a care- at which point we become rude and pushy
-our constitutional “right to bear arms” This is very intriguing for our aupairs. I think they are surprised by our family’s lack of firearms, and probably relieved. Hunting season always leads to MANY questions since we know a few hunters who hunt on our farm.

2boys2girls July 2, 2010 at 11:01 am

Many of our APs have asked “Is this normal?” about:
why portions of food are so big
why American parents stay so close/watchful of their children
why Americans work so much
inter racial/gay and lesbian couples (and their children)
stay-at-home dads
the high cost of college/health care/child care

Many of our APs have stated, “This is just like in the movies!” Some things that seem “typically American” to them:
the white carry out boxes from Chinese restaurants
red plastic disposable cups at outdoor parties (thanks to movies about wild teen parties!)
huge highways
palm trees

We actually almost went into rematch with one au pair who was unhappy that we were not “American” enough; she felt she wasn’t getting the “cultural experience” she wanted. Some of her observations were: we didn’t eat hotdogs/hamburgers or fast food, we try to limit our use of the car when we can walk or bike, we weren’t “afraid enough” about crime (we don’t lock our cars or our house if we are home), and we didn’t watch tv.

Au Pair in CO July 2, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I think the one thing that I still don’t completely understand, no matter how often my host dad and my American boyfriend have tried explaining it, is the baseball league system. The actual game I get, just not everything surrounding it.

I was also surprised to see everyone standing up and singing along to the national anthem before the USA-Ghana game, as we were watching the game on a tiny laptop at a beach party. That was a very American moment:P

Other than that, there’s not really that many differences between the US and my own country (other than healthcare and education being more expensive, and everything else being way cheaper), so I haven’t needed much explaining on “the small things”.

Calif Mom July 22, 2010 at 9:38 am

I have never stood while the anthem is playing on TV! That’s seriously hard-core. I think I would have had a hard time with that. I might have sung along, because I love singing, but that seems silly and over-the-top to me.

New ones:
Oh, look! the school buses really are all yellow, like on TV! How cool!

And the gun ownership issue/question.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 2, 2010 at 2:29 pm

– Why American chocolate tastes so lousy.
– Football
– The importance of the Superbowl for everything but Football
– The fact that everything and nothing can be American food.

Az. July 2, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Is there an actual reason for American chocolate tasting terrible? :D

Dorsi July 2, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Actually, yes. We value shelf stability over flavor. So, our chocolates hold up better when it is warm and last longer in the cupboard because they are made of waxier things. Even Cadbury changes its formula for Americans.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 5, 2010 at 11:00 pm

And there are those of us who just buy European chocolate!

Pa Host mom of Two Au-pairs July 2, 2010 at 3:25 pm

I remember many conversation with explaining that you should “tip” when dining out…. Often when this subject is brought up is when they ate out with other au-pairs. When I explained the “tipping” they cover there mouth and said “OMG” I didn’t know that, I expressed that is rude not to leave a tip if they received good service + the server only receives very little hourly pay, and the rest they earn is from tips!

Often, many times the AP’s are surprised that you can “return” almost everything here in America.

Hula Gal July 2, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Darn. I never thought to explain tipping to my au pairs. I wonder how many servers got stiffed over the past two years? I’ll have to remember that. Although I suppose it depends on what country your au pair is from.

Former Brazilian Au Pair July 2, 2010 at 5:04 pm

This is a cultural thing. In Brazil, for instance, we don’t have to tip because the tip is already included in the bill. We can tip more if we want to, if the service was better than expected, but it’s not a rule and they won’t look bad at you for not tipping.

Mumsy July 21, 2010 at 12:14 pm

And don’t forget to explain tipping at the hair salon, airport, taxi drivers, etc.

NewAPMama July 2, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Pretty much every other country pays its’ waitstaff to include their tip. Or else, as in Eastern Europe, they add a “service fee” onto your bill.

JJ host mom July 2, 2010 at 5:12 pm

The american measurement system. Why Americans can’t use the same metric system as the rest of the world is beyond me.

LisaExAuPair July 2, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Agree, it used to drive me nuts. I was constantly looking up measurements on the internet. Luckily there are a lot of good and easy converters available.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 2, 2010 at 8:39 pm

I remember in the mid-70s when it was coming. So we got liter and 2-liter bottles of soda, and then it completely stopped because of reactionaries. Now that we have NAFTA at least most of our products are sold with both measurements.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 2, 2010 at 8:43 pm

I have another one – time zones. My parents sent my Chinese AP a little gift and she went to call them (EST – PST) at 9:30 in the morning to thank them. I said, “Don’t – they’re not awake,” and she looked quizzically, thinking they were late sleepers. I said “It’s 6:30 am there.” And then I remembered that China had only one time zone. (On the other hand, when I lived in Ireland and my mother in New York State, she could never do the math properly and invariably woke up my host family in the process. Eventually, I learned to call her briefly and then have her call me back.)

StephinBoston July 2, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I think this one is THE most confusing for my au pairs. Phone calls and text messages received count against your minutes, aka we pay to receive texts and calls. I don’t believe anyone but the USA and Canada function this way.. Had to explain that one to every au pair a couple times, it doesn’t make sense to them (or to me but that’s a whole other subject :-)

LisaExAuPair July 3, 2010 at 3:21 am

Yes, why do I have to pay when you are sending me a text message??

DarthaStewart July 2, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Our year-round school calendar (which is different even from much of the US)
Cell phones (that calls you receive count in your minutes)
Garbage disposals (Never have seen them anywhere else in the world)-What can and cannot go down the disposal, and when to use it.
Ice dispensers in the kitchen.
Dish washers. (Are very uncommon in the rest of the world)
Central ac/heating
Tipping- in restaurants, hairdresser, etc.
Free refills of drinks in restaurants (and having the drink machine in the fast food restaurant so you can help yourself)
Not having to pay for ketchup
Order the small, it’s the same size as large anywhere else in the world.
Girl Scout cookie Season (my dd’s are both girl scouts, and we sell >2000 boxes/year, and that doesn’t include the rest of my two troops, so about 20K boxes of cookies come through my garage in a month and a half!)
Having to save up money for dr’s bills if you need to go to the Dr.
Grocery bags (most places have to pay for them. But we do have reusable ones here at the house)

Yes. You probably will have to drive most places here. (okay, we have a grocery store within a half mile, and a very nice bakery, but most other stuff is driving distance only)
That does mean you’ll have to watch what you eat, even if you never have before.

Right on red
No passing a stopped school bus
No open containers of alcohol in the car

nonamehostmom July 2, 2010 at 11:15 pm

That APs should attend wake/funeral services when a host parent’s family member dies.

We don’t have an autobon (sp?) here…slow down!

You will gain weight if you eat 6 slices of potato bread! It is not like your bread!

Tipping hairdressers and nail techs is common.

You don’t have to buy the name brand of everything. The Target brand of some items is ok.

You should say Thank You when your host parents give you extra time off, take you on vacation, give you the world on a platter!

used to be an AP July 3, 2010 at 3:47 am

it’s autobahn ;)
dishwashers are used in Europe, I couldn’t live without one. One thing I never really understood was the high school and college sports system (nearly non-existent in Germany, there are only clubs), although I got used to it.

DarthaStewart July 3, 2010 at 7:09 am

Less than half of my au-pairs have had a dishwasher before. and many may have a dryer, but in some cases have wanted to line dry a lot more clothes.

BLJ Host Mom July 7, 2010 at 7:54 pm

The Dryer is a good one. My AP was convinced it would shrink her clothes so when she was never sure if she was actually gaining weight or if it was my evil dryer shrinking her jeans! :)

rosecity July 3, 2010 at 1:07 am

Toilet paper is flushed, not put in the trash can.

Mumsy July 3, 2010 at 9:24 am

I have traveled extensively and have also lived in several other countries. Never have I seen toilet paper put in the trash can! Where was your au pair from? Was this really a national culture issue or do you think it could have been due to something else? I am intrigued!

darthastewart July 3, 2010 at 9:53 am

I’ve seen toilet paper in trash cans in south america. I’m told that most 3rd world countries do that, since their sewer systems do not support that. (Thailand, czech, etc)

Mumsy July 3, 2010 at 11:45 am

Wow! Live and learn …

Hula Gal July 3, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Dominican Republic and Mexico (some places) = toilet paper in trash cans. It gets pretty smelly in the bathrooms.

franzi July 4, 2010 at 1:21 pm

that’s also very common in africa.

Mica January 22, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I am from South Africa and have never heard of that i have heard of people rather wahing than using toilet paper as its cheaper and theres no waste

kat July 22, 2010 at 9:19 am

sorry, but as a czech i neded to say we are definitely not a 3rd world country, and our sewage system is absolutely good enough to put toilet paper down the loos! :DDD

central european mom January 21, 2011 at 8:13 pm

just fyi, the czech republic is not a third-world country. even when i was there in the communist days, they threw their (admitedly nasty) TP in the toilet! ;-)

Az. July 3, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I’ve visited loads of countries where they don’t flush toilet paper: Cyprus, Turkey, some parts of France (I adore France, but don’t even get me started on some of their toilets — mixed sex bathrooms with URINALS next to the sinks, no toilet seats, NO DOOR!), Lithuania, Poland…
Czech Republic definitely isn’t a ‘third world’ country. The Human Development Index ranks it in their ‘Very High Human Development’ category.

MommyMia July 3, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Yep, it’s true! And if you live in an area with lots of recent immigrants (legal or otherwise) some public restrooms are digustingly littered in the stalls because no one has explained that our commercial toilets are designed to handle the paper. After all, it dissolves much more quickly than more solid materials. Just wish that more retailers would wake up and put receptacles in the stalls so that floor wouldn’t have to be where they drop paper, feminine hygiene products, etc.

aupairIL July 3, 2010 at 11:53 pm

OMG, I’m from Poland and that’s not true! I’ve never seen toilet paper in a trash can! Everyone flush paper, so I don’t know where have you been, but for sure not in Poland.

Mirelle July 4, 2010 at 3:28 am

Well, I’m from Brazil and we put paper in the trash can, but it doesn’t get smelly because 1. the trash cans we use are made for that and 2. we dispose the papers daily. Do you flush tampons and pads as well?

Taking a Computer Lunch July 4, 2010 at 7:52 am

Tampons – yes (usually some places have signs not to), but pads – never. We fold them and wrap them in toilet paper.

DarthaStewart July 4, 2010 at 8:34 am

You shouldn’t flush tampons or pads. They may very likely clog up the pipes in the house you live in. There is some small chance that the tampons won’t, but if it does, then it’s several hundred dollars to have the plumber come out and snake out the pipes. (and can you imagine how embarrassing that would be?)

Az. July 4, 2010 at 12:27 pm

I’ve been to three different Polish cities (Poznan, Wroclaw and Rzeszow) and they’ve all had toilets where you’ve had to put the toilet paper in the bin.

girlAP July 4, 2010 at 2:13 pm

OK, so if I blow my nose do I throw the paper in the toilet or in the trash? what is the trash for exactly? thank you

Host Mommy Dearest July 4, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Yes, facial tissue goes in the trash, not the toilet. We have a septic system instead of a sewer so we detail this info under household appliances in our handbook. I know if I were an AP I would rather be able to read it all in the handbook rather than having to ask someone how to dispose of sanitary products if I am not told.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 5, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Yesterday DH accidentally flushed one of The Camel’s bibs (she drools) down the toilet – we’re holding our breath – he said it disappeared so fast that he didn’t have a chance to grab it. (And this when we’re in a water emergency and not supposed to flush after every use!)

Carol former AP July 16, 2010 at 12:38 am

In Brazil people have to throw toilet paper in the trash can because the sewage system doesn’t support all the paper thrown in the toilet bowl. I didn’t know I was supposed to throw it in the toilet and my hostmom was kind enough to let me know it was safe to do so at their home.

Daniel January 27, 2011 at 11:36 am

I’ve been to Katowice, Kraków, Zakopane and even a tiny mountain resort near Bielsko-Biala (Poland) and I was able to flush the toilet paper everywhere!

NoVA Host Mom July 3, 2010 at 1:22 am

I am dying with some of these. Only having 2 APs has limited our questions.

So far it has been, explaining the Superbowl, Presidential Inauguration (and the festivities around that, as well as our presidential elections, etc), Christmas (and my adoration of a live tree in the living room), cell phones (all the little minutes add up), and the cooking temperature of the oven (C vs F).

Otherwise, it’s little things like return policies of stores, shopping with coupons and sales (I’m rather skilled at that), and how the dogs live in the house all the time (even when they shed enough to make a sweater).

Jeana July 3, 2010 at 10:01 am

The electoral college during our most recent election!!!

PA mama July 3, 2010 at 2:05 pm

You can try on the clothes before you buy them.
Clothes dryers.
The drive thru at McDonald’s, and the drive-in at Sonic. My AP exclaimed “Wow, I am really in America now! I am going to get fat!!!”

Host Mommy Dearest July 3, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Why you can drive through for coffee, food, at the drug store, and more.
Why everyone wants to park as close as possible to each store while shopping.
Why people throughout the neighborhood say “hi, how are you?” when they pass by on a walk or jog.

darthastewart July 3, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Oh.. And the “southern wave” when driving through the neighborhood- everyone waves at everyone else.

Aupairgal July 6, 2010 at 3:54 am

Or in some small towns the “southern honk”.

Sota Gal July 3, 2010 at 9:26 pm

The cell minutes and text usage always comes up here as does the cost of education and health care. I guess I’ve always taken it for granted that we have an excellent public school system making the early years of education free, while colleges are so expensive.

The funniest one I had to explain is why you don’t park RIGHT NEXT to the BMW/Mercedes/Lexus or whatever car that has parked out in the middle of no where in a parking lot. I always ask our AP’s to park away from other cars until they are fully comfortable driving and parking our bigger vehicles, but sure enough I found out that she would park far out, but thisclose to the only other car out there… Totally defeated my purpose of wanting her to allow herself lots of room to maneuver and surely ticked off the driver of the nice car that didn’t want to be near any others! I do it too, even in our minivan especially when the twins were babies because I need the room to get the giant double stroller right next to the car for loading and unloading.

We’ve also had to reassure how safe our area is. No need to lock car doors while driving, can stop at red lights at night and its perfectly safe to go for a walk at dusk and after dark in the suburbs we live in. We too have to explain the friendly neighbor thing, the greetings on the hike and bike trails, etc. and that people here are genuinely helpful. Not just the employees of stores but the other shoppers will help as well.

some Au Pair July 4, 2010 at 12:15 am

the problems with the bad, bad germs,
refills (LOVE THEM)
how to build a self made hamburger (no joke)
“modesty” (I still dont think its normal to swim in T-shirt and shorts)

and lots more ;-)

aupairIL July 5, 2010 at 12:56 am

@Az. Lol I’m sure people who worked in your hotels and had to clean after you just loved you ;) Those bins are not for a toilet paper!

Az. July 5, 2010 at 8:19 am

I wasn’t staying in hotels! I was staying with friends and they told me the toilet paper went in the bin!

NorCalHostMom July 7, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Why Americans have to work so much and how few holidays we really get!

Mumsy July 21, 2010 at 12:22 pm

That while we may live in a good area and we have a big house, we work hard for our money and while we are comfortable, we are by no means wealthy. We are also judicious about how we spend our money because it is all hard-earned. This means we cannot pay for our AP to take our kids sight-seeing every day of the summer vacation. We now have AP #5 (arrived almost 2 weeks ago) and all her plans for the kids include the places she wants to see while she is here. I have made it clear that the kids do not need to see all the sights (they live here and have seen them before) and that she needs to fund her own sightseeing. Yesterday I came right out and said, “You may think we are rich, but we are not.” Today she is sulky and in a bad mood. I guess I thwarted her plans ….

MommyMia July 21, 2010 at 2:55 pm

So true! We seem to have the same issue with each new au pair. At least our current one sat down with the kids at the beginning of summer and wrote down their ideas and then we all talked about what was do-able and which were a bit too expensive. While we have agreed to purchase some passes to local waterpark, children’s museums, etc. I can totally understand that they want to do different things from time to time. We just try to balance the pricey admission-things (once or twice a month) with free, fun activities a couple of times a week. I think au pairs don’t realize the true cost of summer camps, either, when we’ve signed kids up.

Calif Mom July 22, 2010 at 10:00 am

I guess it depends on what kind of sights your AP wants to see and what is available for cheap in your area, but I skew toward the other end of this continuum. I am delighted when AP would like to take kids on an adventure to see the local sights, rather than hanging around the house on days when there are no other activities. I’ve often been disappointed by APs who don’t want to take on adventures, would rather just do the routine stuff and stick close to home.

Yes, costs have to be kept down, but I want my kids to feel comfortable on public transport systems, and learning how to learn about new things, like the train ticket machines. Even if they have been to the zoo 534 times before, it’s like reading a book–you get something different out of it at different ages and on different days. And I’m even comfortable with an AP with kids in tow getting lost, and navigating themselves back to “found” again. (Obviously, not in dicey areas!) That’s a terrific lesson in how to handle setbacks with aplomb, that things don’t always go perfectly smoothly and guess what? No one dies and you might even see something interesting along the way.

A big part of what I love about hosting APs vs nannies is their spirit of adventure and curiosity (when you find one like this!). They are de facto role models for my kids, so if they are ambitious enough to *want* to take the kids around to see the sights, and have the skills to do it, why not?

We absolutely, unabashedly find ways for those adventures to stay cheap: they pack their lunch, snacks, and water. They go to free or cheap places. They create their own theme for the day’s adventure (How many statues of men on horses will we find today?). I am signed up for a bazillion newsletters that announce free lunchtime concerts, book readings, etc. and forward them to our AP to give her ideas.

I would happily kick in 10 bucks for a state park entrance fee and the cost of renting a paddle boat for an hour.

But I absolutely agree that trips to the theme park or aquarium are NOT happening without me along, and are rare treats. The wax museum or other tacky/cheesy/spendy attractions? Nope. Hard Rock Cafe? Forget about it. That’s on your dime.

But when an outing hits that cheap/free sweet spot, I think it’s ideal when our kids are ‘playing tourist’ instead of wii.

BLJ Host Mom July 7, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Credit Cards!!!

HRHM March 25, 2011 at 7:01 pm

BLEACH! Do they not have laundry bleach in other countries? All of my APs have not understood how/when to use it regardless of mutliple sessions of instruction and a BIG poster board with laundry instructions (and corresponding numbers on the bottles! Yes I am THAT OCD!) My kids whites are always washed mixed with the colors and are DINGY. And of course all my towels sport white patches. UGH.

Should be working March 26, 2011 at 5:32 am

Laundry continues to be a source of difficulty with my APs–who are northern European and so it’s not a technology issue. They don’t get it that my daughter’s pinks–that would be everything of hers–are a separate laundry category than my son’s darks and than whites. And especially the DRYER is a problem, when with good intentions they throw whatever is in the washer into the dryer, even when it is my bras, panty hose, nylon raincoats–things that our washer has a “handwash” cycle for but obviously do not go in a dryer.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 26, 2011 at 2:27 pm

I made a chart of what gets washed how and tacked it in the laundry room. It helped, but it’s not perfect. My APs arrive in summer, and I have found that I need to take time to explain to them that the winter wools do not go into the dryer, but one lovely hand-knit sweater usually falls victim in order for me to remember to initiate that discussion.

I had one AP who refused to wash socks and underpants with the rest of the laundry. To me that was confounding – after all everything ends up clean. My water bill was extremely high that year.

Should be working March 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Chart is a great idea. If it would be read and followed, that is, but at least it would give me the leeway to be visibly annoyed if the AP destroys anything. As it is now I usually end up assuming she didn’t understand my (very clear) verbal instructions.

HM Pippa March 28, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Let me admit up front that I am ridiculously particular about how laundry gets stain treated, washed and dried, so when the new AP expressed enthusiasm to help out with laundry, I was hesitant, but said rather weakly only that she didn’t need to worry about the kids laundry, that I enjoyed doing it, but might ask her to help fold and put away the clean stuff once in a while. (That’s Minnesotan for Don’t Touch The Laundry)

New AP was excited to show how industrious she was, so did a big load of the kids clothes her second day with us. And I mean a HUGE load. In that one gigantic load she managed to include whites, dark, delicates, really dirty stuff needing stain treatment, balled up socks, half-inside out shirts, the works. I arrived just as she was shoveling the not very clean but now dingy, wadded, twisted and tangled soggy mess into the dryer. I tried a different dialect of English that was more direct: “Do not wash the children’s clothes. No. Don’t. I Wash All the Clothes.” (I don’t let my husband do the laundry either. A little OCD, I know.)

Lesson learned: APs don’t speak Minnesotan.

Should be working March 29, 2011 at 4:32 am

I love the lesson in Minnesotan! I am definitely going to produce a laundry chart, and supervise the first few weeks of laundering. Our next au pair (arriving summer) seems to be much more concerned about doing things ‘our way’ (she thematized that in interviews, with respect to discipline) than our last headstrong AP, so I’m hopeful.

Calif Mom March 29, 2011 at 9:48 am

HM Pippa, LOL!

Maybe I’m not too nice after all! Maybe my whole issue is that my grandparents–and hence the trickle-down of family communication styles, on both sides–were Minnesotan!

SBW — a chart is a great idea. It’s all in my handbook, but it’s text-heavy. Maybe we will convert the handbook from text/prose to a series of checklists and/or charts. Or maybe a powerpoint would be better, given how “young people” are used to learning these days. I don’t really want to star in videos about laundry, loading the d/w, or taking out the recycling (please, can ANY au pairs take recycling out to the bins?) but that may be where we’re headed! How to Fill up your gas tank!

HM Pippa March 29, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Love it! I see a whole new market for AP instructional videos!

New AP? There’s an app for that.

MommyMia April 1, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Garage / Yard / Rummage Sales! There seems to be a proliferation of them right now and our APs have universally wondered why some people LOVE these so much! LOL

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