Who counts as an “American” family?

by cv harquail on September 19, 2011

I imagine that every au pair has an idea of what her or his “ideal” host family should be like. The assortment of children, the family’s location, their personality, their basic household rules… all of this factors in.

But how much do you think it matters that the family be “American”-American, rather than German-American or Recently-American?

I admit I haven’t thought much about this before. I know that some host families look for au pairs of certain national origins, often so that the the au pairs can help the parents reinforce a language in addition to English. (Of course, some au pairs avoid this kind of situation because they want to work only in English.)

201109191950.jpg And, we think about unconventional family arrangements that might affect the au pair’s lifestyle (e.g., divorced parents with two households).

But this family of Eager Parents raised the question– could their own family’s culture be seen as not “American” enough?

Hi AuPairMom,

We are considering getting an au pair, but need advice.

We are from Asia, and have been living in the US for over 10 yrs. We are citizens and can host an AP. However, knowing that it is designated as a cultural exchange, not sure how it would work.

We are a mix of the Asian and American culture and believe that it will be a truly enriching experience, only not in the typical way.

Does anyone have thoughts n the feasibility/success in this situation?

Thanks for your thoughts- Eager Parents

Personally, I think that this family shouldn’t worry, and should focus on communicating their personalities and family values, which in the end are more important (in my mind) to a great au pair relationships.

  • What would you advise these parents to consider? What might they add to their family letter & to their interview plans?
  • When they choose an au pair, what might they do to make sure their year is a success?

Image: Chinese Family from Haneen Krimly


IwIsHIcOuLdSpEaKmYmInD.. September 19, 2011 at 9:37 pm

It would be amazng and the au pair will be so happy :) My host family is “American -American” but one of my friend’s family is an interesting mixture. Mom is from Vietnam but came to us long ago when she was a girl and host dad is American but with lebanese background and the have a great combination of their cultures. Also they are really nice people …I considered that what is important is that you follow the rules of the program and treat your au pair in a fair and respectful way of course you must expect the same from her side.

Calif mom September 19, 2011 at 9:52 pm

I think any host family must present your family’s values. Part of those values that should be spelled out for this particular family are honoring each’s parent’s culture of origin.

There are lots of culturally Asian host families, and blended families. Go for it! Don’t apologize for your family, or how you live, or whether you gave an extra car, etc. That attitude hinted at in your query–worrying whether an AP will like you or think you will measure up–can lead to bad decision-making on your part. Know what you and your family needs. Be mindful of being too willing to accommodate others too much (gosh I sound harsh!) at the cost of your needs or your kids’. Really, there is an AP for every family. You must not get nervous about your suitability and ignore other factors.

I shld think a curious AP would like this situation. You could be “participant-observers” of this nutty American culture together. For there is no sibgle American culture anyway.

Go for it!

Anna September 19, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I am also an immigrant; I have been living in America for more than half my life and I consider myself an American more than anything else. My husband also came to America about 20 years ago, but from a different part of the world.

In our au pair letter, we count this as an advantage – we both know firsthand how it feels to come to a new country, to adapt, etc., and we can be especially supportive and helpful in this aspect. As to the language issue, we speak English at home.

Yet once an au pair refused us (she told this to the agency, not us), because she wanted a more “American” family, whatever that means. But we have an added complication of being observant Jews and following a kosher diet.

Au pairs who come to us appreciate that we are a loving and caring, genuine people. The rest doesn’t matter to them so much, or is a positive.

You will find somebody who is right for you, and for whom your identity will be a plus.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 20, 2011 at 6:55 am

I would say that there is no one “American” family, which makes our country interesting. There are many Asian au pairs who might prefer to live with an Asian-American family, because cultural expectations might be more similar. My family hosted a Chinese au pair who went on to live with a second-generation Korean/Chinese family and fared much better with them – she was overwhelmed by the differences between my family’s culture and hers.

Personally, I don’t apologize for the things that makes my family different from the mythical “typical” family with which APs might expect to live. In fact, like other HMs, I send out a “dare you to match with us letter.” We have a child with intense special needs, eat vegetarian/vegan 80% of the time, and are culturally Jewish, but we’re not going to apologize for any of it. At the same time, we acknowledge that we’re not a good fit for the majority of AP candidates out there (but the majority of the ones who have matched with us have been an excellent fit – and we’ve never gone into rematch – although we did consider it once).

Eager Parents, all you need to do is spell out who you are, and don’t take it personally when APs whom you think are good candidates say no. At the same time, don’t settle for less.

German Au-Pair September 20, 2011 at 9:59 am

I agree that there is an au pair for everyone.
I think it always depends on the situation. I for example would have never matched with a family that doesn’t celebrate Christmas (Christmas here will be hard enough) but would have matched e.g. with a Jewish family that celebrates Hanukkah AND Christmas (even maybe just a little bit).
I think everyone has some preferences. I would love to get to know another culture besides the American one while being here but there are some things that maybe would get me thinking. For example I would hesitate about going to a completely Afro American family. (Or Asian, or Indian etc.) Not because I’m racist or because I have prejudices but just because I would be afraid to feel a little missplaced looking completly different from everyone. But that doesn’t mean, I wouldn’t match with them or turn them down right away…I think a good au pair is open and considers personalities instead of stereo-types. I would always get to know them and when it’s the perfect family for you, none of it matters anymore.
I just admit, that I would worry about that.

I agree, just be upfront with who you are and you WILL find your perfect fit!

azmom September 20, 2011 at 10:00 am

we are a mixed cultural family and indicate that when we interview APs, as well as indicate how we weave various cultures into our life. My husband came to the US almost 20 years ago for graduate school, while I’m mostly 4th generation American, who follows some of the cultural items from my background (3/4 Finnish American). I think it it makes us just as American as the next family since while we still watch football on Saturdays and Sundays, we also head out to various cultural events in the community. We originally wanted someone from my husband’s culture to help with the language, but we were unable to due to difficulty in getting visas from that country. However, in our first AP who arrived, having the culturally mixed background probably helped (language barriers we were used to, finding an Asian grocer was easy since we already went to one, etc), though we did end up in rematch. When we’ve attended cultural events for my husband’s (and kids’!!) culture, our AP has come and brought AP friends, and they’ve definitely enjoyed it.

In the end, an AP with prejudice won’t match well with you – I’d go as far to say you should ask the potential APs what their impression is of your “country” or your “people.” In our first AP (ended in rematch) actually told me she was surprised my husband wasn’t “dirty” and a few other comments. That was extremely interesting to know and I wonder if she would have said these things in our interview, had we asked.

The way I see it, unless your family is 100% Native American, being from another country means that you’re just as American as all the other non-NA families.

DJs Mom September 20, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Our au pair turned down a family because they were orignally from her country (had been living in the US only a few years) although my husband moved to America from Europe about 10 years ago and she was fine with that and in fact excited to learn about the cultural differences between US and Europe. So for her it wasn’t so much about it being a “typical” American experience, just more about experiencing something different from home.

BLJ Host Mom September 20, 2011 at 6:50 pm

I would agree that many APs would be totally open to different kinds of American families. I do think it is important for this family to be successful in matching with an AP to share with her what mainstream holidays they may not celebrate, because it seems that is often really important to APs.

There is no mixed culture in my house, and still sometimes I roll my eyes at myself and my family thinking, man, THIS is what this girl thinks a typical American family is! :) We are all so different, whose to say what “typical” is. Finding out what they want out of a family relationship and making sure that is what you can/want to give her matters the most.

aupair September 21, 2011 at 10:38 pm

My current host family are asian-american and they have been awesome ! It has been a really rich experience to get both cultural exchanges ! When i got the match with this family and knew they were asian i was really happy since i love asian culture and i also wanted to learn more about americans, so i think i got the perfect family ! Dont hesitate.. im sure there are a lot of girls/boys that would love to have both experiences :D

Au Pair from Alb September 22, 2011 at 8:57 am

I’m in Asian-American family too and I love them very much. I’ve been with them for 8 months already and not once have I regretted my choice. Especially I enjoy asian food my hostmom like to cook from time to time. Of course they celebrate all main american holidays plus some asian too and I consider them as much american as any other family. Though, I have to say, I would never choose a family where both parents are non-american or where one of them speaks my native language, simply because I want to improve my English.

Bettina September 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm

After my rematch I’m in an Asian-American family, too. (My hostmom was born in the US, but her parents are from China, and my hostdad is American.) It was probably the best decision I’ve ever made! They are so nice, and I would consider them “typically” American, even though they have a connection with Asia. They celebrate all American holidays and traditions, so I think it’s going to be an awesome experience. :)

northcalmom September 22, 2011 at 6:12 pm

We are a HF with our 4th aupair. We are Asian Americans and we had experienced candidates “turned” us down during interview process because we are not American enough. There are aupairs out there wanting the full American experience with less ethnic families.

Asian Host Mom January 3, 2012 at 12:52 pm

northcalmom, your experience is exactly what we have seen as well. I find this to be true with mostly APs from europe.

An additional complication that we faced was that we tried the educare program from APIA. This program has 99% german candidates. We lucked out the first year with an AP whose family had immigrated to germany from asia. Before we matched with her, we got turned a few times.

Next year, I rushed into a decision with an AP who did not work very well with our family. She is now with a ‘American’ family and her comments on a social site on how her new family is a ‘Real’ American family are quite an eye-opener.

I think we will not choose the educare program for our next year. The options are either move to the standard program or pull out of the AP program completely.

I love the cultural exchange part of the AP program though. If we do pull out of the program, I am thinking I may host an exchange student to provide the cultural enrichment to my children..

NoVA Host Mom January 3, 2012 at 2:11 pm

This thread reminds me of the situation AP2 was in when she came to our house. She had arrived to her original HF from South America and her English skills were lower intermediate. The original HF were recent immigrants from a South African country who had a very strong accent when speaking English. There were a couple of other issues, and although the HP were nice people, the language barrier was just too great for her to overcome (English is hard enough to understand when you cannot get through the other accent first). She stayed in contact with her first HM through her 2 years with us, by email (reading is so much easier), and her English improved with her classes and speaking it here in our home.

I don’t know if they had a lot of phone calls or Skyping before they matched, but there could also be some hesitation from AP applicants, especially those with weaker English, if they are unaware of the English skills of the family (and they make the determination with only reading the letters, not actually speaking over the phone or Skype). Just another thought to the question. You might be “American” enough, but they might be afraid of the language skills that both sides could be bringing to the table.

Asian Host Mom January 3, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Good point on the accent.
Most German AP that I spoke to were avid watchers of american TV shows and probably felt more comfortable with the American accent and lifestyle as represented in the shows.

spanishaupair April 24, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Interesting post. From my aupair point of view, I will search for the family not if they are 100% american with 5 generations of americans, if I finish being in USA one day.
I’ve been in England last summer with a polish family and was great I learned about both cultures, improve my english skills and learnt some polish, I think I had a better culture exchange than going to a 100% british family. This year I’ll go to ireland with a dutch-irish family

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