Becoming an Au Pair
Where and when were you an au pair?
I au paired for six months in Rueil Malmaison, a lovely western suburb of Paris. Unfortunately the “ten minute” commute from the house to the RER station turned out to be a 25-30 minute bus ride and 20 minute RER ride….make sure you google map and research your location before arrival. This family and I had a six month agreement so the commute was not a big deal. I then worked for a family in Croissy sur seine for the summer (the month of August) and loved each moment of the day. The mother was a stay at home with two lovely young boys. We had so any fun adventures. Currently, I am working in Paris from September to July in the 2nd arrondissement for one five year old. I am loving the varied experiences.
Why did you choose to go au pairing in that particular country?
Like most American girls after watching Passport to Paris (the 1990s Mary-Kate and Ashley film), I decided it was my life long dream to ride upon a Vespa accompanied by a handsome French man around the Champs-Elysee. Also I wanted to learn the romantic language, solely to impress people back home.
What was the ‘aim’ of your year as an au pair?
To be Parisian. I wanted to learn about the culture, the history, the fashion…why everyone here wears white Adidas with the green stripes. (The mystery is still unknown)
How did you find your au pair family, and what tips would you have for those beginning their own searches for potential families?
I used interexchange.org and highly recommend their services. They are an expensive agency and will most likely place you in a family living in the suburbs. However they were wonderfully involved in each of my situations involving miscommunications or visas.
How did you find the first few weeks moving in as an au pair with a new family? Are there any things you wish you’d have known before beginning?
Honestly, I wish I would have asked them for a specific list of expected duties and hours. People are only human. They will take advantage if they can or feel the need to depending on the family. So make sure to have it all written down via email before hand to know what to expect. Also, make sure to declare before hand that you need weekends off if you want weekends off.
Life as an Au Pair
What was your daily routine like as an Au Pair?
- Wake up make breakfast for the kids.
- Clean up while they get ready.
- Take them to school.
- During the day, do laundry twice a week. Or that is free time (depending on if you have school or what not).
- Pick up the kiddos from school.
- Make them a snack, play with them.
- Make the kids dinner, clean up afterwards. Play with them until mom and dad come home.
What was the deal with school holidays?
I had one of the two weeks off each bank holiday which was lovely. However I did not get paid for the free week.
What were your best and worst experiences as an au pair?
Best experience was making a family-like bond with my host family (the summer family especially). The kids become like your own siblings and you end up learning a lot about yourself and life through them. I realize why my mom is so over protective knowing how it feels to step into her shoes, caring for these young naive children.
If you experienced any problems or issues with the family, how did you resolve them?
Absolutely. I actually switched families due to disagreements and abrupt changes when my contract was not respected. This is why I cannot stress enough you need to have your expected duties, hours, and pay on paper; SPECIFICALLY written down. I also stress the importance of going through an agency to help you when times like this occur.
Socializing and leisure
What advice do you have for making friends as an Au Pair?
Tinder. I kid you not, some of my most awkward tinder dates have become my good friends here. Any sort of social media is encouraged when in need of a friend. Instagram, Facebook au pair groups, but just be careful not to meet up with everyone who offers. Make your intensions clear and always meet in a public place with a friend on call or nearby in case things get awkward. You would be surprised at the amount of exchange students are in the same position as you.
Also go to the Lions bar Monday nights, this is an international/student bar that hosts couch surfing bar crawls. Everyone is there to make friends and they are mostly english speakers. Check out blogs and suggested student bars. I recommend Irish, Canadian, and american bars to find english speakers. The long hop, the great Canadian, and Cocorans are among my favorites.
How were you able to fit socializing with the commitment of your hours as an Au Pair?
Weekends! Also the hours the children are in school, gives you more than enough time to explore Paris.
How easy was it to feel part of the community? Did you make friends outside of the ‘au pair’ world?
The French have a reputation of being rude or cold, but c’est pas vrai! It’s not true. You must find reason to approach them or create conversation for a purpose. We Americans tend to freak people out with our golden retriever like curiosity. We come up to anyone and ask them random inquiries about themselves with the pure intention to learn about them. Don’t do that. Instead go to a cafe you love often. Become familiar with the staff and become a regular after some time they will open up and you can make many friends this way (and get some free coffee if you are lucky).
If you speak some French it is easier but for the most part, most of my friends are foreign.
Learning the language and culture
How easy was it to find your language school, and did attending one help you personally?
The agency I went through suggested many schools that were around the same price range. Check out Ecole L’etoile or campus de langues for a great quality education and reasonable price range.
How did you find the language barrier (if there was one)? – How were the first few weeks of living in a new country?
My first host family spoke strictly French and through that and translators I picked it up quickly. School is your best bet. It is easy to live here and speak only English so beware not to fall into habit of using your native toungue if you want to learn French. Test yourself and try. The French appreciate it, if you are wrong they can correct you and that’s how we learn.
Also use tinder. You guys must think I am some tinder freak, but just try it before judging. You don’t need to meet people in person but the initial introductions and small talk in French will help you improve at least your writing skills.
How did you improve your language skills?
Again, tinder. Also watch french movies and TV series with english subtitles. So embarrassing to admit.
Any tips for those learning a new language?
TRY. Whether you fail or succeed. Keep trying. One day you will get it.
Do you feel as if you have progressed with your new language?
Absolutely, now I speak enough French to get by. Though it’s more Franglish than proper French I can understand most of the language. It is much harder to speak than to understand.
Life after being an Au Pair
How has being an au pair changed you?
Yes. I realize I want to be a writer because of the endless stories that were inspired by my au pairing experiences. I also realize I don’t want kids….
Totally kidding. But I realize the amount of energy, discipline, and work that goes into being a caretaker. Au pairing is similar to a mom in training course. It is hard work and not always fun. The kids become extremely important characters in your life. The leaving is always difficult but because of the experience I appreciate my own mother more than ever. I have realized that the kids look up to you and how important it is to portray a good example/role model for the kids. I think in a sense I grew up more than the kids.
Would you do au pairing again?
Absolutely. I actually am continuing.
Would you recommend au pairing to others? And why?
Yes, 1000 percent. If you think you want kids, au pair. If you think that you never want kids, au pair. If you are curious about starting a new life for yourself, au pair. If you want to be cultured, adventure, a funny story, excitement, or change of scenery, au pair.
What advice would you give to those wanting to become an Au Pair?
Do your research before committing to a family. Talk to the families previous au pair, and get weekends off. I committed Monday-Friday to work and school (french classes). Weekends were the time I took to experience the “je ne sais quoi” about Paris.
Also, traveiling is too convenient and cheap to pass up. You will be more than able to take weekend trips to Spain, Germany, other parts of France, and all over Europe Friday night- Sunday evening.
Find out more about Brooke on her various social media platforms:
Hey there future au pairs! I was you once upon a time. I am currently living in Paris as a live out au pair. I watch an adorable 5 year old girl Monday through Friday, babysit once a week and get weekends free to wander. I am a lifestyle/comedy blogger as well and write about all my wild adventures in Paris via lostinpari.blogspot.com