What is an au pair?
An au pair is a foreigner who lives with a family, looks after the kids, possibly helps the kids learn a second language and sometimes helps with the housework. Essentially an au pair is a nanny – though ‘Au pair’ is French for ‘on par’ – a term that signifies au pairs are to be treated as apart of the family.
It’s a popular way for many to travel, and experience a new country and culture, without worrying about expenses such as food and accommodation. Au pairs also get a wee weekly spending stipend from the host family, which granted isn’t much, but is better than nothing.
When I left New Zealand in April 2013 my plan was to travel Europe for the best part of 4 months (which I did) and then move to Spain, settle down as an au pair, learn Spanish and live a simple life.
I signed up on Au Pair World while travelling, found a nice family and moved to Madrid, having never been before, to begin my simple life experience.
I had imagined myself caring for sweet young Spanish kids, who I could dazzle and charm with tales of New Zealand, fly kites with on windy days and sing to sleep at the end of the day.
Yup… I’d based this chapter of my life loosely on Mary Poppins.
Unfortunately, in reality kids are not like Jane and Michael Banks.
Although at times they are cute, fun and playful, all the other times they are just little sh*ts. And although the good times were good, the bad times really sucked.
Kids love to scream, swear and lie. If they don’t want to do something they simply won’t, and the worst thing was that no matter how much they swore at me, I couldn’t swear back.
Thank god they were scared of their father, as the ‘I’ll-tell-your-dad’ line was all I had going for me most of the time.
The parents were nice enough, although I had a few extra weekend hours dumped on me at the last minute, and they didn’t really help me with anything related to my own life (Spanish schools, legal paperwork etc).
Our agreement was pretty good. I worked from 4:15 – 8:30/9pm each night, meaning I could go out afterwards and sleep all morning if I fancied it. On the weekend I was able to come and go as I pleased. All food was included (though the content of their fridge was never very exciting…) and they had a housekeeper, so I wasn’t required to do any housework. Their house was lovely and I had my own bedroom and bathroom. They paid me 70€ a week, which I found to be the average wage of an au pair in Madrid.
The worst thing about the job for me was that it was boring.
The routine was boring: Walk kids home from school, give kids a snack, help with homework, give English lessons, play with them, cook them dinner, get them showered, stop any fights…etc.
It’s boring even writing about it.
Even meeting friends during the day got a bit boring… You see when you’re an au pair, and you make friends with other au pairs, far too often you find yourself talking about au pairing. eg, what your kids did, fights you had, and what the parents are doing. It’s terribly boring.
I found myself living for the weekend, in a way which I had never done so before. The weekend was the only time my friends and I could go out and completely forget about au pairing.
So, as you may have guessed, being an au pair was not my favourite experience, but of course it’s not the worst thing I’ve done either.
It had some great benefits, providing me with free accommodation and living costs, while I found my feet in Madrid. I was also able to make some good friends and when the kids were playing nice, it could be quite easy work.
However when I was offered a teaching role in Madrid, I didn’t even think twice.
I worked out a final month with the family, did my best to help them find a new au pair, and then scooted on out of there, ready to start a new life chapter as a teacher. (to be loosely based on Dangerous Minds)
Have you been an Au pair before? What was your experience like?