Celebrate the Cultural Differences…

In Uncategorized on May 13, 2010 at 9:42 pm

The Au Pair experience is one that is beneficial in direct tangible ways — like enabling you to leave the house and the kids so that you can go to work and do the grocery shopping.  Thereafter, the flexibility of the Au Pair model provides the superior extras — going out for social events on the weekend and knowing the kids are covered with someone they know and love.   Traveling with help that the kids know and love — fantastic benefit — knowing your childcare provider as well as you do because you live with her or him — priceless.

At ProAuPair we have a close alignment with Germany and therefore have many German, Austrian, and Hungarian Au Pairs.  We love them.  Everyone talks about the cultural benefits to hosting an Au Pair from Germany but the phrase cultural benefits doesn’t really describe the experience of discovering the nuances of another culture.  It’s a totally different experience than the one of traveling because it enables you to live it, not just hear about it, or experience it during a two week visit.  I like to think of it as the difference between learning to ride a horse from reading a tutorial versus actually saddling up, putting on the jodhpurs, finding a really cool riding jacket and hat, grabbing the whip, and hopping on up to give it a whirl…or ride.

So my friend, Mariah Sage, who added to my blog a few entries ago, was telling me recently again about her experiences in Germany and the funny and interesting differences she encountered and how they impressed her. It was a fun conversation and reminded me again of the delights of learning about another culture. It is sort of like falling in love and learning about the intricacies of someone new.

Mariah Sage told me the following…

One of the major differences that I encountered was the way that people approached the issue of privacy of others. It America, there seems to be an unspoken rule that people stay pretty much completely outside of each others personal business. In Germany the issue seemed to be approached in the total opposite manner. For instance, the family I was working for had a son who was in high school and they were aware that he smoked cigarettes and wanted him to stop. They were taking the measures that they saw fit to help him to quit. During this difficult process, on more than one occasion, other people who were not particularly close to the family felt that they should share their opinions with the parents. They received phone calls from parents of his classmates saying that they should not try to stop him from smoking as well as teachers asking to have meetings with them about why they wanted him to stop and how they were going about this.

Although this interference from the other people seemed to bother the family, it didn’t seem to be anything abnormal to them. In America however, in my experience, when a family is told how to make a personal decision about something like how to raise their child without asking directly for the advice, it is usually considered rude and offensive. In general, in my time in Germany, I noticed that people more readily engaged themselves in the personal business of others. Although at times this was not necessarily a bad thing, and maybe the Americans could even learn that the attitude of helping each other is really behind it, I still think most Americans would be offended by it.

As I like to say…vive la difference (a little French there)….


How well do you know your caregiver?

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2010 at 2:00 am

When I was talking to a nervous newish Mom recently, she was telling me that she’s uncomfortable with not knowing her child care provider well. In fact, this particular Mom was nervous about a lot of the issues related to child care and no one can really blame her.  Every single mother on earth, except those under the  some sort of medication or duress, can remember how scary it was to think about even being separated from a new infant. You just don’t have the confidence about motherhood, your skills, the entire package and being away from your baby is a very intimidating thing. I think almost every mother, if not EVERY SINGLE mother, has made note of the first time they left the baby for more than one or two hours. It’s a watershed moment and something most of us make a note of, if not remember very distinctly.

How does the Au Pair fit in? I think the Au Pair is the most comforting of child care models for parents because of the intimacy of the relationship. Not to mention the extensive background checks that good agencies provide before the Au Pair even enters the candidate pipeline. Host Families and Au Pairs most certainly get to know each other because everyone is living together. Its much like the difference between dating and living together in a  romantic relationship. As they say, the facade and gloves come off.  How can you not reveal yourself  living together?  The family gets to know the Au Pair, the Au Pair gets to know the family. No one can keep up a fake persona for long living together.  You just go through too much stress and too much togetherness to be a fake or on your “best behavior” for too long. So while some families might walk reluctantly into a live-in relationship with their caregiver, it might just be the best way to feel that you really, truly know your child care provider, because in all honesty, you really will. Right?

The German Au Pair:How Germans Differ

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2010 at 6:01 am

Because ProAuPair has a strong affiliation with Germany, many of our Au Pairs are from Germany. Recently, an American I know, Mariah Sage, was in Germany and she revealed this to me about her impressions of the German mindset as it related to child rearing.  For American Host Families, it is important to understand the cultural differences as much as possible before your Au Pair arrives but be prepared for the journey of discovery that is getting to know an Au Pair. It’s as much an adventure with the swings up and the head-shaking wonderment as falling in love or learning about a new friend that you like a lot.  It would be beneficial for Host Families to recognize differences as much as they can in advance, talk  them out when possible, and smile with wonder when something catches you off guard and surprises you in learning about your new “best friend”, your Au Pair.

Germans, by Mariah Sage

Another difference that was perhaps more subtle but that I also noticed was the level of protectiveness that Americans have towards their children compared to Germans. Again, this is an overgeneralization as every person and family varies greatly but in general I notice that American families tend to be more overly cautious and protective of their children. Americans tend to never let their child out of their sight for even a moment or to let them try to climb something where they might get hurt whereas the Germans seem to have a healthy view of “trial and error.” Generally the Germans allow their children to try more things for themselves and to learn from what happens which ends up giving their children a much stronger sense of self confidence. Regardless of which is the better way to raise children however, it is something important to be aware of when working with some American families as they may expect you to adopt their cautious attitude when working with their children.