Sunday, September 4, 2011

Au Pair Affairs

The word "au pair" is a French term, which means "on par" or "equal to," denoting living on an equal basis in a reciprocal, caring relationship between the host family and the au pair. An au pair will typically be a young woman (18-25 years) from a foreign country who chooses to help look after the children of a host family and provide light housekeeping. The au pair is given room and board and is typically paid a weekly "pocket-money" salary. Cultural exchange and language learning are also important parts of this relationship. Au pairs generally live with their host families for 6-12 months.

I took this picture of Stade on a rare sunny day
Over the past week I have had several requests for a post about my day-to-day life as an American au pair in Germany and, to be honest, I’ve been avoiding the topic. In truth, I’m not entirely sure how to explain the Twilight Zone-esque relationship between an au pair and her host family.

On one hand, I am hired help. I clean, do some cooking and watch the children. But, on the other hand, I am almost part of the family. I eat meals with them and am invited to special events. On the other other hand, I am a centerpiece for cultural exchange. I help teach the children English and in turn I take German classes and learn what it means to be part of a typical German family. And if that weren’t complicated enough, we all live together, too (my apartment is housed within the larger house where the family lives). It’s a strange, strange world I’ve entered into…

So, maybe the best way to describe the life of an au pair is to walk you through a typical weekday:

6:00AM: My alarm goes off and I stumbled to the bathroom where I fumble around with a long pole that opens the window (which is near the ceiling) to vent the steam from my forthcoming shower since there is no fan in the bathroom.
6:45AM: Walk upstairs and into my host family’s kitchen where I make a sack lunch for A* and get breakfast ready for A, B and myself.
7:00AM: Eat breakfast with the kids.
7:15AM: Say goodbye to A as she leaves for school; secretly check to make sure she is wearing weather-appropriate clothing and has remembered all of her books.
7:30AM: Change and dress C. Feed him.
7:50AM: Take B to the daycare down the street.
8:00AM-12:00PM: Take care of C. This usually consists of more feeding and changing, some cleaning and a trip to the library. Often my host mom leaves a list of things for me to do (go to the dry cleaners, buy eggs, etc.). Because of my poor German these trips to town can be quite nerve-wracking but it gets a little better every day.
12:00-3:00PM: Break time. I generally take a nap
3:00PM-5:30PM: Pick up B at daycare. Take him to a park and let him run around in order to blow off some of his boundless energy (seriously, this kid is like the Energizer Bunny).
5:30-6:30PM: Eat with the family; occasionally help A with English homework or play a game with the kids.

*Author’s Note: In order to respect the privacy of the family I work for, I will not be posting pictures or the names of the children online. “A” refers to a preteen girl, “B” is a two-year-old boy and “C” is a baby boy born in mid-summer 2011.

In addition to this, I babysit on Wednesday nights so my host mom can go to yoga, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I take a German class with my fellow foreigners.

But don’t get too comfortable, because this schedule will change once my host mom goes back to work after her maternity leave is over in late fall. I have no idea what my life will look like then, but for the next 6-8 weeks this is my Monday-Friday.

I went to church here on Sunday
Of course, my main duties as an au pair are to the children (and they really are wonderful kids), but another large part of coming to Germany is the opportunity to experience another culture and do some traveling (okay, a ton of traveling). This is where my weekends come in… praise God for the weekend!

While each weekend looks different, especially if I’m traveling, the goal is to experience as many quintessentially German things are possible. For example, this weekend I went into Hamburg on Saturday and spent the night with Kristin and her host family. Kristin and I not only ate bratwurst with curry ketchup bought from a street vendor (the bratwurst was 2 times the size of the tiny little bun!), but we drank real German beer (again from a street vendor… the concept of walking down the street with a beer in hand is still very odd to me). Later that night we also tried our hand at German baking, but more on that later as I think the food here deserves its own post entirely.

All in all, it’s an odd life I am coming to lead here in Germany, but it isn’t a bad one. I am surrounded by beautiful countryside, interesting people and good food. I’m learning a lot and being challenged every day. Plus, I'm going to have some great stories for the hypothetical grandchildren and, really, what more can a girl ask for?

Sending Much Love,



  1. I can't wait to visit you in Germany!!!

  2. Wow...I did not realize you were taking German classes over there. Won't be long and you'll be fully bilingual! What a great place to continue your classes...where you can actually put your German into use. I would think it will sink in faster when you are forced to use it. Interesting also that you eat together. I like the picture (in my mind) of you and the children having breakfast :-) I LOVE your sense of adventure and confidence, that have brought you to this new and exciting time in your life. Not everyone would be able to do it. Bravo Christina! Bravo!

  3. I love hearing about your life in Germany.

    I was watching Andy Rooney tonight on Sixty Minutes and I said, WOW, I hope that when he retires, Christina applies for the job. You would be great with your knowledge and sense of humor, plus the great way you write.

  4. I just can't get over the fact that there are TWO bratwursts on that bun! The uneven ratio is too foreign for me to comprehend ;)
    Thanks for the update! Sounds like a nice daily schedule.

  5. Sounds like your very busy young lady... but I know your loving it.. Love hearing all about your day...
    Thinking about you.. as for Tyler no word...

    Take care...

  6. Learning German sounds really hard, I commend you for taking on such a daunting task and sticking to it to become fluent in German. Sounds like you have your hands full with taking care of little ones. It is not easy, but somehow those little buggers will melt your heart and wrap their fingers around your hands and hold you tight in love.
    Brats are great and I am guessing even better in Germany - the home place of bratwursts. You will love the food each time you try someting new and wonder what it was for the next ordering.

    Aunt Janet

  7. Hi :)
    I'll be soon an au pair in the US! I'll arrive on July 22nd and will live in Arlington, VA.
    If you want to follow my experience, this is my blog:

  8. events, Making traveling to other countries much more social. Find someone who has a spare room or a friend to show you around. Promote your town or event.