Thinking of Being an Au Pair?

I’m not blowing my own horn here but I wish I’d had this advice when I was thinking about becoming an au pair. Despite moaning about it all the time, I actually would recommend being an au pair, it’s an easy way to live in another country because:
-          you don’t pay rent
-          you don’t work many hours
-          it can be a nice job.

BUT don’t think that being an au pair is all face painting and making cakes- this is what I thought. Then I landed myself with Family Thrift and realised that the only cooking I would be allowed to do was microwaving polenta, otherwise known as Jelly-Textured Cous Cous. As for face painting, one afternoon the mum said she had something fun that she wanted me to ‘do’ with the children, and it was an abacus. But I didn’t have my own excellent blog to advise me, so that won’t happen to you. Here is my little guide to being an au pair.

The myth:
An au pair is someone who traditionally lives with a family for a year in order to experience another country’s culture and to learn the language. They get free food and board and a small weekly wage. In return they help out with the kids, taking them to and from school. They learn the language and become a part of the family.

The reality:

I didn’t realise until I got here that lots of au pairs in Paris have their own apartments/bedsits. For me this would have been a better option. I found it really difficult to live with the family because they had rules and I’m an adult. Also they ate disgusting food and were very stingy with it. Their apartment was five minutes away from the Eiffel Tower but it was falling apart- they were basically All Fur Coat and No Knickers and they couldn’t afford an au pair. But  I know some people who have lived with the family and found it ok; it all depends on what your host family are like and who you are as a person. This might help:

‘Live-In’ if you:
-          have never lived away from home before
-          will be living in the countryside or a small town
-          really, really want to learn the language

‘Live-Out’ if you:
-          like going out a lot and are very sociable
-          have lived away from home before
-          will be living in Paris

Just think, at the end of a really shit day, it is easier to switch off if you can shut the door and go to your own place, rather than shut your bedroom door and potentially have the kids wander in five minutes later. Also, no matter how easy-going the family say they are, you will never be able to come in from a night out at 8am, have a quick shower and a cup of tea, then take their kids to school at 9am. But if you live by yourself, they’ll never know…

I said that you should Live-In if you want to learn the language, but this only an advantage if the parents agree to only speak French with you- lots of families want you to speak English with the kids, but if you live with the parents you can practice with them.

When I came here I really wanted to learn French; that’s the reason I moved here. But I ended up getting a job where I had to speak English with the kids, so my French didn't improve from being an au pair. Also, all my friends are English or English-speaking, so I rarely speak French out of work unless it’s to order a drink. If you are serious about learning the language and put this goal above getting drunk and having Good Times, then don’t move to a major city, particularly Paris. Go somewhere random and make sure you get a job where you are not expected to speak English. Even if it seems daunting, your French (or Spanish, or German or whatever) will improve very quickly. Don’t worry about making friends, if there are no local people your own age, you will be able to find other au pairs or language assistants or students.

The average pay for au pairs in France is 80 euros a week. (I don’t know about the rest of Europe but I imagine it’s pretty similar.) DON’T ACCEPT ANY LESS THAN THIS. My first job was 40 euros a week. I thought it was ok because I didn’t do many hours and I thought I could live cheaply, but it doesn’t matter if you can survive on little or not, they shouldn’t be such Tight, Stingy Bastards. My friend Maisie was on 30 euros a week, but she had a really nice apartment and they paid for her French lessons. She left because no matter how many perks you get, you can’t enjoy yourself on thirty euros a week. So: eighty euros a week- don’t accept anything less.

As well as your 80 euros, you might be able to get French lessons thrown in- they are very expensive (about 400 euros for a trimester, which I think is normally 10 hours of lessons a week for three months) and it is the rule in most European countries that au pairs have to have at least one term of Language Lessons. If you live in Paris, you might also get your Navigo paid for (like an oyster card, except you top it up once a month for unlimited travel). Some au pairs even get their mobile phones and gym memberships paid for, so keep this in mind.

When I was looking for au pair jobs, I had no idea how good some au pairs have it. Now I know au pairs who are on 250 euros a week; au pairs who have amazing apartments all to themselves; who work ten hours a week; who get taken skiing or to the coast every time the family go on holiday. SHOP AROUND. Don’t accept the first job you get offered like I did. I thought I was lucky to get an offer but it’s the families who are lucky to get you.

Most au pairs work less than thirty hours a week, but every single job is different.  Some people work every morning for three hours, some people work every afternoon. Some people have to do babysitting once a week, some people have to go to the family’s country house every other weekend.

From what I’ve experienced and from what I know of other people’s jobs, here is what the perfect au pair job would be like and I strongly suggest you look for something like this:

The Job
Looking after a six year old child, speaking French with the child and the family. (Ideally the dad would also have an attractive son in his twenties from an earlier marriage, who lives nearby and comes to visit often.)

The Hours
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday:
Start work at 4.30pm.
Pick kid up from school.
Take them to the park if the weather is nice.
Take them home- give them a bath and then cook dinner.
Eat dinner with them. Finish work at 7.30pm or earlier.

Wednesday: (In France a lot of schools are off on Wednesdays)
Start work at 9am.
Get kid ready for the day and play.
Cook and eat lunch.
Take the kid out for the afternoon, to a museum or to the park.
Evening routine, then finish work at normal time.

Once a week, if more it is optional and you get paid.

100 euros a week
Plus Navigo
Plus my own apartment round the corner
(I think it’s too much to expect French lessons with these benefits.)

So, now you know what the perfect au pair job looks like, here is how to find it:

The Internet
I found my first job on Au Pair World. It was so, so easy but I didn’t meet the family beforehand, so make sure you do or at least have a phone interview.

Also, try looking on the Facebook group Au Pair in Paris, families post job offers on here and girls who are about to leave sometimes advertise their jobs, although I have heard of people who hate their jobs recommending it on the Facebook page just because it is easier for them to leave if they find someone else to fill in, so be cautious!

This is how I found my second job. It’s an online magazine for English-speaking expats in Paris. A good way to find a job if you are already in Paris.

Word of Mouth
Most au pairs leave after a year, so if you know someone who had a good experience, ask them to recommend you. Try looking on the Facebook group I mentioned above and ask from around March/April time if anyone has a family they could reccommend.

After speaking to some girls who are thinking of au pairing (by the way, don't forget that boys can au pair too!), I have made a list of important questions you might not think to ask:

  • How does the family feel about you going out during the week?
  • Will they expect you to be home by a certain time?
  • Are they comfortable with you coming and going as you please at the weekend? 
(If the answer to the above three questions is anything other than 'You can do what you like, you're an adult!' I strongly suggest you tell them to fuck off.)
  • Have they had an au pair before? If yes, can you speak/email/meet them?
  • What is your room like and where is it in relation to the other rooms of the house?
  • How far is the nearest metro station/bus stop?
  • What is the area they live in like, is it safe to walk through at night?
  • What food do they eat? (Try and ask for some examples of meals without sounding like a weirdo.)
  • Are you free to eat your own meals or do you have to eat at the same time as the family, even at the weekends?
  • Will you be expected to go on holiday with them? If yes, where will you be staying (you don't want to share a room with the kids) and what kind of hours will you work? Will you be paid extra?
  • Will you have to work half-term holidays? If not, will you be expected to go home? (I think this is rare, but Family Thrift made me do this, so if they say 'yes' take it as a sign they are Weird.)
  • How often will you be expected to babysit? Will it be at the weekends? Until what time?
  • Will they expect you to go to their country house with them? (A lot of families in Paris have them and you don't want to get dragged there every other weekend when you could be getting drunk with your friends.)
  • How far is the kid's school/activities (horse riding, ballet, football etc) from where you will be living?
If you have your own place:
  • Are you allowed people to stay whenever you want?
  • Does it have internet access?
  • Is there a bathroom in it? If not, what is the shared bathroom like?
  • How far is your place from the family's home and the kid's school/activities?
  • What floor is it on and is there a lift?
  • Will there be a couple living in the apartment above you who like to have very loud sex every night and sometimes at 11am on a Tuesday morning?

I hope this is useful to people. If anyone has any questions or thoughts leave a comment.
If you have made up your mind to be an au pair and have found a family to work for (using  my excellent advice I assume) you might want to read my Advice for Soon To Be Au Pairs.

Or, you might not, in which case, you can fuck off, but don't come crying to me when you realise you've moved to another country with too many pairs of socks and not enough tea bags.

For any Americans thinking of being an au pair, sorry there's no advice about visas and shit- I'm an EU citizen, I can wander here, there and everywhere! For any American girls and boys, check out the advice on  An American Au Pair in Paris.)