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"An American Au Pair In Germany" by Talya Shoup
I absolutely loved my time as an au pair and would not trade that experience for anything. Although it was not necessarily the easiest “job” I have ever had, most of the time it was not all that difficult. I greatly enjoyed the chance to live life in a foreign country. I was placed in a small town not far from Stuttgart, Germany, working for a couple who were parents to one little girl (by the time I left, they had had a second child). I went there with the goal of learning to speak German fluently and was able to attain a good working knowledge of the language during my year and a half as an au pair. I learned German by speaking only German with my host parents, but I spoke English with the children.
My host family couldn’t have been a better “fit” for me. They were engaging, welcoming, and accommodating from the very beginning, and they worked hard to make me feel like part of the family. Their home was in a small, quaint town outside of Stuttgart, in southern Germany. Their home is comfortable - a large, three story house, very plain and German from the outside, but with a modern kitchen and very chic, simple "Euro" furnishings. There was not much in the way of furniture, but the house is tidy and neat. What else would I expect from Germans?
I discovered my bedroom upstairs and discovered my host mom had stocked the room with a supply of Milka chocolates. Milka is Germany's version of Hershey's chocolate, but so much better! They also cooked me an amazing welcome dinner. My host family enjoys good food as much as I do and my host mom's tiramisu is amazing. It was the best dessert I have ever tasted and her version of this Italian dish is made with over a dozen eggs, sugar, a couple of pounds of mascarpone cheese, two types of liqueur, and espresso-dipped lady fingers. My 21st birthday was a month after my arrival. I knew very few people at that point, but my host parents held a birthday party for me, inviting friends and family for me to meet. These special things helped me transition into life away from my own friends and family.
Before the family had their second child, my job was pretty much like a full-time vacation with a little bit of babysitting thrown in. Things really after baby number two arrived, but were still manageable. However, I did have to actually "work" with the addition of another child in the family and some days I worked hard, long hours. But by the time I left Germany, passing the proverbial "au pair torch" on to someone else, I felt as though I was leaving family, not an employer.
As much fun as it was, living abroad did present challenges. Although I was already familiar with Germany and the language and had been to the country several times before, living there full time was something else. Vacations tend to show only the nicest aspects of places, while longer time spent in a given location reveals its flaws. Day-to-day life in Germany presented challenges I had not anticipated. Little things I took for granted at home in the US, such as running errands and shopping, were not quite as easy in a foreign country.
What should be a quick, routine trip to the shops is nothing of the sort in oh-so-complicated Germany. The first obstacle is parking. The supermarkets that are generous enough to provide parking have tiny garages with spaced so tight it's hard to avoid hitting other cars each time you shop. Once inside the store, things don't get any easier. The shopping carts were hard to push in a straight line and you have to make sure you have change on hand, as they require a coin to be used.
Now, I do love the food in these stores! German supermarkets have a wonderful selection of cheeses, meats, chocolates and even wine. Even the yogurt was so enjoyable; the many varieties taste more like dessert than something actually good for you. And, there are more than 100 kinds of yogurt to choose from. Yum!
However, after finding everything, the final bump in the road (and after trying to choose from a million kinds of cheese and sausage), is checking out. German checkout girls (ok, occasionally there are guys, but rarely) have a strong lack of customer service skills. You can't expect any niceties. Another problem are the people in line behind you, and Germans, often lacking in personality and people skills, are urging you, sometimes verbally, to get a move on! To make matters worse, you have to bag your own groceries, which was usually a pain, especially with a small child or two in tow. How I missed the nice teenagers who used to check me out and bag everything back in Georgia, USA! They do all the work and it only takes about fifty cents to show your gratitude.
While these challenges were annoying – sometimes even exhausting – they were not insurmountable. They helped me better appreciate the easy times, and they also helped me grow as a person. As Tom Hanks said in the movie, A League of Their Own, “The hard is what makes it good.” The challenges, work, and adventure of the au pair experience were certainly worthwhile. It is something I would recommend to anyone wanting to try something new. It is a great way for young people to experience life in a new country, and an excellent way for host parents’ children to be introduced to new cultures and languages.
Parts of the above article are excerpts from Talya Shoup’s delightful and informative eBook, The Girl’s Guide to Being an Au Pair.