Would you like to be a member of AU PAIR?
– NICE NOT EASY –
Alison Bray takes a spot of French leave.
Every year thousands of girls from all over the world drop everything in their home country to become au pairs abroad.
A need to improve language skills, discover other cultures, or simply find some independence are the most common reasons, but most have little idea of what is waiting for them.
When I landed in Nice last February, I was as green as the England I left behind. I was to work for a family in the “Nouveau Riche” mould just outside Nice and my contract stipulated caring for the children and
“petite aide menagere” (light housework).
I found, in fact, all the housework in the large villa was my responsibility.
A typical morning’s work would involve washing and dressing the five-, seven- and nine-year-old children, preparing them for school, washing up the breakfast things, making the beds (to army standards), tidying their rooms and play rooms, cleaning and making the fire, vacuuming and washing either the upstairs or downstairs floor surfaces, polishing ornaments and all wood, cleaning the toilets and bathrooms, taking out and feeding the dog, setting the table and preparing part of the lunch.
The chores steadily mounted each week, so I was usually working from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. with a two-hour break after lunch, six days a week, for £140 a month.
Despite Mme. H. agreeing on my contract: that I would have “une vie de famille,” I could not eat without her permission (she even locked away some things). I had to drink, cheap sterilised milk rather than their
“biological” milk and was left work on my day off.
She would not wash my black or coloured clothes, I was refused a key, and only allowed one evening off a week… if I returned by 10 p.m. Talking to other girls, I was convinced this was not right. After six weeks I announced I was going. Neither my agency in England nor Nice was ever of any help.
The agent in Nice, at one stage, threatened me, believing my employer in preference to me: not surprising as they collected a nice fee for each new girl introduced.
I found my last family through a friend and spent three very happy months with them, living above their patisserie.
If you want to au pair, it is worthwhile using an agency if only to have the chance of meeting others through a language school, which they organise.
Some countries require a visa.
And, by the way, boys have been known to work as au pairs.
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