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German au pair: a bit rude, or cultural difference?(33 Posts)
We have a lovely German au pair living with us - she's been here for about three months. In most respects, she's brilliant - wonderful with the children, very organised, works hard, interesting to talk to. And we're really appreciating her help. But there have been a few things this week that have made me and I'm wondering whether it's just down to different cultural ideas of politeness, or if I should have a word with her. (Her English is pretty much fluent, so it's not down to lack of language skills.) She has never said 'please' or 'thank you' for the whole time she's been here: not just about meals (DH cooks most nights, and I always say thank you to him), but times when we've gone out of our way, driving a 3-hour round trip to collect her DM from the airport, for example. She's very direct - ie. 'I need you to do [X] for me now' - which in general I appreciate, as there's no opportunity for misunderstanding, but DH and I try and set a good example for the children in encouraging them to say please and thank you, and I'm a little bit bothered that she's not modelling this for them. The other 2 things this week have been that she had an au pair friend to stay the weekend - that's fine; she'd asked us in advance. But then they both came down the next day, and AP said 'why haven't you cooked lunch yet'. I was a bit taken aback that AP expected me to cook lunch for her friend - I'd assumed they'd fixed themselves something or eat out. I'm not a hotel. And then they both just sat and watched me cook them lunch; ate it in silence; didn't say thank you; and left. The final thing is that my aunt owns a tiny studio flat in central Glasgow - our AP wants to go to Glasgow for a weekend, and as a surprise for her, I asked this family member if she could possibly stay in the studio flat, so she didn't have to pay for a hotel. It's a big leap of faith on her part, lending a flat to a teenage girl she's never met before, and our AP was really pleased. But then AP mentioned yesterday that she's invited a small group of other AP friends to come to Glasgow with her and stay in the flat too. I'm not happy about this: it wasn't hers to offer. But I can see that she doesn't want to go to Glasgow for the weekend on her own, and her friends won't be able to afford accommodation. Anyway, AIBU, or would you be a bit about this too? Is this just a different cultural approach to politeness, or is she taking the p* a little bit?
Sorry, you cooked them lunch while they sat and watched? Fuck that.
The flat thing wouldn't bother me, surely you didn't think she was going on her own?
I would pull her on her manners though, and certainly wouldn't let her treat you like a servant.
I remember being on a German exchange and the family laughing at my insistence on saying 'please' and 'thank you' all the time, so perhaps that is a cultural difference.
The cooking of the lunch incident was rude though.
The flat - I wouldn't be too worried about that, but perhaps just one friend would have been more appropriate than a group.
The bluntness is probably cultural - DH is German and his family have a habit of stating facts or asking questions that are a little more "direct" than the English are used to.
However, she does also sound like a typical thoughtless and rather entitled teenager as well.
The Germans are usually pretty good with manners though so that's a bit unusual
I think regardless of it being a cultural difference you should still point out that here it is polite to say please and thank you.
The lunch thing would have bothered me as they didn't say please and thank you and i would have expected them to wash up etc.
The flat thing ..you need to lay the rules ..one person only etc and leave it at that.
I dislike impoliteness and I'm afraid I would have to speak to her like I would my children. When she is 'demanding' something I would do that tilted head stare, waiting a beat and then saying saying, ".....please?" (Or bitte!)
And the same thing for thank you. Don't let go of the item you are giving to them without the "....thank you?" (Or danke so she gets the bloody hint!)
She is caring for your children and as such should be showing them good manners!
germans can be very direct.
they also don't tend to use conjunctives (sp) so would not take a would like/could/should as direction. it just doesn't work in direct translation.
that also means that you can be more direct to her. spell it out. not 'I would like you to clear the kitchen' but 'your task is to clear the kitchen'
I think bluntness and a lack of please and thank yous are very much cultural. DH is Polish and still gets confused when I say I think he is being rude or aggressive, etc.
On the other hand, there's no harm in explaining to her the importance of please and thank you in UK culture, that watching someone prepare a meal and not offering to help will seem rude, and that it is not on to open up someone else's home to a group of unknown friends. If she doesn't change her behaviour once you have explained what is expected you know the problem is with her, not differing cultural norms.
If I was the family member who owned this flat I would be properly mad with you for this! You can't let the AP bring friends to the flat without the owner knowing. It's you she'll blame forever if the flat gets trashed when they have a party-not the au pair who she'll probably never see again.
You sound like a mug to cook for them. Grow a fucking backbone
It's probably a mix of cultural and teenager. On the lunch thing would she normally help, she may have felt you wouldn't have wanted her too, and for her asking why it wasn't made was probably purely a question in her view
However the flat thing I think she should have asked.
Thanks all - very helpful. I'd suspected that the please and thank you was a cultural thing.
We always have a family lunch on Saturday, to which AP is of course invited. I was cooking for our family anyway: I wasn't purely cooking up a meal for the two teenagers! I was just miffed that AP had assumed it was OK to bring a friend without asking me, or without either of them offering to help, and after haranguing me for it not being ready when they wanted it! but I didn't want to bring it up in front of her friend, and thought it would be better to bring it up separately once her friend had left.
I'll set ground rules about the flat.
My DP is German, he doesn't quite understand how to white lie, so if there was something he didn't like about the meal I cooked he will say so. But he usually says 'thanks for cooking' so he is polite. Germans like to get to the point, but so do I which is why I fit in here.
It may be a mix of cultural and teenage entitlement from what you've said.
I would suggest a review meeting with her, an opportunity to tell her what's going well and what you would like to change. It needs to be 2 way to be a review so a good opportunity to get her feedback also. Perhaps do it in the simple stop/start/continue?
About Glasgow I think it's a risk for her to stay there with friends incase or damage/noise etc. I would state that as she is not travelling alone to visit friends who live in a Glasgow (of that's what you believed) that she'll need to get cheap accommodation.
Weekends are our AP's free time; so we don't specifically ask her to help with any of the cooking or helping with the children. But we also want her to feel part of the family. So she tends to eat with us etc, but not really chip in. I don't really mind that - I might expect that from a teenage child. But I do mind her bringing along friends for our precious once-a-week weekend family time, without asking me in advance. I'm not a hotel!
I am German, and I jolly well say thank you and please, whether I am speaking German or English!
Yes, the directness is a cultural trait (and I had to learn to tone it down ).
Re the flat, tell her no. She cannot let her friends stay there too. End of.
If that does not suit, she'll just have to shell out for a hotel. Or YouthHostel??
I can't comment on the cultural difference regarding please/ thank you.
I think that an au pair should be treated as an "older sister" in the family and so, I don't think it's unreasonable for you to include her friend for lunch if you normally cook a family meal then anyway. If your daughter had a friend to sleepover then you'd normally feed them and if you cook a meal every Saturday then I would expect to feed her.
I think if she's fairly sensible and responsible (and I'm assuming she is if she cares for your kids) then she can be trusted to look after a flat, with or without friends. I think it would be pretty mean spirited to tell her she can't stay with friends
Au pairs are not like normal employees. Would you allow one of your own dc to stay in the flat with friends (when they're older, of course)? If so then you should allow your au pair.
Teen Dd has a German friend and they've done exchange visits on a number of occasions over the last few years.
I can definitely confirm that German people tend to be very direct in comparison to us. Conversly they were also quite amused at dds constant please, thank you and, something that completely flummoxed them, her 'not really minding' when offered a choice.
Dd was trying to be polite and undemanding but they want an answer and don't perceive it as being pushy. I think culturally speaking Brits have a horror of being seen as pushy and can be more reluctant to speak up which to be fair can be maddening from their pov
We had a lovely and funny discussion about it all with our German friend which did highlight some interesting differences for us all.
OP some of that could be of relevance in the case of your AP. I think you may need to just tell her. For me being so direct is hard esp if it concerns one or two things that have been a little upsetting, and because to us being direct is sometimes seen as rude. But I suspect if you keep it factual she'll just take it on board and won't feel awkward about it.
I would like to add that Dd has always been made exceptionally welcome by her German family who have been so kind to her. I'm sure it is largely just a cultural difference. Once Dd got the hang of it she was fine. She just had to remember again once she got home to pick up her English manners again.
It's not as simple as her being an 'older sister', though; because she wouldn't be here (and wouldn't be helping out at all in the household) if she wasn't being paid by us; and we're not hosting her just as a cultural exchange programme or adopted daughter, but because we need her help with childcare. She's part family member; part cultural exchange resident; part employee, which makes the dynamic complicated sometimes. When I was a teenager, I lodged with friends of my parents when I was travelling, and I certainly wouldn't have brought a friend for a meal without asking them first.
Equally, with the flat, if she'd come to me and said 'I would like to stay in the flat with a group of friends', that would have been one thing. What actually happened was that she said she was planning to do some sight-seeing alone on the way back to us from the airport. So I arranged the flat for her. And now she's invited a group of friends for a weekend partying. In a flat that isn't hers. And again, without asking us first.
Have you told the owner of the flat she is bringing friends and having a weekend of partying? I would withdraw the invite if it was my flat.
I'm going to tell my aunt (the flat owner) about AP's new plans, and leave it up to her to make the decision.
Well I know lots of Germans and they're all very polite and frankly exactly the same as us but with z different accent.
I think you're being unreasonable to keep saying 'she didn't ask' re. the meal. She asked if her friend could stay for the weekend. I would assume (and I'm English) that that covered all normal weekend activities. I don't think 'can my friend stay for the weekend'....'yes, that's fine'......translates as 'yes, but she needs to sort her own lunch on Saturday afternoon'! That ones on you. Her assumption that her friend was welcome for lunch is 'normal' imo. You should have taken a leaf out of her book and been more direct if you didn't want her friend for lunch.
The flat I'm a little confused on. In your OP you talk about how great she is and say she 'mentioned yesterday that she's invited a small group of other AP friends to come to Glasgow with her' and then you say 'And now she's invited a group of friends for a weekend partying'.
There's quite a difference between a sensible and trusted employee inviting a small group of friends (also employed in a role that requires them to be sensible and trustworthy) staying in the flat for a weekend of sightseeing which is the impression I got from the OP and 'a weekend of partying', which is what you now claim is going to happen.
Are they planning a mad party or a bit of sightseeing? I think that's the key to whether it's a cultural difference/misunderstanding or she's massively taking the piss.
She'd originally said she wanted to do some solitary sightseeing on the way back from the airport, when she returns to us after Xmas. So I arranged the flat for her for one night. Now she's got together a small group of friends together and wants to stay for 3 nights. She does seem very sensible: I do like her a lot and she's pretty mature. But I've never met these friends; and when the flat was a favour in the first place, I think she's taking advantage, tbh. She should have asked me before asking this group of friends. They're planning a mixture of sightseeing and clubbing. But it's a different proposition than the original one.
Yes, I think I probably am being unreasonable about the lunch. Her friend was only staying for one night - the previous night - rather than the whole weekend. It was more the tone of voice in which she questioned why her lunch wasn't ready, and the way in which neither of them helped, that riled me (combined with the flat thing).
I am German and we definitely say please and thank you! My mum also expected when I was guest at a friend's house to explicitly thank their parents for hosting me. You need to mention your expectations on this to her when you do a review.
Not sure what to do about the place in Glasgow. I think it all depends on how many people are going and how your relative feels about it. Yes she should have asked first. She sounds a bit like she is taking you for granted.
We also have an au pair and I agree, it can be an awkward dynamic between family member and someone you are paying to look after your kids.
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