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Au Pairs

(53 Posts)
Zaria Wed 15-Aug-01 12:56:39

Can anyone help with ideas on questions to ask an au pair in a telephone interview? She is Italian, with some English (according to the form she sent) and I want to try and have a useful and valuable talk with her over the phone while giving her the benefit of the doubt over pauses, hestitations, due to lack of English. I have had nannies before, and feel OK with this, but an au pair is quite different. Help! What do I ask her?

Tigermoth Thu 16-Aug-01 11:18:36

ZAria, I have no direct experience of this, but I know friends who have au pairs, and a commmon cause of complaint seems to be the fact that they do not stay as long as intended.

Also that they either go out all the time ( so you feel responsible for them) or don't go out at all - not even attending their classes (so become unhappy because they are lonely, or are very clingy).

Lastly that they have very high expectations of the amount of cooking you'll do for them - and the amount of of edible treats they can help themselves to.

Perhaps you base some questions around the above topics - and ask if they have au paired before, and could you contact the previous family?

Modaddy Thu 16-Aug-01 11:55:37

having had a couple of aupairs and interviewed only by phone i can let you know what has worked for me but i'm sure there are other things to add. firstly before the call decide what you are expecting them to do some girls dont want to do any housework/ironing and expect that they will just play with the children all day so you need to be able to question their relevant expeience/willingness i.e tell me about when you have looked after children/do you know how to iron/do you help your mum with the housework etc. i also think it depends on wether you are happy to have someone who goes out a lot or prefers to stay in i.e our first au pair came to london to party at the time her child care duties were minimal so she could do her chores with a thick head and it didnt matter , but the next one a year on was much more involved with getting the children up early 7am for school etc so we wanted more of a home person.its also quite telling to ask about if they have a boyfriend,is it a long term relationship, have they ever been away from home before to get an idea of how willing they are to leave this behind for a substantial period. dietry needs may be important ie are they vegetarian if so are they going to fit in with what you provide or cook their own if you cant etc. motivations for coming to another country are also interesting, our last girl was half way through uni and needed to progress her english to complete the course she was really focused when she was here.other things like do you smokeetc you may already know but try to get them to tell you about themselves,hobbies career aspirations family life etc all give you an insight into them. ultimately you have to go with your gut instincts all the girls we have had have been super and stayed at least as long as they intended. it is hard when their language skills arent brilliant on the phone and you have no other signs to go on i'm sure i have rejected some that would also have been great.........well i hope this has been of some help.........i always find it easier to write all the questions out first and scribble in answers as they talk that way you can check you havent forgotten anything.one last thing i always ask them what they want to know about us and the duties they will be doing this too can open up insightsie one girl only wanted to know about her room the nearest clubs and the money!!

Rozzy Thu 16-Aug-01 15:04:03

Message withdrawn

Tigermoth Fri 17-Aug-01 11:55:27

Zaria, just another thought. Before you speak to your prospective au pair, could you write and ask her if she knows of any English-speaking friends her end who could stand by and interpret the questions and answers as you go? Alternatively, do you know of any Italian-speakers your end who could act as an interpreter?

Zaria Fri 17-Aug-01 19:47:09

Thanks for all the comments and ideas. We have now talked on the phone - I wrote down a list of the questions which really mattered, and in the end it came to whether she wanted to look after my children. All the rest is secondary as far as I am concerned. I think this was the right thing for me to do, we had quite a good conversation and she even emailed afterwards to say sorry her English wasn't as good as she would like, and repeated her interest in looking after my boys. So we both said yes, and the flight over is booked. Thanks everyone for the support, these decisions are so hard, and even with a helpful partner they always seem to fall to the mother to sort it out somehow!

Robbie Tue 30-Oct-01 12:54:39

We're thinking of getting an au pair, simply because we have a room and we seem to be paying out as much in babysitting (£7/ hour seems to be rate in N London) as we would if we had an au pair who would babysit and do hours in the day on top. I could do with some help with the ironing, could cut down on the cleaners hours and get a few hours childcare a week into the bargain. BUT am nervous about:
invasion of privacy,
how much looking after they need - homesickness etc,
costs eg extra food/ phone bills

Am interested to know how other people find it and whether you think it's a good idea, given that i'm not desperate for the childcare - kids at nursery school 5 mornings already.
Thanks.

Hedgehog Tue 30-Oct-01 13:07:30

I've had 2 au-pairs so far. The first one was excellent- a South African but the second one I was not very happy with- a Slovak. The first one just slotted in without any difficulties (and spoke perfect English) the second one didn't understand a word and I had to write everything down and use a dictionary to translate, he also refused to wash (the smell of BO became unbearable) and every time I asked him to do something he would either misunderstand or I would feel as if I was having the trade-union convention rammed down my throat.

I would personally check out the level of English comprehension because it gets very wearing having to write everything down on paper.

Zaria Wed 31-Oct-01 09:12:38

Robbie - I would echo Hedgehog's point about the English. Its the one thing I am really clear about with all au pairs (we have had three now). If they can't understand me and the children, and can't be understood by them, then nothing is going to work. So I only have au pairs with good English. As for your other questions - well, you do have to get used to someone else being in your home, but we have a policy that the sitting room is for me and DH after 9pm - the au pair can use the playroom (which has a computer) or the big kitchen, or her own room, which has a TV. You need to know you can talk about things or have a row in privacy!. About the phone bill, our au pairs pay their share. Each month I given them the itemised phone bill and they mark their calls, add it up and pay me. Obviously it depends on trust but I have never had a problem.

Food costs - I reckon about 10-15 a week. They buy their own toiletries etc.

Loneliness - this is where the au pair agencies earn their money, I think. Ours gives the au pair a complete list of other au pairs in the area, and basically all the girls then hit the phones and arrange to meet up. We usually offer to take her somewhere if we are going out eg to the cinema, but they tend to want to do their own thing.

The only thing you haven't mentioned but I would think hard about is the age of your children, if you are expecting the au pair to be in sole charge. We made the shift from nannies to au pairs when our youngest was 4 and just starting school - in retrospect this was too young. The children need to have some sense of their own routine/responsibilities, - you can't expect the au pair to remember that the child took a coat to school that day and that they need to bring it home, or that tomorrow they need to take old jam jars to paint in class, or whatever. I should have waited until youngest was 5 or 6, I think

Now the boys are 9 and 6, enjoy having the au pair around, learning a few words of Italian and how to prepare great pasta!!

Hope this helps

Hmonty Wed 31-Oct-01 12:19:39

I could also do with some help regarding au pairs. We have two boys (aged 2 and 3) and another baby due in April. From December I'm going to be working from home for my Husband's business. The hours will be completely flexible but I anticipate doing the equivalent of 3 days a week (probably spread over 4 days)....and all from home....although when I am working I would expect the au pair to only come and find me in an emergency. I'd also like some help with the house work. The boys will still go to nursery a couple of mornings a week and the eldest starts school in September.....We were thinking of getting a Portuguese speaker as Hubbie's family are Portuguese so we have people on hand to translate....

But is this too much to ask? I'm personally worried about having some young thing looking after a small baby as well as the boys - although it would only be for a few hours at a time (certainly to start with). I'd rather get a nanny but the cost is rather steep....

What else should we consider? We live in an area where the au pair would need to be able to drive so we'd provide a car....And we have plenty of room so hey could have their own bathroom and a large bedroom....

Also, I haven't started contacting agencies but could you tell me roughly how much an au pair costs?

So many questions!

Zaria Wed 31-Oct-01 13:49:42

Hmonty - not sure I can add to the age thing apart from what I have already said. But the idea of housework help is certainly worth looking at.

The costs - I think there is a fixed amount you pay au pairs, which is £50 a week. This covers 25 hours work, plus two evenings babysitting. They mostly want to do language classes as well, and we pay the bus fares for her to get into Cambridge twice a week (about 7 pounds). The agency fee was a one-off, paid after she arrived safely, and I think it was £140.

Okapi Wed 31-Oct-01 14:12:49

Hmonty, I honestly think it sounds like an au pair could easily be overwhelmed- 3 under 4 and one a newborn is a quite a tall order for anyone, let alone a probably young, possibly inexperienced person in a foreign country. Sympathise with the childcare dilemma though- can't believe what a nightmare it is to get good affordable childcare in this country...

Bugsy Wed 31-Oct-01 15:04:27

Hmonty
Our friends have 3 kids 2.5 - 7 years old and they employed an Auzzie aupair. They paid £120 per week for 26 hours work. General cleaning was specifically excluded from her contract, although she did have responsibility for keeping the kids playroom organised and tidy. She had her own room with a TV, shared a bathroom with the kids, all her food was provided and the petrol in the car she used.
Generally, they were pleased with how it all worked out but they didn't feel that the agency matched their needs very well. They live in the country and asked for someone who would be happy in that environment & it turned out she hated animals and liked to have a manicure bi-weekly!

Hmonty Wed 31-Oct-01 15:14:39

I must admit I am wary. Saw a documentary about a year ago about British au pairs abroad and it was enough to put anyone off....there must be some good news stories out there!

The other option is to try and find a part time nanny (3 days a week). Cheaper than 3 in nursery/at childminder - which is prohibitive costswise. Trouble is that we don't know how much I'll actually be earning (my pay will be a share of profits) so it's really difficult to budget. Would a nanny be OK with 3 children under 4?

Did fancy the idea of a Portuguese speaker as I'd like the kids to learn a foreign language and my Portuguese is limited to 'menu' and 'bar' speak! Umo grande vinho tinto faz favour!

Alibubbles Wed 31-Oct-01 15:43:25

Regarding young children, au pairs are not supposed to be left in charge of babies and children under two without supervision. You meant to treat them as a kind ofyounger sister/brother and as a member of the household as one of the main reasons for them coming is to learn English and a little money, rather than a childcarer. It is Ok if the kids are school age and above, that is legal, but not under two's unless they have a childcare qualification, and then they aren't really au pairs.

Hmonty Wed 31-Oct-01 16:31:36

Looks like I'd better start investigating nannies....

Mumsyq Wed 31-Oct-01 16:56:57

Hi Zaria,

I noticed you paid bus fares into Cambridge. We are also in Cambridge, and I wondered if you knew any good agencies. We;re not looking yet, but will be in the next couple of years.

Pamina Wed 31-Oct-01 21:08:07

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Boo321 Wed 31-Oct-01 21:30:53

I have had quite a few au pairs some fantastic and others very average.At he moment have got a fantastic finnish girl who is the eldest of 12 children so a small litle family of 4 is quite within her capabilities even though she is only 17.I only work a few hrs a week and most of the time the 3 big ones are at school,but it isn't a problem if they are at home.
Getting a good au pair is just good luck and peronally I havent found an agency makes any difference (apart from the £200 fee).If you can try and meet them before you can tell almost immediatley if it is going to work with your family.I also have a cleaner as I always find it difficult to tell an aupair how to tidy up when I am such a slob...!and if they weren't good at cleaning it would become a big issue for me.
I pay £65 a week ,own room ,tv shared bathroom,
25 hrs /week and max 2 eves /week babysitting

Donna247 Thu 01-Nov-01 10:36:57

wot does au pair mean?

Scummymummy Thu 01-Nov-01 10:59:45

Hmonty- Was pondering on how to answer Donna247's question and it occured to me to wonder about the distinction between an au pair and a mother's help. Am not entirely sure, but I think a mother's help is somewhere between an au pair and a nanny ie would be expected to have some experience with bairns though not a qualification and might be prepared to clean? Anyway, wondered if maybe one would fit the bill for your family.
Might be worth checking.
Donna247- an au pair helps out with kids and possibly housework on a part-time basis. They are usually youngish (teenage or early twenties), female, from outside the UK and want to live with a family and earn some pocket money while experiencing a new country and learning English. HTH!

Mooma Thu 01-Nov-01 13:34:12

Donna247, this is the origin of the phrase found in my dictionary: late 19th cent.: "from French, literally on equal terms. The phrase was originally adjectival, describing an arrangement between two parties paid for by the exchange of mutual services; the noun usage dates from the
1960s."

Rosy Thu 01-Nov-01 15:14:00

Back to Robbie's original question, I would be very wary of getting an au pair, having seen it from the other end as an au pair in France when I was 19. I had a disastrous week in a horrible family in Marseille - they expected me to work about 50 hours a week, in sole charge of an 18-month old (I knew nothing about children at the time, I thought they just did their own thing while their carer stopped them injuring themselves) and sometimes a 4 year old too. I was banished to my room (which I had to keep spotless) after supper, even when the parents were out and I was babysitting. (Does it show how bitter I am, even after 13 years?!) Thankfully, I got a better family next time: I was looking after a 7 and 9yo, before and after school, all day Wednesday and at lunchtime two days a week. I was treated as a member of the family, eating with them in the evening, going on holiday with them etc., though I went out most weekends as I had a travelcard paid for. After all, I was there to learn French, and my wages were pretty low. The day after I got there my employer wrote down exactly what I should do each day eg. wash the kitchen floor, load the dishwasher, hoover, put the washing out, iron, which I found was good to know exactly what was expected of me. I did all the housework, but it wasn't that onerous (and probably not up to a very high standard).

If you were thinking of getting an au pair, I would definitely make sure she was a bit older (about 25) who could look after herself, and would probably get out and about a bit more. She could even find a part-time job if you wanted her mainly to babysit in the evening. Personally, I think it's completely unacceptable to employ an au pair to look after a baby, even if it were legal. You may be lucky, but chances are you wouldn't be. Of course employing a nanny or childminder is expensive, but then why shouldn't we be prepared to pay for something so important ie. our children's welfare?

Donna247 Thu 01-Nov-01 20:14:57

ok ta,ive never heard of it before

Hmonty Fri 02-Nov-01 09:32:48

Rosy,
I have to take exception to your final comment. Of course I'm willing to pay for something as important as my children's welfare - but it doesn't hurt to find out all the facts and investigate whether cheaper options are viable. I currently pay £60 per day to have my children in either the superb nursery we use or at the childminders. Imagine how much I must have to earn to make that worthwhile. Then factor in another child (who incidently will be too young to attend our nursery anyway, as they only take from 1 year) and then you see the problem.

I pay a fortune for childcare and I think the carers deserve every penny (if not more). But if it isn't financially viable then I won't be working....hence the enquiries.

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