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10 things you need to consider before becoming an au pair in France

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10 things you need to consider before becoming an au pair in France
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11:59 CET+01:00
Once you land an au pair job in France, you might imagine a future of working with adorable well-behaved children and spending your ample free time having adventures around Europe. But that's not the whole story, writes au pair Courtney Anderson.
While some of that might be true and many,  perhaps even most au pairs have a great experience during their time in France, many discover the job isn't quite what they'd expected. 
If you’re considering becoming an au pair in France, here are a few things to think about before you sign on the dotted line by someone who's been through it all before.  
Get ready to become a gourmet chef 
Rather than cooking one meal for dinner, be ready to prepare a feast if you’re an au pair in France.
Imagine the baby crying, the toddler tugging on your pant leg and the teenager refusing to do their homework. Meanwhile, the food on the stove is boiling over and it turns out you have to prepare three courses, not one, while babysitting. 
If you are cooking for a family, keep in mind that in France most meals have three courses: a raw veggies appetizer, main course and dessert -- which is usually a dairy product and a fruit.
More often than not au pairs sign contracts asking them to prepare dinner, not realizing the magnitude of the process. It’s not really the family’s fault either, since this is what they know to be normal. It may be good idea to ask for a recipe book so they also give you options of the foods they enjoy.
Photo: Cindy Shebley/Flickr
France has a very serious education system 
More often than not, expect the kids’ grades to be your grade. Most parents who have an au pair want their children’s homework to be perfect, especially if you are an English speaker and you’re helping them with English homework.
You’ll be wishing you paid attention in school but luckily we have smartphones to give us the answers. 
Also, the French grading system is different. Almost everything is out of 20, but anywhere from 12 to 16 is a good grade. Yep, shoot for 20 and land among the teens. 
The French work late
When people think about the French work week, many imagine a 9-5 job with a two-hour lunch break and ample vacation time.
Though technically the French do have a 35-hour work week, most people work way over these hours. So, as an au pair, you will work over time too. 
Many au pairs have contracts stating the parents will come home around 7 pm and relieve them of their duties -- leaving them plenty of time for that Netflix binge.
Photo: AntonioGuillemF/Depositphotos
Be sure to have a conversation with your family about the window of time they will get off work. If they have had previous au pairs, ask them what time they usually get home. 
The working conditions vary from country to country but most au pairs are only legally allowed to work up to 5 hours a day or 30 hours a week. That includes babysitting late, unless they pay you extra. 
The kiddos 
At least in Paris, most au pairs say kids are usually more like little adults since they have a lot of responsibility when it comes to homework and live in an international city. So it's good to remember that most of the time, anyone aged six and up will not appreciate being babied.  
French bureaucracy, bring the tissues 
If you won the working-in-Europe lottery and have an EU passport, good for you. The rest of us from non-EU countries have to apply for a visa to work with the family. This involves sending every document about yourself, and the ones you thought you’d never need. Bring them all to all the meetings. 
And the way the system works means it’s time to test your patience. In France the paperwork doesn’t come back right away, so it’s important not to panic and to persevere. 
Even though nearly everyone who has lived in France has experienced the hardships of the French bureaucracy, for au pairs  -- many of whom won't speak French -- it’s twice as hard. 
Photo: oksun70/Depositphotos
Learning French 
If you are not from an EU country, you’ll probably have to sign up for French courses since most non-EU countries mandate you take them to receive a visa.
Most families pay for the French classes, which surprises some au pairs who paid for theirs and find out later that they didn’t have to dip into their savings -- and many of these courses are not cheap.
For nine hours of lessons a week it can be about €230 per week or you can sign up for the nearly free government provided classes. The catch is to sign up for those courses you need to navigate the website and paperwork which are all in French.
Also, a lot of families want you to speak English with your kids. After all, it is a sort-of international exchange. So before selecting a family, it’s important to know your priorities. If you want to use it as a way to get experience teaching English then find a family you will be speaking English with, or if you want to improve your French, do the opposite. 
Either way, know some French before arriving
Let's be honest, the kids will probably talk in French while you're in the room. So, in order to keep control of the situation, it’s a good idea to know your basic French before arriving.
And, it helps with everything else too. 
Most people speak a little English but you are living in France so it’s polite to try and speak in French. It will also help you feel more confident in dealing with crisis situations, like if the kids get hurt or there is an accident. You will feel less isolated knowing some French too since you’re able to express yourself a little more than “I’m fine, thank you.” 
Photo: NatashaFedorova/ Depositphotos
Bring your savings
As an au pair, dining out includes eating beforehand and ordering the cheapest thing on the menu.
Most au pairs are considered a Foreign Family Helper by the French administration, which just means you are also in France to go to school.
The average minimum wage for a Foreign Family Helper, according to the government website, is between €270 and €321 a month in France. Of course, you won’t have to pay for housing (hopefully) and usually families pay for your transportation pass and French classes.
If you want to travel it’s best to come with savings. 
Finding extra work
So many people read the average au pair wage and think, “oh I’ll just get a side job on top of being an au pair,” but finding extra work can be very difficult because there’s lots of competition and … paperwork.
Some countries really don’t care if you have papers to work, but yeah, in France they really care. So much so, that even if you have an au-pair visa some places still won’t hire you because they have to go through the prefecture to get you started. 
Also, having another job can be exhausting if you are already taking French classes and working 30 hours a week.
That being said, there are a few babysitting and nannying agencies that hire English speakers for part-time jobs. 
Being an au pair means something different in France (it’s not easy) 
If you find yourself saying “I thought this was a chill babysitting job,” after the first day of work, you’re not alone. A lot of au pairs come to France thinking they just scored room-and-board and some pocket money for a few hours of babysitting a day.
However, most French families have a different perspective, take au pairing very seriously and expect you to do the same.
Usually the families are looking for English speakers to teach their kids the language, a cook and a babysitter (maybe even a child therapist). So if you want to be an au pair in France, be prepared to wear all your hats at once.

Secrets and lies: The life of an au pair in France

Photo: Evil Erin/Flickr

by Courtney Anderson

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