Working as an au pair in France: Pros and cons
Published on: 09 Oct 2014 12:33 CET
First the positives:
1. The French language
This is and always will be the ultimate number-one. Au pairing in France will allow you to learn the basics along with the children you will be taking care of. You will extend your vocabulary with the parents and learn some slang with your French friends. You'll learning spelling while doing the homework with a seven-year-old, learning food vocabulary while cooking with the parents, you will feel like being primary school all over again.
2. Immersed in French culture
Living with your own family is not always easy so how about living with a totally new family in a totally new country?
No book, no TV show, no documentary and no blog will prepare you for your French experience better than living with a real French family. You will quickly learn how the French talk, how they eat, how they dress and how they think.
Although they might annoy you from time to time, after few months you will have enough material to write an encyclopedia on French culture.
3. Make the most of the freebies
Let's face it - nobody becomes "une fille au pair" to become a millionaire.
However au pairing in France does give you plenty of financial advantages. You basically won't have to pay for anything; your accommodation and food will be provided and quite often the family also offers to pay for your French course, transport pass, mobile phone and your insurance.
And even if they don't cover everything you can still benefit from living and eating in France almost for free!
4. Preparation for the real world
Since French parents work basically all the time, they will ask you to do many things for them so you should be mentally prepared to do some shopping, return clothes to the shop or enroll kids in their after-school activities.
You will have no choice but to overcome your fear in speaking French instantly and as your revert to survival mode.
Additionally, you will find yourself participating in school events, filling out forms, applying for courses. After a year of being "une fille au pair" you'll be prepared enough to start your own French family... if you only wanted to.
5. Days off.
French kids have holidays all the time. Really, all the time.
Every few weeks, for some reason, French pupils have 2 weeks off and usually so do you. French families like to reunite on a little ski trip in winter, or go to the countryside in autumn which means their vacations are your vacations as well. Sometimes they might even offer to take you with them, but if not you will have some time off to enjoy your time in France. That being sad, you better make some friends quickly because you do not want to be left alone in a foreign country in the middle of October.
And now for the negatives:
1. Constant confusion
There is absolutely no possible way to escape cultural shock, regardless where you come from. For the first month (or even few months!) you will be facing little things that will be unexplainable to you.
Whatever you do, wherever you go, you better practice your poker face - you don't want anybody to know that you don't have a slightest idea what's going on around you at that very moment. Smile, nod and learn.
2. Personal space
Unless you have a separate studio, you will be living with a French family all year long.
French apartments and even the houses are not as big as you might be used to. Moreover if you end up in an old house you will quickly become familiar with everything that goes on in a distance of 500 meters from your room, that includes kids running around on Saturday morning when you have just come back from a bar.
There's also the fancy dinner parties you'll have to get used to where you feel totally useless. Unless you like fancy dinner parties, that is.
3. Being homesick
French families really enjoy doing things together if only they can find the time.
Taking part in kids daily routine, doing homework and learning about new Disney movies will take you back to your own childhood or will awake (or strengthen) your maternal instincts.
Eating dinner with the whole family and watching everybody giving each other the "bisous" will make you homesick faster than you can imagine.
4. Working hours
You won't work long hours but you will work at the worst time possible - early in the morning and very late in the afternoon, with nothing to do during the day except your French class and some sight-seeing.
Moreover, everybody else will be at work or at university so it might be worth signing up for a local library or a swimming pool.
5. Making friends
I truly believe there isn't a single foreigner that will disagree with the fact that making friends in France is extremely difficult, especially when you live in the Paris area.
Because you will attend the French class during the day you will meet mostly other au pairs, which is really cool in the beginning but obviously you will eventually want to make some French friends, and that’s where the problem starts.
Conclusion: Working as an au pair in France is a fantastic opportunity to learn the language, meet French people and simply just enjoy France. In the end the family you work for is the most important factor since they are the ones who can make your stay the best experience ever or turn it into a living hell.
Kaja Osiecka is 27-years-old, was born and raised in Poland. She lives with a French family in Nanterre, 10 minutes from Paris, where she is in her second year as an au pair.