From my own experience as an au pair and my discussions with scores of au pairs and host parents in researching my book "Rock Your Au Pair Year", I have a few simple pointers to share with you. In order to be extra clear, I've formulated these as rules about what you shouldn't do – in order to be sure that your au pair experience is just as great as it can be.
1. Don't assume (ask instead)
Whether you are interviewing or you have just arrived, there are plenty of things you don't know about the family. Rather than assume the answers, you should always ask. For example if a Host Family tells you: “You´re allowed to use the car for short distances.” clarify what “short distances” are to them. Or if you don't know how the dryer works – find out exactly with a question or two.
2. Don't expect things to be like at home (enjoy the differences)
As an au pair, you are going to a new country. In this situation, you shouldn't expect that things will be like at home. This applies to everything from food, to language, to handling childcare, to organising a household and managing a family. One big part of the au pair journey is to welcome the differences, to grow with them and not to resent them.
3. Be nice (but not too nice)
When you arrive at your family you want to do things right and that is great. However, don't forget that the standard you set at the beginning is very likely to follow you through the year. For example if it is not your job to clean the kitchen, don't start doing it every day just to make a good impression. I am not saying, don't help to clean up, what I mean is don't overdo things because your host family may get used to it.
As for the children – make sure you set boundaries from the very beginning. They are likely to test you at the start and it is important that they see they can't “walk over you”. You're the boss when the parents aren't around and you need to be clear about that from the beginning.
4. Never lie
Honesty is one if not the most important au pair traits for families. They are leaving their children with you and if they realise that you have lied to them they will have trouble trusting you in other situations. Therefore always tell the truth from the beginning and all the way through your time together.
5. Don't drink in a way you'll regret
If you want to be an au pair in the USA, you need to know that the drinking age is 21. So if partying and drinking are important to you, you may want to consider waiting to come to the US until you are 21.
For all other countries where the drinking age is lower, still be aware that your host parents are your employers. If your host family offers you a drink, feel free to accept it, but you will probably want to refrain from getting drunk in their house – especially if you are new and they haven't truly gotten to know you yet. If you go out with your friends, make sure you come back to the house quietly when it is late at night.
6. Never take unnecessary risks
Don´t be afraid to go out and meet new people, but at the same time be careful and cautious. Make sure that when you meet someone, you don't immediately give them your host parents address or any other personal information.
As for new people in general, you should always meet in a public place first and when you've gotten to know the person better, you can ask if they can come around sometime. Some families are more open to visitors than others. Clarify this point with your host parents by asking (see point 1).
7. Don't leave a mess behind yourself (ever)
Whether it is during the week or on the weekend, make sure you always clean up after yourself. In your own home it may be okay to leave the dishes for a day or two but at the families house that is not an option.
Lots of opportunities for fun
The last thing you should think is that being an au pair is a super strict experience with hundreds of complicated rules. Every family is different and it is definitely fun to be an au pair! Just make sure you don't assume but ask. That is the key to a good au pair experience!
To find out more about successful au pairing, check out my book: “Rock Your Au Pair Year” on all Amazon platforms. Or visit my blog: everywheremel.com and follow me on Facebook: facebook.com/everywheremel for more input on the au pair topic.
Melanie Josephine was born in a small German town near the Danish border. After her A-levels she went to the US to be an au pair for a year. Other stays abroad followed. She lived in Australia, New Zealand and different places in Europe. After she successfully finished her Bachelors degree in International Business, she moved to the UK where she worked as a Nanny. Over the course of the last two years she gained a life coaching certification by Robbins-Madanes Training, wrote and published her first book "Rock Your Au Pair Year" and is currently writing her second book about relationships and dating.