Anyone who’s done it will tell you it’s not easy to adapt to another culture.
Everyone adapts differently but for the most part there are often hurdles that appear insurmountable to some of our au pairs. Let’s take a look at communication. One au pair tentatively approached me and began to cry for no apparent reason. She explained that she’d just been to the pharmacy, and as soon as the person behind the counter heard her accent, she was bombarded with questions: ‘where are you from,’ ‘where do you live,’ ‘ do you like it here, ‘ ‘oh, you’re an au pair?’ ’what’s that?’ and on and on. The AP looked at me and said, “I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to be rude but that would never happen in Germany!” She was so stressed by the fact that what would be an everyday experience in her own country, left her feeling incompetent and in a state of confusion.
Of course, that opened the door for a cluster conversaton: what is “chit chat,” or small talk and what does it mean? How does one respond to what appears to be an American’s endless stream of questions. It actually sparked a great conversation about how Americans seem to talk so much more and so much more freely than people from other countries. It was the perfect opportunity to poke a hole in the stereotype that Americans are superficial. The au pairs learned, once again, to describe the behavior they didn’t understand, ie, a lot of communication from a stranger, instead of jumping to the conclusion that Americans are rude, intrusive and superficial. Their opinions changed to include “Americans are so friendly!” Perfect