The summer and early fall are busy seasons for Au Pair in America. Many au pairs from many different countries are arriving in the U.S. It’s a time when we can remind ourselves of how important it is to not fall into the “stereotype trap!”
When working with people from other countries, we must remember that we are approaching them from our own cultural perspective ,and in many cases it will be different from others’ perspective. For example, in the U.S., it is fine to have an informal conversation (chit chat) with a stranger. It is also fine to tell jokes in a more formal situation such as a business environment. Not so in other cultures. Many other cultures are more formal than we are in the U.S., and what’s considered friendly banter or chit chat to an American is often not understood by someone from another country. A Danish au pair once told me that Danes consider Americans “snoopy” because we ask, “Hi, how are you?” A German au pair was struck speechless when a stranger in a shop, after hearing her accent, threw, what felt like 100 questions ,her way. Germans, as a rule, are more formal than Americans, and a young person experiencing her first visit to the States, might not understand this. We hope she won’t jump to the conclusion that we’re “snoopy” or rude, and I hope we won’t conclude that she’s “dull,” “humorless” or “rude” when, in fact, she’s just been taken off guard by unexpected “chit chat.”
I do remember a trip to Weimar, Germany for work. I was surprised by what appeared to be a lack of response by a shopkeeper to my big (American) smile and banter-so many questions about the choices in the chocolate shop, so many questions about how it was made, how long she (the shopkeeper) had been there, and on and on in my American chit chat style! (When I think of it now, it’s kind of embarrassing). Fortunately, my cultural competence clicked in and I settled down, smiled, thanked her and left. And, I did not draw conclusions about how humorless Germans are! Thank goodness!
The experience did remind me of how we all (different cultures) approach conversation, simple greetings, boundaries differently. It’s important to pass this information on to our au pairs, host families and anyone else who is interested in visiting and learning about our neighbors abroad. There happens to be a little bit of Germany throughout the U.S. Check out this website for German-sponsored events in major cities thoughout our country from now through the end of the year.