My First Week as an Au Pair in France

September 9, 2011

I arrived in France Friday night, and now it’s Friday night again. So I’ve been here for one week. But so many crazy things have happened in this one week that I feel like I must be the victim of one of those candid camera shows. Only I’m still waiting for someone to come out laughing and pointing at the hidden camera.

On Monday my host parents went to work, but the kids didn’t start school until Tuesday. Actually I’m just going to skip to Tuesday because that’s when the chaos began, and far be it from me to lose your hard-earned interest by holding back the juiciest part of the story.

See this door?


This, my dear readers, is what shall hereby be referred to as the infernal door of doom.

*drumroll*

It was because of this door that everything started going downhill.

You see, I was given a key that was supposed to open said door. I was then given a list of tasks to do including a few phone calls to make (in French!) and a few things to buy at the store.

I sailed pleasantly through all of these tasks. I was actually quite proud of myself for succeeding with the phone calls, since I’m not much of a fan of talking on the phone in any language. But my French came out just fine and the people on the other line seemed to have no trouble understanding me. I gave myself a pat on the back and went out to do the shopping, which was also as easy as pie.

And then I came back.

To the door.

The door.

Which refused to open.

I don’t know how long I stood there in front of this big heartless metal thing, turning the key every which way, pulling and pushing in various directions, the whole time ever-so concious of potential strange looks from passerby. There was one guy standing a ways down the road who I’m sure was staring at me for several minutes wondering what on earth I was up to. Maybe he thought I was trying to break in?

There was no one at home of course, and I couldn’t call anyone because they were all at work or school. Speaking of school, I was supposed to pick the kids up from school at 4:00. Even though I was pretty sure I had no idea how to get to the school, having driven there only twice with my host mother. (And no, twice is not enough for me to remember how to get somewhere. You did see the title of this blog, didn’t you?)

I texted the kids. They said they’d walk home. I felt bad. (But don’t worry, they’re big kids– 14 and 17).

And then I waited.

Outside.

For three hours.

It was cold.

Well okay, so I guess that wasn’t too bad. If my misfortune had ended there, I would have been just fine. But no. No, it had just begun.

The 14 year-old boy, Pierre, takes fencing lessons. (Like, you know, sword fighting. Cool right?) That day I had to drive him there at 6:00.

I knew before I came, of course, that driving would be part of my job here. But the idea made me kind of nervous. For one thing, I’m not a very experienced (or skilled) driver. I had to take the American driving test three times before finally getting my license at 17. I drove for one year in high school, then not at all during my three years of college or the year I lived in Taiwan. I then went back to the US and drove almost every day for a period of about five months. Then I went to Japan and didn’t drive at all for another three years. I don’t like driving that much and would really prefer to avoid it if at all possible. I’m much, much more comfortable on foot or on a bicycle! But for au pairs in France, driving is almost always necessary. So I buckled down and got in as much practice as I could in the states before leaving. I was okay, but still had room for improvement.

Add my minimal driving skills to my nearly non-existent sense of direction, and you have a disaster waiting to happen.

So I had to take Pierre to his fencing lesson. I did okay getting there, since Pierre was in the car with me and told me which way to go. Then I dropped him off, and somehow I was supposed to find my way back. But the reality was that, of course, I had absolutely no idea which way was which. I might as well have been stranded on Mars.

To my credit, I did try. I drove around in circles for a little while, but since I was afraid of getting more lost I made my way back to the gym where Pierre was having his lesson.

And all I could do was wait there.

For two and a half hours.

Until Pierre and his friend came back and laughed at me.

The car I’m driving here looks like this (except older). I sat waiting in it for two and a half hours. Did I mention that?

Okay okay, so that wasn’t really too bad either. I know it wasn’t. But by the time Pierre finished his lesson and it was time to head home (with him giving directions of course), I was completely and utterly stressed out. I hadn’t slept through the night since arriving in France (darned jet lag), so that probably had something to do with it too. At any rate, I was certainly in no state to manoever the car carefully into the parking garage from the narrow back street, with a line of impatient drivers behind me waiting to pass.

No no, don’t worry, no one was hurt! But… I pulled in a little too close to the side of the garage and hit the side mirror, breaking off the casing on the outside of it. Oh shit. (Or, as they say in France, merde!)

It turned out to be no big deal– the casing was easily snapped back on. And my host family was incredibly nice and understanding about it all. No one seemed to mind that I hadn’t picked up the kids from school or made dinner like I was supposed to, or that I had nearly broken the mirror. They didn’t even flinch when I told them. “It was your first day,” they said knowingly. “It’s normal for things to go wrong!”

But in my mind, it was just too much. So I started crying– right in front of my host mother who was trying to show me how to make ravioles.

I don’t cry very often, but once the tears start I have a hard time controlling them and it’s very embarrassing. I stood there hopelessly sniffing and trying to wipe them away with a paper towel. My host mother didn’t seem to mind, but it was awful.

So my life as an au pair didn’t exactly get off to a good start! It did gradually get better as the week went on, though. I was asked to go get someone to repair the door (so it really was the door’s fault, and not mine!), and in the meantime I would have to take the garage door opener with me whenever I went out.

The infernal door of doom, which was entirely to blame for everything.

On Wednesday I locked myself in the garage– or so I thought. There was actually another door that could be opened with the garage door opener, which I didn’t know about until my host mother told me over the phone. (I spent about 15 minutes before that trying to pick the lock with various objects I found in the garage. Then I was really wondering when the candid camera crew was going to show up!)

Later that day I drove around in circles for 40 minutes before finally making it to the high school to pick up the kids. But I made it there all the same, and I was pretty proud of myself for that!

Then yesterday I got there in 30 minutes, and today I got there in 15 (with just one stop to check the map, and no wrong turns)! Maybe I’m not quite as directionally challenged as I thought?

And I can sleep through the night now, though I haven’t quite gotten myself to wake up consistently in the morning yet. But all in due time… All in due time.

 

  • mom

    Oh, my poor baby! I’m so glad you’re working things out. Your host family sounds very understanding. It is a pretty door, but I’m sure you would beg to differ! I can’t wait to read more!

    • http://www.janafadness.com Jana Fadness

      You’re right actually– it is a pretty door! I can admire it now that I don’t have to battle with it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=68602423 Sarah Kehl

    I totally sympathize with how awful it feels to have so many bad things happen. Especially when you know you are a fairly competent person. Take cheer though–when your time there ends, you might end up longing to go back to the beginning even if it means going through all the struggles of adjusting. 

    • http://www.janafadness.com Jana Fadness

      Thanks! Yeah, I’m trying to keep a positive attitude about it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=68602423 Sarah Kehl

    By the way, so I don’t creep you out by reading your blog, I’ll let you know how I found it. I did a search for “INTP blogs” and came across yours. I can relate to some of your experiences–traveled a bunch, was a nanny in Amsterdam, and almost applied to teach English in Japan. Your blog is great, and I am excited to read about your adventures!  

    • http://www.janafadness.com Jana Fadness

      Why would you creep me out? I’m glad you found my blog and can relate to my experiences, and I hope you’ll keep reading! =)

  • tinamalen91

    Knew this would be a great blogpost! (And you did not disappoint) It will get better 😉 (or so I keep telling myself 😛 ) 

    • http://www.janafadness.com Jana Fadness

      Thanks Tina!

  • MissMelissa_253

    Hi, I was wondering what agencie you used to become an au pair? I would really love to be an au pair over the summer in France but I don’t know what agencie is real and what ones are fake. So if you could help me that would be amazing!

    • http://www.janafadness.com Jana Fadness

      I went through an agency called InterExchange, but I actually wouldn’t recommend them. In fact, as I explained in my post “How to Become an Au Pair in France,” I would actually recommend cutting out the middleman entirely and not going through an agency at all. There are several websites where you can register for free and find a host family on your own, some of which I listed in the above-mentioned post. My advice would be to just use common sense, ask potential host families a lot of questions, get some sort of agreement in writing, and have a backup plan in case things don’t go well.

      That said, I can understand how you might still feel more at ease going through an agency. In that case, I would recommend you do a lot of research and compare different agencies before applying. And be aware that a lot of them charge a hefty fee! If it’s worth it to you for the sake of some peace of mind though, go for it. It’s your decision.

  • Colleenrak

    I am super nervous about being an au pair. Did you have a great experience? I hear horror stories, but no one ever tells positive things I guess they just tell negtive ones. Your story here seemed like a bad day but maybe not overall! Also to the person below me, I am using auoair-world.co.uk and you speak directly to the families. it is awesome!

    • http://www.janafadness.com Jana Fadness

      I did have a really great experience! Just a stressful first week, that’s all. 🙂 Don’t let the horror stories scare you— especially on the Internet. People who are focused on negative things like to complain, but the people enjoying themselves are usually too busy enjoying themselves to tell everyone about it. I really enjoyed being an au pair and know a lot of other people who did as well. It’s possible for bad things to happen of course, but keep a positive attitude and you’ll be fine! Good luck. 🙂

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