Cultural Differences

A lot of issues we incur with host families and Au Pairs are simply down to cultural differences.  The whole point of having an Au Pair in your family and the reason why so many girls choose to be an Au Pair is because it is a chance to exchange cultures.  It is a way to broaden horizons and to learn about other customs and traditions.

Different nationalities have different character traits and although you should never generalise, it is fair to say that when someone is exposed to a certain culture or custom, they will adopt some of the traits that go with it.  It also means that when you put two entirely different cultures together, they may clash on certain things.  Here is an example.

Mary and John live on a farm in the Midlands.  They are both in their 70’s and have lived a very “simple” and happy life.  Their youngest son, Michael, has taken over the farm and built his own house down the lane.  Michael is married to Deirdre, a local lady who has come from the same background as Michael.  They have two children of school going age and have recently brought in a Belgian girl as an Au Pair to take care of them after school.  Michael works on the farm and Deirdre works nearby.  The Au Pair comes up to Mary and John’s house at dinner time for the main meal of the day, as does Michael. 

Mary cannot understand the Belgian Au Pair’s behaviour at all; she finds her anti-social, rude and lazy.  The Au Pair never offers to help her make dinner and always sits around waiting to be served.  She won’t even get up to make her own cup of tea.  She is very quiet and hardly says a word.  She won’t even help Michael on the farm.

This is a typical cultural clash.  In Belgium it would be considered rude to get up and make yourself a cup of tea in somebody else’s home.  Unless you were invited to, you would never just help yourself to anything, not even in a family member’s house.  The host will serve you and though you may offer to help, it will probably be refused.  The Au Pair’s level of English is intermediate, but she finds Mary and John very hard to understand.  They speak very fast and have a strong accent.  Usually she is quite an outgoing girl, but with this family she doesn’t always follow the conversation.  In addition to this, the Au Pair was raised in the suburbs of Brussels.  She has never milked a cow in her life and has never set foot on a farm before.  She wouldn’t know how to help Michael, even if she wanted to. 

These types of issues are easily dealt with.  Mary and the Au Pair should sit down and discuss cultural differences.  What might be useful is that the Au Pair hosts a “Belgian meal” (in this case).  Allow an Au Pair to teach a family about how she lives in her home country.  It helps break the ice, gives everyone a better understanding about certain behaviours and it gives the Au Pair the chance to talk about a subject she is comfortable with.  It will help combat homesickness and give a sense of achievement.  Many Au Pairs would thrive with an opportunity like this and a family might just see a different side of their Au Pair that they hadn’t seen before.

Do not criticise people.  What works for you in your country, might not work for someone else in another.  Embrace the exchange and you never know, you may even learn from each other.

To help you identify with certain cultural traits, take a look at the briefs hereafter.  Remember not to generalise.  Everybody is different and has been raised in the way their parents thought was best for them in their circumstances.

Czech Republic
The Netherlanes