Initially, I was planning to become an au pair in France because it was advertised as a cost-effective way to travel across Europe🙃. Despite all the romanticized stories we hear about au pairs I’ve learned that it’s quite an elaborate scam. My definition of a scam is something that euphemizes or is falsely advertised to lure people in.
When I first started to think about moving to France I was open to moving anywhere but attracted a family from Strasbourg. That’s when I learned of the city. Before I could go with them lockdown struck and I was stuck in Zim with my mom. So that didn’t work out and France stopped giving out au pair visas. I even started a petition for France to allow au pair visas again because childcare is an essential service and many families rely on au pairs.
But now I realize that it was a good thing that I didn’t become an au pair or else I might have found myself stranded in a foreign country where I can’t just get a bus back home.
Au pairing is advertised to young people as a program that will allow you to do a “cultural exchange” with a host family. But the reality is that au pairs are underpaid and exploited nannies and often housekeepers who often work beyond legal hours and don’t have a union to protect their rights.
It took me some time to reach this conclusion because the idea of traveling to a country for cheap for seemingly an easy exchange seemed like such a good offer it was too good to be true. After a few months, I saw clearly that there are more au pair horror stories than there are good ones which is a sad thing. Many people euphemize their bad experiences with host families because during the times that they could get away from their tyrants they would have a chance to enjoy being in the country and they would still do it for the small perk of travel with little funds even if it means being exploited. Some people have a longer-term goal of attending school in their host country or settling down there so they use au pairing as a test of fire to help them get their footing in the country.
Nonetheless, au pairing is a scam. That’s because they advertise it as a cultural exchange with light childcare while in reality, you’ll probably be doing extensive childcare and housekeeping as well. The au pair services are advertised to host families as cheap labor. They don’t view you as a cute young person coming to exchange culture and do a few things here and there. They view you as a worker that’s coming to fulfill their job description.
It’s a scam because why is au pairing romanticized so much in order to lure young people into it? That’s because if they knew the full details of what au pairing would entail then they would think twice about doing it.
Au pairs are giving “an allowance” that’s pity money and there aren’t many measures in place to protect au pairs from abusive, manipulative families. Since I don’t have my own horror story here are some things that commonly happen to au pairs
-being kicked out of the house and left destitute.
-not being given food or allowed to eat with the family on days off.
-being accused of stealing when kids take and hide something from the parents to get you in trouble.
-being sexually harassed ( particularly by the father of the family).
-having any complaints invalidated because you should be grateful that you’ve been taken in.
-going without being paid
-having to look for a new host family because you’re not a good fit with your current family.
– having your passport taken away and threatened to have immigration called on you if you don’t comply
The list could go on and on. And the worst thing of all is that when au pairs come out and complain host families that often host au pairs try to shut down and refute the complaints like white people telling black people that racism doesn’t exist. I’ve found that host families know that they’re getting cheap labor and exploiting young people but because they get it for cheap as compared to proper childcare they’ll protect the system at all costs.
They often say things like “ we treated our au pair like family” “ not all host families are like that” and other things. They don’t want information about the dark side of au pairing coming out otherwise that might mean they have to pay more and *gasp* treat au pairs well.
Au pairing isn’t a bad option for everyone. It’s been life-changing for some people. But people shouldn’t be scammed into it. People should walk in knowing what they’re getting into.