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Saturday, March 24, 2007

so you want to be an au pair?

I came, I saw, I nannied, and I conquered.

But what was it like? Do I recommend it? Do I really think young women should sell their souls to work as a nanny in Paris?

I've been getting many emails from women looking to work as an au pair in Paris, and to make things easier, I've put together a series of FAQ.

How did you find a family?
I found the family I worked for through, where nannies and families each set up a profile, then you look for your match. It costs 60$ for a 30-day membership that gives you access to their contact info and photo galleries.

How do you find a nice family?

Unfortunately the most you can do is to speak to them on the telephone and get some reference letters. It's hard to tell if they will be the right fit for you or not until you've worked for them a few months. You have to keep in mind that they don't own you, and if things get really bad you can always leave.

Any warnings?
The French culture is much more serious, with many rules of politeness. Try to be as adaptable as possible, and embrace the family and the culture as your own. It's difficult at times, but you can learn a lot.

Also, the children will quite possibly be huge brats. Demand respect right from the start so they don't walk all over you. If they're disrespectful, let them know that you'll tell the parents, and make a point of doing so in front of them. But don't be too hard on them, treat them like friends and you'll end up having a lot more fun together. Teach them about your own culture, bake cookies, play games, and be a positive part of their growing up.

Did you become fluent in French?
After a year of having my French corrected by a six and an eight-year-old, my French improved considerably. I was very comfortable in my last months in France, and it became easy to express myself and play with French humour.

Did you have to take French lessons?
Yes, I did a semester of French lessons at Ecole France Langue. Most au pairs are required to do this to have a valid reason for staying in the country. While the classes were early in the morning, and not the most exciting, it did allow me to get a Student metro pass. A student metro pass is the cheapest of all passes, and allows you to take the bus and metro all year long. I think it costs around 200 euros for the entire year.

Does the job pay enough to get by?
Barely. I dug into other funds and had some help from my parents. Paris is a city of luxury, and it's hard to spend little unless you're doing little. (Although I am a huge lush with expensive taste in food and clothing...)

Do you have any regrets?
My year in Paris was incredibly challenging. There were many instances where I felt like packing my suitcase, lifting my nose up in the air, and saying "Adieu!" But no matter how long, hard, and exhausting the days were, I was in Paris. I used the Eiffel Tower as a reminder that I was living my dreams. I have no regrets, I came out stronger with a broader sense of the world.

Would you recommend it?
If you like kids, love Paris, and want to do something different with your life, go for it. But be prepared to want to tear your hair out, scream, and run away very quickly. The job demands a lot of patience and time, and pays very little. You have to devote yourself to a family you don't even know, and follow their rules.

Eiffel by night

If anyone has any more questions, feel free to email me.


Anonymous Nico said...

That's an honest review. I bet many people will find your view on things useful.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

I just wanted to say that I sent you one of those question-laden emails last year and have been following your blog ever since - and working as an au pair in Paris since September. My experience work-wise has been very different from yours, as I work only 12 hours a week for the family and rely on an outside job (at a Canadian bar, of all places) to make ends meet. I think, though, that the emotional highs and lows are much the same for most who come abroad for the first time and despite it all, it's been worth it. For anyone who's thinking of being an au pair, you'll never know unless you get out there and give it a chance.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Lacey said...

Thanks for this post Gillian!! I have nannied in the US and all the ma's wanted to be my best friend- - but my 2 days here was a little more intense. Kudos to you for making it through!! I totally understand it on a whole new level now. (i found my lady on too)

I am going to attempt to go make goat cheese in the Pyrennes... I think I might be able to handle goats better than les enfants!

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I have to do an interview assignment for my journalism class, is there anyway that i could ask you a couple questions? my email is


3:55 PM  
Blogger GoodNews said...

Love the pic. I sent you pics from when I was in Paris NYE. Don't know if you ever got them.

6:12 AM  
Blogger Danielle Michelle said...

I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate your honesty. You have helped more than you know...

I am sending in my final application today, so hopefully I'll be placed with a good family--keep your fingers crossed for me.

I was inspired by your blog so much that I've started one of my own in hopes of tracking the ins and outs my experience as an au pair in Paris.

10:24 AM  
Anonymous karenblum said...

I listed my profile free at you can also chat with the families that are online and view video profiles.
great site.


8:27 AM  

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