Although I’m not entirely sure if au-pairing is really my thing, I’m certainly glad that I stayed to give it a go. I’m now at the end of my fourth week here and next weekend I’m leaving for Paris, before returning to the UK. I can’t wait to have usable internet again and to be able to use my phone without worrying about the cost. I’m also looking forward to being able spend time on my own, in my own space without feeling like I’m being rude, ignorant or lazy. I can’t say that I’ve been exposed to as much of the French language or culture as I wanted and needed to be, but I have definitely improved and it has been a good experience nonetheless. Even when things like this have happened to my face…
Before coming here I’d forgotten what it’s like to be a child or to have a really young sibling. Coming here and living with four children aged 4-11 reminded me how completely difficult and frustrating they can be, but also how sweet they can be and how rewarding it is when they learn from you. I’ve noticed an improvement in the way the younger two speak English and they actually now repeat what I say when I correct them. I’ve also been reacquainted with the way children think and perceive things. To children things are mostly black or white with no grey area; you’re either a friend or an enemy, with them or against them. They can’t understand why they’re not allowed to ride their scooter on the motorway; you’re just spoiling their fun by saying no. They tend to look at things in relation to personal gain and they can be easily bribed. They can also be scared (a little unethical) into doing as they’re told. ‘You can’t eat any of the cake you’ve spent the last hour baking unless you put the bowl in the dishwasher and the butter back in the fridge’ – less work for me and they learn basic tidiness! The other day T was yet again refusing to get out of the bath, even after I’d pulled the plug. Once the water started to drain the bathroom sink started to gurgle and a look of horror came across her face. I told her that the noise was happening because she was still in the bath and that, if she didn’t hurry up, the house was going to fall down. I’ve never seen anyone vault the side of a bath and into a towel so spectacularly fast. Kids!
I was already a fiercely independent person before coming here, but independence in a foreign country is a whole other kettle of fish! If you’re a Brit abroad everything is the opposite way around; everything is metric or anti-clockwise. You can’t always understand or be understood and you can’t always find your way; there are different laws, customs, expectations and levels of politeness; transport isn’t always as safe or reliable (and neither are people), and the UK is about the only place in the West where Sunday is (almost) a normal day*. Culture shock isn’t easy to deal with independently and in that respect I’ve been lucky that I’ve had a host family to help me with things. It’s been a sort of halfway house and practice for when I move to Spain on my own. I’ve managed to travel internationally on my own without ballsing it up; I’ve dealt with extreme homesickness, extreme boredom, extreme countryside and the occasional extreme accent. And now, even though my Spanish isn’t as strong as my French, I feel like I have more confidence and experience to be able to go to Madrid and do it totally alone and do it successfully.
*In most European countries Sunday is still a day of rest. Most public places are closed and transport is extremely limited.