On Au Pairing

Here…

…you’ll find stories, thoughts, and the occasional fun fact from my time Au Pairing in France. Amusez-vous.

(PS: Read from top to bottom)


The Starting Days.

April 5, 2017.

I remember my first few days of work in New York pretty vividly. They were filled with swanky lunches and coffee dates, and the conversations ranged from “what’s your commute like?” to “if anyone in our office had been to prison, who do you think it would be and why?” At one point, I told my colleagues about this time I got a concussion at a frat party, was carried out on a gurney, and later mailed a box of assorted popcorn to the boys as an apology (but that’s another story for another time).

My first few days Au Pairing have pretty much been the same…. only not at all. The nerves are there, as is the need to impress (expert tip: always tell new colleagues about frat party concussions!), but instead of avocado toast and “getting to know you” chats in Soho, it’s butter-soaked dishes shared around a kitchen table in Angers, switching back and forth between languages, and an 11-year-old tricking me into saying as*shole repeatedly in French (which is trou-de-cul, by the way… don’t fall into the same trap).

Of course, that starting week in NYC, I never could have imagined where the following year and a half would take me. And I guess I don’t really know how the next six months will shake out, either. Will these French kids surprise me with penne vodka after I’ve had intrusive medical exams? Or find me stress vomiting in the bathroom? Or mock me as I discretely chase Hilary Duff down the street? Hopefully not, because that would all be deeply confusing and unsettling…. but hey, let’s see how things go.


Punaise.

April 10, 2017.

Fun fact: “Punaise!” is a French exclamation kind of like “shoot” but when I first heard the boys saying it I thought they were legit yelling “penis!” with an accent at their video game and that seemed super weird to me so I texted my friend (and on-call French expert) Alyssa and she explained otherwise and thank goodness. So basically if you ever hear French kids yelling something kind of like penis they’re probably saying punaise. Unless you’re in Pigalle late at night. In which case they likely ARE yelling penis and maybe you should just walk the other way….


Bikes are the Devil’s Play Things.

April 12, 2017.

“Oh, your French will come right back to you, just like riding a bike” is what liars say and I’ll tell you why. It’s not because my French isn’t coming back to me (though, that’s definitely a struggle, too)… it’s because bikes are the devil’s play things and knowing how to ride them does not “come right back to you,” fools.

Admittedly, bike-riding has never been my favorite pastime. I didn’t learn to ride until I was nearly 12, and even then the experience was one that led my dad to throw my sparkly, purple bike into our lawn on several occasions. So like OKAY I’ve never been great at it. Which is exactly what I said when one of my Au Pair kids asked if I’d go on a bike ride with him this morning. “Don’t worry, this path is super easy,” he assured me. So I decided to conquer my fear and said, “it’s been about six years since I rode a bike, but let’s do it!” And that was a terrible mistake.

The path was not super easy. It was hilly and rocky and covered in branches. I fell down multiple times, scraping my shoes and my jeans and my knees and feeling anxiety creep into my throat like bile. I hated it. I wanted to scream. And cry. And throw that stupid bike into someone’s (anyone’s) lawn. And you know what? That’s just freaking fine.

I’ve carried snakes out of my kitchen and jumped off of cliffs and asked reporters at The Wall Street Journal for a quick favor. I’ve gone on dates with strangers and had trans-vaginal ultrasounds and just moved to a city where I don’t know a soul. So I think it’s okay that I’ll probably always be afraid of things like bikes, cockroaches and the Blue Man Group. It’s great to be fearless, but it’s also all right to say, “hmm, I’m actually terrified of bikes. Let’s just take a walk instead.”

(PS: My dad would like me to clarify that he was very patient and supportive of my bike-riding. Which is somewhat true. But I’m still terrible.)


Getting Social.

April 15, 2017.

Pretty sure my French family thinks I’m an anti-social hermit and I guess they’re not wrong. Not because I’m a very introverted person (trust me, all of the online quizzes have assured me otherwise), it’s just that I have a hard enough time asking strangers for directions in French… how am I supposed to trick them into being my friends?

The answer, I’ve decided, is the Internet. More specifically, dating and friendship apps (oh yeah, friendship apps are a thing now), in which my profile reads “YES HELLO BE MY FRIEND AND SPEAK FRANGLAIS WITH ME PLEASE.” (Okay, it actually reads “An American au pairing in Angers. Let’s parle Franglais!” But the sentiment’s the same, really.)

I haven’t reeled anyone into my trap just yet – probably because I’m describing friendship as “a trap” – but if my past dating app experiences are any indication, this will inevitably end with me walking into a glass door, speaking in a Southern accent and/or eating pizza on the street. On y va!


Les Mecs de Rugby.

April 21, 2017.

So, guys. I think my attempts at befriending the French are working, because I saw three men’s butts last weekend.

Let me explain. Louisa (the Mama Hen of my host family / five-time Judo champion of France and undeniable badass) plays rugby with a bunch of friends each Saturday, and invited me to join for post-Rugby lunch last week. About three beers and a cheese platter in, things got weird.

You know how Americans always drunkenly join arms and sing three quarters through a sports game (think We Are the Boys of Old Florida, Take Me Out to the Ballgame type deal)? Well, they did something kind of like that… only, their drinking song was – to quote 12-year-old Nils – about “doing sex with butts,” and it ended with a few guys jumping onto the table, undoing their pants and mooning the entire group.

The absurdity really only continued from there. Everyone kept turning my way to make random American references (“You know Al Bundy? I’m like Al Bundy,” “Sorry, he talks like Scooby Doo,” “I’m the hamburglar of France”), then sat in a line, threw their hands in the air and insisted I “plonges” into their arms… like crowd-surfing, but not?

It was hilarious and confusing and I laughed until my cheeks hurt (sometimes nervously, often genuinely). And guess what, friends! Tomorrow, I’ll actually be playing some rugby, too… Stay tuned.


Miscommunication.

April 23, 2017.

Alors, I didn’t play rugby this weekend after all. Instead, I gave 4-year-old Tess a bath she really, really aggressively did not want to take and spoke French like a baby person who’d been dropped on the head with some strangers. So now feels like the right time for a quick game of Ridiculous Things I’ve Said on Dates in New York vs. Ridiculous Things I’ve (Accidentally) Said in French.

Ready? Okay.

On Date: “We should go for a picnic in Central Park.” • “Is that how you murder me?”

En Français: “Where are you from in the States?” • “Yes good.”

On Date(ish): “Is this your business card?” • “Yeah, sorry, I swear I’m not a prostitute.”

En Français: “And you’ve been here for how long?” • “What about peacocks?”

On Date: “Wearing all black – nice.” • “Yes like my soul. I mean nice to meet you!”

En Français: “What will you be doing in London?” • “I’m going to wait for the third century.”

…I’m not sure who the winner is here, but I think we can all agree that it is not my communication skills.


Ed Sheeran Dance Parties.

April 30, 2017.

Let’s rewind in time. It’s April 30th, 2016, and I’ve cried pretty consistently this entire month. Sure, New York’s beginning to fluff its spring feathers – showing off cherry blossoms and rooftop terraces – and I’m trying to embrace it all… but really, my heart hurts and I often go to sleep thinking, hoping, maybe I just won’t wake up in the morning.

Dark, I know. But see… if you’d asked me this time last year, “Genevieve, do you think 365 days from now you’ll be dancing to Ed Sheeran with a bunch of kids in the French countryside?” my answer would have been, “I’m sorry, good sir, but I think you’ve taken one too many pills today. Now excuse me while I cry into this pint of Chubby Hubby.”

I guess what I’m getting at, cliché as it sounds, is that you never really know what adventures the universe has in store. You just have to seek them out – patiently and ardently – instead of succumbing to hopelessness and emptiness and tear-soaked spoonfuls of ice cream.

That’s how you get to the Ed Sheeran dance parties in France, friends. That’s how you find the light at the end of whatever dark tunnel you’re in. It’s there, and it’s magical. Promise.


Bringing Bustle Back.

May 13, 2017.

Each time I met an exchange student at my high school – which sits at the sleepy center of Florida, surrounded by horses and Sonny’s BBQ – I wondered, “why here?” Of all the cities and towns in the US, why come to Ocala, Florida? And yet, six years later, I’ve essentially done the same thing by choosing to Au Pair in Angers, France (well, Mûrs-Erigné) – just, sans barbecue.

The original plan was to find a post in Paris, though that quickly shifted (as my plans often do). After a few great Skype sessions with my current family, I saw moving to the Pays de la Loire as an opportunity to explore a different side of France… one lacking hustle and bustle, perhaps, but not village charm. And that’s exactly what I’ve found.

But truthfully, I’m starting to miss things like buses that run after 8pm. Coffee shops that aren’t McCafes. Late night takeout. Dancing. I need a little bit of that hustle back, babies; I need a weekend in Paris.

So meet me there in an hour? Cool, à toute de suite.


The Mysteries Continue.

May 29, 2017.

I’ve been Au Pairing for nearly two months now, which, presumably, would mean I have a better understanding of things like boys and the French language. But – as l’ve had to say “why are you suddenly naked all of the time?” and “please get your hand out of his butt” this week – I’ll let you guess which one remains a mystery….

Plot twist: it’s a trick question, friends! They’re both still mysteries! Someone asked me if I had any friends in Angers the other day and I told them “not this week” like a weirdo because French is HARD. As is trying to convince adolescent boys to unglue themselves from PS4 controllers and put on pants.

But stick with me here, folks. We’re all in this together. And we’ve got three more months to figure out the enigmatic minds of 10, 12 and 14-year-olds (and the plus-que-parfait).

Souhaitez-moi bon courage.


In (Not So) Good Company.

June 13, 2017.

If you’re looking for good company at your next French barbecue…. maybe don’t invite me? Because the odds that I’ll fall asleep at the table while you smoke sausages, and then politely excuse myself to LIE DOWN IN A FIELD FOR THREE HOURS as you enjoy your meal, are shockingly high.

Let’s chock half of this one up to language barriers and a heat wave, and the other half up to my inability to function and socialize as a normal human being in any country, at any time. But hey, happy Tuesday.


Bad Dates.

June 16, 2017.

Au Pairing is kind of like dating. Sort of. Not really. But hear me out: in dating (or any human relationship, really), you find mates based on initial, mutual connections. Shared interests. Appealing or attractive qualities. Like, you both like hanging out with children, flaky pastries, and goat cheese. These parents are looking for a young, energetic English-speaker; you’re looking for a fairly low-maintenance French family, willing to share their culture and kitchen. The kids are cute, you’re bubbly — it’s a great match. So you fast-forward to living together, occasionally struggling to communicate directly, but making it work…

And then, a few weeks in (or maybe after a few too many apéros), you start to unearth some qualities you don’t love. Racist jokes. A lack of empathy. The kids get too comfortable, too curious — rifling through your vacation bag, the photos on your phone. Or maybe they never lose that initial discomfort: the “I don’t like her”s and “Don’t talk to me”s you thought would fade with time end up becoming more frequent and aggressive.

This is where the dating metaphor falls apart, of course — because, not only do dates usually avoid sticking their tongues out at you, they’re also escapable. You fake an emergency phone call and jet. Explain that maybe you’re not the right fit. Or (in modern dating culture), ghost them until they take the hint. Au Pairs, on the other hand, don’t have that exit plan. What we have are contracts, expensive Visas, and even more expensive flights home. So sometimes, we (I) cry in front of 10-year-olds and throw my frustrations into paragraphs.

In other words, it’s been a rough couple weeks.


Castle Week (Kind Of).

July 12, 2017.

YOU GUYS, everything is on the ups. Half of the family is vacationing in Canada, the other half is road-tripping through Germany… and me? I have the week all to myself.

Originally, I’d planned to spend this time in the south of France – strolling through lavender fields and sipping Kir Royals on the Côte d’Azur. But then I remembered that I make no money and had to readjust. So here we are! At Château de Chambord, the largest in the Loire Valley, for (drumroll please…) #CastleWeek !

Now, technically #CastleWeek was supposed to begin yesterday in Chenonceau… but I slept through my alarm and missed the train. Oh, and technically we’re not at Château de Chambord at all. We’re actually at Château Royal de Blois, because I also missed the bus from Blois to Chambord earlier (evidently, it only runs once a day. Who knew!). But the point is we’re free to roam around castles as much or as little as we like right now, and that is something to celebrate, don’t you think? Me too.


The Final Days

August 11, 2017.

I remember my last few days of work in New York pretty vividly. They were filled with goodbyes to people I both loved and, er, didn’t love working with, and my emotional state ranged from anxious (a constant) to elated to nostalgic to stressed. I walked out of the office on my final day weeping and puffy-eyed, feeling sad for all the wrong reasons (another story for another time).

My last few days Au Pairing were, in the broader sense, surprisingly similar – but instead of sobbing on a street corner and clinging to my colleagues, I gave cheek-to-cheek kisses to each member of the family, and no one cried at all. I guess that’s kind of the sad part.

But, not unlike my job in New York, there is so much about this experience that I wouldn’t trade… The way Tess always rubbed my cheek as I read her bedtime stories, no matter how upset she’d been an hour earlier… Or the blanket forts I built with Noé… Or that time Nils and I skipped down the Seine after dinner, the Eiffel Tower lighting our way.

Did anyone bring me penne vodka after I’d had intrusive medical exams, or mock me as I chased Hilary Duff down the street? Not exactly. But, as I told my Au Pair family, je n’oublierai jamais cette aventure. And it’s true. I’ll definitely never forget this adventure – with all of its highs, lows, and “I think my IV is loose?” moments.