A new family? Yes…sorry, no.

My first glimpse of Bern was like love at first sight!

I knew it would not be easy, especially because I had a newfound set of guidelines as an au pair…with a touch of desperation.  But, I was bound and determined to find three things in my next family—chemistry, respect and legality morals.

Night after night, I would sit in my room for hours searching and corresponding with families.  Some were interesting, some were interested and some were neither.  I made myself available for personal interviews and those families that were not keen, I was not keen for.  It is a funny thing, I began to correlate a trend in how certain people corresponded with me, their potential au pair, and how that may reflect my treatment if I was to become their actual au pair.  My summation: if they were too busy to deal with the hiring process, then they were too busy to deal with the hired.

Finally, I found a family in Bern, a younger family with one son.  They harped on their desire for chemistry and the importance of their au pair becoming part of the family.  They lived in the beautiful countryside and were insistent that their au pair learn German.  I explained my current situation in full detail, complete honesty.  They not only understood, but also sympathized.  We connected, on a virtual level.

Then came our face-to-face interview and with soaring colors, we clicked.  The stepfather was a jovial, aspiring lawyer and the mother had just received her masters in business and was about to begin her new job.  They were refreshing.  Our interview lasted 2-hours and was more like a social outing than a professional interview.  We decided it was a perfect fit.  They were going to work on getting my visa and I was going to move in within three weeks.

Bern's charismatic clock tower.

Then something went wrong and I can’t quite pinpoint what it was.  I fell instantly in love with Bern from the moment I stepped foot off the train so needless to say, I decided to visit Bern again the next weekend and meet my best friend in the middle for a little weekend excursion.  I informed my “new family” suggesting maybe we meet up on Sunday for another visit, just for fun.  I felt so refreshed and delighted in how naturally myself I was when communicating with them.  Turns out, I guess I felt too much myself.

Upon our second meeting, which I was viewing as a more casual exchange, I seem to have given them a bad feeling.  While I was packing my bags, they were emailing me the unfortunate news that read: “Was it your way of communicating or not via SMS, you ordering a beer on our second meeting, you bringing along your best friend to your first meeting with Julian (their son), or your reaction when I talked about working on Saturday?  I can’t say.  It just does not work with us anymore. I’m sorry. You are a very nice young lady, but I am not sure you will fulfill the qualifications for being an au pair for us.”

Wow. That news hit hard.  I looked at my half-packed suitcases and wanted to feel completely defeated.  I wanted to throw in the towel and give up.  After three weeks of searching, I finally found the perfect family that matched every value I had, while also connecting on a level I had never thought possible, but they didn’t want me.  After drowning myself in several moments of self-pity, I suddenly realized how fortunate the “gut-feeling” of this Swiss family really was.

My automatic self-defense mechanism compelled me to respond with a heap of excuses, but all were completely accurate explanations of my behavior: my cell phone ran out of minutes, I wanted you to meet my best friend because she would be making frequent visits and is important in my life, I ordered a beer because we met at a brew pub, and just last week you said I would have weekends free so my initial reaction to working Saturday was simply because it was new news, which I was completely satisfied with in the end.

The truth is, it does not matter how aware you are of the differences to being a professional verses too casual because what I have noticed as an au pair (that is, living where you work, seeing your employers on a daily basis and trying to establish a friendship with your employers) is that the personal versus professional line is very hard to balance.

It appears I dissatisfied this Bern family because I was 100% myself.  In the end, I had to thank them for recognizing it when they did because for this kind of work, I cannot sacrifice my naturalness.  It would make everything else very difficult.  I know this because it is the kind of life I am currently living and I cannot feel this stifled anymore.  I want to be able to lay it all out on the table because I truly have nothing to hide.

Although I am back on the time-consuming hunt, I do not regret the little experience I had with this family.  It helped me to see that there are families out there with my same values—chemistry, involvement, experience, education, active and fundamentally precise.  Because of them, I can learn from my actions and how to better handle myself, present myself that is, as I continue my quest to find my next family.

Hopefully I can find another family in the beautiful Bern!


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