5 Things You MUST Know Before You Au Pair In Paris…
5€ wine by the Tower anyone?
When I tell people I lived in Paris, it sounds so glamorous. Shopping on the Champs-Élysées, cocktails in the secret bars, dinner on your balcony that overlooks the Eiffel Tower…or so they think. Think shopping (if you can afford it) in Châtelet–Les Halles when the sales are on, drinking cocktails that cost 5€ for 2 on happy hour and cramped pre-drinks in your friends’ mini apartment, pretty close to the Eiffel Tower. It was some of the happiest times in my life.
I went to Paris in 2015 and it is, to this day, the most spontaneous things I have ever done. Ran off to look after children and get away from England for a little while. I was an Au Pair, who is essentially a nanny that gets paid nowhere near as well as an actual nanny out there, them gals were making bank. It was incredible, beautiful and it changed my life. Now I visit every year and have made forever friends (yes, we still all somehow meet up even 5 years later!)
But there are 100% some things I found out the hard way whilst I was there, and luckily I am going to share them with you so you don’t have to suffer, get your pen & paper hun.
Number One – Make friends before you go.
“Really? Before I get there?” Yes, really. We have this nifty thing called social media nowadays, so it makes this easier. I can’t quite remember who started it, but it was a lifesaver, having that support group of girls was amazing. You are going to a new country to LIVE there, remember this, with strangers (if you live in the family home) or on your own and having that network of girls in the same area and situation as you is so important, especially for your mental health.
This group chat was home of some crazy stories, much-needed advice, planning nights and days out so you didn’t go insane and it even helped one girl out in a VERY sticky situation. You have a tinder date? Tell the group chat girls where you are going and when you are home. Live far out of the city and haven’t interacted with anyone but children for 7 days? Message the girls and meet up for drinks. Your host family has taken a turn after you’ve said you want to live somewhere else? Let the chat know so that you don’t end up on the street (yes, this happens sometimes).
If you aren’t already in an Au Pair Facebook group, join one. Introduce yourself with something like “hey guys, I fly/travel into Paris on the (insert date here) and I just wanted to see if anyone wanted to meet for drinks?” and watch it go from there! Everyone is in the same boat here and nearly everyone is mostly super friendly.
Number Two – Research the area in which you are going to live.
By this point you have established the basics, you’ve joined an Au Pair group on Facebook, you’ve found a family that you think looks perfect, but hold your horses a minute. If you, like me at the time, have never been to Paris before, you may be a little unsure about what arrondissement is where, how close some areas are to the city centre & general navigation. Everywhere is super close to each other, right? Kind of, but also, wrong.
A lot of families live in the Parisian suburbs, still pricey but nowhere near as pricey as the city. These are places such as St Germain-en-Laye, Saint-Leu-la-Foret, Garenne Colombes & Versailles and although they are beautiful, they are 100% not as close to the city as some host families will claim they are. For my first 2 months I lived in St Germain, it was lovely and I was lucky enough to have a friend from the group chat who was close to me, so close in fact that both our host parents were best friends, so we spent a lot of time together.
But I underestimated how far out of the city I was AND how much it would cost me in travel each time I wanted to go, it’s hardly a secret that Paris is pricey. I was on 80€ a week, not including my travel, living in the house and I was MISERABLE. I would constantly tell the girls how hard it was looking after the boys, how I felt trapped in the four walls with no personal space and they all lived in the city apart from the girl near me (but she wasn’t always free).
It was costing me 10€ each way, then you want to eat or have some drinks, maybe treat yourself to some nice things and before you know it, your weekly spend is gone in one day and you’re stuck in the suburbs doing nothing but complaining on Tumblr and your precious time in Paris is passing you by.
Research the nearest metro stop, is it far from your home? How long is it going to take you to travel into the city and for how much? Is your host family going to cover your travel expenses on top of weekly pay? Check this beforehand and you will have a better idea of which location is best for you and won’t suffer in the long run.
Number Three – Compare payments with your friends/other au pairs.
It wasn’t until I was living with my first host family, that I realised I was being overworked and underpaid. My host family was nice, but the boys were DIFFICULT and I mean hard work. Remember I said my host family were friends with my friends’ host family? (try saying that 3 times fast). This meant that I found things out about previous au pairs. Many had left before me because they couldn’t handle the boys and the mum didn’t really help. They were constantly hyper and they it turns out they had behavioural problems that I was not made aware of.
I worked Saturday mornings (pretty much unheard of) 11-3pm, and every weekday evening, and I only got 80€ a week NOT including travel, again pretty much unheard of ESPECIALLY if you are living so far out of the city. Whilst all my friends were having fun on Saturday mornings & afternoons, I was trying to get a very uninterested and bad-tempered 10 year old to do his homework, it was exhausting and upsetting, I was missing out SO BAD. It was only when I told the girls the amount that they said it wasn’t right, especially for the amount of work I was doing.
In the end I left and found a new family (I will cover that later). But that was stressful and potentially dangerous depending on how you go about it. Ask the others in the group, do some research online and get some opinions, I actually surprise myself now how little I researched anything before I just said “sign me up!”.
Number Four – Know your rights BEFORE you agree to anything.
This isn’t a 9-5 job, there’s (in most cases) no physical contract and you’re about to move to a different country with different laws and you might not even speak the language, families take advantage of that waaaay more often than you think. I was in a chat with 11 girls, at least 5 of us changed families within the first month or so, maybe a handful had any kind of written agreement and one nearly ended up trapped in the middle of nowhere in a dangerous situation when the host mother found out she was wanted to leave and threatened her.
Whilst there is requirements in France for there to be an agreement, hardly any family does. Why? Money. You have to be ‘declared’ as an au pair in Paris, if you are not and you require medical treatment this will cost you a pretty penny, but most families are willing to take the risk to avoid paying the Social Taxes which cost 100’s of euros a month.
Great for them but bad for you and can lead to some serious potential problems down the road. You should be getting paid a minimum of 320€ a month AS WELL as travel (a Navigo) and in some cases, a phone. There are also different rules for attending French courses depending on if you are an EU citizen or not, I didn’t have to because I’m from the UK, my American friend did.
Don’t make the same mistake I and so many other girls make. Draw up a contract before you get out there and if the family aren’t willing to do that, you can pretty much bet they are going to take the piss further down the line.
Number Five – Most importantly, stay happy, even if it means saying no.
I can’t tell you how miserable I became after that first month in Paris, this is not how things were supposed to go. I do believe I have only been truly depressed about 3 times in my 27 years of existence, January & February of 2015 was one of them. I was struggling with the boys, I HATED having to work Saturdays whilst all my friends were having fun, I was drained because every morning was a full-on battle to get the lads ready for school whilst the mum dolled herself up (looking back, I think she was struggling too, she used to shut herself in her room and play candy crush). I always went straight back to sleep after the battle mornings and spent most days doing just that, I had no money to spend during my free time, no space (the mum didn’t work so she was ALWAYS in the house, leaving the room was pretty much a no) and I felt trapped.
I lived there, where was I going to go? I had no contract and you hear the horror stories about telling you’re family you are leaving, they could have kicked me out in the street and I wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it. But everyone kept telling me, you have to find something else, you have to leave because it is not worth the sadness. I was lucky and after some secret searching, I found a lovely new family and after they accepted me I told them my situation. The host dad was very supportive, he said that if after I had told my current host family I was leaving and they tried to kick me out, to call him and I could live with them early.
It took me over a week to pluck up the courage to tell them and I can’t tell you how scared I was. They didn’t kick me out, but they were NOT happy, the host dad said I needed to help them find a new au pair and said I had to stay a bit longer so that they can find someone to replace me. I didn’t sign a contract, I didn’t have to do shit but out of courtesy I tried to help them look, but I was not staying there a minute longer than I had too. I also had no sympathy in a way, the mother didn’t work so she was more than capable of being there until they found someone and looking back I think they got an au pair because they couldn’t handle their own children.
I had some tough times as an au pair, but once I moved into the city (I was a 15 minute walk away from the Eiffel Tower, awesome) and I made some memories there that I will cherish forever. My new host family was so great, I visit them every time I go back and it’s been nearly 5 years! But I found things out the hard way, you don’t have too!
Don’t be scared or put off by anything, 9 times out of 10 there is no issue and no problem, just make sure you have a plan and know your shit before you confirm anything, you don’t want to let a family down either!
There is a special place in my heart for Paris and I know I will live there again one day.
All of us in 2015 and below in 2018, some things never change.