Il était une fois: the cautionary tale of a former au pair

Book of the day: Jane Eyre

Bonsoir mes amis…pull up a fauteuil and pour yourself a kir as, for the next few minutes, I relate how I find myself still living in France almost 7 years after venturing forth on a 4-month ‘Gap’…

Once upon a time a rash decision on my part induced me, one bleak February morning, to acquire a one-way ticket to Geneva for the purposes of living the high life in the French suburbs surrounding that most cosmopolitan of European cities*, as a “jeune fille au pair“. Having read several informative ‘au pair manuals’ during my teenage years (Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, Agnes Grey…) I felt assured that my time abroad would be a great success. Success as an au pair, however, depends largely upon that fickle temptress, Luck. First impressions, on both sides, are based upon online profiles, a few emails, and perhaps a Skype date or two. There is often no time to get to know, with any degree of intimacy (or perhaps even accuracy), a family who have carefully primped and preened and honed and polished until they have made themselves appear, via the smoke and mirrors of the internet, to be perfect. Any girl, it would appear, would be lucky to live with them. This lottery of picking a profile from a list of scores is, I cannot deny, often a glorious success for both parties, and most of my friends had a brilliant year abroad, and did consider themselves very lucky. Luck was, unfortunately, cavorting with someone else during my hour of need.

My first clue that my new job might not live up to my imagined expectations was when my boss arrived over half an hour late to pick me up from the airport, despite only working next door. My second clue was when I was shown to my soulless box of a room in the basement, complete with the pungent fragrance of ‘eau de canalisation‘, coming from the laundry room next door. My third clue was my lack of privacy, having neither shutters nor curtains of my window. When my boss then told me that I would have to ‘earn’ her children’s respect, my heart sank; it was too late to turn back.

My new family comprised a veritable hippo of a matriarch, who wallowed under the bedclothes with keenly watchful eyes just above the surface, grunting orders and yawning majestically until after I had returned from taking her children to school (and who consequently returned from work after I had fed them and put them to bed); her amiable but weak husband, who endeavoured to escape as early as possible each morning and went on a surprising number of ‘business trips’ (word on the au pair circuit was that he was having some difficulty in remaining married to her); her corpulent slug of a son, a genuine little ‘enfant roi‘, who, believing himself to be my employer, never failed to provide me with constructive criticism when he felt it fitting, and sporadically threatened to have me fired, possibly in an ill-judged attempt to keep me compliant; and lastly, and clearly the second favourite, although still wickedly spoiled – an infantile nine-year-old daughter, prone to tantrums and sulks, and quick to tell tales. After discovering that their previous au pair had run off without giving notice, I was under no further allusions about my future prospects as a temporary member of their family. My new boss had a fearsome reputation amongst the English-speaking families in our community, and my fellow au pairs revealed that they had been looking forward with some interest to meeting the latest victim.

Thankfully my contract was of short duration and, after a fairly miserable 4 months I plotted my escape, performed a dress rehearsal for the benefit of the security lights, left a letter on my pillow and exited via the garden, a little before the stroke of midnight, one balmy evening in June. My recently acquired knight in shining armour was waiting for me astride a steed so modern and practical that it came equipped with a boot and seatbelts, and we drove off into the night, leaving the family to fend for themselves for two whole days.

Why, then, am I still in France?

“Reader, I married him.”

* This may be grossly inaccurate, but it certainly feels true.

Mots du jour:

Il était une fois – once upon a time fauteuil – armchair kir – delicious and very moreish white wine cocktail canalisation – drain enfant roi – a spoilt little tyrant

2 thoughts on “Il était une fois: the cautionary tale of a former au pair

Comments are closed.