Before the summer, a young woman engaged me in a conversation as I was having coffee with a friend. I instantly knew she wasn't Swedish as her amiableness to a stranger rarely happens here. She was with three other women and our dialogue turned to why they were in Stockholm. Her answer surprised me - they were all au pairs from Canada and America. Having lived in New York City, I knew of the plethora of Swedish au pairs in and around the Big Apple although I never realized the immigrant au pair business in Stockholm was so vast. Our connection turned into a nice friendship.
She introduced me to another au pair (big fan of my blog) and the three of us have enjoyed quality conversation and coffee on an almost weekly basis. What impresses me about both is their zest for life, positivity, interest in meeting people and the fact that they have traveled extensively in their twenty-something lives. In addition, it's great to hear about the youth perspective and what is on their minds. I have talked with many teens but not so often with those in their twenties. Also, much of what I write on my blog is geared toward young people and providing a platform for helping to keep them focused and responsible so it was wonderful to listen to their opinions of my blog and hear about how their friends have enjoyed it. There was a big surge in traffic after meeting them so I am grateful for that!
One is from Canada while the other is Swedish/American and comes from the western part of America. Their experiences are quite different so I thought it would be enjoyable and important to know for those young women thinking of coming to Sweden as an au pair. The Canadian au pair has had a wonderful experience. When she talks about her family in Stockholm, her joy is infectious. Unfortunately, her friend has endured an intense form of disrespect from her family - some of which was hard to fathom. I am very proud of her for "taking the bull by the horns" and doing something positive about the bad treatment as one should NEVER tolerate disrespect in any form or fashion.
I encouraged them to write about their experiences and they complied rather quickly. Both are leaving this month and will be missed!
Their stories are below
Happy Gswede Sunday!
Canadian Au Pair Experience in Stockholm, 24:
Experiencing Stockholm has been one of the best years of my life. To really embrace a culture, the best way to do so is by living with a family of a different culture. My journey began when I met a Swedish boy in Thailand, and decided to explore another country by moving to Sweden to be with him. I decided to become an au pair because it was easy to get that kind of job when only speaking English. I had never even thought of becoming a nanny before. I heard a lot of bad stories of girls being treated very badly. I decided I had to find out for myself. When I interviewed with a family on www.aupair-world.net. I said to myself I had to have this family, they seemed so great! I got my friend in Sweden to interview them for me to make sure they were as great as they seemed. He convinced me they were. Unfortunately I broke up with my Swedish boyfriend right before I moved to Sweden, which made things kind of difficult but was ok since I was still happy to come to Europe and so excited to meet this family.
I met the family and they were great. Very nice and extremely welcoming. Which when you think about it, to have a stranger from another country come into your home, you must be very trusting. They have 2 kids a boy and girl ages 6 and 9. A perfect amount of kids and I couldn't ask for better ages. These kids were so sweet and well behaved. They didn't speak English at first but the oldest one now can hold a good conversation, and the youngest understands, but only speaks a little English. The parents are great, easy going people. Both have busy jobs but having me around, helps them to spend that much more time with their children. I work 25 hours a week which is the maximum in Sweden for an au pair. I wake up get the kids breakfast and ready for school and walk them to school. Then I have most of the day free and pick them up after school and make them and the mom dinner 4 times a week. Dinner time is good to get to know the family more, and the mom and I have become good friends having spent time together eating dinners. After every dinner she thanks me for the meal, and almost every time tells me how good the dinner was. Just saying those extra words goes a long way in my mind. When doing this kind of job, its so important to hear thank you and that they appreciate you and the work you do. Its so important I think to make the nanny feel like they are part of the family and that this isn't just a business agreement. They really make me feel like I'm part of the family and making dinner is my contribution.
The family is great with inviting me to almost all their family events and dinner when I am home and not cooking. Which has made it feel so much more at home. It makes me feel like I'm not just the nanny but their friend as well. I think that is important. I know of other au pairs that sit at the kids table when having dinner parties with the family and their friends. I am always included with the adults and their conversations. Someone is always translating in English or asking me what i think. I have made friends with some of their friends as well, which is important to not only have child contact but adult contact as well. Also great when adults look at you like a friend and not just the nanny.
This year has been the best because I have never had so much time to myself. I have all day, evening and weekends free. This gives me time to do the things I really love. Inexpensive things that I really love. Because being an au pair is not the best paying job out there, but its about the experience not bringing in the bacon. So being a poor nanny in a very expensive city can be very difficult at times, but it is manageable, you just have to find free fun and be very thrifty, examples of packing a lunch with you, and having cafe while watching your friends eat. Most of my time is spent meeting friends in cafes, usually au pairs because other people have jobs during the week. Getting to know people is one of my favorite things, and having the time to do so is just awesome to me. This year i have met a lot of friends, that i will stay in touch with forever. I had time to breathe, look around, and really appreciate my opportunity discovering a new country and culture. I now have an awesome family in Sweden, that I will love and cherish forever. I have a new view on Sweden that I had never had before. Coming from Canada I thought I had it great, well I now know how Swedes have it great as well. If something ever were to happen to Canada that it wasn't safe or smart to live there, I know where I would be heading to.
I would advise every single girl to become an au pair, if they want to experience a new culture, new language, good practice for being an excellent stay at home mom or house wife then I would definitely tell you to pack your bags and have the experience of having another family abroad. Even though things never worked out with my boyfriend, I realized that meeting him was just meant for me to have an experience of a lifetime and bring me to this great family in Sweden. I have no regrets of my decision this past year, and would do it again in a heart beat. Now I will leave the family and go back to Canada having an experience of a lifetime under my belt, and will only wish for my kids to be able to have such a great experience as I did one day.
American/Swedish Au Pair Experience in Stockholm, 22:
Coming to Sweden as an au pair seemed like it would be a complete breeze for me. I not only had many years of experience babysitting and being a nanny at home in the U.S. but I was also Swedish. What a perfect match! I would be surrounded by family and friends in Sweden that could also help make my move and transition easier.
My first couple weeks as an au pair were unbelievable. Here I was in the amazing city of Stockholm, that had EVERYTHING to offer. From endless cafes, restaurants, bars, and entertainment I knew Stockholm would be a great place to spend the next year. I quickly made friends through the immense network of au pairs in Stockholm. And I could not wait to start this adventure. I knew Stockholm would be the start of an experience of a lifetime.
My job unfortunately began to change right before my eyes. As the children were happy and very fun little children it was the parents who began to have a harsh impact on my “positive,” experience. The weeks grew longer and longer with my hours going from the promised 40 hours a week to a 50-60 plus hour work week with no ability to take care of myself. My love for working out and eating healthy began to go downhill as I could not even think straight after working 12-13 hour days. After giving it much thought I confronted the family with the intention of forming an agreement of hours and job responsibilities. This was a hard obstacle for me as I am not one who enjoys confrontation but I knew it was for the best if I wanted to see change in my work and to get the schedule and work description I had been promised when committing to this job.
The job soon came to an end when the family could not meet me in the middle and see eye to eye about my concerns with my hours and responsibilities. I had felt that I was being completely taken advantage of as I was responsible for “solely childcare,” as it had said on my contract, but was not the case. My long hours, inconsistent schedule, and inconsistent responsibilities made my job extremely difficult. It became frustrating to me that a family who had EVERYTHING could be so incredibly selfish and lacking appreciation for my hard work. I had never been in such a negative environment where my endless effort and hard work was just expected. I never heard the words “thank you,” words that I was grown up to say in every situation.
Looking back at my experience as a Swedish au pair... I would not necessarily change anything as I grew incredibly from this experience. I would have obviously wished for a more positive situation and that I had fulfilled a whole year in Stockholm, but I am thankful for my decision. If I had to give any advice to other future au pairs I would tell them to make sure and always go with your heart. DO NOT let anyone take you for granted and make sure that you are appreciated and happy. As for future families of foreign au pairs, make sure you tell your au pair that you appreciate them and make sure they feel welcomed and comfortable. Being an au pair can be difficult in the fact that you are suppose to feel like a part of a family but are also an employee. I would make sure both the au pair and au pair family set out the guidelines and job details straight from the beginning.
To the au pairs: if you are ever in an awkward or uncomfortable situation look to other au pairs for help and to to your family and tell them how you feel. If you are not happy or comfortable you will not give the most important part of your job 100%, the children.
Gswede (not pictured) enjoyed a morning coffee and sandwich with his daughter on a glorious October morning. The picture is in the heart of Stockholm, Sweden.