Silvia, an 18-year-old from Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, could not believe how mean her employers were. They hardly spoke to her, made her work very long hours for very little pay and restricted her access to food. Silvia didn’t work in a shop. She was an au pair to a middle-class British family.
Silvia’s story comes from a new book, called Au Pair, which takes a full and honest look at British families from the sincere point of view of the girls who come to look after their children and help around the house.
The book focuses on the experiences of 50 Slovakian au pairs who have lived with more than 100 host families in London. Its author is Zuzana Burikova, a Slovakian sociologist who has been working on this project for more than three years.
The book’s most noticeable feature is the pejorative view that au pairs develop towards their host British families. In particular, they are highly critical of the ‘having it all’ culture.
British parenting, it seems, is shockingly bad. The book suggests that the British concept of a woman’s right to a career as well as a family is viewed negatively by au pairs. The author thinks that “au pairs generally feel that any family that chooses to have an au pair must, by definition, either be lazy, or lack proper care and consideration for children and for people in general”.
In the book we can read about the experience of an au pair called Jarmila, whose host mother worked at home as a clothes designer. Even when she was not working, her child spent all his time with Jarmila, who really felt like a second mother. Another case is that of Darinka, who was fascinated by “English mothers constantly talking about quality time and feeling guilty if they were not actually reading to or playing with their children”. In fact, in most cases it was pretty clear they spent very little time with their children. “English women do love their children,” Darinka reluctantly admits, “but the problem is that they are just not able to combine childcare, housework and a career.”
From the experiences in the book we can learn that “food is a particularly tricky issue,” says Ms. Burikova. “I’m surprised that children and parents do not eat the same food and that parents buy healthy food like vegetables and fish for themselves but not for their children.” Zuzana Burikova explains that “the British like TV programmes where experts tell them how to keep their home, since they don’t know how to do it themselves. That’s why they need au pairs.”
And yet, as with all things, there is a flip side. And not all families are cold and unfeeling.
In the book we can read the experience of Tina. Tina worked in London as an au pair about nine years ago. She had an absolutely terrific time in there, and there was good understanding between Tina and her host family, as a result of which the family decided to put her up until she finished her studies.
After having studied all these experiences, Zuzana Burikova comes to the conclusion that none of all these au pairs’ negative experiences stop people from applying for the job. Most Slovakian women go to Britain to work as an au pair in order to learn the language and earn some money at the same time, but there are also others that accept this job because it’s a way of escaping from their families or simply because they have just split up with their boyfriend. So, up to a point, the arrangement suits them.
Text adapted from The Sunday Times (August 1, 2010)
- mean: mesquí, gasiu / mezquino, tacaño
- host family: família d’acollida / familia de acogida
- parenting: criança / crianza
- reluctantly: a contracor / a su pesar
- flip side: l’altra cara de la moneda / la otra cara de la moneda
- to put her up: acollir-la, contractar-la / acogerla, contratarla
Reading comprehensionChoose the best answer according to the text. Only ONE answer is possible.
1. The book called Au Pair is about...
- the way Slovakian au pairs look after their own children.
- how Slovakian families should raise their children.
- what Slovakian au pairs think about British families.
- the way Slovakian girls can get a job in England.
- British women’s aim of working out instead of being mothers.
- the idea of bringing up children and working at the same time.
- the difficult choice between having a family and working at the same time.
- the idea of having an au pair at home to look after the children.
- is not shared by Slovakian au pairs.
- is generally accepted by au pairs.
- is never criticised by au pairs.
- has become a model for Slovakian au pairs.
- they think it is the cheapest way of educating their children.
- they can’t survive without the au pair’s help.
- they can’t afford to raise their children on their own.
- they don’t care enough about their children.
- do their best to look after their children.
- do not spend enough time with their children.
- prefer their careers to their children.
- play their role successfully.
- don’t feed their children healthily.
- only care about what their children eat.
- do not care about their health problems.
- believe their children are healthy enough.
- they want to travel abroad to get a well-paid job.
- it’s a good opportunity to leave their homes and relatives.
- their love relationships are broken and they want to meet new people.
- it’s a way of learning a language and earning some money.