I always knew my Au Pair family was disorganised and frantic, this came as no surprise. From the introductory stages right through to my first night in their home, the process had been wobbly and difficult. At times I even reconsidered my moving in with them but in the end decided that they were good people whose chaotic lives were in a need of a little help. Like any family, there are ups and downs and I have had to learn to take life as it comes. Being a very organised and tidy person, however, who likes to be thoroughly prepared with to-do lists and diarised dates, this whole ‘take life as it comes’ business has been rather challenging. This week in particular has been the tip of the iceberg.
On Tuesday night, M (my Au pair mom) presented me with a vegetarian cook book that she had bought to help give me ideas. The child and I (whom I am quite fond of and is probably my favourite person in the house) looked through the book and agreed that the falafels looked the most interesting. I left the book open on that page and told M I would attempt to make the falafels the next day for lunch. I asked X if he could buy the ingredients while I was in my German course and said that I would cook it as soon as I came back home. X said he would not be there that day and so M said she would buy them. So the next morning, as per usual, we all woke up in the dark at 7am and I made breakfast while M got C (the child) ready for school. After eating I cleaned up the kitchen and M took C to school. I then have 15 minutes to get myself ready and pack my bag for class. I usually cycle to my German course but that day M offered to take me by car in case it rained.
During the car ride M asked if I preferred having the class in the morning instead of in the evening, giving me the feeling she wasn’t 100% sure about me going to morning classes. This was really bizarre as we had fought so hard to get me into a morning course becuase M needs me in the afternoons. I had tried from the very beginning to register for a morning course, but as I was living in a town three hours away at the time it was very difficult for me to arrange. M had said she would sort it out, but never managed to, and so all the courses were full by the time I moved in. M was not happy about this and when the course co-ordinator was unable to help us, M took the matter to the Bürgermeister. He then made it possible for me to join a course that had already begun a few weeks earlier. After a few minutes in that class the Lehrerin said the course was much too easy for me and referred me to another class three levels higher. This class was way ahead and so I ended up going back to the co-ordinator (who by now was probably sick of seeing me) to negotiate a more suitable class. In my sketchy German we came to a solution and I finally ended up in the right class that had already been running for four weeks. I had only been going for 3 days when M asked if the morning course was really better. With all the stress I had gone through to secure this course whirling around in my head I just simply said ‘yes’ and left it at that. I was too stunned to even begin trying to explain why of course the morning class was better.
When we had all arrived home for lunch at 1pm we ended up eating the left overs from the night before as X wasn’t there and the rest of us don’t mind. C then went to play with a friend and I set about cracking open all the wallnuts. We eat freshly chopped fruits, seeds, nuts and oats for breakfast each morning but the nuts take too much time, so I wanted to get them out the way. Whilst doing this a friend of M’s arrived with cakes. The whole time the guest was there, M busied herself and left me chatting to him. At one stage I asked if I should make the falafels for dinner and she she said yes and that she would buy the ingredients after her appointment. She then left for said appointment and told her friend he could stay and chat to me if he liked. This was rather awkward as we had never met, he was there to see her, and it was obviously difficult for us to communicate. Nonetheless he stayed on and when M eventually returned she explained she didn’t have enough time to buy the groceries as she had another appointment and so her friend would take me. The man then protested, and from what I understood, said that M had not even asked him. M was adamant and insisted that he would take me and that he knew the way. I then interjected and said it was not his problem and that I would take the bike (despite it being pitch black and cold with a high chance of rain). However it was useless and in the end the man took me to the store with M’s directions (he did not know the way) and we returned with the ingredients. M did not come home for at least an hour, and in this time I set about making falafels from scratch. This required an entire pumpkin to be chopped, chickpeas to be soaked and pureed and so on. It wasn’t easy. I asked the man if he was going to join us for dinner, to which he said yes, although he was hopeless at helping me. In fact, when I asked, he was shocked that he should have to help at all. (I’ve met a few men like this here, drives me nuts). So anyways, after loads of hard work and frustration I eventually got the mixture ready to start forming the falafel balls. By now C had been dropped off back home and I realised there was absolutley no oil in the house to fry the falafels. Then M came home while her guest was in the loo and asked me if he was still there. When I said yes, she exclaimed her disatisfaction and wanted to know why he was still there. I explained that I had asked him if he was eating with us, since he had taken me to the shop. M then disappeared upstairs and another man arrived with a packet of groceries ready to make dinner. What the heck? The man, R, asked if it was okay if he just made his food, implying we leave mine out altogether. This in all honesty pissed me off as I had spent the last two hours working on these flipping falafels. I pretended not to fully understand him and asked if he meant we would make both, to which he agreed. However as there was no oil he had to go out to the shop and get some. He too was from out of town and had to get directions from M, who had come back downstairs. This was the queue for the initial guest to leave, who was now fed up with waiting. Just before he left another man arrived to give C piano lessons. Honestly, I had to stop myself from going into complete hysterics from the total chaos and disorder of it all. Holding back my laughter brought on by my complete disbelief of it all, I continued on until R returned witht the oil. After another hour of very silent cooking, so as not to disturb the piano lesson taking place one metre away in the open planned living area, we eventually had dinner ready. R had turned my falafels into burger patties and no body seemed to understand the concept of putting the “falafels” into the bread buns and filling them with salad and veggie paste. Instead they just ate the now patty with the bun and added the food from R to their plates. M didn’t touch any of my food for fear of the chickpeas making her sick. What a fail.
That night X returned and he and M argued late into the night. At 5am the next day I woke to the sound of more arguing. After a very exhuasting morning in my German course I came home and remade the falafels. This time they were perfect. M and C thoroughly enjoyed them and I was relieved to restore their faith in my cooking abilities. After lunch M and I began vacuuming and mopping the floors and planned to practice our songs for the upcoming Weihnachtsmarkt once finished. However an aunty of M’s arrived and so we had to stop all cleaning and be good hosts. Not long after M took me aside and said that her mother (the oma) was waiting for her to fetch her and bring her to their house. Now that her aunty was here I would have to do it. Great. This is truly the worst task I get given and I absolutely dread it.
I arrived at the old age home and discovered that the oma was not in her room but in a ‘gymnastics’ class. I had to ask several people for directions until I finally found the right room. After disrupting the entire class and navigating her outside in her wheelchair, I had to push her upstairs to get her jacket. Then we go all the way back downstairs and I start the wonderful 15 minute journey to M’s house. The whole way there, as per usual, I get asked about 11 or 12 times where M is, where her house is, and to hurry up. “Was ist? Was ist?” she asks me, which basically means, “What’s up? What’s wrong?”. She then proceeds to tell me about five or more times that, “Nein! Es geht nicht,” and exclaims, “Aiyaiyaiyaiyai!” every time I explain to her that we’re on our way to her daughter and that I understand the journey is bad but I don’t have a car so we have to walk with the wheelchair. I know she is old and subsequently nervous and irritable, but I’m the one pushing around 80+kg as fast as I can manage on uneven gravel dodging cars and pedesterians, heaving her up and off sidewalks and combatting verbal abuse. At one point she was being so stroppy that I asked, “Möchten Sie hier bleiben?” while we were in the middle of the road as there was no footpath. “Nein,” she says, to which I responded with, “So. Dann gehen wir.” (English: Would you like to stay here? No. So. Then we’ll go.)
After arrivng at the house I was completely worn out, hot and sweaty in 10° C. I escaped upstairs and left M to deal with oma. After playing with C for a while I came back downstairs to help the oma have coffee and cake. Not long after a man arrived to take a look at the house to build a terrace. That meant I was stuck with oma all alone as C would rather be playing upstairs. Within this time the oma asked me about eight or so times where M was and told me she needed the toilet. She got really desperate switching between English and German to say “Please” which always makes me anxious as I am not strong enough to carry her onto her special chair to get her to the toilet. I called M to tell her that oma needed the loo, but M simply said she would come soon and continued talking to the man outside. The home phone and M’s mobile phone then rang non stop for a good five minutes until I evetually plucked up the courage to answer it and to do my best to explan M was not there and that she could call them back later. The oma then asked me not quite so nicely for more coffee and cake, and then shouted, “Putzen!”. I knew what putzen meant but I wasn’t quite sure why she was yelling it all of a sudden. When I asked her, she banged her fist on the table and yelled it again, gesturing towards her cup and plate. Ah. This again. She wanted me to clean up the table. Of course this is something I would do once she had left, or once everyone was finished. I spend at least two hours a day cleaning up dishes and tidying up the kitchen. But I did not want her to think she could just snap her fingers and I would have to jump. “Oma”, I said, “Ich bin kein Maid. Ich bin ein Au Pair Mädchen.” (Oma, I am not a maid. I am an Au Pair.) I didn’t know the German word for maid and I used the wrong form of negation but she seemed to understand. She asked for my hand, looking very woeful and frail, and tried to say something gently. When I kindly asked her what she wanted to say, she suddenly got angry again and demanded I clean up. “Oma,” I said firmly now, walking away with the cups, “Ich bin kein maid.” She then responded with, “Aiyaiyaiyaiyai! Bist du eine Prinzessin?”(Are you a princess?) I had really had enough of her now and it felt like forever before M came back inside. Seeing my face she said, “Ah! Poor Tennessee!” and laughed. I said I was going upstairs to do my homework and retreated to my room.
That evening M finally took oma back to her residence and X went with her. When they were still not back by 6pm I decided to reheat some food from the day before to serve C and I for dinner. After eating I began helping C with homework. In the middle of doing so, M arrived back with new clothes for C and asked what we had for dinner. After seeing that nothing was left she abruptly told X they were going out and asked me to take C to bed. So C and I finished the homework and I cleaned up the kitchen. C got bored waiting for me so I said we could play a bit before bed. After a few rounds of ‘Memory’ we brushed our teeth and I got C ready for bed. X and M didn’t come home until hours later.
So after this week I’ve come to the definite solution that my Au Pair family is ‘verrückt’ and that the oma is a mean, old fashioned pain in the arse. This does not mean that I do not enjoy living with them or that we never have good times, becuase of course we do. Every family is a little mad, whether they admit to it or try to conceal it, it’s true. It’s just another story when you have to work for a family without complaint or freedom to express your true feelings. Which is why I’ve turned to Word Press, to let out all my frustration and to inform my fam and friends back home on the struggles of Au Pair life. Thank you for reading 😉 And to my Au Pair family: should you ever read this, I apologise, but I’m sure you understand ^_^