… Stepmother from Hell continued …
(In which my host mother gangs up with a Nazi woman, I become illegal in Germany, and flights are planned to England to escape my impending doom)
In my last post I mentioned I had written an email to my Gastmutter detailing where things had gone wrong and where the contract had been violated. After looking through the requirements of Au Pairs in Germany via the Au pair platform AuPairWorld, I noticed several points that outlined which duties are not considered to be Au pair duties, but which I had in fact been required to do. Amongst very specific points such as Au pairs are not required to clean toilets, the general rule is that Au pairs are to be seen as members of the family and to be treated as such.
The following summaries the duties and experiences I had which violated the basic ethos of Au pair work:
- Cleaning toilets weekly
- Cleaning bathrooms weekly (often without any help)
- Vacuuming and mopping all the floors (alone on at least two occasions)
- Caring for an elderly grandmother
- Host mother refusing to speak German with me
- Host mother failing to assist me in finding a German class despite promising to do so
- Host mother insulting my German teacher and classmates
- Host mother verbally abusing strangers to the point that it brought me to tears
- Host mother frequently postponing the agreed time of my arrival
I read in the Au pair guidelines provided by AuPairWorld that Au pairs are actually not supposed to care for the elderly at all. So the fact that this was my main purpose shows how little my host family knew about the role of an Au pair, and thus had poor understanding of how to treat one.
After sending M the email and following it up with a phone call, she seemed to agree with me that it was best I leave, although not for the same reasons. Despite telling me several times how well I cooked, how pleased she was when I did cook because she couldn’t cook at all, and how it often tasted “so fine!”, she told me over the phone that it was actually mediocre and that actually I was a pretty bad Au pair.
I had phoned her on the Sunday and we agreed that I would come and collect my things on the Wednesday. I went with my boyfriend on the train, which took 3 hours from his student flat. We arrived at the station with empty suitcases, ready to pack up all my things and then head back home. But M had other plans…
After walking for barely 5 minutes in the direction of M’s house, my boyfriend noticed her coming around the corner in her car. I wasn’t sure whether to feel scared or grateful for a potential lift. So I acted casual and greeted her with a smile as she pulled up besides us on the street. She didn’t wind down her window, open the door, or step outside her car, so we were pretty unsure of what to do. I went to open the door to say hello, while my boyfriend headed for the boot to put away our bags, assuming she was there to give us a lift. Once we were inside the car she told us we were late, that she had been driving around looking for us because she didn’t have a key to get inside her house (I still had mine with me) and that she was late to get to another one of C’s concerts. *insert more of those creepy stepmother vibes here* The atmosphere was awkward as I tried to explain how long it takes to get to her house from where we were staying, and she seemed really distracted, giving me delayed responses accompanied by fake smiles. I knew it was an uncomfortable situation to be in – quitting a job and coming back to collect the money still owing to me, M’s contribution to my German course and my things – but she was acting so strangely that I was getting a little worried.
As soon as we arrived at her house, she thrust a piece of paper in front of me and demanded I sign it. Taken aback by the suddenness of it all, I paused for a moment trying to take it all in, staring at the paper. M then snatched it back, showing my boyfriend in the backseat that the paper just said I was quitting, pointing at the German text written on the back of several other pages. I took the pen she handed me, still trying to read what it said. Not being my first language, it took me a while to read. Without even making it to the third word, M firmly said that I did not need to read it, I just had to sign it. Not thinking much of it, believing M couldn’t really be such a bad person as to try to trick me, I began to sign it. My boyfriend in the back kept insisting I read it, doing his best to be heard through M’s constant objections that I did not need to read it. The pen was faulty, and while she looked for a new one, I began looking through the other pages. M then insisted for the third or fourth time that I did not need to read it, while my boyfriend in the back insisted I do, and me being so pressured by it all and not having a clue as to why things were so urgent and why it was so important I sign it if it really was only a declaration of my quitting, that I signed it.
M then demanded for her key back, and without even looking at her I felt like she was going to grab me. I leaped out the car and began walking towards the front door while my boyfriend got out and unpacked the empty suitcases from the boot. I got the key out, intending to give it to her in exchange for my money and what she owed towards my German course. I trustfully handed it to M, expecting her to open the door to let me collect my things. But she had another idea.
I can’t remember all the details, except that I was staring at M, waiting for her to follow me while she stood by her car, saying something. I don’t know if I actually heard anything she said, but people don’t always need words to understand a situation. She was saying something though, and I think my boyfriend was too. I think it must be my body’s way of dealing with things, but from this point on I was rather useless. I just stood there in shock, staring at M as I realised she was not going to open the door.
It all happened so suddenly. She got back in her car, mentioned something about my things being behind the house somewhere, and attempted to drive away. Out of no where my body decided to be useful and went into fight mode. Just as M was turning on the ignition, and before she could close the car door, I grabbed onto it and pulled as hard as I could to prevent her from getting away. She tried to close the door with one hand, driving away with the other, but I clung on. I remember asking,”M, what about my money? You still owe me my money!” and something along the lines of how she couldn’t do what she was doing. I have no idea what my boyfriend was doing at this point, as I was completely lost in this ridiculous mayhem that forever seems to be M’s life.
M then stopped the car and went into a full-blown stark raving mad attack, telling me I wouldn’t see another cent from her given everything she had already paid for, for me. She was acting as if I had cheated her, but Au pair insurance, language course contributions and a salary is the minimum requirement expected from host families. If she didn’t understand this then … ^^ She had a list with her “explaining” why she did not owe me any more money and why I should not be paid for the last two weeks that I had worked for her. When my boyfriend asked to look at the list, she snatched it away, crumpled it up, threw it on the floor and glared at us. She went on a rampage covering several topics, but I’ll highlight just some of the ones I picked up. As she was yelling in German, and in her dialect, I barely understood a thing. This is what I gathered from my own understanding and from what my boyfriend was willing to translate for me. She expressed:
- everything she despised about me
- everything that I had done wrong
- how she had never met anyone in her life as horrible as me
- how she she can understand why I am like I am because I was brought up in Africa and was thus obviously amongst black people, and was probably even touched by them (I mean really, this is the kind of ignorant woman I was putting up with)
- how I was now illegal in Germany
(This last bit is quite important. Unbeknownst to me, the minute I quit my position with M as her Au pair, my visa became invalid. My visa was solely dependent on my staying with her particular family. While waiting for us to arrive, she had spoken to the people at the Ausländerbehörde and discovered that as soon as I officially sign a statement to say I quit, I would become illegal, and she could do what she likes because I would have to leave the country immediately.)
She then turned on my boyfriend and personally attacked him and insulted him, then went back to insulting me, shouting and yelling and going absolutely mental while I just stared at her in shock. My body had gone back to its useless mode again, completely stunned and flabbergasted. I have never felt so attacked, so useless, so defenseless and so unsure of myself. I honestly started to question whether I was in fact the problem (which I have come to understand quite a few people in these situations do) and tried to quickly remember the last few months to see if I was being ridiculous, if M was actually right, and if I was overreacting when I had complained. Maybe things weren’t so bad? Maybe she was in fact really generous and lenient towards me? Maybe I had gone too far in telling her she had violated our contract? And the more I doubted myself, the less I stood up for myself, and the more M stomped all over me.
But what I didn’t realise at the time is that M was ready for a war, she was ready with a list of bullsh*t in her head to blaze away with while I had nothing. I was not at all expecting this ambush and had nothing ready to defend myself with. With every point she made, I had very little to rebut.
During all this my Shining Knight in Armour (honestly he saved me here) remained completely calm. He asked M several times if we could please go and sit down and talk about everything. But she was like a machine gun, firing off insults without a moment’s breath. It was almost impossible for either of us to get a single word in. At one point, my boyfriend gently put his hand on M’s shoulder, asking her to please remain calm, and she began shouting louder, saying that the neighbour’s could see everything, and began shouting at him to get his hands off of her. Honestly, it was all so ridiculous. My boyfriend then calmly said he would really appreciate it if she would show us exactly where she had put my things, and that it would be a real shame if she drove away. She calmed down considerably, and I was very impressed with the way he handled it all. However M was not prepared to give in so easily, and persisted to be a real cow.
She threatened us several times that she would call the police (for what purpose that would serve I have no idea. She was the one who drove us onto her property and began attacking us…) and yelled at us to stand clear of her car. She treated us like criminals, as if we were the ones endangering her. She could not remind my boyfriend enough of how illegal I now apparently was and did he realise how much trouble we were in. With a lot of convincing, she eventually showed us where she had put my stuff. She had broken into my room (which I had locked) and touched all my personal documents, valuables and money, and removed them from my room and left them outside. My jewelry was strewn across various bags, my sunglasses found outside of their case underneath a pile of books, my laptop unprotected under a pile of shoes and so on. This is what it looked like after we had packed it all up ready to get the train home:
We saw M drive away while we hurriedly packed everything up. Some of my things were missing and I phoned M to ask where they were. She said she couldn’t come right away as she was at C’s concert, but she would try. I had previously left a Christmas gift and card for C by the front door before we began packing. I later returned to the front of the house to put some things there that were amongst my stuff, but did not belong to me. When I did, I noticed that the gift was gone. Strange. I stood there for a while, until the dog inside began to bark. Someone must be home. I saw someone walking around, and then suddenly, M emerged. She was in there the whole time.
She left to go to her car, which she had parked down the street, and then returned to get some of my things still left in my room. (She still has some of my belongings today). “So no concert then?” my boyfriend asked. “Doch!” She replied. “And you’re very welcome to join!,” she said, with a creepily genuine smile. I’m convinced she’s mad.
In the end, we eventually got all my things packed up and dragged all the way to the train station while my fingers froze in the severe weather conditions. It took about 5 minutes of gently blowing until they eventually defrosted, each blow feeling like fire burning through my skin. It was torture. On the way there my boyfriend mentioned that he could understand why M’s husband is only separated from her. Because who would want to go through a divorce with that woman?
Prince Charming being the logical, quick thinker that he is jumped into action and asked the staff of the bakery we sat in for a telephone book and called up the Ausländerbehörde. He was afraid of what might happen if we went back to Switzerland if I was now illegal. (We had no idea that my visa depended on my staying with M, and couldn’t trust what M said). We were directed to this evil Nazi woman who I had dealt with in the beginning. She promptly (and rather horribly) told us that I was in fact illegal, I had to leave Germany immediately, and no I could not go back to Switzerland for the weekend to spend Christmas with my boyfriend’s family. She couldn’t care less how I’d find a flight, she just wanted me gone. Charming then told me he thought it would be best if I stayed there for the night, as he didn’t want me to risk going across the border. I then burst into tears, feeling like a defenseless, abandoned puppy.
Charming then called up his sister and arranged for us to stay with her and her family for the night, as she lived in Germany. After a long, and worrying 3 hour journey, we were finally some place safe where we could talk about everything and come up with a plan. I have to mention that my poor boyfriend was in the middle of exams and intended to help me move my things back to his place before continuing with his studies that night. The poor guy didn’t get a chance until the following week…
Early the next morning we went to the local Ausländerbehörde to inquire about what we should do. They said I had to ask my own local Ausländerbehörde where I Au paired as they knew the situation better. So we had to call back the afore mentioned evil woman and explain that as I was registered in that town it was their responsibility to help us. Nazi woman then told us I was no longer registered, as M had taken it upon herself to deregister me. *Literal shock and horror vibes here* It is totally illegal to be living in Germany without being registered somewhere. What’s more, people cannot deregister other people. On one hand I was glad that I would not have to go back to that town to get help from Frau Nazi, but on the other hand I was now in more trouble. In the end, the very lovely and helpful people of the town we were currently in let me register there, giving us all the info they could. Without saying much, they helped Charming and I come to the solution that I should fly to England.
Being an Australian citizen, I am entitled to be in the Schengen area (which includes Germany and Switzerland) for 3 months for every 6 month period. That meant, if I left the Schengen area and then reentered it, I would start all over on my 3 month holiday visa. I quickly called up my old school friend who was now living in England to ask if I could stay a night with her, to prevent me from being illegal in Germany. She was amazing, offering to fetch me from the airport and stay a night at her place. I haven’t seen her in yonks so it was wonderful to still have that support and connection (thanks girl! ♡). Just as I was about to click the pay button on EasyJet, Charming suddenly appeared (still on the phone seeking help ) urgently telling me not to book the flight.
Charming has a friend in the Swiss border control (what better connection could we have had?) and had spoken to him at great length about the situation. He had discovered that although my visa may now be invalid, it did not make me illegal. And although going to England and returning would have worked, it wasn’t necessary. From the date that my visa becomes invalid is the date that the holiday visa kicks in. *Phewwww!* Thank you parents for my Aussie passport!
There were many nasty details in between, particularly between Nazi woman and I, with her speaking German at full speed, giving us false information, telling me by my full name that I was most definitely illegal in the country, telling me to leave immediately, scaring the crap out of me and causing poor Charming and I to stress out and have nervous breakdowns. But I won’t bore you with that. The good news is we had people around us that loved us and cared about us enough to help us through this horrendous time. Charming’s sister and her family provided us with so much support and practical help, his parents prayed for us, my poor parents worried about us back in Aus, my friends in Europe who were aware of the situation offered me much comfort (sorry to those of you back home whom I did not tell), my grandma back in Africa reacted humorously to all the drama, and in general I received overwhelming love from people across the globe. But most important was my Knight in Shining Armour – I honestly would have perished before M’s firey fumes and later in the mayhem of its repercussions if it weren’t for him defending me, supporting me, helping me, even thinking and acting for me when my brain and body went to mush and were completely useless. Tausend Dank ♡
M has still not payed me, nor her portion owing towards my language course, and I later discovered that she had not even insured me for the last few weeks that I was working for her. She has proved to be an awful employer, acting both unjustly and illegally, causing me much grief and harm. It took me several weeks to recover from the aftermath, but I have learned a big lesson: Confidence is silent, insecurities are loud. M’s behaviour proved to me that she is far more damaged and hurt than I was. She is the one that needs help. She is the one that lacks support, love, confidence and good relationships. And I feel sorry for her. She is lost and broken, and tried to hurt me to get back at me for the truths I exposed in her life. At least that’s how I see things now. I, on the other hand, despite suffering from her wrath, have learned that I am loved. I have good relationships and true friends. And most importantly, I had God. He is always by my side. He is always taking care of me. Like a diamond, He made me stronger through the pressures of this experience, and before it became too much, he surrounded me with people who love me. After everything that happened this children’s Sunday school song suddenly popped into my head: “We are weak, but He is strong.”
It seems M will never admit to her wrongs, apologise or try to make things right. M was and seemingly always will be destructive to herself and the people around her. So all I have to say to that is…