Monday, August 29, 2011


I feel like I should update after my last super emo post. That same night I figured I should just suck it up and lay my demands out on the table, so I stayed up late writing a 2-page word document in German of what I thought all my responsibilities were and also quoted my contract and and wrote out some suggestions for how I thought the different clauses should play out in real life. The next morning I brought my computer upstairs and presented it to my host Mom for discussion. We ended up having a pretty good conversation, where I brought up several important things:

I'm supposed to get four evenings off a week. My entire first week I worked every night (including the weekend) until at least 8:30pm. Host Mom said she didn't know that was in there. She printed it off the internet, but apparently didn't read it. Anyway, now I'm definitely going to make sure and peace out after Abendbrot four times a week and forego getting beaten up and verbally abused by the 5-year old (who continues to call me "Opa", which means "Grandpa").

I also accrue 2 days paid vacation time a month, so 24 days for the year. This means I am so going to Brighton and London to visit my friends and wherever else calls to me!

If I work an extra night I get another night off, or an extra night off the next week.

Basically the main consensus was that if I feel like I'm working too much or over my 30 hours, I should just say so and they'll sort it out. That's good, I guess, but I really wish they would keep track of it as it puts me in a sort of awkward position to be like, "hey, I'm tired of this and you keep giving me too much stuff to do, bye!" I am happy to hear that they respect my need for me-time, however.

Anyway, I went out into Berlin Friday and Sunday and that was good. I've sort of realized that I generally feel the craziest when I'm here in Kleinmachnow with not much to do. It's definitely beautiful here, but I feel really isolated from the world, especially during my awkward hours off in the middle of the day when no one else is free. I want to be in the hustle and bustle of the city with other people my age being social! I will definitely be happy when my German course starts October 10th, as maybe then I'll feel like I actually have some purpose to my life besides watching every single episode of "So You Think You Can Dance" on the internet. Also, I seriously need to make friends. Preferably friends who aren't going to leave in 5 minutes and actually live here. Or rather, a nice balance of au-pair + other friends, as it is nice to be able to vent with other au-pairs in the same situation as me. I'm just so tired of having to re-make friends every year after 6 years of switching countries and I really do want to stay here and make this my home somehow.

Speaking of, I really need to find more than one Master's program to apply to in the Berlin-area! Ahhh!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

One Week In


Things that I want:

1. A written list/schedule of what I'm supposed to be doing every day, so I have some sort of structure and know what is expected of me.

2. To know what days/times I have off more than 1-2 days before so I can actually make plans with my friends and not feel so isolated out in the suburbs.

I've been here a week and these things are really stressing me out. Though I may just be interpreting her intonation wrong since I don't always understand 100% what my host Mom is saying in German, I feel like she sometimes thinks I'm a bit dumb for not doing something she told me days ago in a list with 10 other things. Usually I'm given a long verbal list of all the things I might have to do, but sometimes she just does them and sometimes she is all "I'm late for work you really need to brush his teeth with him!" How am I supposed to know what I should be doing if sometimes I'm asked to do it and sometimes it's done by somebody else and no one says anything to me? I've asked for the past several days if we could sit down and write down what exactly my responsibilities are and when I need to do them, so I'm not always so shell-shocked, but no one seems to ever have time. We were also supposed to talk about my au-pair contract because there's a lot of things written in it about how many nights off and days off I should be getting and can request off, that I'm pretty sure I'm not currently getting. Mostly I just need to know when I'm actually supposed to be working so I'm not always following people around, stressed that I should be doing something.

I'm supposed to be in charge of getting the 5-year old dressed and brushing his teeth in the morning and sometimes getting him ready for bed. I have not even once been able to successfully get him to brush his teeth. Every single time he runs away, grabs a toy, hides. I take the toy away, he screams at the top of his lungs and slaps me. I say "Nein! Du darfst nicht mich schlagen!" in my best stern voice and hold his hands, let go, and he slaps me again. Yesterday I got spit in the face and also hit in the face with a small plunger. When I try to make him food after school he will purposely grab a bottle of water and pour it on the floor in front of me. I'm trying really hard not to let it get to me and hold it against him, but I can't help but dread when he comes home from school and really do not enjoy his company. At least the parents back up whatever I say to him, but if this doesn't get better in a few weeks I think I'm going to seek other employment because I can't deal with this for a year. They want me to eventually bike with him alone to his kindergarten, but he absolutely does not listen to me so I'm terrified he'll just bike into the middle of the road in front of a car with me, not to mention I'm still not super fast on my bike as I'm not used to biking all the time, so while I totally don't mind riding the bike and enjoy it, I can't keep up with him and he doesn't listen if I say to slow down. It's just frustrating because the Mom tells me to simply take his toy away and pick him up, but it's not so easy when he's racing around a couch, kicking, slapping and spitting at me.

Luckily the other kids are fine, sometimes they want to watch TV a bit longer and I have to turn it off on them, but they generally listen to reason or will joke around for 5 minutes and then do what they're told. I knew going in I didn't have much experience with the really young kids, but I didn't think it would be this bad.

I'm at a low point and I'm going to give it a month to see if I feel better about everything. I'm just really frustrated and feel like I have no control over anything and no ability to have my own life. I feel like I have a lot of sporadic free time during the day, but never quality free time where I can actually meet with people and be social. I don't need to always be out partying, but I can't always just sit here alone as it makes me feel a bit trapped. I just found out the family's first au-pair only stayed 3 months. The most recent stayed a year, but it seems she didn't really go out much as the host family seemed really surprised that I wanted to go to a club with my friends on September 3rd and said I'd probably have to walk the dog, even if I come back at 3am, as they go out sailing that day (or something). Their last au-pair is married and still lives here, so maybe that explains it.

We'll see. I really don't want to have to leave, but if I end up continuing to feel so crazy I might have to. I've only been here a week, so I imagine it will get better. Besides the 5 year-old and the family not being very good at clearly delegating responsibilities, things are good. They let me get whatever food I want from the store, are paying for German classes all year even though they don't have to, I get to be really active and feel generally pretty healthy, I like the breakfast and Abendbrot routine. The Dad taught me how to fix my flat tire on my bike this morning and while it's sort of isolating out here, it is beautiful and I like all the bike paths. I like their dog, taking her for walks and speaking Dog-German (yesterday I let her off the leash and she ran in someone's house, oops) and I like how the oldest son is very understanding and takes time to explain to me how things in the family work and what I should be doing, tells me when he wants time alone to do his stuff, etc. The fact that I speak German from mornings to evenings is very helpful too, as I do really need to be fluent by the end of the year. I just really need more of a balance between work and life and to be given a better idea of what I should be doing and a more solid schedule. I know the family is stressed in the morning getting ready and running around between afternoon activities, but I get stressed because I feel like they think I suck since everything is always told to me quickly as a side-comment.

So there you have it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Living in the German Suburbs

So I live in Kleinmachnow, a short bike ride from Zehlendorf, about 20-25 minutes from Berlin center. I'm definitely not in the center of all the action. Okay, I'm actually in German-yuppie land where all the rich families live, but I've been coming up with a list of pros to this. Namely:

One - I can get all my awkward biking skills up to par before all the cool people in Berlin see me. Two days ago I almost hit a dog on the bike path and had to come to a screeching halt. Yesterday I almost hit an old German couple because they didn't hear me yell "Entschuldigung!". I should probably buy a bell.

Two - I can become a runner before all the cool people in Berlin see me being lapped by little old grannies. I've been meaning to start running for awhile, but saying that I am currently more of a walker with short running breaks, I did not want to make an ass of myself in Northampton this year with all the crazy running people who run even if it's thunderstorming outside. Yesterday morning I took a path through the woods that ran along a river, past horses and chickens. You can't really go wrong with that. We'll ignore the fact that many middle-aged women and an old couple lapped me. You win some, you lose some. I will try to keep it up and get better. When I came home I immediately chugged apple juice and ate bread with vegan nutella smeared all over it and my host Mom and her friend laughed at me. The bread had WHOLE wheat berries in it…healthy!

Au-Pairing is definitely an interesting job and I've been very up and down with it. Sometimes I love it and think I'm doing a great job, other times I feel like I'm fucking everything up and the host family hates me (Example A: Setting off the house alarm and having the host Mom discover a pile of puke in the house because I let the dog eat grass during a walk, all within a 1-minute time span). I imagine that's normal though. The kids are generally very good and the oldest often helps me with the others and explains how things work. I'm learning how to deal with the five year old, as most of my experience is with older children so I have NO idea how to work with the little ones. He already shot me between the eyes with a nerf gun, smacked me, called me a man (which I didn't even realize until the Dad yelled at him), hit me in the eye with a foam sword, and tried to rip my clothes off in front of his parents. I never knew getting someone to go to bed and brush their teeth could be so difficult, but this will hopefully get better once he stops testing me. I hope I learn quickly how to deal with him better, as it is a bit embarrassing having a 5-year old own me on the daily.

Yesterday I was taking a shower and all of a sudden I hear someone saying "Hello! Hello!" I turn around, completely naked and in the midst of shaving, and another one of the kids is staring at me. I either didn't lock the door correctly or they have a key. Regardless, I'm not sure how that meant "Come in!". My German also doesn't work in panic situations, so after yelling "Close the door! Close the door!" I just got a blank look and more extended seconds of awkwardness, but eventually I got to continue my shower, albeit a bit shellshocked. So yes, the kids have already seen me naked and it's only my fourth day.

Other fun moments involve me putting my shoes against the wall neatly and finding the dog spooning one of them twice in the same day. Also, a conversation with the oldest (12 years) that went something like this:

J: *blah blah blah things in Berliner Deutsch I don't understand*
J: Die waren Berliner Schimpfworte. Du weisst keine Schimpfworte auf Deutsch.
Me: Weiss ich doch, aber ich kann kein Berliner Deutsch.
J: Ich weiss Englische Schimpfworte…"Fuck You"
Me: No, we do NOT say that.


I was really afraid my German would be horrible when I got here as I haven't spoken any German all summer, but it came from some crevice of my brain and I've basically been speaking German from when I wake up to when I go to bed. For the first time I actually notice myself remembering conversations in German, which is interesting as earlier even if my conversation was in German I'd remember it in English. I feel like I'm learning so much everyday and am much more comfortable speaking it, even to new guests that come in the house and the kids' friends, etc. The only time it's difficult is when I'm trying to disciple the kids and their grammar is better than mine.

Starting in October I'm beginning a C1 level German class that meets four days a week from Monday to Thursday from 9am to 1pm. Holy crap. It might kill me, but one of my priorities really is to become fluent and I should be able to finish all the classes this year, thereby finishing all the levels. It's crazy that I took French 8 years and can't speak it at all, but German a bit less than a year and a half and I'm conversing with my host family solely in German. I'm going to have no life when it starts, however.

Currently sitting at Goodies in Berlin. My host Mom had work in Berlin today so she drove me in with her, which was nice. I need to buy a monthly ticket though as I've already spent a fortune on tickets for transportation within Berlin. Already stocked on on instant noodles at the Asian supermarket and am maybe going to the vegan store in Kreuzberg later to get some more essentials to bring back to the suburbs. Nom!

Bis bald!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Oh hai Deutschland

After an summer camp filled summer at Bryn Mawr College and Princeton University, I just arrived in Kleinmachnow, Germany, which is right outside Berlin, and where I'll be spending the year as an au-pair! Get ready for some updates to this here blog now that I'm back abroad! So far I've toured my family's giant beautiful house and have unpacked my room. They even gave me my own bathroom! Tonight I'm going to take a test at a language school to see what level of German I am and enroll in a German class. I've been speaking to the family in German over e-mail, but I was afraid my spoken German would be completely gone when I got off the plane. Turns out it was hiding somewhere in a corner as I just spewed out lots of things for a couple hours. Whew. Pretty sure all genders and cases have been thrown to the wind, however. Anyway, here's to hoping I get in an advanced course!

Still haven't met the kids, but I imagine they get off school soon. They are all boys and I believe they are 5, 9 and 12. I was greeted by handmade signs from them in my room, so hopefully they will like me!

It still hasn't hit me that I'm in Germany again. Finally. I think I feel more normal than I felt this entire year. I think I've just mastered the art of packing and getting my way around airports. I managed to only get hit with a $25 fine for being 21 pounds over the weight limit! I win! While my suitcase was heavy, I managed to get here with only one suitcase and a backpack. I have come a long way. A little over a year ago I was lugging two giant heavy backpacks back to America. Have I learned my lesson?

Anyway, it's nice to be excited about life again!

Bis bald!