Shopping in Manhattan? Walk in Queens? Or just chill with friends in Central Park? It’s 10:30 a.m. at Eva’s in New York. The 22-year-old Frenchwoman is spoiled for choice to occupy her “break” until 2:45 p.m. “Maybe I’ll just rest, call my parents… before picking up the girls from school,” smiles the young woman, originally from Seine-et-Marne. For two months, Eva has been an au pair with Raj and Anthony, an American couple, parents of twins Leia and Nia, 5 years old.
“Applications for an au pair placement in September have just opened”, until August, tells us Sophie Hertzog, president of Ufaap (French Union of Au Pair Associations), which brings together a dozen approved associations. Like Eva, there are 6,500 French people under the age of 30 who are currently placed in the world, assesses the boss of Ufaap.
A concept that has existed for thirty years: fed, housed, sometimes paid, in a foreign country, in exchange for childcare. After a Covid period where things froze, the system is experiencing a clear progression: in the United States alone – destination number one – there are 1,400 young people from France, against 402 in 2021, according to figures provided by the Department of States (the Department of State, the equivalent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Before the crisis, it was 1,200.
80% girls, only 20% boys
“At first, I dreamed more of Australia, but I heard that there were a lot of French people there. I wanted a change of scenery, to discover something else, to take a break after a prep that I didn’t really like and a hesitation about what to do next. In short, I was lost”, explains Eva from the room lent by the family which welcomes her for a year.
The selection criteria are quite strict: you must have a high school diploma, a driving license and a decent level of English. “You also need experience of at least 500 hours of childcare,” says Sophie Hertzog. Because childcare is the main purpose of the contracts signed with au pairs. “That’s why there are 80% girls, only 20% boys. Around the world, we trust girls more for this, ”decrypts Ufaap.
Then there are the rules set by the family itself. “Me, during the week, I don’t have the right to come home after midnight, notes Eva. They want me to be operational for getting up early around 7 a.m. Then the day goes on. “You have to dress them, then take them to school where they have breakfast. I come home and there, I have household chores: put away the laundry, clean their room. I only take care of what concerns the children, I don’t touch the parents’ business”, explains Eva. She is paid for this: 200 dollars a week, for 40 hours worked. Plus a 72 hour credit for language or music lessons.
Sometimes it’s culture shock. “They like me to talk to them about France, I cook from time to time and above all, that I speak French to the girls. For my part, I discover a way of doing things that I did not know. Like… washing strawberries by soaking them in water for ten minutes. Or turn on the air conditioning when it’s 5 degrees outside! I try to discuss, but in the end, I do as they want — they are at home. But they are often sick,” continues Eva. The change of scenery is total, she swears: “Culturally, it is without equal. We are in total immersion, ”says the one who does not yet know if she will renew the experience for a year. In any case, the device is acclaimed. According to Sophie Hertzog, the rate of premature return to France is around 10%, “and generally for an unforeseen family event, rather than homesickness”.