Tag Archives: Europe

Au no Fair!

2 Aug

My 6 week au pairing experience was drastically cut short, ending after just 10 days. If you read my first post about au pairing you would have read what a great time I was having, blissfully unaware of any apparent discomfort I was causing the family. I want to be respectful and not use the family’s real names so for the purpose of this post I’m going to give them all pseudonyms. The Daughter will be ‘Adriana’, Mother – ‘Carla’, Father – ‘Mario’, (I know some of you are bound to imagine him as Nintendo’s Mario with a thick black moustache but so be it), and the son, ‘Fabio’.

Things began taking a bad turn after just a week. A Thursday evening meal ended with me being quite teary and emotional, after being told that things were awkward and there was a ‘problem’, of which I was at the centre of. I sat at the end of the dinner table, as they spoke in vibrant Italian, their foreheads wrinkled. Their body language hinted it was something serious but of course it was completely undecipherable by me. Their expressive sounds were made intelligible, as usual, by their Father, Mario’s, translation. I can’t remember word-for-word what was said and the general dialogue was delivered somewhat fractured due to his wife’s and daughters’ continued interjections and his faltered English. The general message was along the lines of ‘the children don’t understand you, both my wife and daughter feel uncomfortable, it’s not working’.  Adriana and Carla continued to try to add to his translation.  As each bit of information was relayed in slightly broken English it delivered another slight blow to my bubble, in which I had thought everything had being going well.  It’s a little bizarre that the main issue seemed to be communication when they had deliberately sought out an English speaking au pair; it’s not as though I tricked them into thinking I spoke Italian. I couldn’t even if I had wanted to. The daughter’s English was very basic which made conversation challenging but surely that’s the point? I made gestures, drew pictures, and used Google translate to get what I needed across. She had an English textbook that we went through a couple of afternoons but I didn’t want to force her to do it if she didn’t want to, I don’t want to become the enemy. In fact, this was reiterated in the conversation when the father translated that she didn’t want to be doing a textbook like school work. I had brought children’s books with me. So far we had gone through ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ together, I drew the words and looked up translations to aid her, but she seemed exasperated as though it was too challenging. Ideally, the parents would have been understanding, ‘yes it is challenging’, but encouraging – ‘keep trying’.

Instead the Father concluded with, “How can you fix this problem?” It sounded like he was decisively directing all the blame onto me. I wasn’t sure how to answer and the table seemed to stretch out before me as though adding greater distance between ‘me’, the foreigner, and ‘them’, the family. In that moment, I felt very alone. I apologised, but for what? I wasn’t sure. I felt I had tried my best but agreed I would try harder. We had been to the park, painted, had Fifa tournaments, played ‘Guess Who’, I did English homework with Adriana, as well as getting food shopping and preparing a simple lunch. We hashed out a vague plan of how to ‘fix’ things; I was to do more activities with the children and not only talk more, but to be more determined in my approach to talk to Adriana, (i.e. be more repetitive and do whatever possible until Adriana successfully understood my attempts to make conversation). The Mother, Carla, who I had tried and failed to manage simple conversation with due to her minimal response, upon seeing me well-up, tried to comfort me with a hug. Her affection didn’t go unappreciated at the time, but in hindsight it now seems, as harsh as it might sound, a little weird, since it was she, who decided, less than four full days later, that I should leave.

The next day, I had planned to go to the small nearby park again on the advice that I should be doing more activities with the children. However, due to a misunderstanding, the daughter called her Grandparents and arranged for us to go round to play ping-pong as we had done all together, parents included, one afternoon earlier in the week. I didn’t mind of course, the Grandmother, Mother to the children’s Dad was especially nice. Her English wasn’t great but her effort and perseverance in trying to talk to me, made her extremely likable. I only wish the daughter and Mother had tried half as hard as she did. I searched my memory of Italian words so I was able to express my gratitude and tell her how kind I thought she was. It probably didn’t sound all too melodic, to say the least, but I managed to get my message across.

-On a side note, another misunderstanding led me to spending an afternoon wandering around the town of Macerata alone despite me believing she would be accompanying me. I’m independent enough to enjoy my own company a while I just hadn’t expected it. However, she did kindly drive me into town, point me in the right direction and even provided me with a guidebook. When I explained the misunderstanding to Mario, it transpired that, (roughly translated), she hadn’t wished to ‘cramp my style’. In actual fact, I had been looking forward to us going around town and even imagined us having lunch together in a cafe, as I would my own Grandma.

– Friday seemed pretty successful. The kids enjoyed playing ping-pong with their Grandad and we ate a nice lunch. On the other hand, the children’s habit of turning on the TV in the kitchen during lunch continued. It seemed like a happy distraction from having to try to engage with the stranger in the room – me. I hated being a killjoy but due to the previous night’s conversation, I suggested to the daughter that maybe we should talk instead, reminding her that her Dad had wanted us to talk more. Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears. She half-shrugged and told me she hadn’t seen the episode before. I mentioned it to Mario when he was home from work, as I didn’t want it to lead to me feeling ganged up on again. Yet, he said it was fine, let them watch TV.  I was getting mixed messages but didn’t want to push the point. I was led to believe that I was there, primarily, to help Adrianna with her English, however after less than a week, she didn’t seem too enamoured with the idea of learning English whatsoever. When I suggested going through her English textbook again she said ‘no’. Again, I didn’t want to force her. Also, she often gave up quickly when she thought trying to explain something seemed like too much of a challenge or would take too much effort. It’s an entirely different dynamic to what I had done in Korea, I was not there to be a figure of authority like a teacher so didn’t try to be, I tried to be their friend but without conversation it was difficult.

I felt bad for the young boy, Fabio, he was full of energy and enthusiasm. I actually think I could have gotten more success teaching him the odd phrase or the lyrics to an English song than his sister, but the parent’s only wanted me to focus on the daughter’s English. They said I shouldn’t try to teach him, instead leave him to his own devices on his Playstation as he was ‘timido’, shy.  This seemed bizarre to me and entirely contradictory, as Fabio was anything but in my company, he would dance around the living room with more moves and mischief than King Louis, of Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’. He was a little cutie. I made him giggle as we had staring competitions, pulled faces at one another and I’d mess up his hair affectionately.

That’s not to say the girl wasn’t nice, she was, she just wasn’t motivated. When she explained to her Dad the following Monday that she didn’t always understand me, which I think is normal when two people of different languages are talking to one another, it was translated as though it was a fault with me, my personality. I was told I needed to be ‘more friendly’ when I don’t believe I was at all unfriendly. Mario said I needed to ‘smile more’ and that I was ‘too serious’. I was actually much more smiley than usual, but they had seemed to have taken my natural expression and odd furrowing of the brows when I was trying to decipher what was being said in Italian, as some kind of, I don’t know, anger…In fact, I specifically remember the Dad telling me I scared them. I can honestly say I never raised my voice to them once; I never even wag my finger at them.

The only telling off I gave them, if you can call it that, was when I asked them to get dressed before their Father came home for lunch. I didn’t get cross; I asked them once. Adriana bluntly replied ‘NO’.  I asked again five minutes later. I again she flatly replied ‘NO’. Leaving a little more time, (this was all whilst I was in the middle of making lunch.) Again, she replied ‘NO’. The fourth time, I went over to the Playstation and said that if they didn’t go to put their clothes on, (I was pointing at my own clothes and their pyjamas, to demonstrate what I meant), that I would turn the Playstation off. Again, Adriana replied, ‘NO’.  I didn’t want to, but I know from experience with my younger sister, that if you don’t follow-through on your threats then you rarely expect to ever garner any respect or have any co-operation from kids. I counted to five, they looked at me as though they didn’t think I would, but I did – I turned off the Playstation. Little Fabio whaled and they both stomped off to get changed. This was all a big mistake, to my surprise, Mario said I should have left them to stay in their pyjamas all day if they wished. That was a little frustrating, it made me the ‘bad guy’, the enemy.

I would describe the parents as quite lenient, very loving, but very lenient. The kids went to bed the same time as their parents and they watched kids TV until 10.30 most nights. They weren’t made to eat vegetables if they didn’t want to. I’m not criticising their parenting it just meant that the daughter knew that she only had to do what she felt like doing, and speaking in English, by the end of the first week, was NOT something she felt like doing. At least, that’s the impression she gave. Of course, as far as she and her parents were concerned, that was my fault.

Pretty much every conversation with the parents, (mainly the Dad, since he was the only one who spoke in English), about how things were going was a re-hashing of the same conversation of the first the one, on the Thursday previous, and with each conversation it made a small issue bigger. What can make an uncomfortable situation worse is talking about how uncomfortable it is. I think it’s reasonable to expect a certain level of awkwardness if you invite a stranger who doesn’t speak your own language to live with you into your home to take care of your kids, but it takes time.  Usually the awkwardness would go unmentioned. Instead it was discussed at length turning it into a much bigger issue. Mario kept bringing it up, probably out of concern – I don’t doubt that he had good intentions, but it just made things worse. I was determined to not let it get me down, I reassured him that I was happy, I hadn’t given up if they hadn’t, and that I was genuinely doing my best to make it work.

Despite me treating each day as a new day, putting their concerns out of my mind and pulling all my usual kids repertoire out of the bag: playing frisbee, football, making silly faces, singing songs, telling jokes, drawing numerous cartoons, showing them how to do origami and performing many magic tricks, (I can literally make a handkerchief disappear – what’s not to love about that?), it all went to pieces.

One day, which turned out to be my last day, I was playing volleyball with the kids on the beach at our usual spot, by the rented sun loungers when a woman from the cafe a few meters away, called the daughter’s name. It was usual for Carla or Mario to call the daughter and check in every 45 minutes or so to see how things were going. However, this time Adriana hadn’t heard her phone ringing whilst we were playing. She missed her Mother’s call. Anyway, she spoke to the Mum via the cafe phone and reassured her that everything was fine. However, when we returned to the apartment, after I set the table for lunch and the kids played FIFA on Playstation whilst we waited for their Dad to join us, things went from bad to worse. First, the Dad dived into yet another conversation about his concerns, all pretty much the same as before. Then his mobile rang. It was his wife, Carla. She crying, saying she was beside herself with worry he told me, she said she “couldn’t trust me and wanted me to leave as soon as possible”. Some painfully awkward hours later, (I hid in my room the best part of it), I was on a plane back to the sunny UK.

And so that’s it. My au pairing experience came to a sudden end. Would I au pair again? Probably not. Not because of that particular experience, every family is different and I know people who have had great au pairing experiences. However, in September I’ll be training to be a teacher. My summer holidays will be precious and I’ll have money to spend making it count. There are still so many places I want to see and things I want to do. I have four weeks left before I have to commit completely to my PGCE and write off my social life for around ten months. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy myself.

Macerata

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I’m sorry about these au pairing titles but for some reason, as cringe-worthy as they are, they really tickle me.

Oh No Pair!

2 Aug

My au pairing experience turned into a bit of a disaster. I’ve ‘ummed’ and ‘arred’ about whether or not to write a post about it. I told the Father of the family about my blog and he’d visited the page. He even thanked me for the nice things I had said about his family in my first post about au pairing. When things started falling apart, he told me he had checked to see if I had wrote about it online, which left me in two-minds about whether or not I should.

I’ve tried to be as accurate and honest as possible about the experience, but ‘at the end of the day’, (Jeremy Kyle contestants have ruined this phrase for ever!), I don’t feel I have done anything wrong. By excluding it from my blog, and leaving my previous post without an ending, it would feel to me as though I am ashamed, when in fact I have nothing to be ashamed of. I think it’s only fair to be honest about my experience.

All too often people have an online persona, especially on Facebook, which shows their life to be one amazing party or delicious Pizza Express meal to the next. I’m not saying I don’t have an online persona to some extent, (we all pick profile pictures that make us look the best etc), I just wanted to be honest in my blog and show the good and the bad. Life has moments that kick you in the metaphorical balls sometimes; its how you roll with it that counts. As it happens, I think I’ve rolled quite well. I turned being sacked and deported (excuse the hyperbole, poetic license, INNIT BIATCHES!) into a lovely family trip between my Dad’s place and my Aunties, catching up with my adorable cousins and siblings in what happened to be even better weather than I’d had in Italy. Us, English, have been uniquely treated to some amazing weather lately. I feel dead lucky to have a lovely family that picked me up, both in the metaphorical sense and literally, in the case of my auntie, from the Stansted airport. My boyfriend was ever-dependable in his support and my Mam, who I’m eternally grateful – let me know that she would have no problems bailing me out and handing me a get-out-of-jail-free-card in the form of a plane ticket if it all went pear-shaped. Luckily, the family was just-to-say reasonable enough in purchasing the flight home instead. So my next post about how it all went wrong is written and ready to post. It will be up tomorrow.

Sun in London with my Dad

Sun in London with my Dad

Voting UKIP

23 May

If anyone could make me support UKIP it would be their General Secretary, Jonathan Arnott. He wouldn’t make a pretty postcard, his favourite pastime according to his twitter account is taking part in chess tournaments and he’s a maths teacher. I’m not a fan of chess, UKIP or maths, so he wasn’t off to a great start. However, after meeting him, hearing him speak, and chatting with him for almost an hour, he’s won me over.

 

Last week, I went to a party meeting/conference/whatever. I’m not sure what you’d call it, it was basically a handful of over forties, but mostly over fifties, congregating in a pub in Redcar. (I was by far the youngest there.) It had two main UKIP speakers; Jonathan Arnott and Ray Finch, both of which, are MEP candidates. The former for the South East and the latter for the North East.

Cleveland Bay Pub

 

Finch was described at the event as being “Nigel Farage’s right-hand man”. He was a Scouser with a sense of humour. He made a couple of funny jokes but he didn’t say anything that surprised me of a UKIP MEP candidate. He wasn’t a bad speaker, but he wasn’t that thought-provoking either.

Jonathan Arnott, on the other hand, was much more impressive. His answers were balanced and appeared steeped in knowledge. When the floor was open to questions, someone asked him why is it was that immigrants pass through France to come to the UK. I thought he’d give the obvious UKIP response; something along the lines of ‘because they know they can take advantage of our welfare system’, but he didn’t. Instead, he said he thought it was most likely because most foreigners second language is English. English is an international language so it made more sense to go somewhere you can speak the language. ‘Of course! It makes perfect sense. Why hadn’t I ever thought of that?’ I thought to myself. He spoke also of the common-wealth, how Iceland’s, Norway’s and Switzerland’s non-EU position had been advantageous for them and so therefore could be for us, of the Lisbon Treaty going ahead; despite the Conservative’s promise to give us a referendum on it etc. The only thing I would say, is that he did what a lot of politicians do, and went on too much about how the other parties keep slagging them off. Of course they slag you off, you slag them off, you all slag each other off! If they were in agreement with all your policies it’d wouldn’t make sense to have separate parties, would it? There was talk from both Arnott and Finch that suggested the Media was some kind of conspiracy against them. I’m not sure about that one, like I said in my previous post Nigel Farage has had loads of airtime on TV’s Question Time. Farage and his party have been caught saying many things it would be almost impossible not to report, for lack of entertainment, if nothing else. Plus, the rise in popularity of a fringe party like this is unprecedented, they’re bound to get attention.

Jonathan Arnott came and sat with me and some of my family once the speeches came to a close. I think it struck him that I was quite sceptical about UKIP, possibly the fact that I didn’t clap every time Finch or he had finished speaking, or it may have been my facial expressions. (I have quite telling facial expressions, so I’m told.) I asked him questions which I was afraid to voice out-loud in a pub surrounded by avid UKIP supporters. I told him that I found it worrying the amount of members with abhorrent racist views that have been rearing their heads in the media lately, that I have concerns that coming out of the EU would limit my options to live or travel abroad, that I volunteer part-time helping refugees and immigrants to speak English, that I feel more should be done to  he to help immigrants and ethnic minorities integrate into British society, I asked him why UKIP have such bad attendance in EU parliament…He answered all my questions and confronted all my concerns and more. His thoughts and opinions were reassuring. All his responses were coherent, logical and very well informed. I was amazed actually.

The question about UKIP’s attendance in EU parliament was a question Nigel Farage was asked on Question Time just days before this event. Farage said something along the lines of, ‘we’re damned if we do, we’re damned if we don’t’. I can see why he would say that – they should have good attendance because they’ve been voted in, yet at t,he same time, it seems hypocritical for them to attend a parliament they want out of. However, I didn’t agree with this stand point at all. Surely, having been voted in, then their whole purpose, as MEP’s of UKIP, would be to stop any legislation coming through which they believe, and their party believes, to be detrimental to the UK? The way I saw it was – if they’re not their to vote against it, then what’s the point in voting them in in the first place? Jonathan Arnott explained, partly in his speech and partly in his conversation with me, was that there were two different types of EU meetings. Some, in which, you merely sit and listen with little to no input. These meetings, he told me, you get paid something like 300 Euros  just to attend. He said he’d been told that they were a waste of time, but said that if he were to be voted in as MEP, he would attend the first couple to form his own opinion. The other kind of meeting is a one in which you can vote. Those, Arnott said, were the ones that they always attend. He then did a bit of opposition party bashing, asking how often I thought David Cameron and Nick Clegg attended EU parliament. On the whole though, his response was far better than Farage’s and made a lot more sense. It made their attendance, or lack thereof, sound reasonable. He didn’t come across as contrived and wasn’t as evasive or as convoluted in his answering of questions as most politicians are. He seemed, dare I say it, honest. 

What was also very enlightening, was a text Arnott said he had received from a big pharmaceutical company. I think he said which one, but my memories fails me. The company had invited him to a big conference in a Hotel in a European city, it could have been Zurich, but again, I can’t be sure. He’d obviously been given the invitation in anticipation for him being elected. He said it’d most probably be  the kind of affair where they would ply you with fancy free champagne in an effort to persuade him to vote in their favour in European parliament, if he were to be elected. He said he wouldn’t be attending, he was disproving of the entire nature of it, but I did find it a little disconcerting that this is what happens in European politics. I’m probably very naive to think it wouldn’t though. Where there is power, there closely follows corruption.

Whilst he was sat with us, a relative asked him what he thought about the recent furore in the media over Halal meat being sold unknowingly to British consumers. He said he thinks that supermarkets should be transparent in regards to the products they sell, so that consumers is aware of what their buying; clearly a fair point. I mean, we don’t need a photo of the abattoir on the packet or anything, but something on the packaging ought to indicate whether or not it had been killed in-line with Islamic guidelines or not. Arnott said he’s been told by a friend of his, who had visited a Kosher abattoir, that although they killed the animal in a similar way, (by slitting it’s throat and allowing the blood to drain away), that it was done, humanely – killing the animal almost instantly and very hygienically. Therefore, he concluded that we should look into how Kosher animals are killed and see if there is a way that it could also meet Islamic guidelines too, and still keep it as humane as possible. He also made a point of mentioning that at present, there is no official law in the UK that states how animals should be killed, despite it being most common to stun the animal first. Someone interjected at this point, I don’t think they’d had heard or had taken in the full extent of the conversation. They came across quite angry, forcefully saying that he didn’t think that THEY should be able to overrule British law.  More was said by the man, but in effect, he was saying that THEY, (they being Muslims or those from Islamic countries), shouldn’t be able to come over here and enforce their laws on us. It may sound harsh, but he didn’t make complete sense. Arnott’s response was brilliant! He very calmly, yet assertively,  put him in his place. “First of all, I don’t think you should use the word “they””, he said, which I was very much in agreement with. Whenever you start to use that kind of detachment vocabulary to refer to a group of people,  it’s as though their ‘the other’, the opposition, the enemy, it’s very risky territory. Arnott, then proceeded to explain that he’d gotten the wrong end of the stick, we don’t actually have a law that dictates how animals should be killed. It was clear that he disagreed with him but he asserted his opposing view calmly and quite respectfully.

Another surprising point Arnott made was that he agreed with some of the things Europe has done, not all, but some. He said if the UK came out of Europe he’d want to keep many of the laws that are already in place, the changes he saw as positive and the ones that made it conducive to economical trade and business. Whether, they’d be able to pick and choice like this is unknown.

Overall, I thought Jonathan Arnott was very personable, down-to-earth and spoke a lot of sense. I think if UKIP was Jonathan Arnott and people like him, then I’d be inclined to vote UKIP. Despite his best efforts, I still won’t be voting UKIP in the near future. I’m still too wary about some of it’s members and the kind of people UKIP attracts. Also, I’m still not convinced we should be coming out of Europe, although I do think it ought to have much more transparency and needs a great deal of reform. I also think we should have the right to opt in and out of laws, if possible, that don’t always have Britain’s best interests. I think it needs more balance. As far as referendums go, on the one hand, I think it’d be great if British people were able to have more say in politics – but on the other hand, the general public put Jedward through to the final twelve acts on series six of the UK Xfactor!!!

To follow the outcome for the EU election live click here.

Beautiful Salzburg in Pictures

21 Apr

Last year, in September, we went to Oktoberfest in Munich. Whilst we were there we took a side-trip to Salzburg, Austria. We hadn’t done any research beforehand and when we I arrived I was blown away by how beautiful it was. We ended up staying quite a few days and taking in the sights. Here are a few photos we took whilst we were there.

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