Thursday, 27 June 2013

Au pairing in Switzerland

Six days ago I left Scotland with my boyfriend who had just completed his Erasmus year in Edinburgh in order to commence my own Erasmus year. The last night ended up being another limbo moment. I was actually sad to leave, which I never expected, though knew that adventures and experiences awaited. I shed a tear for the passing of the best year of my life so far, and smiled at the thought that this year would just be a continuation of that year.  Since then I have celebrated the summer solstice with music and a vegan buffet at a trattoria/hotel in the countryside outside Cremona, cycled in the heat, ate gelato, got halfway through the book And the mountains echoed and caught up with an old school friend who works in Milan and some Italian friends. The day before yesterday I found myself saying goodbye to the city with which I am now so familiar with, and the guy I have spent the last 9 months of my every waking moment with. 

For the first few minutes, the train journey was full of suspense. I was in first class in an air conditioned carriage on a very comfortable seat, but I did not know where I was going or what the family would be like. Yes-I have heard the horror stories: families who ask the au pair to do more than what was agreed, disrespectful parents, bratty children, a total lack of independence etc. After about 20 minutes the suspense was suppressed thanks to a nice and calm conversation with the Swiss lady who was sitting next to me. We spoke so much that in the end she invited me to stay with her free of charge in her Swiss chalet! Maybe I will take her up on it at some point. The view from the window gradually changed from the industrial suburbs of Milan to the rolls hills and elegant cypresses of the Italian lakes to the majestic valleys and snow tipped mountains that are indeed the Alps. What with the French conversation and incredible landscapes outside, the 3 hour journey passed in no time at all. Before I knew it, I was standing on a busy platform in Lausanne, looking pretty aimless and wondering whether the family would turn up. A very slim little came running in my direction as the platform cleared, "Tu es Elizabeth? Bien, viens avec moi". I was greeted by the father who took my luggage and drove us to their home, a pretty Swiss house with window shutters and a pretty garden.

I am here for a very brief contract. I arrived late on the 25th June and will return to Cremona on the 18th. I get most weekends off, and I have already been told we will be visiting Zurich and the mountains once the kids have finished school on the 6th July. There is no real routine here, as apparently the children have already finished class and their exams, but just need to sometimes attend school for organizational issues. When I arrived I was invited to drink tea with the family, who all seemed quite relaxed and welcoming. I was then allowed to go to my room and rest, use the wifi, do whatever I wanted before going to bed. My room is on the ground floor which the family only use for storage. The bedroom is large, with two windows looking out onto the garden, two desks, a sofa, plentz of room to put my clothes, and a very comfortable bed. There is a bathroom which is basically just for me considering that the rest of the family use the one upstairs. 

The next day I had a shock to the system, setting my alarm to wake up at 6.30am. I thought I woke up early, but this family seems to do it all the time. I didn't even get why it was that necessary... We had breakfast, I waited in my room for an hour and a half then walked with the eldest daughter to the supermarket and her school. I bought the ingredients required to make lunch, returned home to have two hours off before preparing a risotto for the children and the mother. I ended up making way too much as I am not used to cooking for so many people. Fortunately, the youngest who is apparently usually against eating most things loved the risotto and wanted it again for dinner. The children helped me load the dish washer, and I was free again from 1pm-4pm. At 4pm the mother and eldest daughter knocked on my door and invited me to visit the centre with them. We took a bus, which the mother paid for, and browsed various shops before walking through the old town, up the many steps to the cathedral. There, the mother took us to a café where the daughter and I ordered an iced tea. The centre is very pretty and clean, a fusion between German, French and Italian styles and yet with an identity of its own. I only saw the cathedral from outside, though would like visit the interior when I have time to kill. There is a fantastic viewing spot just in front, from which one can see a startling beautiful view of the mountains, the medieval rooftops and of course Lake Geneva. We then began to search for a present for the eldest daughter's piano teacher. The shops in the centre are all elegant, sleek, tempting yet terribly overpriced; I get the sensation that they are aiming to attract people who have more money than sense? They eventually bought a baby bib from a shop which specialized in nothing but sold everything, from cups to cupcakes. We returned home, I played ping pong with the youngest girl for at least an hour before dinner, which consisted of the leftovers of my risotto with a variety of cooked vegetables and marinated garlic. For pudding? A glace à la fraise. After a shower I retreated to my room to read before bed, at this point exhausted.

This morning I woke up at 7am to share breakfast with the youngest girl. I then helped her tidy her room and played a few board games with her for an hour and a half... Her friend is now over, they are quite quiet, watching a film. They are going out for lunch, and it seems as though I will be home alone until 4pm. No idea what I am doing afterwards. During the long break I may catch up on some reading, sleep, and pop out to take a walk down to the lake and buy some Swiss chocolate... 

The boy is very reserved, yet does help out a lot. He loaded up the dishwasher before I had finished eating and does not demand anything from me. I was originally told that I would be teaching him English as he is about to start studying next semester, but I am yet to start. I think he feels a little embarrassed, but I think I would genuinely enjoy teaching him.

First impressions:

-Nice family, polite children (though one of them is very energetic)
-Just the right amount of work really, no more than 5 hours a day at the very most.
-Very weird schedule.
-Scared of Swiss prices, the equivalent of 3 pounds for soya milk!?!?
-Very glad I have my own room to retreat to.
-Not sure whether the family really need an au pair? Am I here to teach English, babysit or as a token of their wealth?

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