Insider Secrets from Nannies Around the World

Libby Kane
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Nanny Secrets From Around the WorldNanny salaries are a hot topic right now.

When The New York Times broke this story last week about a New York City nanny commanding a $180,000 salary (which, by the way, she has used to buy a house for her mother back in Brazil, a condo for her sister and a taxi cab for each of her two brothers—not to mention a few odd apartments around the globe), hundreds of people commented.

The conversation got us thinking. While we might have some idea about nannying in the U.S., we were curious about what it looked like in other countries as well.

Turns out, being a nanny can mean many different things, both here and around the world. A nanny can be live-in or live-out, take on household duties in addition to childcare, or not. They can stay for years or mere months, as an au pair. Their salaries vary widely, too.

Technically, nannies and au pairs operate under different rules. According to the agency Great Au Pair, temporary au pair positions are considered cultural learning opportunities, and as such, salaries are usually set by the government. Full-on nannies tend to command higher salaries—in the United States, the average nanny makes between $500 and $1,000 per week. In Europe, it’s between 60 and 115 Euros per week (that’s about $77 to $147), most often in addition to room and board, depending on the country.

Digging even deeper, we found nannies from Brooklyn and France to Riyadh and Hong Kong, to tell us firsthand about how they interact with their little charges—and what they get paid.

Find out who has a whole staff of “helper” nannies who work under her, how nannies choose the family they want to work for—and one insider tip any mom looking for good childcare should consider.

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Read on for a fascinating look into nanny culture around the world.

Bonnie S.

Hometown:  San Diego, California
Placement: Munich, Germany

Experience: 1 year as a nanny, including 5 months with her current family
Salary: 65€ per week (roughly $86)
Perks: Room and board

A Day in My Life as a Nanny

During the week, I wake up around 6:30 a.m. and take the kids to school via metro. Then I have a few hours of free time—and light house-cleaning (vacuum and mop the whole four-story house, clean the bird cages, tidy up the playroom and clean inside of the glass doors)—before I pick them up again around 1 p.m., which is so early! Usually, one of the parents works from home during the day, but if not, their mom comes home around 2 p.m. and their dad around 7:30 p.m. Then I play with the kids and sometimes help with homework until 7 p.m., when the TV goes on. Their mom cooks them lunch, the biggest meal in Germany, but I usually prepare dinner, which is something light like bread, cheese and meat.

Work-Life Unbalance

Being an au pair can feel more like a lifestyle than a job. You may have set hours and days off, but when you live with a family, boundaries are hard to enforce and it can feel like you’re never really off duty. The kids are always coming up to your room wanting to play, and every time you leave the room the parents will want to talk about their children–they’re really into child psychology in Germany.

Functioning as a Foreigner Abroad

Even if the kids you will be au-pairing for speak English, you will be interacting with their teachers, friends and friends’ families on a regular basis. I didn’t speak a word of German before I came to Germany. I assumed I would just pick up the language naturally, and the parents said that one of the primary reasons for my being there was to teach the kids English. But the reality was quite different. We started from scratch and five months in, the girl has learned quite a lot (she’s very sharp with languages) and the boy hasn’t learned much at all. He speaks a strange combination of German and English, and it’s very difficult to communicate with him. The other kids at school love practicing their English with me, and their teachers will teach them phrases and things to say to me.

Nicole W.

Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts
Placement: Milan, Italy

Experience: 1 year as a nanny with this family
Salary: 65€ per week (roughly $86)
Perks: Room and board, weekends and school vacations off

A Day in My Life as a Nanny

In the morning I’d get the girls ready for school, then walk them to the bus stop (public bus, not a school bus) and ride with them to school. Until I rode the bus back to get them at 3 p.m., I had free time. The family had a housekeeper, so I never had to do housework. Once the girls were home we had a snack (I introduced them to peanut butter on bananas, which quickly became a favorite) and did homework. Dinner was prepared by their housekeeper, and we would eat together. Then it was TV time for about 30 minutes, and they would get ready for bed. At about 7:30 p.m. their parents came home from work, and I was excused.

The Hidden Joys

Becoming an au pair meant living for a year in a foreign country, and the thought of that was sensational! I really fell in love with those girls and we keep in touch via email and Skype. We even had special movie nights where we would cuddle on the couch and watch a movie and make popcorn. I was originally supposed to be there for five months, but after only two, I remember calling my parents and saying, “Can you believe I only have three months left here? I have to stay for a full year. I love these girls too much!”

The Unexpected Challenges

The biggest cultural adjustment was the language. Living in Milan is so wonderfully challenging because although it is a big international financial hub, most people will only speak Italian. I traveled to Rome, and when trying to practice my Italian in a local shop I would mostly get responses in English. In Milan, this was totally different. Everyone wanted to speak Italian with me, and it forced me to practice and learn.  Grocery shopping was the hardest. You’d think that going to a grocery store wouldn’t be so bad, but the products were often hard to distinguish. The meat especially. They sell horse meat at the store, so I was terribly afraid of getting that by mistake!

Amanda M.

Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Placement: Paris, France

Experience: 3 months, with this family
Salary: 400€ per month (roughly $575)
Perks: Room and board, Metro pass

A Day in My Life as a Nanny

I woke up at 7:30 a.m. to take the baby while his mom got ready for work. I gave him a bath, and we played until 10 or 11 a.m. Then, if the weather was nice, I’d take him for a walk. We’d just walk around the city, go to museums, go to the park, etc. In the afternoon I’d go back to the apartment so he could nap. We’d watch movies and play until his mom came home. Throughout the day I was responsible for changing his diaper, making his formula and feeding him, changing him into his pajamas at night and doing his laundry. I also took the baby on the train down to the south of France to visit his grandparents for 11 days. I stayed in their house, they took over caring for the baby, and it was basically a week of vacation for me!

Choosing My Family

I chose the family more than I chose the city. Without a complete mastery of the language, it can be really difficult to take care of a small child. This was why taking care of a baby was so appealing–a baby crying is the same in any language! Also, I instantly got along with the parents. Most of the other families I had interviewed with seemed to view me as a live-in housekeeper, an employee … but I could tell the Lenoirs wanted me to feel like part of the family. Best of all were the weekends when the mom wasn’t busy, and the three of us (me, her and the baby) would go shopping or go out to lunch. She would show me all her favorite places in Paris, and it was a great way for me to experience the city from a local’s point of view. Sadly, we haven’t really kept in touch since I left, but I still think of them often.

How French Parents Are Different

I found that French parents are very focused on discipline and propriety from a very early age. This was something I noticed not just from the family I was working with, but from their friends who had children, and other nannies I met while I was there. The children ate everything put in front of them without complaint, and the mother I worked with would tell her infant: “That’s not how we get what we want,” or “It isn’t polite to interrupt.” I could tell that she was joking now, but in a few years when he was old enough to understand she’d be saying the exact same things. (For more on how French parenting differs from American methods, read this.)

Bonnie H.

Hometown: Champaign, Illinois
Placement: Hong Kong, China

Experience: 25 years as a nanny, 4 months with this family (Currently looking for a new placement after returning to the U.S.)
Salary: Base salary of $1,250 per week, with overtime pay for extra hours, holidays and overnight maternity hours
Perks: Room and board, health insurance, a weekly stipend, one paid week of vacation for every three months worked 

A Day in My Life as a Nanny

In this position I was mostly responsible for the baby. I took care of all of her needs—formula feeds, getting her on a variety of solids, changing nappies, playing with her. On the 24-hour shifts (which are determined before I’m employed, and are necessary because babies need tending in the night), I sleep in the room with her in case she wakes. I also play with, eat with and read to the older children.

Why I Have My Own Staff

In places like Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia, it’s a cultural norm to have a full staff of Filipino or Indonesian “helpers,” who cook, clean, do laundry, pack the baby’s bag and do anything else that needs doing. In Hong Kong, I had helpers who worked seven days per week, about 18 hours per day. In my previous positions in Riyadh, I noticed that having an American nanny is almost considered prestigious, and that I was treated differently than the rest of the staff–each of the seven children had his or her own nanny who slept on cots by the children’s beds, and I was the head nanny. I’ve always wanted to nanny as a career, and I somewhat prefer American and European positions where they are fewer “helpers” and more autonomy.

The Good and the Bad

My favorite part of nannying is getting to meet people, travel and learn about other countries. Parents either look to you for what to do in regard to their children, or they tell you what to do and hover over you, preventing you from doing it. That’s probably my least favorite part of nannying, because it makes things harder. Also, some mothers are jealous when their children prefer their nannies, which makes sense because their nannies are their primary caretakers.

Annie V.

Hometown: New York City
Placement: Brooklyn, New York

Experience: 1 year in Boston, 1 year in NY
Salary: $20 per hour
Perks:  Transportation fees, three weeks paid vacation/sick/personal days

A Day in My Life as a Nanny

My typical day is quite relaxed. There’s only one 5-year-old girl, so I take the subway to her house before she’s done with school, do laundry and some ironing, pick her up from school, play with her, make her dinner, pack her lunch for the following school day and bathe her. Sometimes I’ll bring her to a park or museum, but otherwise we spend our time playing imaginary games or with puzzles, dolls and her other toys.

How I Got Here

I chose to nanny as a lucrative way to save for graduate school. I love children, and absolutely adore spending time with them. I found the position through SitterCity and actually found my Boston job on Craigslist. The nature of the job, with its flexible hours and late starting time, lets me pursue other interests, like volunteering at a domestic violence center.

The Best Part of the Job

The most memorable moments with my children are dancing and singing with them while listening to Michael Jackson and the Beatles.  A funny moment was when my 5-year-old pointed to a man with a big belly and asked if he was pregnant. Kids are brutally honest! We have a lot of fun, and my placement is so successful largely because I fit well into their household. I would advise any parent looking for help to do a “trial day” with a prospective nanny. It’s a good opportunity to see if your parenting style and the style of your prospective helper work well together.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=8819010 Danielle Alegre

    I was an au pair for 2 years in Paris, and a nanny for several months in New York City.  Those jobs couldn’t be more different! I preferred being an au pair in Europe.  I miss those kids so much!