Hot Potatoes

Gute Nacht, Spain: German au pairs building bridges for Spain’s new generation

“The crisis is over, now the misery begins!” The eye-catching and somewhat demotivating posters adorning the walls of the Social Security office in Bilbao do not beat around the bush. The austerity crisis has hit Spain with full force, leaving many people wondering whether their political leaders are capable of pulling the country out of the rut, or not. The thought that the future lies in the West, and not in Spain, prevails. Perhaps this is why Spaniards have welcomed a staggering amount of young German au pairs with open arms.

Maaike Goslinga

A future in Germany

They wipe crumbs from the breakfast table, tuck kids into bed and read them bedtime stories: in many households, au pairs are a vital part of everyday life. In Spain, educating kids in a foreign language and culture has been added to the list of daily chores. Because au pairs introduce kids to new speech patterns by speaking in a language other than Spanish, parents hope that their little darlings will eventually gain knowledge of  a second language. Rather than only hiring native English speakers however, Spanish parents have been calling on German au pairs more and more in recent years, according to leading agency Au Pair World. Lulled to sleep by German guttural sounds and watching cartoons on SuperRTL, kids are well prepared for a multilingual future by their new Western European guardian.

But why German? The growing interest among Spaniards to expose their little ones to the language has little to do with their love for Bertolt Brecht, Nietzsche or Beethoven. Instead, the sudden interest in hiring German au pairs seems be somehow linked to the economic malaise in Europe: wealthy families want to prepare their children for a presumably better life in Europe’s largest economy: Germany. The siesta is over. As primary schools do not normally offer language classes, or merely provide short lessons after school hours, welcoming a German au pair into the family is the only way to make kids familiar with the Grammatik und Wörter der deutschen Sprache in a natural way.

Gute Nacht, Spain

Christine H. from Alsdorf currently works as an au pair in Bilbao. Not only does she wait outside the schoolyard to pick ‘her’ boy up and perform light household tasks every weekday, she also acts as a personal tutor. “My host child and I speak German together. Although he is quite unfamiliar with the language, he understands everything I say. I use easy words and phrases like ‘gute Nacht’”, says Christine. Even though the 25-year-old will only be in Spain for three months, she thinks the boy will learn the language quickly. “He already speaks both Spanish and English fluently, so when he does not understand what I say, we briefly switch to English”. Was the crisis a determining factor for her host family to choose Christine over a, say, French or English au pair? She believes so: “Spanish families want their children to be well prepared for the future, and they believe German is a good basis for this”.

Like Christine, au pair Corinna L. has bombarded her Spanish host kid with German vocabulary: since September 2012, she has accompanied the boy to school and the playground without exchanging a single word of Spanish with him. Instead, the two chat in German over a bowl of cereal every morning and read tales from Corrina’s home country before bedtime. Originally from Aachen, the blonde 20-year-old believes this is exactly how her Bilbao host family wants it to be. “They want their child to learn German so that he can eventually study in Germany and earn a lot of money. They chose a German au pair for their boy to learn the language better and faster”, Corinna explains.

Building bridges

Although au pair programmes are primarily designed for wealthier families, the increase in German au pairs in Spain seems to coincide with the crisis that hangs over the continent like a dark cloud. And if the sky were to suddenly open up and flood Southern Europe, the foundations of the bridge to Germany would have already been laid for Spain’s new generation. All thanks to their young, temporary guardians from the North.

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