Suburban Australians and other Au pair-ings

“Speak English! I don’t know the meaning of half those long words, and I don’t believe you do either!” ~ Eaglet

This post is in  answer to  the question I’m asked so often-  Yes, the people who planned DDR did arrange for us to meet conventional Aussie  suburban folk too. And this is how it went.
On the day that G-man and Mahi went to meet Erin and Chloe, and G-man couldn’t understand why  two women would  opt to live together instead  of with  men, Amer and I went to meet an Aussie family.

The plan was a bit different this time-
Joe’s style to take us through whatever was planned for us was all  “Okay gangsters, ..”  Basically laconic, and more often than not, letting us  quickly  immerse  into the experience  and take it from there.We didn’t realize it then but maybe it also meant that subconsciously we learnt to  wait  for him to open the door to the experience  (and the van when the cameras were on- since our director didn’t seem to trust any of us with this technical maneuver  .. or so it seemed* ), and  it helped to  immediately figure out  what may be the issue (s) at hand.  Of course, beyond that we were with our own individual reactions, understanding, realizations and  take-aways.
It also meant that Joe made the introductions and basically opened the path to further discussion, except the instances when we  were all collectively taken by surprise or shock. Then, we Indians just hoped he knew what  he was doing.

But  Joe wasn’t coming with us that day, which meant that  Aaron  gave us  the  background. Seems inconsequential at the face of it,  but because their styles were completely different, our interactions were different too. This time around  we just went with the flow and relied on just the way we would have interacted  as individuals.
Aaron’s introduction was more  “These are the facts, now lets see what you make of  it.”-  “Indians, today Gurmeet and Mahima…
Amer and Radhika, you’re both meeting an Australian family. Lets drive to their home, and I’ll tell you more on the way there.”
It was  around 5 pm.  I remember being in the hotel room in the afternoon-  such an uncommon occurance- we got a couple of   hours of rest  because of some unexpected  changes.
Here’s what Aaron shared on the way there:
“They are a young  Aussie suburban couple.
Both working.
They have kids.
They also have an au pair.
And yes, I think you”ll have dinner with them.”

We didn’t really know what to make out of the description.
‘Suburban couple’ means different things in different places. What would it mean in Australia?
Au pair. I ask Aaron if that is common in Australia, and he says it isn’t.
Dinner. ” Do we have to Aaron, even if they’re really formal and it gets uncomfortable?”  “Yes. I think they’re expecting you to.”
Successful:  Does that imply wealthy? Personally  I believe you can be one without being the other, but it seems I’m in the minority.

Bruce, our host, was at the door. There was  that awkward camera self-conscious moment  that lasted a couple of seconds, and then we moved inside. They had  a set of adorable two year old twin boys who  were dressed alike, but had such different personalities, it was easy to tell them apart. Amer and I fell in love with them right away

The room was geared up for the boys, in fact  it was every toddler’s  dream. Is this what all suburban  Aussie kids grow up with? I could enjoy fiddling around these things, even as an adult!

The men  immediately got around to talking about  beer brands and the high alcoholic content of Indian beer… over, what else, a beer. I’m sure that broke the ice.

The au pair was a young  German and  looked happy to be there.
[I thought of the Au pair/s of my childhood. Especially one. An Anglo-Indian, Miss Rosie (we had to call her  that) was an extension of the ‘Convent’ school/s*  we went to- with Irish nuns & brothers who were strict, dedicated and extremely single-minded in their purpose of  transforming us into  sterling  human- beings. (When we have school reunions it’s easy to see they may not have succeeded entirely). Only, Rosie wasn’t strict, she just pretended to be like that in front of the employers-  we were left in her care when our  parents were out, and she in turn was happy to leave us alone  as long as we didn’t break anything, including bones. 
What she was  strict about was the ‘Our father who art in heaven…” prayer before bed,  the Sunday church, and speaking in English. So even though ours was a Hindu family, the  religious moorings were  extremely elastic- Hindu rituals, temples, festivals, dusk-fall  recitation of mantras and hymns to the gods and  the universe, Vedic ceremonies around around the sacred fire, recitation of the Granth Sahib and Japji Sahib (Sikh holy books), Miss Rosie’s  Sunday church education  and everyday chapel service  at the school church- Luckily not all in the same day. ]

But I digress.

Karen joined us a short while later after work- straight off a flight. She was mommy above everything else. It was easy to see  she  hated being away  from  the babies. 

Sleeping with the sticker book.

I had thought I would find  this evening  particularly difficult. How do you go to someones house, enjoy  their hospitality… and pry into their lives? And then do a de-brief! Even if they may be prepared for it, it just didn’t seem right.
 Quite unexpectedly,  conversation flowed easily right from the start.  I think Karen and I  established a rapport quite instantaneously after the discovery that we both relied on  several  ‘To-do’ lists’  to ease the hurly-burly of everyday life.  I asked her direct questions, all the while following her ( and  the camera following us ) around  while she took care of  things,  dinner ( Bruce  had  made delicious   lentil  pies, and Karen made some more, this time with chicken) , playing with the twins, talking to them, getting them changed for the night, putting them  to bed.

Karen was gracious and candid  in her answers. Some of her responses were:
“No, it’s not really that uncommon to have an au pair, many people we know have them. It allows me to spend time with the boys.”
“The Au pair is instructed to  speak only in German with the boys. We want them to grow up with a second, and later, maybe a third language. The younger they are…
For a minute I wondered  if that is too much pressure for kids as young as two, and then  remembered that the largest population of Indian children grow up with at least two languages right from infancy;  in many urban homes where English is spoken, it could even be three.

“The au pair is like family, but of course there’s a list of duties. She  has a day off every week and can have a friend stay over, but we have to meet her/ him first.”

No, I don’t mind the boys being around the two dogs. Besides, the dogs  are well-trained”
I tell her-“I’m so glad! Somehow I had thought you would be quite phobic about the twins  being around these lovely creatures.”

  ” My to-do lists allow me to do all the things I have to do. Actually,I can’t help being organized.”
And how! I was  absolutely gobsmacked at the  ‘methodically  labelled, extremely  organized’  laundry sections in the washing corner. I can be  compulsive on occasions, but this was another level altogether.

“I guess I make most of the decisions related to  the twins . No, Bruce  is  actually okay about that.”
I look at Bruce’s raised eyebrows at the second half of that answer and  smile at him. Some things are the same the world over!

Karen and I  discussed our parents and parenthood, how siblings are so different from each other and so how they raise their kids differently, on balancing work and home-how she translated her mommy skills  into the kidstodo website to help other moms on things to do with kids,  weight issues (she’s skinny!), aspirations for the kids, typically- arranged marriages, et al.
They were great hosts, warm, friendly and interesting. It was hard to believe we were strangers a few hours back.

Bruce was easy going, smart and an involved dad.
Karen was something else. No one would blame me  for wondering  if  she was like  most Aussie mommies/ women of her age. If  I was to describe her in 5 words, even with great restraint, they would be – Super-pretty, Super-mom, Super-planner, Super- organized, Super- in charge. (When I first wrote this list without the superlative,  it didn’t seem an apt  description. Then I added a ‘super’, and bingo! Profile – match! )

We said our goodbyes and left the warmth of their home for the cold wind outside. Aaron decided to have a de-brief right there. Right in front of their home. At almost midnight. I still wonder if they were peeking from their windows, wondering what were we  four were  doing filming Amer and me at close to  midnight,  talking to a camera and sound equipment on a dark  empty road, with chilly gusts blowing around us.. We must have seemed like some spooky weirdos!

At the de-brief, Amer spoke at great length about the chicken pies. I think he accepted Karen’s  kind offer to carry some back too.
Aaron may have worried that I may have a similar response, so when it was my turn to speak, he  asked me some specific questions. I can’t remember my exact words, but I remember thinking and saying that  in some ways Karen was no different from a contemporary suburban  Indian mother after all. Maybe contemporary young moms are like this the world over-  big aspirations for their children, and ready to do whatever  it takes to support them reach there.

Amer and I  stayed in touch with Karen and Bruce even once we were back home.
As we neared the DDR airing I worried about how our evening’s  interaction and  de-briefing would sound post the edit- a lot can change there.

One episode down  Karen casually mentioned to me  that they had heard from the production that due to lack of time, our evening together  would not be a part of the show.
I was so relieved! We  really liked our Aussie friends, and didn’t want them to feel short-changed in any way-  with a full evening edited  into  four minutes or less, there’s always a chance of that happening.

Even as I type, I just remembered Mahima’s question when I described our hosts  to her the next day at breakfast- “So that’s how Aussies are normally?”
What a difficult question even for an Aussie to answer.
All I know is that ‘normal’ is just a setting on my washing machine.

* Not that Joe ever got it right in one take either. The average was four. One day Aaron will  de-brief us on the finer nuances of  the perfect door-open/ door-shut shot.

**There was a time in India when “convent” education was the most “coveted” form of school education. It was considered wholesome education  in a  disciplined environment,  albeit  Victorian in its approach. One draw was that students were expected to/learnt to  talk in English. The nuns ensured that the accent was right and you learnt social graces. It had a certain ‘snob value’. Even today, the requirement list for a preferred bride in matrimonial advertisements often reads “convent educated”- even though there is barely any ‘convent education’  left,  except for schools flaunting the prefix  ‘Saint’  in front of  their  names.   


6 thoughts on “Suburban Australians and other Au pair-ings

  1. Nice…:) Shame it did not end up on the show….I made my husband read your blog…he is totally impressed….said it felt like you are sitting before us and narrating…..take a bow once again Radhika…God bless…

  2. Karen seems exactly like most young Aussie moms I interacted with in my tume there. I sometimes wonder at how much they manage to pack into 24 hours!

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