petite anglaise

January 25, 2005

upstaged by the babysitter

Filed under: city of light, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 12:35 pm

The text message on my mobile reads:

“Bonne Année. Je voulais juste avoir des nouvelles de [Tadpole] – Myriam”.

It is dated January 4th. Oh dear. I do dimly recall having read this some time ago and making a sarcastic comment to Mr Frog about how the babysitter was touting for business again, but then I promptly forgot all about it. I haven’t the faintest idea whether I replied. The post-partum brain is a fickle creature.

Tadpole has somehow unearthed this message while tappety-tapping on the keypad. It’s really quite impressive the way she holds the phone to her ear and strolls out of the room as if she is having a private conversation I cannot be privy to (“Allô? Allô? Allô Gram ma!”).

So now I’m feeling guilty. Both about the dose of radiation Tadpole may be self-administrating (justification: the mobile is the only ‘toy’ I have to hand here in the doctor’s waiting room) and also about my lack of courtesy to the babysitter. She is not someone we can afford to offend. Our very social lives depend on her goodwill.

When you live in a big city, many hundreds of miles/kilometres from the nearest relative, finding a reliable babysitter is a big deal. There being no teenage girls conveniently located in our apartment building, we asked the childminder if she could recommend someone. She came up with a friend’s daughter who lived a half hour walk from our flat and required chaperoning home at the end of the evening. On foot, as opposed to on the back of Mr Frog’s Vespa.

In desperation I put an advert in our local boulangerie asking for a student with childcare references – one of those little ads you see everywhere in France with tear-off strips bearing our phone number. I was prepared to take the the risk of receiving a few heavy breathing perv-calls from mac-wearing stalkers who happened to buy a baguette that day. It was for a good cause.

The advert disappeared, I suspect removed by our soon-to-be babysitter, anxious to eliminate the opposition. She was perfect: nicely spoken, lived close by and had been picking up a toddler from school and minding her every evening for three years. Her references were duly checked.

And she is reliable. But I can’t help feeling that we are not the ones who call the shots here. She charges € 7 per hour – equal to the minimum wage in this country, but non-declared and therefore tax-free. That’s pretty good television watching/internet surfing/cupboard exploring money, by anyone’s standards. As we never seem to have any change when it comes to the crucial moment of paying her, the amounts inevitably get rounded up in her favour. Just to rub it in, she shows up carrying a different genuine-looking Chanel/Dior/Gucci handbag every time, her hair styled as if she has just come from a salon, her clothes pristine. I leave the flat feeling dowdy, in spite of my glad rags and make-up.

And then there is the guilt factor. Our ad said we would require someone about once a week. This was in the optimistic, naïve days before the reality of paying someone and then also paying to go out had really sunk in. You have to read really good reviews of a film before you want to spend €100 paying the sitter/seeing the film/buying Mr Frog the obligatory bucket of salty popcorn/having a bite to eat before/after the film. As opposed to renting the DVD for € 3. But occasionally Myriam adopts a petulant tone in her texts and implies she had hoped to work more regularly, so like the mugs we are we end up booking her just to keep her sweet, so that she will be there for us when we really do need her.

I suppose we should count our blessings though. A friend of mine uses an Orthodox Jewish girl whose family live in her apartment building. She has a bizarre set of rules about babysitting on the Sabbath. She can’t be paid on that day, nor can she do anything which constitutes ‘work’. The mother in question returned from a night out to find her children still wide awake and bouncing off the walls at midnight. Their bedroom light was still on, as the babysitter wasn’t ‘allowed’ to turn it off.

I try not to dwell on what our young lady gets up to when we go out. I know that when I babysat in my early teens I pretty much cased the joint for films with ‘rude’ scenes or mildly titillating literature (Women in Love, Tropic of Cancer). God only knows what I’d have got up to if I had broadband internet access.

I only hope she never stumbles across Mr Frog’s fluffy baaing sheep thong.

8 Comments

  1. A sheep thong?

    Alas, I only have a sheep puppet. But he is awfully cute, and when you move his mouth, he sings three songs (Frères Jacques, London Bridge Is Falling Down, and Old McDonald… bilingual sheep power!).

    I tried to come up with something embarassing someone could find in our apartment, but there isn’t much, other than clutter. Perhaps the emergency underwear (you know, that horrid pair that you resist throwing away just because you know one day you’ll be nearly out of underwear and have to wear them as you do the laundry)?

    Comment by kim — January 25, 2005 @ 1:04 pm

  2. 7 €, c’est la ruine, j’ai une copine qui paye sa babysit’ 5 € de l’heure, elle a trouvé une liste de jeunes filles à l’église où elle va..

    ps : c’est moi qui t’ai nominée la première pour le vote des meilleurs weblogs

    Comment by sans moi — January 25, 2005 @ 2:25 pm

  3. Comme quoi les babysitters se lancent dans le commerce agressif…

    Comment by Mimile — January 25, 2005 @ 2:31 pm

  4. My wife and I went out more the two years after we didn’t need a babysitter anymore than we had for the ten years prior to that.

    Comment by Bob — January 25, 2005 @ 6:50 pm

  5. Hey, you’re good. Real good.

    the link to the satin pajamas is broken, btw.

    Comment by David Weman — January 26, 2005 @ 1:35 am

  6. Your post was evocative of another era- when my ex and I were in a similiar position, while on an extended holiday in Poland, from whence my ex hailed.

    Needless to say, finding a babbysitter for HRH was an ordeal.

    Much of Polish child rearing philosophy is based on the ‘let them cry or you will spoil them’ school of child neglect.

    Couple that with the fact that many Polish babysitters are accompanied by their vodka and anything made of greasy pork to eat toting friends, we faced a real dilemma.

    So, this Anglo expatriate did the unthinkable.

    We found a French babysitter and hired her. She was a lovely thing, dumb as a roast beef, with a heart of gold- and she loved babies. My daughter took to her instantly.

    I will be forever grateful to the ‘petite francaise’ we found in Krakow.

    One more thing. Of course we overpaid.

    C’est la vie, n’est pas?

    Comment by Sigmund Carl and Alfred — January 26, 2005 @ 6:18 am

  7. 7 euros/hour is actually not so bad, compared to what I’ve heard and been offered elsewhere. If you ever need good babysitting recommendations though, just head over to aupairs like me sitting around the playground! We all know other anglos looking to pick up some extra work! I’ve gotten plenty of offers for friends.

    Love your stuff, by the way!

    Comment by Gretchen — January 26, 2005 @ 8:08 pm

  8. My babysitting friends here in Paris are usually paid 10 euro/child/hour, though it is usually combined with English lessons for the child. (Of course, the child usually ends up teaching the babysitter French as well.) Be thankful you only have one.

    And how would I like to be making 7 euro/hour…. Damn being paid in dollars while in France.

    Comment by E — January 29, 2005 @ 1:00 pm


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