Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main. Well, I’ve been busy writing new installments to share with you during operation whirlwind baby. But since a hell of a lot of new readers have become regulars since I first began the series a year ago, I thought I would start by re-publishing the series thus far—both to buy me baby time and to get everyone caught up before continuing the saga. You can find an index of the entire series here. This segment was originally published on February 8, 2010.
Au pairing isn’t a highly paid job, and The German Man dictates earnings: a 285 euro monthly stipend and at least one day off each week. The benefits are nestled between the lines—in the room, board, and health insurance the family is required to provide—and between work days, when the rich German matriarch announces one morning that you will be accompanying the family on their vacation to Cyprus.
A four-hour flight brought us from Frankfurt International to Larnaka International, and taxis brought us to the Aldiana resort where we’d be staying. The family, Janet informed me, would be staying in a suite located on the edge of the resort. The twins and I would be sharing a room just between the main clubhouse and the beach. I was not keen on completely dissolving the work/play boundary I meticulously maintained at home, but was willing to ignore the contractual breech in exchange for an all-expense-paid island getaway.
Aldiana is the German answer to Club Med. Book a vacation at an Aldiana resort and you can relax in a walled complex far from the messy cultural details of whatever country you are visiting (an irrelevant detail!) and socialize with your compatriots in your native tongue. I suppose this is the reason that the club motto is “a vacation with friends.” (Translation: “a vacation with other rich white people.”)
The Aldiana pamphlet says: “ALDIANA Zypern is perfect for everyone—singles, young couples, young children, and teens. The resort comprises a wide variety of sports, relaxation, and entertainment, all set amidst the beautiful coastal flora and fauna of Cyprus.”
Here another translation is needed: Aldiana Cyprus is perfect for everyone with money and for everyone too worried about security and/or xenophobic to bother with the actual country and people of Cyprus. Aldiana Cyprus is also perfect for people who think they would enjoy the “beautiful coastal flora and fauna of Cyprus” but aren’t actually prepared to deal with a desert climate.
But there is little that nature can do that Aldiana (cough, civilization) can’t take care of. And so dozens of hoses snaked the resort lawn, irrigating the Aldiana palms and the sparse Aldiana grass. As for the fauna, the poisonous spiders that would otherwise be inhabiting the landscape, an employee told us, are kept at bay with regular doses of insecticide sprayed across the entire property. Coastal flora and fauna indeed.
Greek travel propaganda had led me to believe that we’d be laying on white- sand beaches, but the beaches of Cyprus are gray, unspectacular in compar- ison perhaps, but beautiful and exotic to eyes accu- stomed to Jersey shore. That first day the twins put on their swimmies, I waded into the Mediterranean for the first time, and it was as glorious as it probably sounds.
In my former life I had been vaguely aware that resorts like Aldiana existed, but I don’t think I really believed in them. Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny they were just pleasant little myths that worked well on television. Real people wouldn’t actually visit them. Why would they want to? You could save yourself time and money and travel to the German coast to the same effect.
The employees—sailing and diving instructors, bartenders and babysitters—were all generically good looking and insistently pleasant. If you passed an employee on the way to the beach he or she would smile and say hello. Always friendly, always polite. Failure to do so, I imagined, earned you a flogging from the boss. And that might ruin your tan. I imagined that nights they let out steam in the employee lounge, out of sight of paying guests, Dirty Dancing style. Welcome to the Aldiana bubble: polite, friendly, safe, pleasant, plastic.
If you were tired of tanning, you could take diving and sailing lessons, if you were tired of the Mediterranean you could take a dip in the heated indoor pool, and if you got tired of taking care of your children, you could send them to the Dolphin Clubhouse—the resort’s day care service. Jens, always wanting to play good cop, had promised me that the twins would spend the entire day there, leaving me free to do what I pleased. The reality was that the twins didn’t want to go to the Dolphin Club. They wanted to spend time with their siblings and their parents, and instead they were stuck with me.