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 December 29, 2009.
The concept of flight is surreal enough in and of itself: a hundred people in a colossal metal tube soaring thousands of feet above the earth. You can look out the window, but can you really wrap your mind around it? Can you concretely feel how fast and far you have traveled, how much will have changed when you exit the colossus on the other side of your journey?
Travel across the Atlantic by boat and across half a continent by train or car and your eyes and your body might start to understand the distance you have traveled as you watch each mile of ocean and then of land pass. You can feel the time and the distance passing in your bones, measured in breakfasts and dinners, sunsets and sunrises. Get in a plane and wake up in another country after seven hours of bad films and bad sleep and you feel numb, your surroundings surreal. When I arrived in the Frankfurt airport, I had become a zombie controlled by little signs with arrows and the word “exit.”
Janet was waiting for me at the baggage carousel; I had already gone through customs in Copenhagen where I’d spent a dreary three hours trying to stay awake behind an airport cafe table. “You look just like your picture!” she exclaimed. “Come on, the driver is outside.”
The driver? The words echoed through the fog of my brain, where they were quickly lost to disbelief and exhaustion. She must be talking about a cab.
Outside on the curb was a black BMW. “This is Mr. Walter,” she said, pointing at the man standing beside the open passenger-side door. “He’s worked for us for almost ten years.”
I stared as he swung my suitcases into the trunk and then opened the shiny back door to usher me inside. Janet chatted at me from the front seat about her family and about how we’d be stopping at the kindergarten to pic up the twins on the way home, if that was alright with me.
So this is Germany, I thought, staring out the window at a landscape that looked suspiciously like Pennsylvania. So this is Germany and these people have a driver. The information rolled over me and broke on some other shore. We stopped at the kindergarten and two four-year-old children piled into the back seat next to me, all unbuttoned winter coats, muddy boots, and glitter-smeared pictures that they’d made for the new au pair that they were so excited to meet.