the au pair chronicles: the swarm

This is post number 17 in the au pair chronicles—and the first new post I’ve written for the series since February 2010. Maybe, just maybe 2012 will be the year that I manage to finish writing up the whole epic tale. If you missed any of the previous installments, you can find an index of the entire series here.

Expats tend to swarm.  It’s a survival tactic really.  If somebody were to drop you in the middle of the ocean, you’d swim for shore.  Except that “shore” in expat terms is “a place where I can meet other people who speak my native language so I don’t have to be so god damned alone all the time.”  Our hive those first few months was an Australian sports bar.  Hard to imagine now.

I don’t remember how we decided on that particular bar, but I remember how I met Britta.  We had exchanged messages on the au pair placement agency’s message board and picked a time and a metro station where we could meet.  She brought another au pair she’d met on the boards, an Italian woman with long thick black hair and big hoop earings.  She was the kind of woman who wears white pants and high heels and a lot of make-up, the kind who visits tanning salons.  But Britta was a jeans and hoodies kind of woman, energetic, from California.  I don’t really remember the details, but I think it’s safe to say we hit it off immediately.

Then we ended up at that bar.  Maybe one of us had googled it.  Maybe we just went for a walk and happened by.  It was a boring place in the middle of downtown with nothing memorable about its decor or its atmosphere.  But there were other people speaking English there, which annoyed me.  I wanted to practice my German, and I sure as well wasn’t going to be doing it with a bunch of drunk Scottish jockeys.  Eventually the Italian had an affair with one of the bartenders—one factor that kept us coming back—though I imagine now that it was really a lack of creativity and the presence of alcohol acting as a magnet.  That and it was within walking distance of both of our houses.

Britta was taking care of two boys a few blocks south of the Cole’s villa.  She lived in the family’s spare room, shared their only bathroom.  But she did have her own balconey.  They had an amicable relationship.  The only au pairs I knew whose families didn’t try to take advantage of them were Americans.  Wait, strike that, my host family did try, but didn’t succeed.  Not being afraid of being sent back home, I asked for money when they asked for extra hours.  They never asked again.  Not so the Eastern block women who I met in my German courses.  But that is another chapter entirely.

Though we eventually expanded our bar hopping into Sachsenhausen—an entire district of bars for swarming tourists and expats!—we kept going back to that Australian bar.  Even after I dragged us off to the Au, a squatted venue where I felt much more comfortable, we kept going back to that fucking sports bar.  Looking back I can’t explain why.  Anything for the swarm, for the sense of familiarity we could claim after having visited it more than twice, a shore fashioned from bottle caps and beer glasses and a shared language.

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