Friends All Over the World

When our kids were very young we were just starting our business and they had to go to daycare before they were even one year-old. As they got a little older and began school I felt badly that their summers would be spent in that type of environment. I found a wonderful program that provided European girls the opportunity to come to the U.S. during 10 weeks of the summer and be Au Pairs for American families.

Each summer we had a new person...first from Belfast, Northern Ireland then Poland, England, Sweden and Croatia. We adults got to learn a lot about their home countries and the environments they grew up in and our kids got great care, in their own home, and learned that no matter where someone lived or how they sounded, they were all just the same as us.

On our 2 weeks in Europe we got to visit our Croatian Au Pair, now living in Venice (just a 3-hour drive from Zagreb, Croatia, her hometown). And she had just had a baby! What deja vu! Our daughter is now almost the same age she was when she came to us that summer twelve years ago!

We've kept in touch with the others and gotten invitations to weddings, photos of their kids and cards keeping us up-to-date with what was happening in their lives. But actually being able to visit with someone is the best.

We've also made friends with hoteliers and restaurant owners during our travels and it is always so much fun to see them again and to be greeted as not guests, but family in another country.

My husband and kids were hesitant at first when I planned our first family trip to Europe. They were afraid of not being able to communicate with people. But with a phrase book and memorizing the phrases in their languages for "I'm sorry, I don't speak XXXX," please and thank-you got us through with no major problems as we traveled around.

But it was embarrassing to only know English; almost everyone spoke at least some English and often very fluent English. At one point we stopped at a restaurant in the countryside and no one spoke more than a word or two of English. The waiter tried speaking to us in his native French, then Italian and Spanish. We made ourselves understood, but it was obvious he was shaking his head at the fact that he could communicate in 3 languages and we could only speak ours.

Maybe it's just the close proximity of countries in Europe that speak different languages, but I think its more that we don't put enough emphasis on being bi-lingual or even multi-lingual. Our Au Pair living in Venice spoke 5 languages fluently when she was in her early 20's; she's now up to 8 and working on yet another! Now she may be the exception, but it also allows her to go almost anywhere - and she has, often times staying on after her vacation and working, as she did upon visiting the Canary Islands a few years ago. Language allows for a very flexible, fluid lifestyle.

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