Getting an Au Pair Job in Ibiza, Spain
By Hattie Rowan
With the end of my first year as a university language student looming, the panic of not having worked all year – almost a rite of passage for English freshmen -- began to set in. After one particularly disastrous seminar, my exasperated Spanish tutor told me that going to Spain during the summer was essential if I wanted second year to get any better.
So I signed up to be an au pair with an agency that prides itself in offering a very personal experience that allows both parties a unique insight into the other’s world and culture.
My only request was to be placed in a town or city. Thus I was delighted when I was matched with a couple and their daughter who lived in Madrid but planned to spend part of the summer in Ibiza; what could be more exciting than the Spanish island made famous first by the Vengaboys and more recently by Mike Posner’s ‘I Took a Pill in Ibiza’?
The luxurious world I became a part of was quite unlike any I had ever experienced.
My Spanish Family
The family lived in Paseo de la Castellana; a prime location only a 15-minute metro ride to Plaza Mayor and Gran Vida in the center of Madrid. They had a huge apartment and I had my own ensuite bedroom. The walls of their living room were covered in fashionable artwork, including a Francis Bacon original.
Spaniards are the true experts of hospitality. My host family was no exception; greeting me at the door with kisses from all and a homemade welcome card from six-year-old Amanda.
The dad was a singer and had toured Latin America and many European countries. He introduced himself thus: ‘I’m Nacho, like nachos and guacamole.’ I instantly felt more at ease.
Nacho delighted in sharing his music with me although I did not realize just how successful he was until we went to a restaurant one day. Beaming down from the wall was a photo of Nacho beside the restaurant owners; he was one of the many celebrities they had been photographed next to.
Valentina, the mother, was an actress; a very elegant and sophisticated woman, always beautifully presented. Her coolness and intelligence at first intimidated me however I was simply naïve to her underlying kindness.
She would cover me in sunscreen – fretting about my pale English skin – and if I went out in the evenings she frequently sent me messages to ensure I was alright.
As an au pair, I recognize how lucky I was. My work was so casual I barely realised I was doing it. In Madrid I would spend the mornings with Amanda, a very charismatic and intelligent little girl, playing games and chatting in English. Most afternoons were taken up by city expeditions; we went to art galleries and spent long evenings eating tapas in endearing Spanish courtyards.
In Ibiza the family had a beautiful apartment overlooking Marina Botafoch – again a prime location only a 15-minute walk from Ibiza town. Valentina had many social events in Ibiza and so I babysat a lot.
Days were spent giving Amanda swimming lessons in the sea or by the pool and enjoying long leisurely lunches of paella and pizza – I came back 5 kilograms heavier.
The Trials and Joys of Being an Au Pair
Although it seems shameful to complain about a job that consisted mainly of being beside the beach, children can, of course, be tiresome.
There were times when Amanda would refuse to do anything with me and watched TV whilst I twiddled my thumbs and stared longing out the window. It is difficult not to take it personally when a six-year-old does not want to be around you. Babysitting would be a trial if she did not want to go to bed until her mum came home – at 1 AM.
Sometimes I just got tired of being around a little girl for several days when I needed more stimulating company. The playground and kiddie pool could feel like a glass box where I was confined to watch the other 19-year-olds party away.
However, amongst the monotony, there were frequent moments of joy. Watching a lightning storm from the apartment window in Madrid with Amanda gripping my hand, hearing her call me her ‘hermana’ (sister) to her mum and saying ‘bought’ instead of ‘buyed’ of her own accord for the first time.
My highlight was on my last day when Amanda swam two lengths of the swimming pool all on her own and beamed delightedly at me from behind her too-big goggles.
My life as a budgeting student was quite in contrast to the luxurious life led by my host family. It was exhilarating to experience.
I went to the museum Caixa Forum with Valentina accompanied by her friend who was an art expert. Alberto explained the meaning behind each piece and entertained us with anecdotes about meeting the artists; he seemed to know most of them.
I met a friend of the family who had worked with Paris Hilton and Leonardo DiCaprio and one afternoon saw their VIP invitation to Pacha, one of biggest nightclubs in the world, discarded on the kitchen counter.
One particularly memorable day I was brought along to a friend’s private yacht. A three berthed boat that took us past Ibiza’s famous Es Vedrà; an uninhabited island said to be the third most magnetic spot on the planet, after the North and South Poles.
Then we went to Formentera Island, a trip which would have cost me €20. Formentera is a popular day visit for those staying in Ibiza; seascapes of myriad blues, castor sugar beaches and a scattering of nudists.
Joining us that day were six professional male dancers from a local nightclub. I did not know quite where to look when surrounded by all these hunky men in speedos and blushed when the host asked me in front of all; ‘have you ever been surrounded by so many beautiful creatures?’. Unfortunately, I was told to just stay with the children.
One of the best parts of my month was the au pair community I became a part of. I met girls from Namibia, America, France, and Colombia.
On evenings off in Madrid, we would buy packets of Doritos and watch the sunset at the Egyptian Temple of Debod overlooking parts of the city. When no au pairs were free I would wander Madrid alone. My favorite place to escape the crowds was Buen Retiro Park; 350 acres of hidden delights; sculptures, peacocks, fountains, flower gardens and ice cream cafés.
Despite being paid well in comparison to most au pairs - €100 a week – Ibiza’s shockingly high prices meant my nights out were very economically constricted. However, we had a fabulous time getting tipsy on €2 wine, our legs dangling off the wall of Eivissa Castle.
Dancing in Clubs until 6 am
Completely relieving ourselves of babysitting duties, we would end up at local clubs dancing until 6 AM. Three hours later you would be back to hide and seek so you had to make the most of it.
During my free days, I explored Eivissa old town; a stunning walled city which comes alive later in the day once everyone had
recovered from their hangovers. Hippy market stalls, street performers breakdancing and a fantastic background hum of almost every language imaginable play out from the excessive number of bars and cafes.
I would go for runs along Talamanca beach whilst the sun was setting and get lost in the endless colors of Punta Arabí Hippy Market.
The locals would often tell me about the special vibe which Ibiza has; the whole place exudes a psychedelic color and energy -- unless that was just all the hippies on drugs.
The best part of traveling for me is always the people and wedging yourself into another culture. Being an au pair is undoubtedly one of the most assured ways of doing this.
When you are with a local family you stray away from the tourist hotspots and discover hidden-away restaurants you would never have noticed and chosen tapas from a menu that you could never have understood. We visited seemingly secret villages and loft art exhibitions.
I conquered Madrid’s metro, delighted in each conversation I could hold in Spanish and became an expert at the siesta. It was the collection of these ordinaries which made my month as part of a local family so extraordinary.
Tips for future au pairs:
- Try and establish a schedule with the host parents; it can be more wearying when you do not know when your next free time will be.
- Connect with other au pairs using Facebook or other social networks; fellow au pairs are great to explore a new place with as well as for organizing play dates.
- If you are there to learn the language, do not be afraid to ask your host family to practice with you. I did not speak nearly enough Spanish because I got too comfortable speaking English with my hosts.
- Equip yourself with games to entertain the kids you are looking after; I found basic card games to be very popular.
Hattie Rowan is a student who lives in England.