…as you may have heard Thailand is also monikered as the “Nanny State”. Not quite the same as the disparaging term David Cameron had for the last Labour government of the United Kingdom, more a nod to the glut of happy, smiling nannies liberally available from all over this region. Thai, Burmese, Laotian, Vietnamese…everywhere in the ASEAN countries. When you need a nanny in Thailand then, given how much, as a nation, they adore children, it becomes a task of selecting from a huge pool of resource. Quite unlike the UK, where a friend of mine has a yearly struggle to source a government agent-vetted, degree qualified, experienced vocational nanny who tends to a) cost a small fortune, b) expects full living arrangements, c) enters a contract denying all accountability for welfare of said child. Now, that’s not to write off UK-based nannies. My cousin was one for years and she did a fine job. I’ve heard stories from both sides of the divide, so to speak. Parents lamenting the unreliability of the nanny, nannies lamenting the intransigence of the parents. And, of course, the “hands-on” parents lambasting both sides for needing/wanting one in the first place. Exhaustively bitter discourse tends to be the result of the drunken debate chair shouting:
“Nannies. Discuss the rights and wrongs of it all!”
You know how it is. Grass is always shinier if you glance into the next meadow. I think Hollywood’s charm offensive in portraying nannies is a spawn of the English-reading public love affair with the Bronte sisters. Films with the likes of Nanny McPhee, Mary Poppins, Mrs Doubtfire far outstrip those like Peyton Flanders (The Hand that Rocks the Cradle). Then again, to be a “good” nanny in film you apparently have to ascend to the heights of a fantasy character with either a whirling umbrella, be a Tootsie, or have buck teeth and warts. Bad nannies tend to look like Rebecca De Mornay. Hmmm…
That said, the Diplomat and I quickly sourced a potential candidate through the tried and trusted method of cronyism (or “a recommendation by the now-nanny-to-Isla’s friend) after an ineffectual “ad” via BAMBI and a couple of online agencies. All three of which ignored our “must” for an English speaker and had all kinds of people call up who didn’t speak a word of it. I will pause here and advise any prospective parent to ensure you get someone who is as fluent as they can be in your own language. This isn’t out of laziness on the parenting part but simply because someone who only knows a few words simply will be unable to explain to you how your child has been in the day. They must be able to explain clearly any health issues that have occurred.
This meant some difficulty for us as we wanted someone who understood both english and canadian. Trust me, there is a difference at times. Ask both what they mean by “judgmental” and you’ll get two very different answers. Of course, then there’s always the classics…
Nanny: “Khun Diplomat…”
Diplomat: “No, no. That’s not it at all. How many times do we need to repeat this? It’s ‘Khun Diplomat, eh…'”
Nanny: “I will be taking Isla back upstairs now.”
travelswithadiplomat: “No, No. That’s not it at all. You know what it is. It’s ‘I will be taking Isla back up the apples and pears now.'”
Anyway, we found the right candidate to assist Isla through her very first few years. Then came the tricky question of salary. I looked at many agencies websites, on ex-pat forums, spoke to people… all to find out what the going rate was. We’d been led to believe that a nanny in Thailand was as cheap as McDonald’s chips (a total lie) but, as with all things Bangkok, much has changed in the past fifteen years. Here you have the option of having your nanny live with you or not. In fact a lot of apartments have a small suite of rooms for a “maid/nanny” attached. If you invite your nanny to live with you then you can consider paying a lower salary as they have no accommodation expenses. After much solicitation we settled on 15,000Baht a month. For one child to be cared for 8:30-6pm plus some ad-hoc household chores it seemed to be in the 2013 rate band. Plus the usual overtime rate. We know people with two kids who pay more, people with fewer hours who pay less. A deal was struck. Isla had her nanny. We all like her.
To be a little more serious (and informative)….the interview process has to be done face to face (without the child at first) so you can get an understanding of experience, language, set expectations. References should be sought. By that I don’t mean just seeing an email or letter from a previous employer. If at all possible you should contact the referee and speak with them about their experience. Ask your future nanny about their VISA situation if they are not Thai (a lot of nannies are from Burma-Myanmar) because they may not be able to complete the length of term you envisage or may expect you to get involved in their VISA process. If you do decide to be part of their VISA process I strongly recommend you check out the various online government agencies who can advise what to do to facilitate such an action. These things can always have pitfalls. Then there are questions about needing healthcare, time off etc.. You can find a list of questions to ask on several agencies websites. Of course, the final say so is witnessing the reaction of your child to the nanny. This isn’t Nanny McPhee, where a governess turns up and the kids have to get on with it. Make sure they’ve met, spent time together for 20-30minutes, observing closely the dynamic. What’s key is to note what sort of attention the nanny pays to the child, how interactive the pairing is. Remember, this person is likely to have a major influence on your child’s tenderest years. It’s kinda crucial to do your best to get it right. Especially if you’re in the diplomatic life where stability is harder to come by as you move from place to place.
Right…preaching over. Just a few words of advice there for any stray person stumbling over this blog after punching in “Thai nanny” into Google 😉
A routine is established now. Every day around 4:30pm all the nannies go down to the ground of the apartment building where there is a small sandpit and play-frame. The community is gated so everyone gets together to watch the young ones interact. Every parent checks out the nanny of the others and we all then chat about it if we think there’s any issues to be resolved. The kids laugh, fall over, get up, fall over again, bounce back up. Outside the drone of Bangkok’s rush hour sweeps by. People on the 16th floor of the hotel opposite continue to sunbathe at their pool, oblivious to the fact everyone below can see them as they preen and strut. The guards around the place click their heels, salute, smile and usher people around. It’s a small oasis smack in the middle of Bangkok. A daily scene replayed over and over again in these small communities of expats. From 5 o’clock, the working parents start to sweep in from their embassies, their offices, their day out in the heat of Bangkok. Each and every day our kids stop what they do and lurch as rapidly as their little legs will carry them, squealing over to Mommy or Daddy, to be lifted, swung high into the air and giggle at beaming adult faces. From the side, I can see the nannies glance at each other, a small communal smile at another day well done, and then everyone relaxes into the warmth of a sultry evening.
It’s a nanny’s life, eh?
Is this what diplomacy is all about?