The Kauffman family has hosted 10 Cultural Care au pairs over the years.
Through the years I’ve worked for Cultural Care Au Pair, I’ve heard many a heartwarming story about cultural exchange and the amazing bond that can form between au pairs and their host families. (Reading through the Au Pair of the Year submissions brings tears to my eyes every year.) But the story I heard from veteran host mom and Sales Director, Sharon Kauffman about her au pair, Paty’s wedding gave me chills—in a good way, of course. This will be a long post, but I hope you read it to the end, because it truly illustrates how cultural exchange can be life-changing.
This story starts 8 years ago when the Colorado-based Kauffman family—Sharon, Dan and their three sons, Oliver, Harry and Spencer—welcomed their second au pair into their home. Paty from Brazil “was wonderful,” says host mom Sharon. “She stayed the longest out of all of our au pairs—21 months total—and we were as close with her as we were with any of our au pairs.”
The Kauffman’s stayed in touch with Paty after she returned home to Brazil, and she even returned to Colorado for a visit. Sharon knew that Paty landed a job at an airline and that she had met someone special at her church. When Paty called to say that she was engaged to her boyfriend Alcir, “I was thrilled for her,” Sharon says.
As preparations for the wedding got underway, Paty asked Sharon if she could come to the U.S. again for a visit and to buy a dress. “What I didn’t realize about Brazil,” Sharon shares, “is that wedding dresses are over-the-top expensive. And women don’t always even buy wedding dresses; they rent them. Still, it often costs as much as $2,000 to rent a dress for one day.” Sharon was delighted to host Paty once again and have the opportunity to meet Alcir who Paty brought as well. Paty and her fiancé stayed for 2 weeks.
“I made an appointment at a bridal store to look at dresses the day after they arrived,” says Sharon, “but before we went, I asked Paty what she was looking for in a gown. What she described reminded me of my own wedding dress that was preserved in a box in my closet. So I asked Paty if she wanted to try it on.”
What happened next “was magical,” says Sharon. “Despite the fact that we are totally different sizes and heights, Paty put that dress on and it fit like a glove. Both of us started to cry. We added my gloves and veil, and Paty said, ‘I feel like a princess.’”
They kept the appointment at the bridal store, but nothing quite measured up to Sharon’s dress. Sharon remembers Paty saying, “Your dress has so much history compared to the ones I’m trying on. It would mean the world to me if I could wear the dress.” Sharon, who has three boys, agreed immediately. She says, “With the money Paty saved, she bought gorgeous shoes.”
Paty was hopeful that Sharon and her family could attend her wedding later that year. “But,” Sharon says, “I’d been to Sao Paulo before and I didn’t have an altogether positive impression of it. I considered going on my own, but I didn’t feel comfortable with that idea. So I asked my mom—who has only been out of the country twice—to come with me. Initially she said no, but her mom called back the next day and said, ‘I’m 84 years old. How can I say no? I might never have an opportunity like this again.”
When Sharon and her mom arrived in Sao Paulo for the wedding, “Paty and Alcir picked us up and took us to the apartment they were to live in once married. We stayed there the whole time.” Sharon explains, “We lived as they lived. There was no hot water in the sinks, no screens on the windows.” And yet, their trip was more incredible than Sharon could have imagined.
Each morning of their visit, Paty and various members of her family arrived at the apartment to get Sharon and her mom and show them around Sao Paulo. “They took us all over,” says Sharon. “Out to eat, downtown, to all the sights. One night, Paty’s mom prepared a fejoada for us, a very traditional Portuguese meal.” Sharon, her mom, Paty, Alcir and Paty’s mom also visited the Cultural Care Au Pair office downtown and met and talked with staff for over two hours. “The staff was curious about the kinds of au pair meetings LCCs have, what families are the best fit for Brazilian au pairs. It was so awesome.” (The staff was so impressed with Paty that they later offered her a job, which she happily accepted.)
The day of the wedding came quickly. Says Sharon, “The entire wedding was in Portuguese but Paty had two English-speaking friends escort us to the front of the church and translate the whole ceremony. Right before leaving the church, this tiny little old woman came up to me and said something in Portuguese. The friends translated it for me: ‘You don’t know who I am. But I know who you are. And everyone in this church knows who you are. And I want to say thank you. God bless you and God bless your country.’ These heartfelt words had me in tears.”
The next two days after the wedding, while the couple honeymooned, Paty’s sister Pamela (also a former au pair), her boyfriend and a translator friend resumed the duty of tour guides. They took Sharon and her mom to the farmer’s market—“An amazing experience,” says Sharon—and to more points of interest before finally dropping them off at the airport for their flight home.
For sure, the trip helped Sharon understand and appreciate the people of Brazil even more and changed her view of Sao Paolo for the better, “even though the city is still a very busy one that overwhelms the senses at times.” She says, “Their culture is so warm and so caring. They are the happiest people. There are people who have very little, yet they are so joyful and so happy.”
Her trip also helped Sharon understand why Brazilians make great au pairs. “They are so calm, centered, kind. They don’t get flustered. And now I understand it may be because they are accustomed to living in much more chaotic conditions than Americans are.”
Now that Paty is back from her honeymoon and working in the Cultural Care Au Pair office in Sao Paolo, “We Skype every day,” says Sharon. “I’ve told her she could keep the dress. After all, I have three boys, what am I going to do with it? But Paty said, ‘No. Another of your au pair daughters might need it. I’m sending it back to you.’”
Sharon can hardly wait until the next adventure of the “Sisterhood of the Travelling Wedding Dress” begins…