Some Facts Concerning Au Pairs

I would like to clarify some facts in the opinion-page article "A Mom's Bad Memory of Her Own Au Pairs" (Nov 5).

We agree with the author's conclusion that families and au pairs often have different expectations. As pointed out, the United States Information Agency (USIA) has continually worked to strengthen the regulations to make this a safe and enjoyable program for both the American host families and au pairs. Fortunately, a majority of families have enjoyed good experiences. For the record, here are some facts to consider:

* The "stipend" referred to in the article is a congressionally mandated pay scale that is tied to the minimum federal wage scale.

* The au pair program has operated under regulations - not guidelines - since February 1995.

* The reference to "brief calls to require 32 hours of training" was in fact a number of months of intense negotiations to strengthen the screening and training of au pairs. An au pair has far more required training than almost any day-care worker or babysitter you may hire in this country

* The screening, recruiting, and training of au pairs were strengthened under updated regulations Sept. 1, and are constantly under scrutiny to make the program safer. The au pair organizations must submit an independent audit to the agency each year to ensure the safety and protection for everyone involved.

Ultimately, parents bear the responsibility to carefully examine the quality of child care they are undertaking and to be informed consumers. We will continue to do all we can to enhance the integrity of this cultural and educational program that has meant so much for thousands of young people.

Marthena S. Cowart


Director, Office of Public Liason


SUVs: "door of beads" or direct hit?

The opinion-page article "Peace, Love, and a 'Sport Ute'?" (Nov. 4) illustrates a journalistic device I call a "door of beads."

A literal door of beads - long strings of beads hung in a doorway - creates the illusion of a barrier. Likewise, a writer's door of beads makes no real point; it just creates the illusion of one. The author's subject is the sport utility vehicle (SUV). Here are some strings of beads he hangs in his door:

Just go around. The image of an SUV looming in the rear-view mirror of a small car is supposed to make me think that only SUV drivers tailgate. Never mind that city bus drivers really do tailgate.

You beast! The author accuses SUVs of "inflicting far worse damage in traffic accidents than they're sustaining." The fact is that an SUV will sustain less damage because it is a heavier, safer vehicle. Cars that sustain more damage may not be as safe.

Global warming. Just mentioning "greenhouse gas emissions" makes it the fault of SUVs, I suppose. What other point could there be?

Don't pay attention to that smokestack behind the curtain. The author says (and this may be true) Americans are "a mere 5 percent of the world's population, spewing out 25 percent of the fossil-fuel gases that envelop the planet." And I thought it was cars, buses, factories, trains, planes, trucks, and leaf blowers doing the damage. (Note to self: Find out if the author rides a bike.)

Resistance is futile. The author fears a future with "a sport utility vehicle in every American driveway."

Thus hangs the door of beads. Like any illusion, it has no substance.

Aaron D. Dyer


The article is a direct hit on a large target. The SUV (silly, ugly vehicle) phenomenon might incline some of us to the view that a boost in gasoline taxes is in order, and perhaps a revision in vehicle license fees.

I doubt that a politician, seeing a parking lot full of SUVs, could conclude that constituents had any concern for the environment or for esthetically pleasing urban areas.

Ron Patterson

San Rafael, Calif.

Your letters are welcome. All letters are subject to editing. Mail to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to

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