Montana is a long way from Washington, D.C., in more ways than just miles. Unlike Washington, Montana has few Yuppies, black-tie affairs and gourmet takeout stores. But for at least eight Montanans currently working as nannies in the Washington area -- and others who have preceded them -- the cultural miles are shrinking.
For these women, traveling 2,000 miles to work as nannies is a chance to experience living in a very different environment. Montana, the fourth largest state in land area and 44th largest in population, has no city larger than 100,000 people.
Janine Sweeney, 24, from Belt, Mont., says that the idea of moving in with a family in a large city was much more appealing than moving to the city on her own. "I never would have had the nerve to come to the East by myself, but this was an ideal situation."
Sweeney, who has a marketing degree from Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont., also felt that working for a year as a Washington nanny would be a good way to make future job contacts. Most Montana nannies have graduated from or attended college; they typically range in age from about 19 to 25.
The growing number of Montana nannies in Washington is part of the trend toward hiring American women instead of Europeans, according to Sweeney's employer. "I feel more comfortable with American girls because there aren't the language and cultural problems you might have with foreigners," says Carolyn Collins, Chevy Chase, Md. Cheaper airfares and no necessity for work papers are two other factors.
Collins, co-owner of Mothers Work, a Washington maternity wear store, considers Montana nannies especially desirable because they "tend to to be more easy going than East Coast girls, have good values and their families have usually played a big part in their lives. I think Montanans have a very good influence on Washington."
Washingtonians wanting a Montana nanny often find her by word-of-mouth -- usually through a family that already has a Montana nanny or through someone who knows of a Montanan who wants to come to Washington. Some Washingtonians advertise in Montana newspapers. Families almost always pay the nanny's airfare to and from Washington, as well as room and board and a weekly salary of about $100 to $150. A year's commitment is usually required, although some work in Washington for just the summer.
Because Sweeney and her cousin, Caryn Walsh, 25, who is from Helena, Mont., and is a nanny for a Capitol Hill editor and marketing executive, were asked so frequently how to get Montana nannies, they recently started a business called "Au Pair Express." (" 'Nanny,' " says Sweeney, "doesn't sound as good.")
Sweeney and Walsh will match Washington families with Montana applicants, who are required to send a re'sume', photograph, letters of introduction and recommendation. The pair will handle the paperwork and visit each Washington-area family requesting a nanny. "We can check out these families back here," says Walsh, "to make sure the people from Montana aren't getting into bad situations." Their fee, which starts at $125, is based on the nanny's weekly salary. For further information: Au Pair Express, (202) 547-2816.