Desperately seeking a Mandarin-speaking nanny

What does the British family that has almost everything still lack? A Chinese childcare professional.

Published April 11, 2007 4:29PM (EDT)

One wonders whether Herbert Giles, the learned professor of Chinese at Cambridge University in the late 19th century who did so much to introduce the West to the mysteries of Mandarin, would be bemused by the latest news from the Times: Mandarin-speaking nannies are the latest upper-crust bourgeois accessory for families determined that their children grow up with every advantage.

Along with a story in the Guardian a week earlier about the rising incidence of Mandarin instruction in English schools, the article in the Times is a typical anecdotal reflection of rising Chinese economic power. But it also offers a little glimpse at yet another example of imbalance in global labor markets.

There just isn't enough supply to meet the Mandarin-speaking nanny demand. Young Chinese women have an extraordinarily difficult time getting visas to come to the U.K. to do childcare. That doesn't mean, however, that there's an overall shortage of foreign nanny labor. European Union expansion hasn't just resulted in an influx of cheap Polish plumbers. "Britain is now awash with nannies from Eastern Europe," reports the Times.

But what competitive striver in the global economy wants their toddler learning Bulgarian or Romanian?

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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