How much maid can you take?

When you walk through our neighbourhood, you see a lot of these:

1. Posh cars with expat wives (sunglasses, cell phone, and always busy!)

2. Shirtless joggers

3. Gardeners

4. Dog Walkers

5. Nannies with children

6. Pick-up trucks loaded with workers

In a previous post, I already ranted about those busy drivers, and there is not much to say about shirtless joggers other than: Hey, is it really so terrible to leave your shirt on? (Unless you look like…hum…the young Robert Redford, of course. Then it IS terrible to leave your shirt on!) So while points 1 and 2 are clearly the privileged ones around here (yup, like us), points 3 to 6 make up the majority: The workers.

I should like to make my own living Published ...

In a good Mexican household, the maids wear uniforms. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, I was talking to one of our handymen. (Well, of course I was, I spend big portions of my day with those guys…) He seemed kind of surprised that we don’t have a full-time maid, and he told me, that middle and upper class Mexicans completely rely on their servants. A Mexican “housewife” doesn’t clean nor cook nor does she take care of her children. A little stunned I asked him what the heck they were doing all day long? Shopping and spa, was his answer. Everybody as he/she pleases, I guess.

We, too, have a cleaning lady, but she only works for us 3 times a week for a couple of hours. She would like to work fulltime, but I wouldn’t really like to have a housekeeper around all the time – would you? When I was thinking about why I apparently was so different, I came to think about all the cleaning ladies I have had, and while each and every one of them had a very charming personality, they also had their quirks – like everybody.

My first cleaning lady who would only come to me like every other week was a very sweet Polish girl. Of course, given that my grandmother was Polish, I tried to impress her with my one Polish sentence that is, “I don’t speak Polish.” It goes without saying that we immediately bonded. I was really looking forward to the days she would be around. We would share a cup of tea and chat a little – she was an absolute dear. Sadly, she had to return to her country due to some family issues.

Afterwards, I was happy to find Mrs. F. She had my heart and my trust in an instant, for she looked like a person who hadn’t had too much luck in her life. She was a bigger lady who suffered from severe diabetes, and she looked a bit like a sad duck with ruffled feathers. When I was travelling, I would always leave her some diabetic biscuits next to the tea jar and a little note, and she always wrote something back. Then one day, shortly before Christmas, I got home and found my office decorated with little lights, and stars, and cute candleholders in the shape of little houses, and glistening snow flakes – I couldn’t even see my desk anymore! I was having a hard time to tell her that this was not so great an idea since it made work impossible, so I only re-arranged the decoration material a little and left it there until after Christmas.

Another time, I got home a little earlier and found her sitting on my sofa with her feet up on my coffeetable watching TV. I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled, even less so when she told me that she liked to stay after work since my apartment was nicer than her house. It took me a long time, but in the end I let her go telling her that my travel schedule got a little lighter and I didn’t need her help anymore.

Afterwards, R. started to work for me, a tiny Mexican lady. She was such a jewel! Never had my apartment been cleaner, and she was so cheerful! I practiced my Spanish with her and listened to her singing – I had found the perfect housekeeper! One day, she just disappeared. I contacted the gentleman who she claimed was her husband, but apparently, he was only an acquaintance or I don’t know what. He said she hadn’t returned from her vacation in Mexico, so I hope she is safe and sound with her family.

When we moved into our new home here, I immediately started looking for a cleaning lady and came across M. M. wasn’t the cheeful type. She hated our staircase. She hated the size of the house. And she hated the location. One day, she brought her husband who shouted at me that our house was very far away from where they lived. I didn’t really know what to reply. I mean, I would have loved to take the house and move it to a more convenient spot, but I was pretty sure that our landlady wouldn’t have agreed with that. So shortly after she had started, we parted ways.

And along came A. Honestly, I am so glad to have her, but like in every relationship after a while things can become a little…quirky. I told you that we are very happy to finally have a dishwasher now. However, A. doesn’t like that. According to her, it’s a lot quicker when she just washes the dishes by hand. I tried to explain to her that not only was it more sanitary to wash the dishes in a dishwasher but also cheaper, since less water would be used. That seemed to go well, but then she wanted to put it on even though there might only be two cups in there. I told her that we had to wait until it was full. That she didn’t like. So several times, she just took everything out and washed it by hand, until I got really angry and told her to stop. I think, she is still offended.

We also had our difficulties with the vacuum cleaner. A. refused to use it – all bollocks according to her. After a while, I found out that she just didn’t know how to use it. By now, she is so in love with the vacuum cleaner, that we gave her one for her own house.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other things find her acceptance more easily. Whenever I buy a new cleaning product, A. is so fascinated by it that she uses it for EVERYTHING. So recently I came home to formerly brown, now white kitchen cabinets – she had used a cleaning powder on all the wooden surfaces and thought that it would eventually turn dark again. It reminded me a bit of “My big fat Greek wedding” where the father of the bride uses Windex to cure everything – just like my dad uses a Chinese eucalyptus oil on every minor complaint. Another time, A. asked me to buy aceite rojo, furniture oil. Ever since, she put it on all surfaces that looked like wood which resulted in me cleaning it all again for it naturally had turned into a slippery mess.

A. also doesn’t agree on our dog’s diet. Being a street dog at heart, Mrs. P. is trying to gather food wherever she can find some. Clearly, I must be starving that poor creature! So desperately trying to save our dog, she started to give her Mr. P.’s cat food – which made Mrs. P. turn into kind of a balloon, and we could only survive when we left all windows and doors opened. But also our own diet doesn’t seem to find A.’s approval. How can a non-meat eater survive? Well, I guess we just have to live with that image of vegetables munching aliens…

When I come to think of it, a relationship with a housekeeper is not so unlike a long marriage: It all starts off well-behaved and shiny and with time, you notice all those funny peculiarities. Some you find charming, some drive you over the edge – but if you are lucky, in the end, you wouldn’t want to miss them.

How about you? Do you have a fulltime maid? Would you want one?


19 thoughts on “How much maid can you take?

  1. I think it would be so weird to have someone come to my house and clean up after me. I know that having maids is the norm in some countries (a South African friend of mine said it was a big adjustment for her family not to have servants anymore when they came to Australia), but I would feel very uncomfortable. I would feel like I had to clean up before they arrived so that they wouldn’t know what a slob I was! The place I stayed when I lived in England had a maid that was hired by the landlord and she was a sweet, lovely person, but I always felt very awkward watching her mop and vacuum and dust while I sat on my butt at the computer. Granted, I was working, too, but I just felt like I should be pitching in to help.

    • I know exactly what you mean! That’s why I always leave the house and only let her do basic things like clean the floor. Everybody finds that peculiar, especially since most houses have a maid’s room that’s adjacent to the kitchen. We do, too, it looks like a prison cell, and I am happy to use it as a utility room.
      Thanks for your comment!

    • It is totally normal to love one’s cleaning lady? Or to have one? 😉 here, it is normal to have a full time maid who lives with you or at least starts working at 7am – somebody needs to prepare breakfast after all!
      Thanks for reading!

      • Here to have one is normal – but the frequency and duration varies depending on if you have kids. For me, it’s just about right. 🙂

  2. I feel just like you do. I’ve given up completely on cleaning ladies on more than one occasion, prompting stares and incredulity from the neighbors. No Ivorian woman in my neighborhood would consider cleaning her own house and most folks seem positively horrified to find a white woman doing it (because apparently white skin also imbues a person with endless wealth). (Ha, ha, ha…:-)

  3. A part-time, friendly, efficient cleaning lady is a wonderful thing! Most middle-class and higher folks here in Hong Kong have full-time, live-in “helpers” from either the Philippines or Indonesia. So far (knock on wood) we’ve happily gotten by with part time help. I really, really like my privacy (but truth be told, I also hate hanging out laundry to dry!).

    • Yes, I agree. It’s wonderful to have help, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want to give up my privacy. I could never imagine having a live-in maid, I think it must be so weird!
      Thanks for reading!

  4. I have someone come two days a week for 8 hours a day. I have come to hate the days that she comes. I love that my house is clean at the end of the day and she’s perfectly nice, but I like my privacy (and I hate feeling guilty that I am doing nothing while she cleans for me). I also don’t like the fact that she ruined the white leather couch that was included with our furnished apartment – she tried cleaning it with a cleaning product meant for sinks, counter tops, etc. I don’t even want to think about how much the landlord will charge us for it when we move out. But I could have far worse problems than my maid ruining my couch and “invading” my privacy, so I really shouldn’t complain!

    • Sounds very familiar… I also always fear that she might all of a sudden decide to use some clorox on the marble floor tiles… So far, she only broke some stuff and imprinted her red lips on our (expensive) lamp shade. Little souvenir.
      But yes, we are lucky to have some help. And I always use the time to go to the gym. What luxury!
      Thanks for reading!

  5. This post was so funny and well-written! I can completely relate. My parents have been on assignment in Qatar for years. After going through 3 live-in helpers my mom finally had enough. Sometimes the emotional stress of having a complete stranger, with their “quirks” and all, overrides the benefits of full time help. I’ve been spoiled here in Calgary with a cleaning service once every 2 weeks (keep in mind I just have a tiny apartment with no kids!) I’m afraid once I go back to Houston a cleaning lady just might help with my repatriation process 😉

    I just realized for some reason I had never officially ‘followed’ you! Glad I finally came around to changing that HUGE mistake!

    • Thank you so much! Yes, I think having a cleaning lady who comes every now and then to help with the big tasks (or the little ones you just don’t like) is great (especially in this heat here), but there is always the danger of getting too close and losing one’s privacy.
      And yay!!! Glad you are following, even though I am a bit of a lazy blogger these days…

  6. A helper is wonderful, but like you said, having a full-time live-in one does have its downsides too. When I lived in Asia, I had a wonderful part-time cleaning lady 1x/week to come and clean my apartment (just me, a single gal who never cooked, so I was pretty easy I think.) Back in the states, a part-time cleaning service is a luxury as space is much more abundant, and labor is expensive. We still feel like it’s splurging for a 1x/month service. But once you find someone and build a relationship, things tend to go better, just like you described, despite the initial lumps. May you continue to build a good relationship with your quirky helper, A! 🙂

    • Thank you! 🙂 Well, sometimes I feel that we are getting too close actually, because I am never safe from her advice… Like when she is trying to persuade me to gulp down half a bottle of tequila to get rid of a cough. Or when she wants to borrow money all the time. I am already dreading the forthcoming weeks since the school holidays are about to start which means she brings her really lovely but terribly chatty daughter who is trying to keep me entertained for hours. More gym time for me! 😉
      We never had a cleaning lady in Seattle since I wasn’t working, and I actually quite like to clean… But I think it is a great concept to have somebody coming in like once a month and do some of the heavy cleaning.
      Thanks for reading!

  7. We have had one for many years, and finally they become part of the family there is a bond between them and the kids, and yes they work a lot, but in the other hand they are better than in their communities, they have running water, great food, TV, get paid, and 1 or 2 days off, Houses are built with this in mind, so kitchen, laundry and maids quarters, are separated from the rest of the house, I love ours.

    • That’s great to hear! Yes, we also have a maid’s room, but it’s only a shoebox. I would feel bad to let anyone sleep in there…
      I am glad to hear you are having a good experience with a full-time maid. I am sure there are many households where the maid belongs to the family. Thanks for stopping by!

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