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
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.
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.
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?