Our new live-in maid moved in today. She seems really nice and had great references so I am cautiously optimistic. Our recent experiences have jaded me a little and yet I am excited that this woman might work out. She is from the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, which has a culture completely different from the Andean mountain culture we have grown acustomed to, which means we are probably in for more interesting cultural experiences.
I have to confess that I find it uncomfortable to write about our search for a new maid because I imagine all of my American or European readers rolling their eyes. I imagine you are all thinking, “Seriously, she is going to complain about her help again? Does she know how lucky she is to have help at all?”
Maybe you are thinking this or maybe you are not, but clearly I still feel uncomfortable having so much help, even after a year a half here. Uncomfortable yet for the record very appreciative and grateful. And truth to tell dealing with domestic help is definitely part of the expat experience in a developing country.
Not to mention that the process of looking for a maid, getting references, and interviewing has been very interesting when viewed through the lens of cultural differences. Here are some things I observed:
- There is no such thing as political correctness here. Even though I am used to this by now, I am still struck by the prejudices that I hear come out of people’s mouths. For instance, many live-in maids in Bogota come from the Caribbean Coast. The economy there is pretty bad and many women are forced to leave their children behind with family members and travel to Bogota and other large Colombian cities in search of work. People from the Andean mountains who make up the majority of the population here, have no trouble opining on the Costenos – “they are lively, talk fast, hard to understand, good cooks, lazy, partiers, unreliable.”
- — I have also observed major class antagonism during this search. While some people are too polite and educated to make negative comments about “the help”, many have had no qualms about saying things like, “Of course, she stole from you. They all steal. You have to watch them like a hawk. You treat them nicely, and they take advantage of you and work even less. These people don’t understand nice or honesty or how to live well. They like it when you let them know what their place is. You gringoes are all bleeding hearts and don’t understand that you can’t treat these people like equals.” Yikes! When I point out that working very hard for $15 per day seems unjust to “us gringoes”, I am told that this is just the way it is and at least “these people” have a job. Wow! I try to stay open minded, but it’s difficult for me to look at other human beings this way.
So I am going to keep doing it my “gringo” way, which means that I continue to be nice and friendly and ask our new maid to tell me if something doesn’t work for her or bothers her. I just can’t do it differently. At the same time, I am much clearer about my expectations, that it’s not personal, but we will be checking her bags when she goes home for the weekend (routine here but not something I ever felt comfortable doing), and I am installing a safe for our valuables (also normal here).