Wednesday, December 02, 2009

My Bollywood Housekeeper Drama

I'm a spoiled American who has "been in Kuwait too long." I admit it. I like being pampered and having a house-helper. But, you can afford it here and if people want to work and you are fair to them - why not?

Is there nothing simple in life? One would think: I pay. You clean. Get it? But nooooooo.

I am so anal about cleaning that I make a new housekeeper sign an agreement stating her working days/hours and listing - in bullet points - her responsibilities. I offer to pay overtime at an agreed-upon rate. I think its fair. What do I get? Phucked with, that's what.

"Don't leave anything on the counters."
I come home, the counters are covered with stuff that she has arranged into rows.

"Dust on top of the furniture"
I get a note explaining how often she cleans on top of the furniture and that yes, of course she does that. None of the furniture has been dusted.

Mary (Christian) decided on her own that she was going to work shorter hours during Ramadan. I come home and call her. She's "at the bus stop". 'Mary, where are you?' "It's Ramadan, Madame." WTF am I - a government institution? We agreed on 8 hours per week, 4 times a month. Is that a lot to ask?

She's broken my vacuum cleaner something like 5 times. I don't know how she's doing it. (And I never deduct anything from her pay - even if stuff is broken.) The problem is, she'll break my Hoover and then just not tell me or clean the carpets. Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy? I LOVE my Hoover!

Mary (not her real name, but close) has been cleaning for me for 4 years. I had a very small apartment before - it's just me and my little dog. I don't have wild parties or entertain very often and when I do - I bring in a cleaning crew for the night. She doesn't have to cook or touch my clothes other than to fold and hang them. This should be pretty simple, right?

I started her off with a salary of around 30 KD because I thought it was fair. Over the years, I have increased it to 50 KD - which is almost what a live-in maid makes. And my place still isn't clean. The cleaners who worked at my last barbecue told me, "Madame, who cleans your house? It is very dirty." That's phucked up.

I refer Mary to friends who need part-time help. She tells them, "Madame (Desert Girl) is paying me 50 KD..." as if they should do the same. WHAT UP!

I left her notes. She always responded with flowery verses - with lots of religious references. I call her. She doesn't pick up the phone. The next day, I receive a message that she was in church (regardless of the day or time) and couldn't answer the phone. So.. call me! Dayam - I shoulda been in church - praying for a decent housekeeper!

Why not just get rid of her from the get-go? Well, her family has always been very kind to me. They take care of my dog while I'm away (which is frequently). In return, I give them not only cash, but furniture, appliances, clothing - whatever I am going to discard. I was thinking to give them a fair amount of stuff if/when I ever left Kuwait. On her birthday and holidays, I bought her gifts equal to what I would get for my friends (although I quit that when she flat-out told me that she was giving them to family members as gifts! Don't re-gift and TELL ME!)

This past month, her brother-in-law (who most frequently watches Desert Dawg) asked if he could "borrow" 1000 KD from me because he only makes 360 KD and can't get a loan. Ok, get a co-signer. He needs the money to pay for his son's college tuition in India. He swears he will pay me back 200 KD a month (on a 360 KD/mo salary). Dude - do the math! I told him that I can't... financial problems.... blah blah blah. I wouldn't ask ANY of my closest friends or family for that kind of money! I can't imagine asking someone who isn't close.

So, when asked if they can watch Desert Dawg while I'm gone for Christmas, Dude says, "The hariss is giving us trouble about having a dog. I'll check and get back to you..." Oh right. After 4 years, hariss dude is complaining. Not to mention that the building is so old that if they decided to breed livestock, no one would notice or complain. Just now when I won't shell out the money?

M meantime sends me an SMS, "You owe me 3 KD from September." WTF??? No flowery words or God references there. Just plain and simple - pay up. I hand her a 5 KD note. She turned and walked away. No change.

Desert Girl about to blow: I left her (as we say in the US) a "come to Jesus" letter (hey - I don't start the religious stuff - she does). 'Clean or leave. Your choice. Dont' leave me a note or an SMS. Do it.'

And now.... for the Bollywood moment.

I get an SMS first (she can't CALL???) "God bless you, Madame. You have never hurt me in the 4 years I have worked for you. I don't know what I did maaam. If I hurt you, I am sorry. I will stop work today. If you are not happy with my work than what is the use to work. I will keep you in my heart forever."

Are we breaking up? Were we married?

I come home to find another flowery note full of religious references (again, when she's demanding money, she never mentions God). Plus, she hasn't cleaned a thing and hasn't left me my key - leading me to believe that the drama will continue (changing my locks). Desert Dawg even gave me a look like, "What did you DO to Maria???" Eeek.

I think that some people see kindness and generosity as a form of weakness/stupidity. Ridiculous. I treat people fairly and if I'm paying for a service - I want to get what I pay for.

I should have been born either Jewish or Catholic with the amount of guilt I feel in general. So, I call my mom for affirmation that what I've done is "right". "Don't ever talk to those people again." Okay. I feel better. The Man is just livid about it, "You don't know how to manage helpers!" He thinks I'm insane. Okay. I feel better.

I should start a professional, American (aka "bossy")-managed part-time maid service like they have in the States. In the meantime, while I procrastinate/form committees/do R&D: Can anyone recommend someone good for P/T work? I would prefer him to be 6'4", dark eyes, bronze skin, and wear a little (I mean little) uniform... tee hee. (with my luck, he'll be gay and won't clean at all.)


Anonymous said...

This has happened with me as well.. word to word except the Dog. And the name resembles too. I pay twice as you with residency and get all the flowery and religious references when an excuse is to be made. When in need to bucks, nothing. I am looking for a replacement too.... Sometimes I feel the few who are good and generous with the domestic staff are taken advantage of. Even though they are so aware of what happens with their friends, relatives they have the attitude to take you for granted.

Mark said...

Leave Desert Dawg at IVH over Christmas. Maybe Geo and him and can hang out together there.

Desert Girl said...

Anonymous - It is just stupidity on their part. I wouldn't put put with this crap from friends - why should I put up with it from someone who I'm paying?

Mark - I like IVH and DD has stayed there before, but she is really nervous in kennels and with loud noises (barking). She literally shivers for days after I get her home and I feel so guilty (there goes the Jewish-Catholic thing again!)

Anonymous said...

I think some people become like this because of the circumstances they come from. Circumstances I/you/we reading this blog wouldn't even be able to imagine. Maybe they were so poor growing up, that now that are willing to behave in any way to keep the money flowing.
Of course this is just theory. My therapist says I shouldn't justify other people's behavior, but should give way to my anger, which is what you were doing with this post :o)
And I think you were unsure if what you did was right or not because this kind of behavior is so far removed from you. Most of the time I also don't understand how most people around me have survived so long in life - without getting the shit beaten out of them for the way they behave and the suff they pull.

Anonymous said...

As an American with lots of family in India which I visit often, let me tell you this type of behavior is quite standard with a lot of household helpers. I don't think you are going to be able to change Mary's behavior, it will be easier just to get a new maid and be a little stricter from the get go. If something breaks deduct a few KD's from their salary, if they are not doing what you specifically ask them to do within reason tell them that if they do something the wrong way one more time you will have to replace them. They are much smarter than you think and can make excuses all day long and not do what you tell them to. You seem to go out of your way to be nice to Mary, and that is probably very rare in a place like Kuwait from what I have seen so far (been here 2 months). Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Desert Girl,

Its not just you. Its happened to a lot of us. I think the problem is that we mistake our kindness and decency as something valuable to them. Its not. Most maids/helpers etc want to do as little work as possible and get paid as much as possible. Not because they are lazy or stupid but simply because it sucks being a maid and having to clean up someone else's mess. I used to be nice and sweet and friendly and generous to all the household help. Now I am mean and bitchy and don't pay until the end of the month and all the work is done to my satisfaction. If something gets broke (in my case, the washer and dryer twice, the blender once) then they pay for it out of their salary. When the dishes aren't cleaned right, they get washed again and I make it a point to come home unannounced randomly to check on them (caught my maid washing the floor while wearing my shoes at least three times ... so far). I hate being mean but every time I'm not, I get cheated, taken advantage of and a dirty house and broken appliances.

DOD said...

Seems like you have gotten to close or attached to the cleaner..always remember it’s a business deal. If she doesn’t hold her end she is gone, because I’m sure if she cleaned everything you asked and you continually paid her late or less then agreed, she would leave you very quickly. Find a new dog sitter, and then tell her Jesus told you to free her from your punishing ways by letting her go, free to find another person to work for....hahahahah

Desert Girl said...

DOD - I was thinking of having speakers placed around the apartment and make tapes of random sayings like, "Maria.. this is The Lord speaking.... clean under the sofa..."

Too funny.

Thanks for all y'alls nice comments which put my insecure Jewish/Catholic guilt-riden mind to rest. It's all true.

Anonymous said...

People don't esteem what comes cheaply and with little effort. Have you ever heard of someone washing a rental car?

Desert Girl said...

I had a maid one time that lasted less than 15 minutes.

On the day she was to come for me to give her an orientation/instructions, she brought her 1 year old baby and a friend. Clue #1.

The day she was to start work for me, she walked in the kitchen and broke a vase that was on the top shelf. I fired her immediately.

I don't believe it was an accident. I think it was intentional to see what she could get away with.

Anonymous said...

Ha - same thing happened to me when I lived in Hong Kong.... my one cleaner turned into FOUR (her sisters, cousins etc.,) but the place was never any better cleaned! And I felt so guilty reading the paper with my breakfast while four people cleaned around me, that I felt forced to go out Saturday mornings!

Hire me! I love dogs and would be happy to dog/house sit/clean. I am in the UK though and just arrived after 10 years living and working in the US.

I've been looking at Kuwait for work as I am an Interior / Fashion designer (last job was designing for Pottery Barn Kids in San Fran) - I saw your posting about them hiring for stores but I would never work for them again - awful company!

Desert Girl said...

Anonymous 7:42 - A very nice British woman owns Ethan Alan and they have been doing more in the way of decor in addition to the furniture sales. You should get in touch with them.

Desert Girl said...

Anonymous 8:38 - I wash my rental car all the time. :)

Anonymous said...

All of this is very familiar, I have a slightly different slant - the iron 'doesnt get hot enough', we now have four irons because we were persuaded to get another one again, and again....and still cannot have wrinkle free clothes....

As with you, we kept the cleaner on because the two dogs like her.

Anyone need an iron? I know where there are three going cheap!

Petar said...

You've done the right thing. That dude would have NEVER returned that loan to you. Their family might have been planing that all along or may be doing this on a regular basis. It's a broadly used scam. I've had relatives scammed in a similar manner, because they're THAT guilable.

Anonymous said...

The attitude shown by Mary is very typical. As someone suggested before, you have to be strict with them. Cut her wages if she breaks something and tell her straight on her face that you are not satisfied with the way she cleans. Show your displeasure. Be careful of Keralites they are very clever. They will try to take advantage of your niceness and kindness. I used to live in Ahmadi in 90's. I have always had male maids as i think they do a much better job. If you really want to have a female maid then try Philipinos. They do a good job.