Living with a Maid
Not used to be always surrounded by a “stranger”, you may feel deeply disturbed with a lack of privacy experienced when living with household helpers we employ in Southeast Asia. Suddenly, there is at all times someone who knows our most private details and yet does not belong to the family. Quarrels are overheard, telephone conversations are not private, when we scold the children they watch us and when we hug our partner they feel embarrassed.
Many Westerners feel guilty being served and need to adjust to the fact that labor in Southeast Asia is cheap and maids are not just for the privileged. Many expatriates cannot resist the temptation to integrate a live-in maid into the family by inviting her to sit at their table and treat her like a family member.
They feel uncomfortable having someone so close around them and yet keep an emotional distance.
Maids however, will be rather embarrassed being treated like close friends or family and will finally lose the respect necessary for such a relationship. They know their rightful place in the structure of your home and expect you to treat them like an employer treats her employee. Your home with servants must be compared to a small company with contracts, wages, rules and expectation on both sides. So accept your new position as an employer and behave accordingly. What you basically should avoid:
● Sit at the same table with your maid and share a meal.
● Go window-shopping with her and have lunch in a restaurant.
● Cook for your maid or iron her laundry.
● Treat her/talk to her like a to close friend or relative.
● Clear the table or do any other chores of hers.
● Ask for advice in educational or family matters.
● Have her sit in the back of the car when you are driving unless she sits with a child.
As the above listed behavior is very unusual in Southeast Asia those who act in the way described above will be soon avoided by locals and sometimes expatriates. They may be regarded as inexperienced freshmen who still have a lot to learn.
Training Your Maid
Proper training is on average one to three months (some slower learners may take up to a year) and is part and parcel of a good performance of your servants. Even if a maid is pre-trained by an agency or her former employer she will not be absolutely perfect. Give her time to adjust to the new working environment and to change patterns of her former agenda.
And don’t forget: she may not even understand the way you talk, as your accent is completely unfamiliar to her. It may be worth providing some tapes/videos to improve her English or send her to a language course. But first of all you need to let her know how you want her to work and what she needs to do. We have prepared another assistant to be at your service. Click the Maid’s Schedule Assistant and set up a daily and weekly routine according to your own needs.
Keep in mind that many maids experience culture shock when they start working for expatriates. Coming from poor backgrounds many electrical appliances (and for some even a gas oven) may be new to them and even with training they may be mixed up. Try to remember the first time you had to use your video recorder and be patient.
As the maid goes through a lot of emotional stress (including being homesick!) and will be very nervous you have to be very patient, repeat yourself several times if necessary and try not to create tension. Mistakes will still happen and you should never yell at her as this makes you lose your Face and hers, which is to be avoided at all times.
If you see your maid laughing when things go wrong do not think she is funny. This is just the Asian way of expressing embarrassment! It is a good idea to make her feel relaxed by telling her some mishaps you had yourself and have a good laugh together. Eliminating all negative feelings by creating an environment of peace and security can be considered as a key phrase when dealing with Asian domestic helpers. Frequent appraisal of progress will accelerate her learning curve and increase self confidence while you may slow down any progress by creating tension and confrontation.
The Asian hierarchy demands from your maid never to interrupt you, rather instead listen to you silently and never contradict. You helpers would rather do something wrong and even lie than compromise you and disturb harmony. You may realize that your maid silently is avoiding certain works she does not like until you give up which is a typical Asian way of solving conflicts.
Expatriates new to Asia misinterpret many gestures familiar in their Western culture. Nodding her head does not mean she is responding to your question with a yes rather, she is politely showing you her respect. A clear no does not exist in many Asian languages, and is often replaced with a word resembling our “perhaps”. For instance, ask a Chinese, “Can you do this?” He will not answer “no” or “yes”, but “cannot” and “can”. It is crucial to find a way of corresponding to avoid misunderstandings.
You need to give your maid a clear understanding of her working hours that include the time to rise and when to prepare breakfast. If a maid has to care for a baby at night, it would be unfair to expect her to rise early, stay up late and not give her a time to rest during the day. To ensure efficiency include a minimum of 8 hours rest per day. Use the Maid’s Schedule Assistant
Most conflicts result from expectations you may have and which are not met. You may accuse your maid or agency of giving false or wrong statements of bio data on the quality of e.g. her cooking. Quality standards are very different and the maid’s former employer may have been fairly satisfied with her cooking abilities as she did not expect her to cook complicated Western dishes.
You need to improve her skills by training to cook simple dishes in small steps. Ask her to cook something she knows to break the grounds. Train her how to use and clean appliances and apply hygiene standards when preparing food.
Advise your maid how to address and treat your guests as many feel deeply insecure about foreigners. As they will not be able to pronounce their names properly it is easier to address men as “Sir” and “Madam” which is also the most used address for you and your partner. Elderly are frequently addressed as uncle or auntie, which is a form or respect in the Southeast Asian culture.
When answering phone calls maids need to be trained to write down names and telephone numbers in English. You should practice this with her. Give them clear instructions how to proceed with the conversation if you are not available or do not want to be disturbed. You would not like her to tell your friends “Sir and Madam are busy in the bedroom.”
Serving at Dinners
We urgently advise you to train and practice serving procedures with your maid. Serving food and drink in appropriate dishes and from the right angle, pouring hot and cold drinks, carving meat the Western way, folding napkins, setting the table for different courses and clearing the table between courses – these duties do not come naturally for any maid but have to be trained again and again.
Make it a habit to have the maid serve you shortly before the dinner party and assure her that she is doing fine to curb her nervousness. It helps greatly to draw (or photograph) complete dinner sets with plates, cutlery and glasses on a sheet of paper which the maid can keep for her perusal.
Maids and Children
Latest when expatriates return home many moan about the fact that their children are spoilt to death by having had a maid. And so are you! Indeed, living with a maid does have a huge impact on your kids’ education. Generally Asian maids will attend to them with affection and love and depending on their age children can get very attached to them. Maids hate to discipline your children and you need to convey the message that she has to be firm with your kids to help them to grow up being responsible and considerate adults.
It helps to inform them that back home they have to tidy up their bedrooms and assist with household chores as you will not have a maid any more! You need to discipline your children if you see them abusing, bullying and speaking rudely to your servants and it is very important to set a good example.