By Debbie Eynon Finley
One of the get-to-know-you or conversation starters at ex-pat community socials is, How is your maid working out?” Since labor is so much cheaper in Brazil, most ex-pats hire a full-time maid (plus a gardener and pool cleaner).
When friends first asked me about our maid, I didn’t know how to answer. I’d never had a real maid before or a solid basis of comparison. With our Suburban Sweepers cleaning service in Austin, Texas, twice a month, their team would come and go like a ninety minute, tidy-up tornado. Usually, my husband and I were away at work. In Brazil, like most ex-pat spouses, I don’t have a work permit so am often at home during the day.
“My maid is very nice and hard working,” I answered. “But, I’m a little tired of making her lunch (big, U.S. dinner type meal) every day.”
“What?!”, a more seasoned friend, Beth, corrected me. “She’s supposed to be making and serving your lunch. My maid sets the table and makes and serves me a fabulous hot, four course meal every day. And, there are always leftovers for supper. You need to put some fire under your maid.”
I now realized that I misunderstood our translator when she said that the maid is supposed to get lunch. I grasped, “Wow, she’s supposed to get lunch for me! That means I won’t need to stop what I’m doing in the middle of the day to run home and cook her a hot meal. Now, I can to be treated like a princess too.”
Another friend Cyndie added, “Well, my maid stole money from my purse so I had to fire her. Just be happy that you don’t have a maid who steals from you.”
Hmm. Now, I felt lucky just to have a maid who didn’t steal. I also realized why at social gatherings Cyndie would put her purse in high, out of the way places like on the roof.
Although having a maid is a wonderful luxury, it can be an adjustment. For instance, having a maid can mean a loss of privacy. Our maid, Dialinda knows everything about us from the food in our pantry, to the medications in our bathroom, to the size, state, and expiration date of our underwear.
It’s hard to relax or take a nap, when Dialinda is cleaning around me without feeling guilty, like I should be pitching in. What’s even harder is having my masseuse come over when Dialinda is working hard, and has been complaining about her bad back.
My friend Britney, is always trying to find ways to have more privacy, away from her maid too, “I begged my husband, to only have our maid, Silvia, come four days a week. But he said no because we need to boost the local economy while we’re here. Silvia needs the job.” “I guess he’s right,” she sighed, apologetically
When I told Britney that I liked having our maid, because she walks our dogs, she exclaimed, “You just gave me a great idea! If our family gets a dog, Silvia can walk it. That will get her out of the house!”
The next day Britney drove around the town of Baro Geraldo, until she spotted a cute but mangy stray dog, hanging outside of a churasscaria (barbecue restaurant). He was begging for food. She opened her car door and called the dog over, waving a bag of treats. Now the dog (“Spotado”) is family. Along with his daily, two-hour walk, Britney’s maid takes Spotado for weekly shampoos and vet visits. Spotado is happy to oblige.
Now that our maid has worked for several months, we have all gotten more comfortable with the arrangement. In the beginning, Dialinda was always overly conscientious about arriving on time, often stayed late, and cleaned meticulously. However, as the months have passed, Dialinda got more relaxed. She arrives progressively later and leaves progressively earlier. She chats on the phone to friends (while she does house work), hides out in the pantry to snack on party food, sneaks in her soap operas, and spends forty minutes in the bathroom doing her hair and make-up at the end of the day. When she takes our dogs for a walk, it’s usually so that she can rest on a bench in the park around the corner. Fortunately, by the time she leaves, she has made the house sparkling clean again. We’ve not only gained a maid, we’ve gained a teenage daughter.
As well as a loss of privacy, when hiring a maid, communication can also be a challenge. In the beginning, when I would absently mindedly forget to do something like give Dialinda, bus fare, she would repeat the words faster and louder, hoping in vain that I’d understand her.
So that Dialinda would give our dogs, Rocky and Baylor, a couple of treats during the day, I showed her the box of dog biscuits in the pantry. Instead of taking a couple, she poured half of the box into their bowls, about four days worth of food.
Since Dialinda can’t read or write and I couldn’t speak any Portuguese the first month, every time we had a communication problem, she or I would say, “Joana!”, the translator, and phone her. Although, Dialinda can’t read or write, she has figured out how to navigate our four remote controls in the TV room to watch her favorite soap operas while we’re out.
My husband and I have gotten more relaxed also. When we first hired Dialinda, we kept the house picked up, leaving no signs of our typical, slovenly habits. Progressively, we’ve started leaving dirty dishes in the sink again until it looks like Mount Rushmore. And we’re back to leaving our clothes on the floor, dirty dishes in the TV room, and towels on the bathroom floor. I no longer clean the toilet bowls either. I almost got on my husband to clean up his mess, until I discovered that half the mess was mine.
When friends visit us and see our messy house, we explain to them that we only have a maid twice a week, feeling sorry for ourselves. Friends sympathize, suggesting that we hire a full-time maid like them, who will do everything except beauty and spa treatments. But, we like the sympathy and our privacy too much. And, having a full-time maid might make us even messier – a habit we’ll have to break when we return to Texas.
Copyright Debbie Eynon Finley 2005.
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Debbie Eynon Finley has been living in Campinas, São Paulo with her husband and two dogs since November 2004. She is also a graphic artist and has a website, http://defDesigns.com. She can be contacted at email@example.com.