cleaning lady

I think I am finally ready to talk about why I hate having a cleaning lady. It has been marinating since I moved into my apartment back in September, but I couldn’t put it down until I started to formulate something on it. This is still incomplete, but I think it starts to get at what I really feel about the situation.

Even the fact of having a cleaning lady makes me uncomfortable. It makes most of the gringos I know uncomfortable, though they still hire cleaning ladies too. It is because we are all middle class in the States and are used to cleaning our apartments ourselves.

For me, all my class baggage aside, just having someone up in my shit is kinda weird. I don’t have my cleaning lady do my laundry, for example. It’s bad enough she makes my bed and roots around underneath it. Rearranges my shoes and dusts the items on my dresser.

Another source of discomfort is that me and the other gringos are actually middle class here in Mexico, too, yet we can afford cleaning ladies because the going rate for a weekly visit is $200MXN. At least for my apartment (2 bedrooms, pequeño, poco espacio).

I think she could do the apartment in 4 or 5 hours, including my roommate’s laundry which air dries, but she tends to dawdle and make phone calls and stuff, normally does the whole job in 6 or 7. So not only is she there with me in the apartment for almost an entire day while I’m trying to work, she only gets about $15 for it. Wack.

Wack for the inequality, even more wack for the fact that she is willing to spend that much time for so little money.

I spoke to my roommate, who is Mexican, about my unease with the situation to try to understand it better. She let me know, as many of the gringos have also related, that part of the reason she hired our cleaning lady is because it is seen as a way to provide work for someone who would otherwise be unemployed. Considering we don’t actually need a cleaning lady, this rationale makes sense to me somewhat. I guess. It’s like an informal welfare system. We hire her because it’s good for the economy? Oh yeah, and don’t forget because she works for so goddamn cheap.

Anyway I’m not sure I can really accept the idea that she wouldn’t be able to find any other work.

My roommate and I also talked about giving her a raise. I am not for this, partly because then I would have to start letting her wash my underwear. Also because I think it’s weird to give someone a raise solely based on the fact that the wage they agree to makes me feel uncomfortable. And, perhaps the most emotionally compelling reason to me, I don’t want to pay her more for the reason that she doesn’t do a particularly good job. Yes, I would probably be half-assed too if I were paid that little money; however, at the same time giving her a raise might make her think she had done something to deserve the extra pay…

…Ugh. That sounds so horrible, I know. The bottom line is we are paying someone for something we don’t value. That is why the wage is so little to begin with; if it cost us more, we probably just wouldn’t hire her. As it stands everyone acts like we’re doing her a favor, when I suspect in reality if she couldn’t work as a cleaning lady for people who didn’t need her, there is a chance she might actually be working at something that contributes to society, and making money.

This makes me realize the benefit of real social welfare programs vs this bullshit. At least if the Mexican govt could afford to give her welfare maybe she would have time to go to school or something. But would she go? I dunno, I get the impression she’s pretty satisfied with the status quo.

Maybe my roommate and I should just pay her not to come…

Seriously, I hate the whole situation. TBC.

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9 responses to “cleaning lady

  1. For the record, I don’t think I would hate having a cleaning lady if she were making something reasonable, like $20US an hour or something. For one thing, if I had a cleaning lady who made that much it would mean I was making bank.

  2. I’d feel bothered/mixed by this too. Also, there is no reason she needs to stay for 6-7 hours. I was a cleaning lady in college (making $8/hour) and working 3 hours twice a week for a family with a baby. just got to get er dun.

    Maybe you could cut her a deal where she gets the same pay but is expected to work less (3-4 hours), thus making her have time pursue other things and maybe add to her freelance jobs. That way you’re not taking away from her salary, you’re encouraging her to be more efficient and freeing her schedule for other types of employment or whatever she wants to do. Also, she wouldn’t be up in your bizness for as long. Maybe do it on a trial basis and your roommate can tell you if what she wants to get done has got done.

  3. Laura, I love you. Thank you for reading this and for offering such a reasonable solution. I wonder how she would respond to this idea. I would have to present it carefully, because on the one hand I don’t want her to feel like I am telling her how to use her time. But you’re right, I really don’t think she should be spending so much time on our apartment.

    Right now it’s set up so she gets the same amount of pay no matter what, and she is choosing to do it this way. The solution might need to involve looking at what she actually does, since her pay is task-based not time-based. Not saying cut it back but I want to make sure she doesn’t feel like we are cracking the whip as opposed to just trying to organize our time better.

    My roommate had actually proposed a fixed schedule a while back, too. Maybe it is time to revisit the idea with her.

    Thanks again.

  4. okay so just to update, Sra Mary has actually asked us if she can split her time in our apartment into two days. She does another apartment in our building so on that day she will also do our laundry (which air dries on the roof). That means the other day she comes she is just going to clean the house, no laundry, so she should be here for less time on that day.

  5. Wow — she stays for six hours? That’s a really long time. And I understand your conflicts, although I tend to agree with your roommate, that I’m helping out my cleaning lady by giving her extra work. (The woman who helps me out is a single mother to a 13-year-old child.) Plus I really enjoy her company. We chat about our lives, sometimes we have lunch together. (Something I cooked.) She stays for about three hours, tops. But she doesn’t do my laundry.

    • i think part of this is me realizing how introverted i actually am. it’s kind of draining for me to have her around partially because she is really chatty (talks for the sake of talking). and i don’t want to be rude so i stop what i am doing and talk with her whenever she starts. i feel a bit like i am entertaining someone else’s guest whenever she is here.

      our lady is a single mom, too. i thought about looking at it as charity, but she seems pretty happy with thinking of it as her job.

      she definitely got down on her knees, though, and clasped her hands, when she was asking if i would tutor her kid in english.

      the whole thing is jacked.

      i think i am also disillusioned because i have been working with too many well-heeled civil servants. my last student at migracion definitely has a chofer. who stays at the office all day in case he is needed. he drove us 5 blocks to lunch one day. when the course ended i sent my student a thank-you card manufactured in support of unicef– proceeds towards putting girls in school.

  6. Yes! So conflicted by the cleaning lady situation. Not only could we (house of 4 people) clean our business pretty easily, but the presence of a cleaning lady makes all of us lazy-filthy, as in “i saw a roach on the counter yesterday” “Don’t worry, Norma is coming in three days”.

    And totally agree; i don’t like her touching my stuff. The fridge is reconfigured every week and I can never find the juice. Or the godawful Mexican Walmart pickles (why I am always looking for them I don’t know).

    • This whole saga with Sra Mary is really something I had to work through. I said some kind of harsh things in here, but I guess it’s been a process… I guess you saw my later entry where I have made a bit more peace with the situation.

      Haha, and now I am about to move into a way more fresa apartment that also has a cleaning lady. She gets paid a lot more though, so I think I will feel less conflicted about it. And that kind of proves me right, I think, in my sense in this entry that Sra Mary really could be doing more for herself. Obviously it’s not my place to judge, but I can say that I am happy to be distancing myself from the situation a little.

      Though, yeah, this “I’d really prefer to do it myself” aspect está pegado, I think. Mexico has really emphasized for me that social class is about mindset/culture, far more than it is about money. It has also reconfirmed for me that now matter how privileged I might be for coming from el primer mundo, having an education, etc, I am firmly middle class.

  7. Pingback: follow-up on maid issues « ill camino real

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