Grab a cup of coffee and settle in, this is a long one.
We have a housekeeper, a cook, a gardener, a pool guy, a laundry lady and water boys. You might think we are living the high life here, drinking daiquiris by the pool and being fed grapes by nubile servants every day. Well, we’re benefiting from earning a first world wage in a country like Mexico. But organizing all these people is a full time job. Yesterday I counted back to my last 20 WhatsApp messages and 14 of them were managing workers of some kind.
I’ve already told you the laundry story as well as the gas story so today I’ll tell you the Maid Story. Here in Mexico the cost of labor is very cheap. Houses in our neighborhood are typically built with live-in maid’s quarters and judging from the beginning and end of the workday at the security gate in our neighborhood, it appears that the majority of homeowners have help most of the days of the week, in addition to the ones that have live-in help.
When we arrived here in December we started to ask about having someone come in and clean for us once a week. It’s a big house, we are busy with homeschool and activities and the cost of labor is so low it’s worth it. We soon discovered that it’s a lot harder to pay someone to come once a week than full time. Most workers are looking for a full time gig. So that also means that hiring someone for one day of work is more expensive (per hour) than employing someone for 5 or 6 days a week.
You might think “Someone helping in the house every day of the week? Sign me up!” but I am infinitely uncomfortable having workers in my house. I have a crazy illogical need to make sure they are HAPPY and it’s exhausting. I’m convinced they are judging me sitting there on my phone, or they are laughing about our mattresses on the floor (we’re travelers, not residents) or our plastic table and chairs in the dining room yet we have the big a$$ TV in the living room (#priorities). So I feel the need to explain our lifestyle and our choices and check in on their family and learn their life story so I can perhaps better it in some way. It’s really exhausting and I’m trying very hard to break that mental cycle. But my entire family will tell you I’m totally stressed when I have workers in my house for a long time.
Anyway, back to our maid search… one of the handyman guys who worked on our house shortly after moving in asked me if I needed someone to clean and I said I did. He was disappointed when I said just one time per week but he sent his wife anyway. So enter Maid #1. I desperately tried to negotiate an hourly wage with her via text before she arrived, thinking that was the fairest for her, but that really didn’t work. She kept asking how long she would be working. I told her until the job was done. But she couldn’t come to grips with that so we agreed on a flat rate for the whole house of US $18. Of course, at that rate, you might think I’m employing slave labor but it really was far and above what my friends were paying for a lot more work. Remember that the minimum wage here is crazy low. In fact their minimum wage is calculated by the DAY not the hour. For an 8-hour day it comes to 51 cents (yes, US cents) an hour, or about $4USD a day.
So Maid #1 showed up in a long denim skirt and slip on shoes. That was odd. Not exactly comfortable clothes for cleaning. She also tried to negotiate a rate increase with me within the first 5 minutes on the job, but I held firm on the wage but agreed to pay her bus fare home. Then I learned that when someone works in your house all day, you have to feed them. No, not her making her own lunch with my food, but ME making her lunch with my food. That’s all I needed was to stress out about what to feed the maid. Will she like it? Is she allergic? Will she claim I poisoned her? What will she tell her family about the stupid gringa food? So many choices on what to stress out about, so little time. So a few hours later she got a taste of a GTS (Gringa Turkey Sandwich). I threw on some hot spices just for good measure. Zoe wanted to know why we allowed the maid to eat upstairs but not her. Not now, Zoe. Mommy’s busy stressing.
Anyway, she started working and kept working for what seemed like 4 days but really was about 8 hours. It was uncomfortable but the upside is a clean house, which brings me peace. But she finally finished. I paid her and off she went. We noticed later that the quality of work was not up to par, especially for the long hours she worked and the pay rate increase request. We did not invite her back.
So then I found Maid #2 from an online expat group. Other expats said how hard she worked and how much she needed the job to support her family and she was trying to open a beauty salon. Dan has a soft spot for entrepreneurs so she was hired. She showed up on the first day in a taxi right on time, which impressed me. She wanted to make sure she found it (it’s not a terribly easy house to find) and started on time. Bueno! She was dressed more appropriately and did good work but she also took a loooooong time. It seems to be common that they’ll stretch the job out to justify the day of wages. And within about 5 minutes of starting she was already re-negotiating the pay. OK since this was the second one to mention it, I increased it to $30 for the day (remember the minimum wage is $4 for the day) and she worked all day and got the now-famous Ginga Turkey Sandwich.
Maid #2 did pretty good work and she came back again the next week but I told her I needed her to pick up the pace. I did not want her mopping at our feet as we were eating dinner. #firstworldproblems
She did pick up the pace, and I held firm on the price. She seemed to need the money. She would find a few things in the trash like an almost-empty shampoo bottle or a little bit of coffee left in a package and ask if she could take it home. I said yes, of course, but AWKWARD!!
I wish I could be more chill about that kind of thing and just be happy I can help her at all, but it doesn’t work that way in my brain. I wish it did.
She came back a few more times but each time she arrived later and later, then didn’t show up at all. Then she sent me a picture of her sick son as explanation for why she didn’t come and finally I gave up and didn’t invite her back. For the most part you can’t have workers in your house when you are not there, so managing our schedule around people who don’t show up gets really old, really fast.
So I asked a friend in the neighborhood if she had any recommendations for a maid and she said she employed one full time but she wasn’t busy enough and she could work for me a few afternoons a week. Bueno! She’s already in the neighborhood! So Maid #3 came over and we agreed she would work twice a week from 1:30pm to about 5pm. That happened once. Then she started coming at 2:30pm. Then at 3pm and finally showing up around 4:30pm. I was so disappointed because I liked her work and she also started to cook a few meals for us, which was nice. But then Mom and I got sick. I noticed some of her kitchen habits did not square up with common safety measures for food prep. That coupled with how much work it was to explain to her what to cook, I decided to let her focus on cleaning. But she was staying so late it was just not comfortable. Yet again we didn’t want mopping at 7:30pm. This just wasn’t going to work. I sent Maid #3 a text and said thanks for your work, but the schedule didn’t work for me and best wishes.
But that’s not the end. Maid #3 showed up at my door the next day begging for her job back and insisting that she would do better and could get to my house earlier. OK. So I rehired her and she agreed to come later that day. But then she cancelled on me ON THE VERY SAME DAY she was begging for her job back. Yep, true story.
I decided to give her one more chance
because I’m an idiot so she came the next day and the first thing she does is ask for a raise. I’m already paying her US $30 for a day of work when my friend pays her US $90 for 6 days of work, so I think I’m being very fair. Naturally, I decline her request. She works and we arrange for her to come the day after next. The next day she sends me a text asking for a loan.
Are you following this? If not, allow me to summarize: She shows up hours late, she doesn’t prepare food properly, she gets fired, she gets rehired, she cancels, she shows up again and asks for a raise, I say no, she works a little, then she asks for a loan. Yeah, this is not happening. I’m so done. So I fire her via a text message and say we are all done. She seemed surprised but I stopped responding. Again I’m feeling so awkward and terrible but frankly I cannot manage it, I. Just. Cannot.
As I write this, I honestly feel like a terrible person but you just have to know that I’m feeling totally taken advantage of based on what other people are telling me I should be paying and expecting. So I just have to beat that guilt and anxiety back.
So now begins yet another dry spell of no maid. Our house is 100% tile floors and all of us are here, all day, every day. It gets dirty fast. And it’s big. Have I garnered your sympathy yet? Or are you shaking your head in disgust at our laziness? Because of course, my anxiety is telling me the latter is more likely. Fun stuff, huh??
So I’m wringing my hands about finding another maid before my sister and her kids arrive for an 8-day visit. Daniel tells me to just look out the window at around 3pm and just pick one, any one. That’s the time all the maids are starting to leave the neighborhood. So he suggests I just approach one at random. Yeah, that’s not awkward at all. And easy for him to say, he doesn’t speak Spanish.
But one morning on a walk I see a maid walking to work and I figure, what the heck? So I tell her what I need and what I pay. She says she’ll ask a friend. I tell her where I live and she says she’ll look for someone. I see her later that week and she says she’ll bring a friend to me “later”. That day? The next day? I dunno. But no one shows up. More hand wringing, more dirty house. So a few days later I’m out on a morning walk and I run into her again and she says she found a gal for me but she didn’t remember where I lived or my name and they tried to go to the wrong house and long story short, they got kicked out of the neighborhood by security. Oh goodness. OK, well, we arrange for her to bring her friend to me later and we exchange phone numbers to avoid any confusion next time. Probably would have been good to do that whole phone number exchange thing first, eh?
So Sunday night we arrange that I will pick up Maid #4 at the local pizza place near my house and she will work for me, just in time to get the house clean for our guests. Es bueno, except why do I have to pick her up at the pizza place??? So after a few more phone calls to confirm the time (and me hating Spanish speaking on the phone with the white hot ferocity of 1000 suns) we make it happen. I pick her up, we discuss the terms, we go to my house and she starts working.
All is well. She’s a fast worker, she’s pretty thorough, she’s young and spry and cleans more things than the last one. She even seemed to like the turkey sandwich. All is unicorn and rainbows. After about 5 hours she’s all done and I drop her back off near the pizza place. She tells me the story about the day she and Maid On The Street tried to come to my house. They couldn’t find it, they got in trouble with the guards who thought they were trying to sneak in, they were told never to come back, and that was why I had to pick her up at the pizza place. Oooookay! Making a little more sense now. Those guards are strict, but it’s a good thing. I guess. Oh, and I might have failed to mention that Maid #4 has no phone so all comms with her up until this point have been done through the Maid On The Street who introduced us. Just to add a little complexity. Because we really need more hurdles.
So we agree when she will return and we all lived happily ever after. Right?
Not a chance.
Maid On The Street (Olga is her name. I tell you her name because she is featured prominently in this next part) texts me later that same night and in her phonetic but not correctly spelled Spanish (which is sooo difficult to understand) she asks how her friend did (Gladis is her name, also prominently featured herewith) and I express my satisfaction. Olga asks how much I paid Gladis and I told her. So then Olga tells me that she missed a day of work with the Great Security Gate Maid Snafu of 2016 when she tried to bring Gladis to me and could I please hire her for a day of work instead of Gladis.
What the waht, people!!?? Why can’t you all just leave me alone?????? Why must my life be one slapfight away from being a badly written episode of “Housewives of Cancun”? But whatever. I agreed that Olga could work for me next and I was actually quite happy that I couldn’t be the one to tell Gladis of how Olga threw her under the bus because she, Olga, was the only way I knew how to reach the now-snubbed maid, Gladis! Now this is just comical in a “make you pluck your eyes out” kind of way.
So fast forward 10 days to the week that I had asked her to come back for a 2nd cleaning after our guests left. I get a text from Olga and it goes something like this (in Spanish):
Olga: Senora Allison, I talked to Gladis and she didn’t know that I am working instead of her on Friday.
Me: You will have to tell her.
Olga: She is my friend she will be mad at me.
Me: I don’t have her phone number. (I choose to ignore the irony that it was Olga who suggested she work for me instead of Gladis)
At this point I feel bad for Gladis and said:
Me: If you want to bring Gladis on Friday you can both work at the same time, the house will be done faster and you each will earn 300 pesos for 4 hours of work.
So now I’m already giving a per-hour raise. No response from Olga so I’m thinking I’ve got resolution finally.
The next day I get a call from an unknown number and against all desire I answer it.
Caller: Senora Allison this is Gladis. I want to know when you want me to show up to clean your house on Friday.
Me: Gladis, Olga said she is going to take your place because she lost a day of work with the trouble with the security gate.
Gladis: Senora, this is not Olga, this is Gladis.
Me: I know, Gladis! I’m saying that Olga wants to take your job this week.
Gladis: But Senora we agreed I would work.
Me: I know, but Olga said she will work for a day because of the problems.
Gladis: But Senora we agreed I would work.
Me: You can come with Olga and you can work together at the same time.
Gladis: But Senora we agreed I would work.
Me: You need to talk to Olga! THIS IS NOT MY PROBLEM!
At this point I’m yelling at the maid on the phone. I’ve hit rock-bottom. Me, the person who wants to change the trajectory of every worker’s life who works for me, is now yelling at the maid to come and work for 4 hours for $18.
Yeah, travelling is humbling. So she ends the call fairly quickly. And I move on, convinced I will have NO ONE cleaning my house this Friday. A few minutes later I get a text from Olga and she says she and Gladis will both be coming on Friday. Es bueno! Then I get a friend request on Facebook from Olga.
Now, honestly, I’m sure I sound like a first-class beyotch with all of this but you have to know how hard it is to “Do The Dance”. It’s another language and culture, they do not spell or use grammar the way I learned Spanish, there seems to be some unwritten rule book of how to employ maids that I haven’t read and I’m trying to make everyone happy but feeling taken advantage of because I’m the gringa with a big house and a big TV that seems to be paying people way more than I should (according to my neighbors) but way less than I should (according to the maids). I honestly feel like I don’t know how to get this right but I’m doing the best I can.
Today is now Friday. As I type this I have both Gladis AND Olga in my house cleaning. They are busy little beavers they were perfectly smiley and happy when they arrived and at the moment all is well. We’ll see if they like my turkey sandwich. If they don’t I really don’t care.