I know that many people picture one of the benefits of moving to a Latin American country being the cheap labor and the ability of having a full or part time maid. Well it is and it isn’t.
La Gringa’s current maid adventures have reminded me.
After you live here a while you forget some of the first problems you run into with maids. It is easy to just assume that all you do is hire a maid, give a few general instructions, grab your favorite book and go relax. Well dream on. Here in Panama, many people have maids. Just because you hire a maid that has experience, doesn’t mean that she will know anything about cleaning the way you want.
Take the simple example of cleaning the floor. All of my floors are tile. I like to have the floor vacuumed prior to being mopped. You can’t just show them where the vacuum is. You have to show them how to turn it on, and how to use it. I thought I had done a good job and a month later I was told that the vacuum wasn’t cleaning well. I looked and it had never been emptied. I forgot to give that part of the instruction.
As La Gringa points out, many of the cleaning products you may have will have instructions in English. I don’t know how many times I have been in a store and someone has asked me to translate the instructions so they know what the product is used for. You can’t expect a maid to know how to use something she has never seen.
Also if you have delicate items, it would be wise to point out how they need to be handled. They will probably be broken anyway, but if you have given instructions you can’t blame yourself.
Washing machines may be something they have never used. Again, as La Gringa points out, they may still prefer to doing things by hand. I personally don’t like my clothes done by hand and I preferred them dried in a dryer because they come out softer. However if it is a pretty day, I know the sun will dry my clothes. Even if I say use the dryer, their nature to conserve electricity will force them to help the slow gringo conserve on his electricity.
Bleach!. La Gringa reminded me of this. I don’t know how many jeans and shirts I now have that can only be worn in the house because they have bleach spots on them.
Some people have maids for cleaning and different maids for cooking. The reason again is one of training. Most maids will only understand simple cook tops. If you have a full stove with oven, don’t expect them to know how to use the oven. They probably never have. Also if you have Teflon covered pans, you need to spend several days explaining that you do not clean them with scouring pads. You have to explain that the Teflon is there for a reason and it is not supposed to be removed.
You have to buy the plastic utensils and remove similar utensils that can be used as a substitute for the plastic ones. You are better off it you like to eat what the normal Panamanian eats. I am extremely fortunate that my maid cooks some things that I consider a little exotic. The norm would be beans, rice and a little meat. Plan on spending a lot of time if you want them to cook what you are used to eating in the states.
La Gringa has reminded me how difficult it is to get a good maid. One that will come to work on the desired days. One that will call if she is sick and can’t come. Most will just not show up until sometime in the future and act as though you should have known she was sick. Everyone else knew. Why wouldn’t you?
If you get one that works hard, cooks well, is trained to your standards and is honest then treat her right and pay her a reasonable wage. You have real gem.