All That Glitters Is Not Gold

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.

13 thoughts on “All That Glitters Is Not Gold

  1. Hi, your story on maids is good, I am a Venezuelan retiree about to move to Boquete Panama, I have experienced some of the problems you mentioned with Venezuelan maids. I would like to know what would be a typical wage for a good maid in Panama? Regards. JL

  2. I think most maids work for around the mininum wage per hour. That would be close to $1 per hour. If she lives in then you can figure that the room she uses is worth something as well as the food. I think a lot of people pay a monthly rate of around $120.

    I pay by the hour, so if someone wants to quote a monthly rate, have at it.

  3. Hey, Don Ray, I’m glad my travails inspired you. You mentioned several things I didn’t because she didn’t stay long enough.

    One other tip is that don’t allow tortilla making in the non-stick pans — I found out the hard way that the high heat needed for tortillas will ruin the pans. Since the pans are empty part of the time during the tortilla making process, they overheat and it destroys the finish.

    I hope that helps someone.

  4. Between us, we have probably come across most of the things to watch out for. I buy my tortillas from Costa Rica. They are better than I can make.

  5. Hi Don Ray,
    Here’s just one of many incidents that have happened to us in our lives here in Central America:
    We had just completed construction of a house and needed one final cleaning before moving in. Our cleaner, Lisabet, had worked for us for several weeks and I had felt confident that she understood that I had wanted her to wipe down the kitchen cabinets, shelves and counters with a damp cloth and to take down some spider webs. I left to run an errand and came back 15 minutes later to find an inch of water on the floor and to catch Lisabet in the midst of throwing yet another bucket of water into the cabinets and up the drywall walls as high as she could reach. When she saw me, she asked for a taller ladder because she couldn’t reach the highest shelves and webs by just throwing the water. On the bright side, the floor was cleaned earlier than I’d planned.

  6. You have me rolling on the floor. I also have given what seemed to me to be simple instructions only to find they had been transmogrified into something completely different.

    However, I think you had your on version of the sorcerer’s apprentice.

  7. I know what you mean about the stove. My Panamanian wife has been with me for 5 years and still refuses to use the stove. If I want Thanksgiving turkey I have to cook it myself or go to Boston Market. I don’t know what I will do when we move to Panama next year. I have to have my turkey.

  8. Well, they sell Butterball turkeys here and it sounds like you have the experience. Several restaurants do offer traditional American Thanksgiving dinners (sort of).

  9. What a wonderful blog! Thanks very much Mr. Ray for all the super info you have here.

    I don’t think the maid problems described above are unique to Panama. When living for years in many different countries in the the Carribean, I had identical problems with most of the maids -and all of them spoke English as their native language. Yup, ruined clothes, cookware, plumbing. I have had all those and more!

  10. Hi Visitor. Thanks for commenting. I think you are correct. I posted the above because I think a lot of the comercial sites list that ability of having a perminant maid and one of the benefits of living in Panama. However there maids and then there are maids. There are as many downsides to having a maid as there are benefits.

  11. >There are as many downsides to having a maid as there are benefits.

    Just as with a wife! (wink!)

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