As a foreigner, I’m tempted to feel like the problems I’ve had with maids just don’t happen to locals. However, as this series, “Maids from House-to-House,” (in Arabic) illustrates, locals do seem to have just as many problems with their maids as foreigners do.
At the moment, I’m lucky to have a good maid. The other day my maid told me that about 80 percent of people she had worked for were bad; I replied that 80 percent of the maids I’d had were not good, either.
It’s difficult having someone in your house to cook or clean. Aside from obvious risks such as stealing, you really bring a person with all of their personal problems into your home. When one recent maid we had did not do the work correctly and I asked her to do many things again, she told us that the reason she went to work was to get away from her mother who was always telling her that she wasn’t doing things properly. She complained that she expected us not to do the same thing! We worked with her quite a while, with little improvement, and finally had to let her go.
One of the biggest problems is in trying to train someone to do tasks in the way you want, and not the way they may be used to. Some maids cannot understand what is wrong with using a hand to flip water from a bucket all over the room (getting the legs of your expensive wooden furniture wet). Others cannot understand why you don’t want your expensive wooden furniture wiped down with a wet rag (completely destroys the finish). Others apparently wash the dishes as if they were wearing a blindfold, either don’t get them clean, or chip all your cups and plates because they are not careful, or don’t follow the procedures that you demonstrate and request. Most waste cleaning materials such as cleanser, soap, or steel wool pads; most destroy equipment such as brooms–after all they are not paying for it. Others lie all the time about work they claim to have done, but didn’t. Others never wash their hands before working in the kitchen (except while you are watching).
Some maids do not keep themselves clean and even smell bad. When I told my North African sister-in-law that we want someone with personal hygiene, she told me that many women actually want to employ maids who are dirty and smelly, in order to keep their husbands from chasing after them!
Apparently there are quite a few maids who attempt to “steal away” the wife’s husband, sometimes by using witchcraft. Many say, “An attractive maid could steal your husband.” Some maids are believed to practice witchcraft. One foreign friend’s Moroccan in-laws visited her home while she was traveling outside of the country, and found that her maid had put some kind of witchcraft object in the kitchen cupboard specifically designed to steal away her Moroccan husband. The in-laws fired the maid immediately.
Most maids have to be constantly supervised, either to make sure they are following the procedures you requested, and not doing as they please the minute you turn your back, or because they want to do as little work as possible. Finding someone who can look around and see what needs to be done, learn to do it the way you want it done, and who can do it without being supervised is a rare find.
On the humorous Arabic TV series about maids, some maids who try to help but who make terrible decisions on their own. Most maids gossip with other maids about their employers. Some maids are even crazy (and sometimes employers who are crazy).
So why have a maid? Life here is not organized to be able to work and take care of children on your own. It is assumed that people either have maids or plenty of unemployed family members who can do necessary tasks such as picking up children for lunch and taking them back to school, cooking the maid meal for the family at midday, or running errands to places that are only open normal working hours, such as paying a telephone or electric bill. A maid is supposed to buy you some time, but often it buys as much headache as anything else. If you are lucky enough to find a good maid, you want to hang on to her.
Maids, for Middle-Easterners, are also a status symbol. Many families who grow up not being able to afford a maid get one the very minute they reach the lower-middle class (especially in the cities). It’s a way to announce that you have reached the middle class. In addition, the life of a middle-class working woman is not easy. Generally, many women do all the raising of the children and keeping of the house, IN ADDITION to working full-time, while their husband spends his time at his job, but has plenty of leisure time at the cafe or with friends. Middle-class working women have very little, or no, leisure time, and it’s a way for them to get some time to themselves, or to spend with their children.
Upper-class women generally have two or three maids, a chauffeur, a gardener, and a guardian. It is the lifestyle everyone respects and aspires to.