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#94 Moaning about their servants

September 23, 2011

P Diddy could so be an EAW. Photo from

Submitted by Leila

Presented with a big, fat housing allowance by their employers, many Expat Aid Workers start to search for a suitable home. In many countries, this involves opting for a house complete with swimming pool, tennis/squash court, 4+ bed- and bathrooms and a decent electric fence. Never mind if you’re a single man who only receives visitors once a year – a perk of the job is occupying the kind of place P Diddy would choose to live in if he unexpectedly upped sticks and moved to southern Africa.

But herein starts the perennial dilemma. How on earth to maintain such a spacious residence when you are so busy fighting poverty in your day job? How to keep one’s lawn looking verdant, even during dry season? How to keep those pesky parasites out of the swimming pool? Find a more modest, manageable residence, perhaps? Don’t be silly! Why would you do that when you could just as easily employ a maid. And while you’re at it, why not get a gardener/cook/houseboy? You’d be doing it for the good of the country, right? This is employment creation, after all!

And yet, despite the Beverly Hills-esque house, and a full complement of staff to rival Jennifer Lopez’s entourage, a surprising number of EAWs just love to moan about their servants.

Common complaints voiced at dinner parties include:

1)      “Magdalena doesn’t hang up my blouses properly, no matter how many times I tell her.”

2)      The cook can only cook two decent dishes. I don’t know WHY I employ him. And he insists on using so much OIL. It’s as if cholesterol doesn’t exist…

3)      I swear the maid is stealing sugar and flour from our pantry. I mean, I know she has a big family of her own to feed, but still…

4)      The nanny simply doesn’t interact properly with baby James. I came home the other day and she’d plonked him in front of the TV. He was watching a soap opera, can you imagine!

It is very tempting to respond to each complaint with the following retorts:

1)      We hope Magdalena is doing this on purpose just to annoy you. We also hope she irons a big crease down the front of your jeans next and throws a red sock in with your white suit next time she washes it.

2)      Considering that back in your home country, you lived off a diet of takeaway kebabs, burgers and greasy Chinese food, and the last time you actually used your kitchen yourself, Reagan was in power, I really don’t think you’re in a position to complain.

3)      In a way it’s both apt and ironic that your maid steals food from you. After all, aren’t you the head of Food Security Programmes at a big donor agency?

4)      Yes it is strange how your nanny isn’t au fait with the latest Montessori child-rearing techniques. But then again, perhaps there’s a teeny-tiny chance she wasn’t exposed to Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee in rural Burkina Faso, where she grew up.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Ann permalink
    September 23, 2011 9:33 am

    Ah, see, now you’ve gotten confused between Embassy workers and EAWs…

  2. September 23, 2011 9:44 am

    My favourite servant complaint story – a CD of a well known British INGO in Tajikistan had a cook who liked to use mayonaise in all salads (as is normal in Tajikistan). The CD hated mayonaise in his salads, to the point that he banned his wife from buying it and told the cook never to use mayonaise again. However, the cook was a mayonaise purist and so brought her own jar and continued to prepare salads with it. So she got fired. Over mayonaise.

    My own cleaner does a great job on ironing the collars on my shirts, so I won’t complain about how she recently broke my cafetiere, or burnt out the motor on our well-pump leaving us with no water for the entire weekend.

  3. sammy permalink
    September 23, 2011 3:38 pm

    one one my household help once dumped a full hot cup of tea on my macbook, the thing got instantly fried. needlessly to say I wasn’t happy but i couldn’t be mad at her, after all.. I could be making my own tea. but here’s the deal.. if your mailman constantly lost your mail, or your dry cleaner ruined your only suit, or the grocery clerk always rang up items at the wrong price.. it wouldn’t be a good business. If the household help is being treated well and getting a fair wage, this is also a business transaction and should be treated with the same level of service standard.

  4. kayti permalink
    September 23, 2011 6:14 pm

    It was in this context I first heard the noun ”crab’ as a verb..”My maid is useless she just crabs”..turns out it means she cleans like a crab scuttling from side to side, not lifting, not looking under, not looking behind or on top..
    So, in the unlikely case any reader of this post needs to carp about their domestic staff, I offer you ‘crab’.

  5. Blueballs permalink
    September 24, 2011 2:12 am

    I recently changed jobs. Shock, horror, no houseboy, no cook, no driver… I’m not proud to admit it, but after spending 45minutes staring blankly at the washing machine I kinda missed Zafar and his many curious and vexing quirks.

  6. September 24, 2011 8:02 am

    You gotta be kidding me! I wanna be a woman fighting against Shariah right now! So jealous!

  7. Dea permalink
    September 24, 2011 12:18 pm

    Ha ha, so true, I’ve had my ears go deaf by many expats, especially women, complaining and complaining yadda, yadda, yadda about such useless BS. Get a life, people!

  8. October 4, 2011 12:51 am

    People are people. It’s management. It’s also incredibly intimate. I have had the same driver in Uganda since 1987. Actually we have grown up together. I’ve had the same gardener and house person since 1991. If everything stays steady — you stay steady, they stay steady — it can be brilliant. They all own houses and their children in some of the best schools in the country, some about to sit their A levels. Out of Africa by Karen Blixen is all about her relationship with and her intense feelings with her servants.


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