Friday, September 28, 2007

Maid in India

Rohini wrote a follow up post today, about maids and such and while I agree with her for most part, I feel coerced to put in my point of view, especially regarding cultural differences. But first to the points I totally agree with. Child labor. These children would have much horrid lives if they did not work. By working, they are getting square meals, a roof over their head, and security. I am sure there are exceptions to this, but by and large the young girls I have seen employed are just that. Playmates to a kid or light housework. They are not expected to do anything more. My mother taught our maid’s two kids and she, not wanting it for free would send them to our house to help out – watering the plants, folding the laundry. The older one (my age) has a degree in Business Management, and the younger one (a girl) works as a technician in a Pathological Lab. I agree with the political incorrectness too. That’s just plain silly. About trusting working moms, on the whole, I do feel I am at a slight disadvantage because I am a mom. I will shun from jobs that will are stressful or require considerable traveling because I have responsibilities at home despite knowing that these choices are not the best for my career. The prejudice does trickle down the chain.

I disagree with some points regarding cultural differences. And I am going to address them one by one. Its not the first time many of these points are raised and I have had similar arguments with family who had not really lived (2 week visits do not count) in a country similar to the US. I don’t think privacy and/or maid services are mutually exclusive. We had a wonderful live in nanny, who always kept out of our business and would lock our room or would ask me to. Most cleaning ladies/nannies in the US are mindful of their employer’s privacy. And yes, I grew up in a joint family in India, so I don't care that much for privacy, but BiGeek does.

The point I completely disagree with is and this is a huge misconception with most Indians -

Keeping a house in running order is much tougher here. India is a pretty dusty country and we don’t have sealed houses with central cooling/ heating and a thorough daily cleaning is required to keep the house liveable and hygienic rather than the fortnightly cleaning that is adequate in the West.

This is completely inaccurate. Keeping house is difficult anywhere. The problems are different. Although we have sealed houses, they don’t quite remain dust free and need to be dusted regularly - especially during fall and spring (allergy seasons) when we open the windows and unseal our homes. You probably don’t need to vacuum them everyday if you have responsible adults, but throw a child in the mix. We sweep and mop living/dining/kitchen areas everyday. Also, most homes here are carpeted and hygiene becomes important and difficult to maintain, especially in the colder months. It took me several hours with a stain remover and then a steam cleaning session to take out all the of Chip’s puke when he had an upset stomach and puked away to glory everywhere. We also need to steam clean our carpets every now and then to make sure its mildew and allergen free which will cause illnesses when the house is sealed in the colder months. Then there is the yard work. We need to cut grass from spring till fall, rake leaves in the fall and shovel snow in the winter. All that is really hard, physical work. We also need to power wash our decks and sidings, clean gutters and seal all wood work every year lest the termites chew away our home. There is no home delivery of anything. We need to go do our own groceries in multiple grocery stores (because we are Indians), pump our own gas, iron our own clothes and drop off and pick up our kids from the school (no rickshaw walla or vans) and scuttle them off to after school activities. We replace our own faucets, caulk our own bathrooms, install our own ceiling fans and chandeliers and take out our own trash and recycling and water the garden. Most people here have 3-4 kids and the men and women do this all by them selves and raise their kids with zero help – they simply cannot afford it. This is obviously because manpower is premium. So, after having lived here for many years, having the seen people who do everything bythemselves and then some, it becomes very hard for me to sympathize with my mom or mother-in-law when they tell me the maid did not show up for a day.

Another point I disagree with-
Working life can be harder in India, especially for working mothers. Our concept of work-life balance is still not very evolved and working hours can often be undisciplined. With this as a background, it becomes that much tougher to run a house single-handedly, while holding down a full-time job.

And it is here? Women take 6 weeks maternity leave (and 80% of time it is unpaid). And they are back to the above chores and a full time job and a baby. Bosses are demanding. It doesn’t matter where you work. A lot of my friends often work on weekends and stay at work late at night or go in very early in the morning (i.e. 5 am, I myself leave home at 6:30 everyday)

Indian men are not as helpful around the house as their Western counterparts and most of the responsibility falls on the already over-loaded shoulders of the wife and mother. Combine this with the previous point about working hours and it’s a nearly impossible task to manage without maids.

This again is probably true of the older generation. Even here, men will rarely load the dishwasher or do laundry, but they will cut grass and shovel snow, so there is a division of labor, of sorts. The joke these days among Indians here is this – To be an ideal husband you need to work outside the house and make good money, come home take care of the kids and their homework and load the dishwasher. Also, men in India do less because there is a maid to pick up the slack. BigGeek did that when we had my mom/mil/nanny live with us. Now that we are on our own, he does every little bit. And I am sure husbands in India would jump right in, if maids were not a viable option. Here, I find a lot of non-working and working Indian women who slack off because they are used to having maids in India and have a tough time adjusting to the DIY attitude here.

This is not an affront to all those who have full time maids or domestic help. It is simply presenting the other side of the coin.


I love Lucy said...

Good one!
I get that a lot live in the US so its so much easier to keep house.
Well,maybe true in our case to an extent as we live in an apartment and do not have kids as yet.But families with kids who live in houses, have so much to think about and take care of.
You do everything yourself.And you may hire a maid to clean your house but you can do so maybe once a month as it is quite expensive. Everything to do with labor here is so fricking expensive!

Mystic Margarita said...

It has been insanely busy round here, so I've hardly had time to catch up on my favorite blogs. I was shocked to hear about BigGeek's heart attack. I'm so glad and relieved that he's much better now - you and your family will be in my prayers and a big hug to you and Chip. The value and importance of friends is best realized at such trying moments - I'm happy you had good friends by your side. This incident struk a a little close to home coz R, who is 32, has high BP and cholesterol and is on medication for both. There have been a couple of scares when he had heart palpitations and discomfort. Your Vaishno Devi post gave me goosebumps - circumstances have made me a believer in the mystical and the supernatural - and I'm sure this is a good omen that spells a speedy recovery for the BigGeek. I'm sorry to hog so much of your space with an off-topic comment, but I couln't find an email address where I could mail you this.

And you are soo right about the situation out here. We just bought a house last year before Popol was born - and biy! it's so much work :( Good, relevant post

the mad momma said...

well thats a great point of view and one that i am well aware of after visits to family abroad etc. which is why i am happy to stay put!! :) its a trade off. i dont mind the dust, dirt, power cuts, corruption, having to bride clerks for even a railway ticket, water shortages and all as long as i dont have to chop branches and put together my own furniture!

Rohini said...

Good to see another perspective. I think we all make assumptions about other countries/ cultures which might not be entirely true. Would just like to add a couple of points though:

I think I where I am coming from is that my house needs to be dusted, swept and mopped (vacuum cleaners don't work too well here) twice a day _ I think the volume of work that needs to be done on a daily basis (even on weekdays) is a lot more here.

I think the work-life balance thing was more from my friends who live in the UK and Europe, where it is substantially better. I guess the US is closer to India in that respect.

And finally on the Indian men bit, I guess Indian men would not be that different even in the US, I was really quoting from examples from friends living abroad and married to non-Indian men.

How is BigGeek doing? Hope all is well..

Anonymous said...

I totally agree wtih you on this - I wrote it on Rohini's post also. I had not checked your post when I wrote this so some of our points are eerily similar.

I hope your husband is better now.


RJ said...

Do you really vaccum everyday ? May be you need to because of hardwood floors ?
I don't do it everyday. can't do. [I confess I am little messy :-)]

Hope BigGeek is doing better.

noon said...

Great post. And the first point about how much work people have to do here - I am going to email it to anyone who says life in the US is easier of if they huff and puff because their maid didn't come one day! I know it is tough when you are used to having a maid if she doesn't show up - but I can't help but say - you are complaining to me?! :) Well when you have two kids you will need to hire cleaners who clean every week (here in the US) or just learn to live with more mess. I can see myself relaxing on how much mess I can tolerate - single < married < one child < two children. I can tolerate a lot more mess now - just barely tolerate - it still bothers me but it is physically impossible to clean every day - I don't get time to really clean until after 10.30pm! Except on weekends when B can watch the kids...

GettingThereNow said...

Very well written! Being on the same boat (working out of home mom in US) I really know what you are talking about! I really wouldn't have thought of writing this in response to Rohini's post. Mainly because I agree with most of her points too (and mainly she was replying to the trolls :D) but most importantly because the few brain cells that I have left didn't make the connection between what Rohini wrote and the fact the I live in the US too and no, my life isn't easier! Heh! Glad you are here to pick up the slack!

Big Zed said...

couldn't agree with you more sistah!

DotMom said...

i love lucy: true!

mystic margarita: please take care of R. Be the nazi wife if you have to. I am hoping he is exercising everyday.

tha mad momma: trade off it is.I'll happily move to India with its side of problems, but BigGeek would much rather chop trees here by himself.

rohini: UK and Europe have generous maternity benefits. US ranks among the worse 10 in that regard. As you day-t--day housework in India, I am still not quite so sure. But I haven't lived there for a long time. Surprisingly, Indian men here do a LOT more than the native born US. I always suspect they are picking their wives' slack.

n!:I guess the grass is greener on the other side.

rj: I do, if the carpeted areas are a mess. Hardwood is easier to clean. You just sweep. You need to vacuum the carpets.

noon: lol at your equation.

gtn: thanks!

big zed : thanks.

Sheela said...

i echo your thoughts on housekeeping in the US loudly. Agreed there are trade-offs, but, you listed the chores well - and my, don't they add up!

i gave up explaining to some of my cousins/counterparts in India - but, felt vindicated when one of my cousins came here with her husband to live for a couple of years and experienced first hand:) And, she was stay-at-home, so, she dutifully acknowledged what work-outside-home moms like me manage wearing our various hats everyday ;)

Sue said...

I have a part-timer who comes for about 45 min in the morning and does whatever we can fit into that time. Usually it's just the cleaning.

Everything else, including the cooking, laundry blah blah V and I do ourselves. He works from home, so if pressed he can pick up some slack. And he helps out with The Bhablet when needed. But he also gets underfoot while I'm whooshing around trying to finish my chores, adds to the daily cleaning and cooking and needs to be told how to do every single thing that he does.

So I'll just agree with the bit where you say that it's tough everywhere.

And these weren't major issues until there was a baby needing to be factored in!

utbtkids said...

Finally!!!! Some one who agrees that it is as difficult to run a house and take care of children in US as in India! Every time I visit India I get the 'oh-you-have-a-dish-washer' attitude. What people don't understand is that a human has to load and unload the dishwasher. Also half of teh vesseles like pressure cookers and nonstick vessels have to be hand washed! With 2 kids our dishwasher runs atleast twice a day and I feel I spend 50% of the time in the kitchen of which atleast half is cutting veggies and the rest in front of the sink!

The comment that irritated me to no end was, 'Oh, bringing up children in US is sooo easy. One can bring up even 20 kids without sweat. Any way you guys diaper the children, so it is all very easy'. And this from people who have a maid for cleaning, a maid for cutting veggies and grinding masala, a driver and another house help to do odd jobs like paying bills, buying veggies/groceries..etc. Atleast in my family, all teh women my age, don't even bother making the spl food associated with the festivals. Krishna Jayanthi and diwali are celebrated with a packet of preordered snacks from Krishna Sweets or Grand Sweets and here I get up at godforsaken hours to churn out goodies because I believe that food gets kids interested in festivals.

Opps, i am taking too much of space.

karmickids said...

Gosh, the bottomline is that it is tough to run a home anywhere, whether here in India where we have the luxury of maids and cooks and drivers, or there, where you have to do it all yourself. Houses need to be cleaned, and kids and family need to be fed. Its just how much one puts oneself out for that. One can eat out of fast food joints, or make a meal from scratch, one can clean everyday or clean once a week...
But, I bow to all you moms out in the big abroad, with no help. I would have died. Or been eating out of cans.
Gosh, I was shocked to read about Big Geek;s attack. Hope he is well now and you are one brave girl....

choxbox said...

Hi. Here from Rohini's.

Nicely presented!

Suchi said...

Like Mad Momma said in a post on her blog, you can choose how busy you want to be. I've seen people in both places (Australia and India) take it easy, I've seen people in both places slave over hearth and home. It's just what you think is necessary to do.

I get annoyed with people in both situations if they whinge to me about their choices. :)

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