There are very few things I enjoy less than interviewing for a maid... like getting my teeth drilled without Novocaine. Add interviewing a maid here in India, where the command of the English language ranges from a head bob and deer in the headlights stare, to the "yes ma'am-er" who truly has no idea what you're saying, to someone who has a fairly reasonable grasp of basic English, and by the end of it you'll WANT to get your teeth drilled without Novocaine just to numb the pain.
I have been interviewing maids for the past two weeks since the one I thought I hired didn't work out for a myriad of reasons that don't really matter at this point. Bygones. However, at this late in the summer, most of the maids in the circuit have already either started working for their new families or have been promised to an incoming family who hasn't yet arrived. So the few who are left are not the creme de la creme. They're the creme de la crap.
Usually before a new family overcomes jet lag they have knocks on their gates with maids galore soliciting their services. Maids here are not just a luxury, they're a necessity. Big houses with tile or marble floors need to be swept and mopped on a daily basis due to the filth brought in from the dirt on the streets. Fruit and vegetables need to be washed and bleached for at least 15 minutes before eating or using. Laundry and ironing for a family of 5 is overwhelming. Shopping at the market is not a treat its' a chore. Kids need to be babysat. And let's face it, if you were paying around $175 per month for a full time maid (approx 45 hours per week), wouldn't you welcome the help?
After asking my driver to help locate any available maids, literally within hours his phone was ringing off the hook. Maids from all over Chennai were calling because they heard his "madame" was in need of help. I asked him to perform the initial screening and find out a) if the maids could speak, read, and write English and b) do they cook and if so, can they cook Western foods and c) where they live and d) who they've worked for. In all he's spoken to at least 15 maids and nixed 90% of them before having them come to the house to meet me. Additionally to my driver's network, a friend referred an domestic staff agency, who also suggested a few maids for me to interview.
So last week these maids began coming over to meet me. In they came and out they went, none of them lasting inside more than a few minutes before I knew that there was no love connection. One maid came with references stating that she could speak and read English, yet she brought a translator. When I asked her if she could cook and what types of Western dishes she could cook all she could muster was a meek, "yes." And when I probed and asked what Western dishes she could cook she just replied, "yes." I finally point blank told her that I wasn't interested and thanks for coming by, and what do you think she said... "yes." I poured myself a glass of wine right after she left. Another maid who I really liked was afraid of dogs. She told me so when she came face to face with my 75-pound ball of fur, though she quickly composed herself and said she'd be fine once she got used to her. I was all ready to hire her when on the day she started she asked if I'd lock up the dog. I seriously asked her to leave right then and there. No... seriously.
Late Friday afternoon I met with someone who finally had potential. The agency sent her over and her reference letters were on par. Her English was good, she never hesitated in her answers, and she was eager to work. Most importantly, she wasn't involved with what Matt refers to as the so-called "maid mafia" (the powerful subculture of household domestic staff) as her family just moved back here from Delhi. Immediately after she left I called her previous employer in Delhi who gave her a more than fair review.
She started today. Let me rephrase that, she tried out today. I wanted her to show me how she cleans, how she irons and folds laundry, how she takes care of a kitchen. After a long day, I can honestly say that if we permanently hire her there will be a learning curve. She didn't know how to use my vacuum cleaner, and after watching her attempt to vacuum the area rug with the nozzle used for sucking up the corners, well... I had a good chuckle. But she cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms well, she really made a good attempt to suck up as much dog hair as humanly possible, and Matt gave her a passing grade on the folded laundry and ironing. The only thing she's lacking is having a good repertoire of Western cooking. However, she can read a recipe and she's willing to try, which is more than I can say for most of the maids I interviewed. She's about an 80%... she's "Chennice" (nice for Chennai).
With all of this frustration, it's times like these I really miss Swan.