Good Help Is So Hard To Find These Days

One of the advantages of living in a developing country is the variety of household help that is readily available and reasonably affordable. Chennai is one of India's fastest growing cities due to its reputation as being one of the IT capitals, with big businesses such as Hyundai, Ford, Dow, Yahoo, and Google. Good paying jobs are plentiful; as such, it is no coincidence that Chennai is experiencing a domestic help shortfall. And I'm personally feeling the crunch.

Finding decent household help in India is proving much more difficult and frustrating than I would ever have imagined. I expected to have tons of ladies knocking on my door when they heard the rumors of the new American moving in. I was wrong.

We were extremely lucky that Matt's colleague had solidified a driver for us prior to our arrival. He had our car washed and at our house the day we arrived. He showed up at noon on our first day and gave us a tour around town. We took an instant liking to him and hired him permanently a few days later. As I've said before, drivers are indispensable. They know their way throughout the city. They know who everyone is and where everyone lives. They know which stores will bargain, where to get the best produce, who to contact to buy your meat, and exactly how long it will take to get from point A to point B. They usually work 6 days a week; from 8 - 6, and will happily work in the evenings for overtime. It sounds exciting, I know, for about the first week. Then you realize that the minute your driver leaves, you're stranded. You can't hop into your car and head to the nearest store. Brave traffic during the week? Are you crazy? Maneuver the streets that have no names... heck no! When he's gone, you...are... stuck. Period. It's beginning to suck.

Hiring the gardener was thankfully an easy task as he actually worked at this house for the past 15 years. He comes every day for a few hours to water the grass and plants, pick weeds, sweep, and do general maintenance on our property. The only minor problem is that he doesn't speak a word of English ~ and we don't speak any Tamil. When I need him to do a specific task, I have to pantomime what I want him to do. He then responds with his toothless smile and head bob, that I know full well means he didn't understand a thing I just said. If he follows only half of my instructions, I consider that progress. Matt had his own interesting experience with the gardener last week. While standing at the front door calling, clapping, whistling, and snapping for Libby, who do you think came running up to the door? It wasn't the dog. It was the gardener, assuming Matt was calling him.

Ever since Matt and I moved in together way back in 1998, we've had a housemaid. It was easier on our relationship when I didn't have to bark at him to scrub the toilet or clean the bathtub. We just hired a lady. No real direction needed... a little dusting here, a smidgen of vacuuming there, use the 409, spray a little Windex, and voila, a clean apartment. That is not the case here.

So far I've interviewed four maids and I'm continuing to meet ladies this week. Only one them had a real grasp of English, but when I had her babysit the girls last Wednesday, she did a few things that really bothered me. The first was that she didn't clean a thing in the two hours we were gone. Was she expected to? Not entirely, but we don't have television or anything else in our house. What was she doing all that time?? Secondly, and this is the biggie here. When we came home from dinner, I couldn't find her anywhere. I searched the house and called out her name, only to find her asleep on the tile floor in between the girls beds. She took child minding literally. Maybe it's just me, but I really don't want any maid to be co-sleeping with my girls. I wouldn't have had any issue if she dozed off on the couch or in the playroom. But in their room? Sorry, this doesn't work for us.

The other maid who's been working during the day has a lot to learn, regardless of whether or not I hire her permanently. She is the maid who worked for the previous family who lived in this house. While she received glowing recommendations, I'm not so sure I believe them. The first day she spent 7 hours here cleaning the kitchen and 1 bathroom toilet, though you'd never know it. She swept the floor twice, pushed the dirt around with the mop, did a few cursory wipes on the counter, and did the dishes. With that amount of time you'd think that she'd scrub down the walls, scour the floors, clean every nook and cranny of the kitchen to make it sparkle like the top of the Empire State Building. Instead, I was so irritated that it was as dirty when she left as when she came, that I ended up spending over an hour bleaching the tile later that night to get a good baseline clean. The next day she came again and I had her clean the upstairs. I did the pantomime thing, and with scrub brushes in hand, mimicked what I wanted her to do. Another 7 hour day and I didn't even get the floors washed! She kept telling me, "I know madame", when I'd explain how I wanted things done. But truthfully, I don't think she did.

My mom told me that when we leave India I'm going to be a much more mellow person. It sure isn't starting off that way.


Jen said...

I am sorry that you are having a hard time finding your help. I hope that some one comes along soon. We had to let our cleaning lady go too. I was so sad. I am now again in charge of cleaning, yuck.
Anyway, the visual that I got of you husband calling for the dog and getting the gardener was cracking me up. hehehehe

Mom24 said...

I think cleaning help, in general, is impossible to find. When I try to hire someone here for the occasional help, I NEVER get what I'm promised. Nobody wants to bother to do a decent job. I hope you find someone soon.

The maid sleeping with the girls? Um, No. Weird.

Good luck!

Kelly said...

First of all I didn't know that Chennai was an IT town in India...Again you're educating me on the other parts of the world...I had no idea that all those huge companies were there! I guess that means that it's certainly not a po-dunk city without anything to do!!
I hope your help issues are solved soon and you find people that work out!
Love the story about Matt and the Gardener!!

Mrs4444 said...

I guess I'm weird, but I don't think it's that odd tht she slept on the girls' floor. To me, that says she cared enough for her charges that she didn't want to leave them. Maybe you could just train her...there has to be an on-line translation thing you could use to teach some of this stuff. Sounds to me like you need to keep looking housekeeper-wise...Maybe hire a young girl that you can train?

Donna said...

I agree w mrs4444. She might have thought if she left them alone, she'd get in trouble. Though it might have been better to stay awake, no? Our nanny in Armenia used to sit right outside the door the whole time the baby napped. She wouldn't move, and woe unto me if I came home from work early and tried to go upstairs.

I love the pantomime with the gardener, as that's still what I'm doing with everyone in China, a year after arrival. I never seem to know the word I need.

I still haven't had to bark at the gardeners, though. Maybe I'll give it a try. Too funny!

Unknown said...


Chennai is an up and coming city of 10 million with lots of large manufacturing companies (it's considered the Detroit of India for this reason) and it is still a po-dunk city with nothing to do.

No kidding.

Stephanie Smith said...

When I was growing up my parents had a HUGE yard. It was like a park. Literally.
After finally deciding to get a gardener because my poor father couldn't hack it anymore, they hired a Korean gentleman the neighbors were recommending. Low and behold the frustration that would ensue when my poor mother tried to communicate her heart's desires for her pyracanther or honeysuckle bushes... She was very crafty and quickly trained him by tying colorful crepe streamers (like the kind you'd put up and twist around the room for a birthday party) to the tops of the bushes she wanted trimmed. Every Tuesday morning I'd wake up and go out to feed the dogs and there would be pretty little lavendar and mint green crepe paper bows on random bushes thruout the yard. Cracked me up. It worked though, let me tell you. He did his basic duties and then went straight for those bushes! LOL The result was a gorgeous yard because my mother has the smarts to get past the language barrier.

Re: the housekeeper dilemna- BUY A NANNY CAM. We have one and have used it on various occasions. It's fabulous entertainment and it will tell you what she is REALLY doing. Also good blog material.

Unknown said...

I have to tell you that I spent an afternoon on wikipedia learning all I could about Chennai. It was great to learn that India isn't just open markets and flies. Thanks for being the inspiration for that!

I agree with Mrs4444--could you type up your gardner's daily instructions into a wordpad, then dump it into a translator online, print it out and then hand it to him and he could be on his way? You could even tell him you'll make up a word--any word-- and when you holler THAT word (not the dog's call) that will be his sign to come see you. The same for the maid.

But really, it makes for funny blogging, and that's a good thing.

Cynthia said...

Ugh, to me...that just all sounds very frustrating. You are in a totally different country, and you are trying to find people you trust with your kiddos and your home. That is not easy...good luck to you:)

Simple Answer said...

Without a car here, I know exactly how you feel about being stuck when your driver is not available. (although the driver in my case is my husband!)

Good luck on the maid. I just read Danie's blog and it looks like they are moving....maybe she has someone?

Kat said...

Wow. That sounds so stressful! I hope it all gets sorted out quickly. :)

Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Suzanne said...

Good help is hard to find anywhere it seems! I'd love to have a cleaning crew come in here. Unfortunately they are not affordable around here. SIgh.

- Suzanne, the Farmer's Wife

Clare Anzoleaga said...

Here in Lima, Fleur and Maria are real gems. Maria was trained through the American embassy to cook American recipes, and knows a few more words in English than her sister Fleur. Fleur's husband is their driver, but only comes at night as they have accessible taxi service a few blocks away, or will just call one over. I'm still trying to get used to the guards outside the Italian embassy's residence one block over...they have machine guns! We're going back to the States on Tuesday, and I am looking forward to adjusting back to that way of life without so much help!

As in, I'm going to have to add my own sugar to coffee I made myself. hahaha :D

Have you tried looking in to relatives of maids? That might help with your search.

Teresa said...

It is hard to find good help. Because we live out in the boonies I just hired two women who I knew wouldn't get a job anywhere else (one is elderly and the other has a club foot). Then I spent 6 months or so training them. Neither speaks English, but pantomime does wonders. It's nice now because they pretty much do things my way. I told them that if they stayed a year and did a good job, I'd give them a raise; I also fine (like 20 Rs) if I find a dirty dish or badly ironed shirt. It seems to work.

I still clean the bathrooms, though. I got tired of training. :)

As far as the one lady sleeping with the girls.....I've seen nannys here in Chennai do that for the richer Indians. She may have thought it was part of the job. I wouldn't like it either though.

I dare anyone to try sleeping with Levi, hee hee. He kicks like the devil....


mary s. said...

As usual, I sit her shaking my head after reading your post! How are you not a 4 pack-a-day smoker by this point? Or constantly tipsy? ;)

I hope it all settles down for you and you guys get into a routine and your help gets squared away. I'm sure it will!

Heidi said...

Did you pack enough wine for this? I don't think I saw enough on that picture a while back, you need me to send you some? hehe

Laural Out Loud said...

I feel so bad for the woman sleeping on the floor! A strange thing by our standards, but it sounds like she thought that's what she was supposed to do.

I can't afford any help here in the States, but when we move to Brasil I'll be hiring some.

Good luck!

Martin said...

From a very different upbringing, I'd have tossed you the rubber gloves and a bucket of warm water by now...


Anonymous said...

In seven hours of cleaning, my house would squeak. Seriously. So, yeah, I definitely say keep looking. Since our move (a simple move to another state five years ago), I've yet to find someone adequate enough to take care of my kids... And they speak the same language as I do. Sorta. :)

So I'm sending some good thoughts your way in hopes that you find someone soon and EASILY.

Unknown said...

7 HOURS?!? Wow! I hope you finally find your cleaning lady soon...I wish I could convince my hubby to let me get one.

Love the pink girlie beds! From the looks of the pics, your house looked pretty clean already.

Glad it all worked out with the school thing too. I would have done the same thing.

I am sure the internet stuff will be up pretty soon too. Hopefully, so we can read more about the "Tales from India"...

Debbie said...

Hi Jill! Thanks for stopping by Blog Around the World. You are all linked up under India!

Tenakim said...

Lots to catch up on! Very wierd for me-I love to clean and don't think I would trust anyone else to do it right, much less deal with the language barrier- ugh!

Maybe hire me- I speak English and I sooo won't sleep on the floor. We could entertain each other.

Jan said...

I just found your blog after reading comments on CC's blog and I have to say it's made for some fascinating reading! I've learned so much in just a short time! I'll certainly be returning to read about your adventures.

Eve Grey said...

We had a very similar housekeeper when did a house exchange in Barbados a couple of years ago. At first I felt so embarassed and ridiculous having a housekeeper and then when I realized she did about 2 hours of work in an 8-hour day I didn't feel so bad!

Glass Family said...

Wow, you are definately living an interesting and exotic life. I have really enjoyed reading about all your family's trials and tribulations so far.

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