I Have a Love/Hate Relationship With My Household Staff

Wow, that sounds pretentious. But, I live in Chennai. In a third world country. So I'm giving myself a pass on that one.

I've talked in the past about how important it is to find good help here in Chennai. After living here for over a year and a half, I can't emphasize enough how crucial it is to mesh with the maid, dig the driver, and groove with the gardener, as they're at your house every...single...day...

As someone who really enjoys her privacy, having people in my house and around my yard all day long is really disconcerting. Sure, I love having a clean kitchen, sparkling clean toilets, and shiny floors, but it all comes with a price. My solitude. Forget sitting around in my pj's. Don't even think about running downstairs to grab something from the dryer in just a towel. Walking around with a tank top and no bra? Not kosher! And honestly, I don't even feel comfortable just vegging on the couch watching TV while they're here. Crazy, I know, but I still can't do it.

I've been very blessed with my latest housemaid. If you remember, I had a heck of a time finding the right person who could multi-task, understand English, communicate, and who I could stand being with in my house for nine long hours every ... single ... day. But I found her. And after seven months, I still like her as much as I did the day I hired her. She's a sweet girl who thankfully isn't from here. She's from Delhi. And while it doesn't seem like it's that big of a difference, let me assure you that it is. She's seen a "real" city. She's been to "real" grocery stores. She's experienced other cultures. She gets it. She's also a wonderful care-giver to Grady, she loves babysitting the girls, she's a fantastic cook, and her cleaning is above average. I'd even go so far as to say it's better than "Chennice."

Now my driver? My head hurts from banging it against the wall. I don't even know where to begin. What sounds like a luxury with having a driver, is initially a necessity. The streets are a free for all. Parking is virtually non-existent. There are yellow pages, but many business don't go by the names in the book, nor could they give a Westerner directions, even if they spoke English! There's no zoning. No business district. Unless you know where to go, you really don't know how to get there. Streets have three different names, not that you'd even know because there are no street signs.

To complicate things even further, if you completely rely on your driver because you don't have your Tamil Nadu driver's license and you're too afraid to drive, then when he's late, you're late. Or worse, if he doesn't show up, you're stranded.

After getting stranded myself a few times, I learned to drive. At first, it scared the daylights out of me. I was tentative. It was awkward driving on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right. I wasn't comfortable driving with the same reckless abandon as the locals. I wasn't confident. I drove every Sunday when the traffic was less. Then I tried on Saturdays. I went out on the weekdays, and even began driving at night. Slowly but surely I became skilled enough not only with my driving, but also with my directions. So much so, that I often dismiss my driver early in the afternoon, just so I can gain back some of my independence.

Drivers are also used to run errands. A schlepper per se. Clothes need to go to the dry cleaner? No problem. Have your driver take them. You need to go grocery shopping or are missing an ingredient for dinner? Give your driver a list and send him off. You need to fill a prescription filled, get flowers for a dinner party, have the gas tank filled, or something dropped off at a friends house. Send your driver do it.

This is all in an ideal world.

Unfortunately, our seemingly competent driver has recently been having troubles successfully accomplishing these menial tasks. Apparently it's too difficult for him to arrive early enough to take me to the school for meetings or other obligations. In the past two weeks he's arrived late three times, thus forcing me to drive to the school myself. Normally it isn't a problem, but lately I've been feeding Grady breakfast on the twenty minute drive to the school. Late breakfast = cranky child = irritated mom. And the kicker? He doesn't even let me know he's going to be late, rather he arrives at my house and then sends me a text message saying that he's here and he's sorry that I'm not. Really? What part of text me so that I don't wait for you do you not understand?

Another frustrating aspect is that despite specific instructions and lists, he's been returning from the stores with the wrong items. Or worse, with no items. And always with an excuse. Some of my favorites are:

"They don't have that" ~ Which can mean ... the one store he went into doesn't carry that particular item right now, though it probably means that he just didn't feel like checking at another store.

"It's too expensive" ~ Which can mean ... that he didn't get an exact price, so he's just assuming that it's too much money. It's also used as a deterrent to potentially cut down on his workload... if it's too expensive, I won't make him go out and search for something that I may not buy.

"Only one store carries that" ~ Which can mean ... that he doesn't feel like driving across town to another store to get what I need. Or that he has no idea what I really want.

"It will take time" ~ Which can mean ... The store doesn't have it now. Or the store said they'll have it soon. Or the store has no idea when they're going to get in the specific item. But most likely ... that he's too lazy to take care of it correctly, or in a timely manner.

Without going into any more specifics incidences and irritations with my driver, of which there are many, let's just sum it up by saying that I've finally hit my limit. I obviously don't need a driver. I only need a part-time schlepper. But I can't really get that. It's all or nothing. So I gave him an ultimatum. It's my way or the highway, and there are no more chances.

Matt seems to think he'll be gone by the end of the month. Who knows... maybe I will get to walk around without a bra during the day after all. No wait, I forgot about the rest of the people still at my house... the gardener, the roving guards, the maintenance people... Ahhh... big sigh.


Mom24 said...

It does sound like it's getting to the point you might be better off without him.

Good luck.

Christy said...

Honestly, it doesn't sound all that great - having so much help around all the time. Your driver sounds like he's scamming you - ugh! I have a cousin in Istanbul who has a driver too - and until now I always thought wow what a luxury, but maybe she deals with the same things you do!

Best of luck! I hope you get to go on another mini vacation again soon! :)

Kristi said...

Someday, when you need a laugh, call me and I'll tell you all about the Sunday at our house (before kids) when the Russian workers came over to put in the side fence. I may not love the vacuuming, scrubbing the bath or doing all the ten minute errands (that take 30 with the kids) but I DO love being able to stay in my pjs past 8 in the morning!! All the best, Kristi

Shannon said...

I just arranged for staff at our next post in Malawi. I am torn between being happy I won't have to scrub toilets and dreading the loss of privacy we have here in Frankfurt. I was incredibly lucky in Jakarta I got along well with my maid and I had possibly the world's best driver. I admire you for driving, on the rare occasion my driver wasn't around I would use taxis, just couldn't do driving in that traffic.

Keys to the Magic Travel said...

I am so impressed that you are willing to drive there. It's like you are being held prisoner by the people that are supposed to be helping you. So, I hope that you find a good driver. I know how hard it was to find the maid...is finding a good driver as difficult? And you have guards, too? What is that like??

Natalie said...

It is hard to comminicate frustrations with staff without sounding like an evil diva but girl, I am with you! We decided not to have any live-in staff because, like you, we crave privacy and I know I'm a lousy manager. As it is, we ended up going with a limited maid service because I let our other one walk all over me. She would litereally ignore me when I was speaking to her if I was asking her to do something she didn't want to do. One day she told our three year old that his mommy would stop loving him if he wasn't good! Finally I dismissed her and what a total relief! On the other hand, I keep reminding myself that giving people a job is really important and a responsibility, and that there shouldn't be blame assigned when folks with practically nothing try to take advantage of us "rich" Americans. Well done getting a good maid; I am afraid to be anything but vaguely nice to our new one. It seems to be working...

Kirsten said...

The being late thing would drive me nuts! I live and die by my schedule. It makes me hyperventilate to be late.

I hope it all works out!

Unknown said...

I admit, I've always been a wee bit jealous of your help. Until I got cleaning service for one day. Since our moving company ended up being total morons we got a free one day maid service to clean up the mess they left behind. I was so uncomfortable the entire time these two people were in my house! I noticed they didn't clean the hadrwood floor (which was the main reason I wanted the service to begin with) but I was too timed to say anything.

Now granted I could get used to a weekly maid service. But unless I'm moving to India that's not likely to happen :)

It's got to be hard when you really have to use people to just live!

Anonymous said...

oh man.

I'm glad your housemaid is working out so well!

Bummer about the driver.

I'm the other way around. My driver is the WORLD to me ... my housekeeper? YEA ... not so much.

Todd said to me (I kid you not) ... "she won't make it until the end of the month"

I tell you what though Jill ... it's hard on me to be hard on THEM. I just need them to do their JOB and JUST simply do it.

Anywhoo .... I'm glad you posted this ... makes me feel a bit more normal about being soo peeved about my current "hate/hate relationship" with the housekeeper.

Garima said...

Haha!!! I can imagine you runnign around in different directions..
Being from India i understand.. after living in US.. here is my take: In US.. we are used to doing it ourselves.. hencew we are not dependent on any one else schedules or shennaginans... though hard.. at least its done right.
in India, however its customary for us to build this kind of dependence on house staff.. As you say "Love-hate".. its so true.. i know i loved the fact, that i didnt have to do every single thing myself.. and i could have my driver take my simple "chores" out of the way.. but i hated the fact that it was not done right! Clothes not counted on pick up from dry-cleaners... money mismatch.. bill said 20.. but he says it costed 25.. and so on! Its hard..
but you need them... much more than they need you! Hope you work it out with the driver.. ro find the one who makes it work for you!
But honeslty... enjoy it while you have the help! Doing dishes every evening.. and having conversation with my husband..... is definitely not my ideal man-wife catching up time!

LeesOnTheGo said...

I completely UNDERSTAND!!!! (And it looks from your comments like a good many of us do). Love having staff...hate having staff. Find it completely bizarre at the concept of "having" staff too.

Good for you for driving there! No small feat!

Crystal said...

I too now understand what you mean!!!! I do love the extra time it gives me with the kids : )

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