The morality of being a cleaner June 18, 2007Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Eh?, Food, Home and away.
Being an “ex-pat” in a developing country, I’ve learnt that certain things are expected of you regarding your lifestyle. For example, you are expected to have a cleaner; show some support for the local workforce. Ours is called Natalia. She comes three times a week, from 8-ish, until she has done all the cleaning, washing and ironing that us lazy housemates have left for her. She’s quiet, returns a smile and gets on with it. We are good to her, by not being total pigs, leaving her money for a taxi home (instead of the bus), and giving her advances if she’s a bit skint in the middle of the month.
I’ve not really had a cleaner before, and so found it quite hard to leave things for her to clean or do. I’m used to it now, and agree that it is nice to have my bed made, my clothes ironed and so on but still find it strange to have my stuff moved around, reordered and reshuffled by someone else. I wouldn’t mind so much if she was consistent with where she moved my things, but every day she finds a new storage option for my books, laptop, make-up and even rearranges my clothing shelves in a rather erratic order.
Being the last to leave in the morning, I let her in, and she’s often still there when I pop home for lunch (I do wonder what she does during those 5 hours – the place really isn’t that big). The first time I found her there during lunch, I cooked us both some lunch. For the next 2 weeks, she was there, patiently waiting for lunch, even if she’d clearly finished a while ago. This generosity soon ended: I come home for lunch to relax in peace, not to cook for our cleaner who doesn’t talk to me. She’s often gone by lunch now, but her silent pottering around when she is there does put me slightly on edge (as people who know me with agree, I’m not so good with quiet people or silence).
I also feel that she has started to take a few liberties. It started with certain food items would disappear, such as leftovers or whatever I may have left out for my lunch – not such a huge offence, but, as anyone who’s had their planned meal scoffed by another can sure sympathise, it becomes quite a nuisance (our fridge now looks like a museum with “Do not touch” labels attached to various prized items).
I then noticed that on more than one occasion, my emergency chocolate stash in my bedside table was depleting, normally on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday – this, I found, like any other female or chocolate fiend would, was a true violation of my privacy.
Last month, I noticed that she’d written “Natalia birthday” on my bedroom calendar. Now, I wasn’t sure how to take this. I was quite tickled by it, as it was such a bizarre thing to find, but also felt it was another violation of my privacy. She clearly wrote it in hope that we’d give her a bonus, and knowing how little she earns, and that she has 2 kids to look after and no husband, we gave her a wee birthday bonus. Ignoring it would have been quite rude, but then again, I also feel that she shouldn’t have written on my calendar in the first place. I could go on, but instead I’ll fast-forward…
And recently my nail clippers had vanished from my bedside table. I like to keep my nails clean and in shape, so this was duly noted. Not wanting to accuse her of theft, I waited 2 weeks and then asked if she’d seen them. She produced them from her jacket pocket. “Ah, yes, I forgot to bring them back”. But why did she take them in the first place? “So I can clean my nails and make them look nice.”
Ok, call me petty and anal, but I don’t feel that this is right. Taking things from the house isn’t in her job description, nor is it, or should it become, an occupational perk. And yeah, it’s only a little set of nail clippers, but I also feel there is a hygiene element involved here (I also don’t share towels, beauty products or make-up). With terrible stories about other cleaners nicking off with whatever they fancied, from food to money and clothing, I may be a bit paranoid, but I was advised that such behaviour needs to be brought to attention or it will escalate. So she’s now on probation: any more misdemeanours and we’re getting a new maid.
But now I feel bad. She now avoids all communication and eye contact with me in the mornings. The incidents were small, and a minor inconvenience in my life. I understand that to someone earning £35 a month from part-time cleaning, the contents of our ex-pat fridge and bedroom drawers may seem rather tempting, and only a little here and there may not be noticed. But there is a line of privacy, and I feel she overstepped the mark (I think it’s the chocolate that did it).
So tell me, am I being fair or incredibly pernickety?