This maid wants a monthly food allowance.

Dear Allowance,

Generally a maid (whether she be a Filipino maid or other) pretty much eats the same food as the family out of convenience unless constrained by religion. For example, an Indonesian maid (who is a Muslim) working for a Chinese family will rather go hungry than eat pork which is a favourite among the latter. She will not eat it if her life depends on it.

Does this mean that with few exceptions employers and their maids should eat the same food? Not quite. Most maids, being Asians, must have rice. They will feel deprived without it. Those who work for Chinese families feel deprived if they are given porridge as a main meal. And while their Chinese employer and family would consider a meal of porridge ornoodles sufficient, the maids given only porridge or noodles for lunch will think their employers are mean or insensitive.

If at the interview a maid says she likes potato, discount what she says. She wants the job and if liking potato helps, then she likes potato. Sure she likes French fries, but only as a snack, something extra, in addition to the main meal. And if you give her a steak and baked potato with sour cream, she will like potato. But if she eats potato as often as westerners do and eats rice as rarely, you will find out soon enough that she misses her rice regardless of what she says at the interview.

If the family does not care much for rice, we would strongly urge the employer to buy a bag of rice just for the maid - Filipino, Indonesian, Burmese (some say Myanmese), Sri Lankan of Indian. Think of it as an investment, for a happy maid is a better maid. But rice is not the only thing to think about. Do people actually enjoy cheese with worms crawling all over? And what the locals call the king of fruits, durian, westerners cannot go within 10 metres of without fainting.

Whether you should give your Filipino maid a food allowance or not would depend on how radically different your diet is from hers. Remember her staples are rice and more rice. Typically her meal consists of rice, a meat (or fish) and a vegetable. Sometimes a soup is thrown in. Some maids say their expat employers can survive on a very low calorie diet and sometimes have only a salad for dinner! Your maid will not survive on a salad.

One expat employer had a wonderful maid, in her own judgment. The maid spoke perfect English, like most Filipino maids, as perfect as you can hope for in Singapore or the Philippines. They got along so well the first 6 months. But there was a small irritation that undermined their relationship.

This maid Nida was always complaining that she did not have enough to eat. Her employer was always complaining that she was such a lousy cook. They both spoke the truth, from their own perspective. Madam would consider it a good enough dinner if Nida just served her a baked potato with butter or a slice of cheese and a Campbell soup; or a fillet of fish with some french fries. Such a dinner would hardly test a cook and Nida prided herself on her cooking if nothing else. Well, if madam ate only a potato for dinner, could Nida ask for more? Could Nida mess up the whole kitchen and take an hour just to cook something more substantial for herself, like rice with pork adobo (pork stewed in dark soy) which is to her such a treat but to Madam such a torture? Is it true that one woman's meat is another woman's poison?

This started the whole debate and Nida asks if she could have a food allowance so that Madam could have a potato for dinner and Nida could just cross the street to the food court at Lucky Plaza where chicken rice is served for only four dollars. When Madam is in a good mood, Donna would needle her with this request for a food allowance. It seems that Donna would make this request like a broken record every couple of weeks. And they end up each feeling the other was unreasonable.

If your diet is so radically different and the maid really feels deprived and hungry you might consider giving her a food allowance or, better, give her the ingredients that suit her taste more.

Giving your maid a food allowance may not be wise, though. Some employers avoid this in the belief that the maid will try to save as much of the money as possible and end up getting malnourished. She might even be scrounging food or ingredients from her employer!

However, there are also employers who find giving the maid a food allowance an ideal solution. The employer does not want to spend time shopping for two sets of grocery. Anyway, the maid will know a place where her food allowance can stretch a little further than in the more expensive up market super markets.

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