Why are some maids so greedy?

Dear LapuLapu,

You are not the only one to feel this way about your foreign maid. Some who contribute to the forum at expatsingapore feel the same way, too. But it is not quite fair to say that all foreign maids are greedy. One might be tempted to think that if people are deprived, they will tend to try to make up for lost time.

Much has to do with the maid's previous life style, before she comes to Singapore. As we know, foreign are not necessarily maids in their own country. Do not be surprised if there are maids who were teachers in their own country. Some maids from the Philippines might have worked as nurses or have been white collar workers and may even have had their own maids. They were not necessarily poor in their own country.

They may be influenced by TV and they long for the life they see others lead in countries more affluent. Are we greedy Singaporeans who eat supper at 11 p.m. after having had dinner at 7? Do we not know among our friends and acquaintances a few who take the trouble to go to a food centre for the last bowl of noodle soup before bed? In Singapore there is food everywhere. Does this mean that Singaporeans are greedy?

In their own country they see the more affluent ones nibble on Bingles potato chips, Mucho taco chips with this Vocado dip or Lonion dip. The TV commercials which show people enjoying Nabuco crackers with cream cheese are so persuasive you would think you are in heaven if only you have the same kind of snacks. Those who can afford to would indulge in these pleasures. Those who cannot have to defer until their incomes rise, as they do when they work abroad. And then for two years they can eat all the Nabuco crackers with cream cheese in the world, if they do not tire of them sooner.

As for sacrifices, we really do not know who is making them - the foreign maid or her family. Is the maid denying herself the warmth and support of her loved ones so that she can give them something better? Or is she indulging herself at the expense of her children, who are being sacrificed for they are the ones being deprived of the warmth and physical proximity of their mother.

Galatona seems to belong to both classes, not necessarily at the same time. She is a college graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Education and was a teacher for a few years. While teachers in her country are not terribly well paid, she was not exactly poor and she could afford to splurge a little on junk food like potato chips and cheese crackers, a hamburger or KFC. Why do people think it such a privilege to eat junk food?

On her daughter's birthday she could afford to throw a party for her and she would cook up a storm and her neighbours would come and help her celebrate. And on pay day she could give the family of 6 a real treat - deep fried drumsticks, king prawns, lapu lapu (or grouper as we call the fish), beef steak a la Taga, Bird's Eye Brand frozen vegetables, chayote fresh from the garden, Magnolia ice-cream as only Filipinos knew how to make, with ube, that mouth-watering root vegetable less knowledgeable people in Singapore call yam, etc.

The less affluent would have garlic fried rice for breakfast, garlic fried rice with a slice of bangus (milk fish) fresh or salted and pickles. But garlic fried rice with bangus are such a chore to prepare. It would be a lot more convenient to have bread which you can buy at the store, if you have a little extra cash. It costs a little more than rice with bangus, but just think of the convenience and the status it confers on you if you can afford something which is denied the common labourers and their children. Of course, at dinner time you eat rice because bread does not really fill you up. However, a couple of slices of bread thrown in would give dinner a little zest. If you can afford it, why not. Life is short.

But we must remember that inflation had been biting into Galatona's income for the last several years. Her salary as a teacher was not keeping pace with inflation. So there was less junk food to nibble on and the children's birthday parties were less extravagant. And in the last couple of years not many neighbours would take the trouble to come and help in the celebration, which was just as well. Indeed things got so bad that Galatona lost interest in birthday parties for the children and she would invite only a few privileged guests, the closest neighbours. It was getting to be too expensive. Her husband could not do much to help as the farm produce just did not fetch so much as before. People were getting more thrifty.

Galatona was not poor; she was a middle-class woman who was temporarily inconvenienced. She thought of ways to get around her problem. She could give private tuition and she tried. It did not help. She was always tired and sometimes she did not get paid. So when she received a letter from Picola who was her favourite pupil only a few years ago, she was excited.

Picola, barely twenty, was her favourite pupil in secondary school Home Economics class. She could make all kinds of cakes and her Beef Steak a la Taga was something to brag about. Picola was very happy. Her host family was so full of praise for her. If Picola could do such a good job, how much more would they appreciate her teacher, the one who taught her how to cook, to bake, to make the bed, etc., etc. Thus encouraged, Galatona came to work in Singapore.

Galatona could have been the perfect maid. She had the necessary skills and if you had set up some rules instead of just leaving things to her, you might have got good mileage out of her. Remember, we all have different priorities. Just like you had to provide for three children, she had four to take care of. She probably used to cook a lot. Lapu lapu (grouper to us) while relatively expensive in Singapore, does not cost so much in her country and Galatona had probably acquired a taste for it. Since you enjoyed the little kuning and did not, like Oliver Twist, ask for more of grouper, she just assumed that you would not miss your grouper. So she polished up the grouper and you finished the kuning.

Perhaps she ate more rice than you would expect, but remember that the fragrant Thai rice you bring home is a cut above the average rice Galatona was used to getting at home. You would find rice grown in her country so unappetising. It tastes just like it looks. Conversely, she finds the fragrant Thai rice so delicious she could even eat it on its own, like some bread. So perhaps she could not help eating more of it than she should.

But you could have set the standard for her at the beginning. You made the mistake of assuming that because she was a knowledgeable Home Ec teacher, you could let her decide. Having learnt recently that your hands-off attitude led to your maid making the rules to suit herself, you are now more hands on, supervising your new maid more closely than you did Galatona.

In fact most employers who take the trouble to set the standard in the beginning and make the effort to check on her maid's performance usually are better served. True, some maids do not like to be supervised closely, especially if they have a lot of experience. But whether she likes it or not, you have to establish right from the start: You are paying your maid to do what pleases you and she who pays the piper calls the tune.

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