An unannounced visit to a foreign maid caused her to lose her job.

Dear Maid Marian,

Sometimes the rules are unspoken but are still respected by people. If you come from a different country with a different culture, you may not appreciate these unspoken rules or, shall we say, customs.

In your case, it might not have been clear to you, but when your friend from Jelita came by and peered into the house hoping to catch your attention, it made your employer feel rather insecure. She would be asking herself questions like:

  • Who is this man and what does he want?
  • If that is Maid Marian's boyfriend, is he planning to sneak in?
  • Is he an honest man or is he studying the layout of my house so that it will be easier for him to break in when no one is at home?

Employers do worry indeed that their foreign maids might get pregnant and they would lose their security bond of $5,000. If you read the papers or just talk to people, you would surely know about that time when a Filipina maid actually gave birth while she was at Mount Everest Hospital. And if you study your own undertaking to the Singapore government when you were issued a work permit, you will know that you are not supposed to get pregnant in Singapore. If you are pregnant, your employer has no choice but to send you home. And then he will have to go through the hiring routine: inspect the biodata of a new maid or interview a transfer maid. And after that pay the maid agency a fat fee.

But of course employers are generally knowledgeable too and just because they have heard of one maid getting pregnant, they also know that 207,999 others are not getting pregnant.

But it is a different story if your boyfriend comes to the house, even if he just stays outside peering in. Whether he comes into the house or not is not the point. As far as your employer is concerned, that man maybe was casing the house might be tempted to invite himself in when everyone goes out. Or she is worried that you might invite him in when no one is at home? Have you not heard of maids who invite their boyfriends home when their employers are out?

Perhaps you are different, but how would your employer know? How long have you been working for her? Has your conduct always given her confidence? And even if your employer has confidence in you, she is still worried about your new found friend. You hardly know him! You do not know if he is honest and law-abiding.

As a foreigner you would often find it very difficult to size up a local. Most people will tell you that in Singapore you can walk alone at night in most (but not all) places. But do you know what are the places to avoid? A Singaporean listening to another Singaporean can decide if he is alright or is someone to be avoided. When you are in a foreign country (and Singapore is a foreign country to you) your instincts for sizing up people are weak. And you may know if the man who befriends you is honest or not, trustworthy or not.

As far as a prudent employer is concerned, if his maid has a boyfriend, she would prefer that he does not know where she lives; she would prefer that he does not even have her phone number.

Remember that when a maid goes to work for her employer, she is at first a complete stranger. Can she be trusted? Hope so. The employer has no choice in the beginning and "trusts" her maid, but only 90%. She will trust the maid if day in and day out the maid's behaviour is not threatening. If she returns money she found while washing, her employer will trust her a little more.

But if one day, before she trusts her maid 100%, something happens, then the employer will think to herself, I cannot trust my maid 100%. And if she thinks that the 90% can never turn to 100%, then she may say, "Now is the hour, when we must say good-bye."

For example, one day a man, a total stranger to the employer, came to the house where Ma Elenita worked. He did not say anything, he did not knock. But Ma Elenita knew he was coming and she tossed an envelope to him. It happened quite fast, all within the twinkling of the eye and the man, the stranger on a motor-cycle, was gone. But madam happened to look out of her window on the second floor and saw the whole thing.

A lot of things went through her head. What was in that envelope? Did it contain some money? Did it contain a watch or some jewellery? If coincidentally she missed some money; if she happened to mislay her watch; or if she could not remember if she had kept her cornflower blue sapphire ring, what conclusion could she draw? And if she did not lose anything, could she feel secure in future? Her expected conclusion might well be: "How can I ever trust Ma Elenita!"

The incident concerning Ma Elenita, not her real name, is related to us by her employer who fired her.

Maid Marian succeeded in convincing her employer that she was not attached to her new friend from Jelita, that his attention was unwelcome, and she would let him know that he was not welcome. She kept her promise, the man from Jelita never showed up again. At the end of two years Maid Marian went home - honourably discharged or something like that.

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