Why are some maids so greedy?

One thing I notice about my foreign maids is that they are so greedy. I have employed maids for the last thirty years. At first they were either Singaporeans, Malaysians or even a couple of Thais. For the last 20 years or so when Singaporeans, Malaysians and Thais are no longer interested in working as domestics, I have employed Filipino maids or other foreign maids from Sri Lanka or Indonesia.

With one or two exceptions, my foreign maids in the last ten years have been quite greedy. They seem to be munching all the time. It is not so much that they are eating me out of house and home. They would bring home on their off day a bag or two of potato chips, a packet of biscuits, etc. On several occasions I found unfinished packages of potato chips, biscuits and other snacks lying around. From what they tell me about the sacrifices they are making to work in Singapore, it would appear that the money spent on potato chips would be more useful at home where it could be used to buy some real food for their oh so deprived children!

Take my last Filipino maid Galatona. Would you believe that at dinner she would eat rice with fried chicken, vegetables, soup and two slices of bread! I have never seen anyone eating rice and bread at the same time. To me bread is a convenience, something that you eat when you do not wish to spend much time in the kitchen, when you want something light. Being Asian myself, like my maid, I eat rice when I want a full meal.

I do not count how many eggs I buy each week, nor how many kilos of rice. But it seemed to me that I was lugging home a 10-kg bag of rice ever so often, more often than when all my three children were at home. Now with only my youngest son at home, we consume even more rice than ever.

When I go to market I would buy enough for a whole week and sometimes I go overboard. And I would forget what I have in the fridge. I would buy a lot of fish if they are fresh and cheap, for I have a large freezer at home. I would buy selar kuning sometimes shortened to just "kuning" which literally means yellow for yellow banded scad. The kuning varies in length between 10 and 15 cm. This is a favourite among Singaporeans and goes perfectly with Nasi Lemak (rice cooked with coconut milk). It is value for money. When it is fried just so, it is perfect. You can eat almost the whole fish bones (but not the spine) and all. No need for calcium supplements. I would also buy grouper, another local favourite, when the fish is abundant and fresh, for then the price is always right. No matter how right the price, grouper (sometimes spelled garupa) costs quite a bit more than kuning.

And it seems that I always ran out of the grouper before I ran out of the humble kuning. When I expected to have grouper three times or four before I needed to replenish, I seem to recall eating it only once. But the kuning never seemed to run out. I soon found out why. Galatona did not like kuning. In her country only the poor eat little fish. The more affluent eat grouper. Except in my own house. Here the maid ate grouper and the kuning was reserved for the employer.

Most of the time only my husband and I had dinner at home. My son did not eat at home all the time because of his schedule. Galatona was always so generous and we she would lay on the table four deep fried drumsticks, a plate containing six slabs of pork, a 400-gram fish, a plate of cabbage with prawns, a plate of mixed vegetables (cauliflower, peas and carrots) and a herbal pork rib soup. If I was the cook, I would have been happy for the two of us to have one fish (or 4 slabs of pork or two drumsticks), one vegetable and one soup.

After work I was usually too tired to give Galatona a lecture for this extravagance but sometimes I could not control myself and I would tick her off for it. But it was not so much extravagance as waste and greediness. Did she think we were such gluttons? But it ruins my mood at dinner to tick her off and sometimes I suffer in silence. Even now I feel irritated as I relate this. And often I just clam up so that I would not upset my hubby too.

Sometimes I would tell her the next day about estimating what a person can consume without getting fat, like her. I would tell her about not wasting food. After I ticked her off, she would remember the next 7 to 10 days and I would not feel the need to give her a lecture.

Ultimately, she was incorrigible. If I gave it to her too hard, her face would turn black and she would tell me a day or two later that she missed her husband and would like to go home. Each time I would pacify her. And I would check her less. And the food would pile up on the dinner table again. But all bad things must come to an end. And one day when she said that she missed her husband, I commisserated with her and agreed that she should go home and visit with her husband and the rest of her family. And soon she was replaced by someone who is hopefully not so greedy.

A couple of months after she went home, she wrote to me to ask how I was. And of course I was touched by her concern for me and my family. And meanwhile she was doing fine, only she was very bored, she said, and a little broke. There was not enough to do and things were expensive. It seemed that during the two years that she was in Singapore, things had doubled in price at home. And the letter ended with her kind offer to come again and take care of me and my family.

But during the first two months since she went home and I was breaking in my new maid, I found so many things more that made me less than pleased with Galatona. My rice cooker which I had bought just before she started working for me looked like it came from an archeological dig. My blender had a missing part. So I think I will let my new maid take care of me.

I am keeping an eye on Selima, my new Indonesian maid, and I think it is working out fine. I am not running to the grocery store ever so often for rice and I get to eat less of kuning and more of grouper. Selima is slim, not rotund like Galatona, just like she was when she came to me a couple of months ago. And my new rice cooker is still gleaming. I am pleased with Selima.

Perhaps soon I can join the ranks of Gloria and other happy employers and declare at last: "I have found a great maid!"


Copyright (c) 2001, Inter-Mares