Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Got it Maid

Not entirely true; I like to cook...if someone else preps and clears up
This month I got my life back.   It's been in a state of suspended animation for ages, while I attend to visiting in-laws, end of year festivities, carnival, sick children and school holidays.  The last in the line of things to stand between me and my ‘me time’ was my maid.  She was hospitalized for a week and almost died.  If it was painful for her, it was for me too, stuck at home doing chores instead of indulging my yoga, ballet and lunch habits.  Thank God she came back.

I’ve come to rely heavily on this woman who is neither family nor friend, who I pay to be nice to my children, cook my food and sort my dirty laundry.  The relationship between dona (me) and empregada (maid) is a tricky one, and by far the most difficult thing I’ve had to adapt to since I arrived in Brazil.  For many Brazilians it’s taken for granted that you will have at least a cleaning lady, if not a full-time maid, nanny, cook and/or driver.   It’s not just the super rich either; I finally decided it was socially acceptable when my hairdresser told me my husband must be very mean if we don't have one.

Having another adult in your household who knows all your business takes some getting used to.  You can’t hide anything from them. I found out about a friend's adulterous affair via a maid we shared.  Another friend of mine was mortally embarrassed when her maid salvaged a pair of trousers that had been binned after an impatient bowel incident during stomach flu.  The maid just scrubbed the crap off them and put them back in her closet without saying a thing.  Just today, my maid asked me 'Dona Natasha, do you pick the skin on your feet?'.  Bad habits have no hiding place.

In return, it's difficult not to get involved in the life of a woman who spends more time in my home than her own.  Like most foreigners, I haven’t mastered the Brazilian art of distancing them from their staff that enables them to regard them as domestic appliances, to have no qualms about what they ask of them, how much they pay them or how happy they might be.   I was once warned by a friend never to engage a maid in a personal conversation, but I have a hard time with boundaries.  And that’s how I end up knowing a lot, too much, about Lu.

She has absolutely no concept that there might be some things I don't want to know and I don’t know how to tell her to stop.  Showing me photos of the house she’s building and her cute baby nephew is fine, but photos of her large body in a tiny bikini doing sexy poses is quite another.  Then there’s the whole reason that she nearly died in hospital.   She already has a teenage son, but she doesn’t use contraception (again, did she really need to share that info?) so no surprises what happened.  She had  told me she thought she might be pregnant, but I was slightly taken aback when she informed me that she was going to see a woman after work to ‘resolve the problem’, hence the near death thing, of an infection, because it all went badly.

When she told me what she planned to do (and how), my first instinct was to slip her the extra R$300 it was going to cost to go to a clinic and have a real doctor perform the procedure on the sly.   A quick call to Mr B, who is a natural when it comes to  boundaries, brought me to my senses.  Paying for your maid to have an abortion doesn’t look too great if you end up in a court.  And so I just wished her luck, gave her money for the 2 hour bus journey home and wished she would learn how to lie to me.

And so our life as intimate strangers goes on...


  1. I don't think you would go to jail because (unfortunately) abortion is illegal in Brazil. Actually , nobody goes. Most poor women die of these "interventions". I would go together with her and ignore my husbands reasonings (he is a man, after all). My mother always provided condoms and other stuff to her maid (s) such as hand creams, conditioner and shampoo, pads etc.. She got very disappointed and pissed off when one of them got preganant - thus she fired her.
    After all the dramas I have seen about my mom & her maids... and dependency... Personally I do not have a stomach for such relations. Maybe one coming up once in a week if I was living in Brazil.

  2. Actually, a real clinic costs around R$2,100. That's what the rumor is anyway.

  3. My maid and I have a great relationship. I think, in part, due to the fact that I don't speak Portuguese very well. So to tell me anything other than what she's cooked for dinner required way too much effort on both our parts. (Between this and what my Brazilian relatives are saying about the neighbors, the benefits of learning Portuguese disintegrate on a daily basis...)

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  5. Growing up, I saw my mother having many problems with her maids. Mainly due to gossips about our habits over the neighbor's maids, stealing, lying, so on... The last one tried to hit me, and as a 12 years old girl, I managed to make her on her way home (with my younger brother waited my parents come back home to file a police report against the lady). Now she takes care of her house herself, except for a lady that comes by once a month to help with some heavy cleaning.
    Myself, I've never have a maid. Having to deal with a "third work shift" is the price I pay to have my peace of mind. However, I do wonder when we have babies, I may need a part time nanny. And that's what scares me the most.