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Domestic Dispute…….

March 21, 2009

When I was in college, I was in a sorority and we would have roundtable discussions – where we were free to voice our opinions and let others know what was bothering us. But in the spirit of sisterhood, we were not allowed to specifically mention another sister’s name. So we would start our discussion with “sister x” did this or “sister x” should really think about this. Well let me tell you about “cook x”.

Anyone who has lived in India for at least 5 minutes has a domestic staff story to tell – so the fact that it has taken us 7 weeks to earn our story to share is probably pretty good.

Number One Hubby hired our cook the week before the kids and I got here. He speaks good English, cooks American food, irons clothes well, and was supposed to have making bread as his specialty. He agreed to cook, clean, and do laundry for a family of five. And he promised to make yummy homemade bread. (The way to our family’s heart is with with yummy homemade bread.)

Enter a family of five.

First day:
Oh boss, I cannot cook, clean, and do laundry for a family of five. And, I need a raise. Yes, on his first day.

So, we continued with Ravi who was cleaning just for hubby. He comes in for 4 hours a day and is thorough and unassuming and very kind. So, that’s okay. We like him and not having to let him go was okay with us. Now cook does not have to clean.

We even gave the cook a raise. A 20% raise. We liked him too. (Just in case you are new at this whole staff thing – apparently, you start with someone on a temporary basis and a lower salary – then after a few weeks, if you plan to keep them, you give them a raise. We got to the whole raise thing a little early.)

So then he asks for us to include bus fare in his salary. This is really not a big deal because bus fare usually does not run more than $20 a month (and that is on the high end). So, bus fare it is. I think it might have been $10 for our cook.

We did not pack our kitchen up and bring it with us. We have just gotten things as we realized we need them. There has not been one thing he asked for that I did not get. Not one.

From what I can gather, domestic staff usually work about a 12 hour day in India. Our cook generally worked a 9-hour day and had most Saturdays off completely – or if he worked, he just worked a few hours.

Then our cook’s wife started a new job and they were moving. So we gave our cook several days off of work to move and coordinate moving.

Along with the move came the need for a security deposit. I don’t know if you just heard the collective gasp rolling across Delhi – but the number  one rule in having domestic staff is to NEVER lend them money.

We lent him money. I know, I know!

He was to pay it back over 5 months. Honestly, I will not regret this decision. We immediately agreed that it was the right thing to do. It was not so much money that it was life changing to us – but it was for our cook – and it helped him get a roof over his head. So, we did it – and, yes, we would most likely do it again.

Our cook was not happy with our smaller washing machine – so we have ordered a larger one. Our cook was not happy with our fridge – so we got a larger one.

Finally, our cook’s new digs did not have drinking water – so every night he would take lots of water home with him. We were happy to let him do that.

And quite possibly the straw the broke the camel’s back – the cook never made the promised bread for hubby. That was not a good idea. A fresh, warm loaf of homemade bread forgives a multitude of sins.

So, what I am saying is – he had it pretty good.

Or at least we thought so. Apparently he did not agree. He wanted a uniform allowance. Which is not uncommon – but we felt that we had given quite a bit already. (Again, if you are new to having staff – what I have found out is that it is normal to give domestic staff a clothing allowance for summer and fall. And a bonus at Diwali. But that the clothing allowance generally comes after they have been with you for 6 months or so.)

Hubby said no. Here is a note to staff – perhaps it is prudent to begin paying back the one month’s salary before you ask for a uniform allowance. Just think about it – ‘kay? Especially if you are new to the family.

Then he asked hubby again. The hubby said no – again.

Hubby is not impressed with having to say no again.

Our cook has been working for us for about 5 weeks at this point.

Then our cook asks me. Here is a second note to staff. If my hubby says no to you twice – I am not going to say yes. I err on the side of hubby. Period.

I told him he had to talk to the boss about it – that was his department – I can tell him what we want for dinner – that is my department.

Hubby overheard him ask me. Note to staff number 3 – it is not wise to try to win the wife over in earshot of the hubby. Not very wise at all.

So hubby comes into the kitchen and gives me a way out of the conversation. Thank you hubby.

But hubby is not done with the conversation.

Hubby outlines all of the things we have done. Cook tells hubby that hubby just does not care and that the wife is more understanding. Do I need to insert the fourth note to staff here – I bet I don’t – I bet you know all by your lonesome just what it is.

Needless to say, after talking in circles with our cook, my hubby invited our cook to leave and walked him out the gate.

It turns out that our cook had been bad-mouthing us to our driver and Ravi. They both are happy that he is gone. We both felt bad about letting our cook go – until we heard this. Note to staff number 5 – do not bad mouth your boss to the other people who work for him. They will sell you out. Quickly.

So, while I will miss his pasta salad, I now have a domestic staff story. We have two leads on new staff people – and you know I will let you know how it goes!

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Xenophon permalink
    August 13, 2009 1:40 am

    I was googling for ‘domestic staff salary new delhi’ and ended up reading-and enjoying- your post. All very recognizable of course….I guess everybody goes through the same stuff here.

    It’s very tiresome that you have to be on your guard 24/7 and can never assume that things will ‘just work’. Right now my wife and I are looking around for a part-time cook, keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll find someone who knows how to cook and doesn’t try to rip us off/get in trouble with our cleaning lady.

    I found that it’s best to lay down the law from day 1 and be very strict about implementing it as unfortunately many local staff confound kindness with weakness/exploitability. When the cleaning lady asked for a uniform I told her sure, fine, but a uniform would be just that: a white uniform which she’d be required to wear while at work. She looked at me and dropped the issue. Lending money is also out of the question, I’m not a bank. O.t.o.h. we do take care of her and her children’s medical bills and make sure they go to a proper doc, not a 50 Rs quack. It’s a fine balancing act.

  2. March 30, 2009 6:46 pm

    Hello! Poppin’ in from The Ultimate Blog Party…all the way from Queensland, Australia! G’Day! I hope you have time to visit my party soon.

    I’m giving away Pink Champagne Shower Syrup from Jaqua Beauty…stop on over and enter! Ends April 8. Open to USA.


    I want to invite you to the Mommie Daze Virtual Baby Shower that I am hosting May 15 to June 8. This is an international even and there are prizes! Stop by my blog for all the details.

  3. March 23, 2009 11:10 pm

    Kristie – yeah – luckily for me – most of my stories turn out to be funny stories not too long after they happen

    Ke – I agree – we are looking for a woman this time – but rest assured – the cook was never left alone with my children. There are quarters but I prefer to pay a little more and let them live some where else – our quarters are extremely small. They can use it to take a break during the day but it really isn’t great for much more than that. We don’t have room for a dryer. I know there is a tank on the roof – I am not sure how all of that works. We are asking around for new staff and the American Women’s Assoc offers interview opportunities on Friday – we’re probably going to that too.

  4. March 23, 2009 10:50 pm

    Why are you people calling them “servants”. urrrrg.

    Anyway, I would not hire men to be in the house, especially if I wasn’t there and especially if I had teenage daughters.

    don’t homes in india have living quarters for their domestic workers? most middle and upper middle class homes in kenya have such quarters. So, they’ll live within the compound, but you’ll still have your space.

    I can’t believe you can’t find a dryer in india. Really? the biggest headache with washing machines in 3rd world countries is the lack of available water. That’s why many people have tanks, which they fill up and then use pipes to connect the tank water to their taps in their homes. Do you have that or how does it work in india?

    why don’t you get recommendations on how to deal with domestic staff from your indian neighbors?

  5. Kristie permalink
    March 23, 2009 9:34 am

    If we get even a few really good stories out of life, we are blessed. This story is a treasure, growth chart, 10 Commandments moral lesson, and Girl Scout survival badge all rolled into one. So worth the 7 weeks and x rupees!

  6. March 23, 2009 1:05 am

    Lin – thank you – I will call you today

    Sharmishtha – indeed!

    Tottsmom – housekeeping here really is different than in America – I did not want help either – but seriously – try it first – you most likely find that you are much happier with it – and if you find the right people, you won’t mind them being in your house – they do learn to dance around you and most of them really are delightful

    m2thes – thank you – I would love the number

    Lola – you do get used to it – and really – there is so much to do here – it’s hard to explain – but I would not want to live here without help!

  7. March 22, 2009 11:33 pm

    I have to say that having staff in my house would drive me crazy! We have cleaning ladies every other week, and while I truly love them, I’m always glad when they leave. I’d love to have someone to do laundry and vacuum once a week, but that’s about it. I love to cook and couldn’t hand over my kitchen to anyone.

    I hope you find a great cook. And don’t be so nice this time 😉

  8. m2thes permalink
    March 22, 2009 11:59 am

    I got this one servant a while back from some agency…we are paying her around 4000 a month now….before it was like 3000 a month (we went threw 3 before i found one and now looking for another)…if you want i can give you the agency number BUT she does stay at our house unlike yours i think…before we had one that didn’t stay and we had some issues about that…(1 laptop and 2 cells missing)..anyhow about the part how your cook was talkin *****…whenever some one leaves all these hidden stories come out of nowhere in India….i know its wrong but i have learnt one lesson….the driver…the servant…the cloth cleaning people …..are all homies….and they all talk about where we goo and what we buy…its like lil stories for them…i can go on and on about this subject but i wont go on further…CIAO

  9. Tottsmom permalink
    March 22, 2009 10:48 am

    When we first thought of taking a job in India my husband informed me that if he went by him self housing and “servants” were included, but if he brought the clan with him he would be responsible for “servants”. My reaction, “SERVANTS??? as in more than one? I don’t know about that.” Anyway, I soon realized that they came as part of living in India. But after much research I have come to the this conclusion: Servants are more trouble than they are worth. But since India does not have a social welfare system, I think it is their way of making sure at least some people have jobs. Just think, if you did away with the cooks, house keepers, sweepers, guards ect.. how many more unemployed would there be? Just my two cents. Hope things go better with the next cook.

  10. Sharmishtha permalink
    March 22, 2009 9:03 am

    Ah, the tyranny of domestic help. And now you know why most Indian housewives have a permanently short temper. Being a housewife in India means you have to be a manager 24/7 and it’s very tiring. Think of yourself as a ringmaster in a circus – you have to keep the whole show going, lions, tigers, clowns all included.

  11. lin permalink
    March 22, 2009 6:49 am

    My all-around-angel-helper can make some yummy Indian food, desserts, and banana bread. Let me know if you’d like to have her over for a half day.
    She has never learned how to make loaves of bread but i would bet that if you taught her, she would listen intently, write your instructions down in her language, and do her absolute best trying. Not all her creations have been perfect but nobody tries harder! (And, she has some extra time and a flexible schedule.)



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