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Another one bites the dust…………….

April 26, 2010

Plain and simple – I stink at having staff in my house. We just fired our cook and his wife. And by “we” I totally mean “me”.

Just so you know I don’t get rid of staff willy nilly – please remember that we have had Ravi (our house keeper) since the day we got here a year and a half ago. And I am only on our second driver – and the first driver was simply reassigned within hubby’s company so he was not “fired”. We don’t have loyalty issues. But dang it. Another one bites the dust. And this was a two-fer.

If you haven’t been taking notes along the way while reading this blog, this is the 4th cook we have fired. Hubby fired the first 3 because I was just a big fat chicken and simply did not want to deal with it. So Francis and Rani were my first “fire”. I really, truly could have lived my entire life without firing someone. It’s not pretty. There were no cameras, no lights, no dramatic “cue music” like when Donald Trump does it – and certainly no applause. And they did not get to ride home in a limousine.

Francis and Rani have been working with us since October, when cook number 3 (Laxmi) got canned. My first warning sign should have been the day we hired them. They stood in our driveway and called Laxmi’s mother to find out if this was the house that Laxmi worked at and did she know they were interviewing new people. Thick as thieves these guys – literally.

I have been grappling with what to do about Francis and Rani for a few months. When we first hired them, we really liked them. They worked hard and Francis made excellent breads – which forever endeared him in the heart of number one hubby. But then I realized they weren’t honest. Francis was doing the shopping and on the way home from the store, he would rewrite the receipts to his benefit. They were not nice to the guards or the other people working in our home and they were making decisions that were not theirs to make. And they were stealing. They were smart enough about it – my earrings are all still in place but they would take little things that I probably wouldn’t notice.

Just one of the many examples of the things they did that was less than impressive was this – our guard stands outside of our gate in 110 degree heat. He does not get the benefit of the air conditioning like some of the other people who work here. Our guard asked Francis for water. Now, mind you, Francis and Rani used to fill up about 6 large soda bottles a day and take water home with them. But Francis said the guard could not have a glass of water. He never even asked me my opinion. Just decided all on his own that the man guarding my house and my family did not need to be hydrated, while he sat fat and happy in the kitchen with air conditioning. Let me just say this is probably what sealed Francis’ fate because it told me that his heart is black. How can you look at a person standing outside in the heat all day long and deny them a drink of water, especially when your cup literally runneth over? Especially when it frankly is not even your water.

Of course, there were many other things along the way that caused me concern. But the plum that broke the boss’ back was actually just that – a plum. Now, I know this will sound absolutely ridiculous to most of you and as I think about how to write the story so that it makes sense, I am not sure I will be able to find a way.

Most people who have staff here just accept that they will be dishonest sometimes, that they will take a few things here and there, that they just don’t look at life the same way we do. After all, we have so much and they don’t. And most people will argue that it doesn’t really matter if they take things from you as long as they don’t take anything important. A year and a half ago, I would have been incensed by that and argued the morality of it all. Now, I understand that it can make you crazy and if you just don’t think about it – then it is not a problem.

But even after having a long heart-to-heart with Francis and Rani about being honest and playing nice with the other staff, they still thought the rules did not apply to them. These heart-to-hearts are supposed to snap staff back in line faster than a rubber band and buy you a few weeks if not months of no conflict. But it was clear that Francis and Rani did not take me seriously and that they thought I am not the brightest bulb in the pack. Even after I explained to them that I know exactly what is going on in this house and, just because I don’t address something immediately, does not mean I am not aware of it.

Oh “yes, ma’am” they said with heads bowed. “Yes ma’am, yes ma’am, yes ma’am.” Augh.

If you are a parent and you have had this type of discussion with a child, you know just how I felt. It was pretty much “yeah, yeah, yeah” and they went right back to their antics. Immediately right back.

So, I waited until I knew that they had taken something and I asked the guard to check their bags. There it was – a plum. Along with half the contents of the fridge that I had actually given them. I cannot stand for food to go bad – so we give a lot of leftovers to our staff. (Which by they by, means that they are forever making too much food so that there are leftovers – see how this all works.) That day I had asked them to make sure to clean out the fridge and take home the leftovers. And when I walked in to the kitchen, I saw Rani’s bag with a plum in it. Completely separate from the other food. And no, I did not look through her bag – it was sitting on the counter and the plum was right on top.

Right about now, you are probably thinking, well you gave them food – how did they know the plum wasn’t on the menu. Trust me. They did.

Or you might be thinking – seriously a plum? Yes, because enough already.

As I said, there was a lot that lead up to the great plum incident of 2010. And I am writing this – not to get your sympathy or not to earn Francis and Rani your sympathy – but so that I can remember this. This blog is a great big “note to self” for me to remember my experiences here. Already, just a few days later, I am questioning my sanity. How did I let myself get so wrapped up in this? Why can’t I just let some things go?

And now I am left with a plum that is rotting and that cannot do laundry or cook dinner or wash dishes.

But, how can I stand in my own kitchen everyday and look at people who are dishonest and whose hearts are black and pull money out of my wallet to pay them to steal from me?

I will surely never reconcile this whole having staff thing.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. chris permalink
    May 17, 2010 9:48 am

    Don’t you expat-types ever go stir-crazy, with all that decadent spare-time hanging heavy on your spoilt-rotten hands, while the poor natives of India toil themselves to the bone, all around you ?

    What’s with having all that staff and stuff , waiting upon you at all times ?

    Why not pull out all the stops, and also hire parlour-maids, scullery-maids, pantry-maids, boots-and-knives boys, cooks, butlers, gardeners, security-guards, footmen, doormen, stable-boys, etc. ?

    Girl, that’s so 19th-century British-Colonial-Raj !

    Get with the program. A security-guard, a driver and a part-time maid should do it.

    The cooking ? That’s where you come in.

    • May 17, 2010 10:13 pm

      Wow – first let me welcome you to my blog – and then let me say that it is the Indians who set up the staff system and many staff like working for expats because we treat them well and pay them well. And many, many expats use that “decadent’ spare time to volunteer in their children’s schools, perform charity work, and embrace all that India has to offer, while trying to return some gifts to India as well. We are not all sitting around eating grapes that have been peeled and having our knives sharpened. Feel free to continue reading along as you will understand that there is much more to living here than having staff.

  2. andrea permalink
    April 26, 2010 12:37 pm

    Wow, fascinating blog entry that rang a lot of bells. My empathy goes out to you.

    My mom was in your shoes, 40 years ago in Delhi, and part of the reason she didn’t enjoy our 4 year diplomatic posting as much as her children (btw, India is an AWESOME place to grow up!) was in good part due to having to run a household there. Made my mother miserable. Hope you have locks on things and keep the keys with you 24/7. Anyone accidently come into the bathroom while you were there? No? It’ll happen! Don’t you know that pieces of fruit being off limits is like asking for apples not to be eaten in Eden? ๐Ÿ™‚ When my mom later complained to friends in the States about how draining/unpleasant/awful it was to manage 9 full-time, 4 part-time help (in our day, it was okay to call them servants), her friends would give her silent looks (as if thinking, “Oh, please, gimme a break!”). Hang in there, and make sure the house is safe while you’re away on the leave . . . when the cat’s away . . . ๐Ÿ™‚ Best!

    • April 26, 2010 9:35 pm

      Welcome Andrea – we have locks but I rarely use them – I just only keep the staff I feel I can trust around. No one has come into the bathroom – that might put me over the edge ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Nancy permalink
    April 26, 2010 10:33 am

    I, for one, think that you are a trooper. You are who you are and you can’t change who you are. You can only adapt to the situtation you have found yourself in. Hang in there. You are in the home stretch.

    • April 26, 2010 9:33 pm

      Hey you! It’s funny, I am frustrated because I don’t want to change my expectations for honesty – so you are right – I cannot change who I am – but I cannot change who they are either – nor should I even try – and yet………………augh.

  4. Kirk Childress permalink
    April 26, 2010 1:42 am

    yes, having household staff can be difficult, especially for those of us who are not used to it and particularly given the cultural and power differences in the situation. I know I had a hard time adjusting to it when I was in that situation [at least on some levels, anyway; it actually was not *too* difficult to acclimate myself to having someone else clean, wash dishes and mow the lawn. . more so on a interpersonal/ethical level, though].

    that being said, and with all respect [I promise that I am not going for flip or snide], the reality is that you either deal with it and learn the ups and downs as you go, including firing folks who deserve it, or you are not forced to have them. I am betting you got along fairly well back on this side of the globe without the small domestic corps. The guard is another matter as your security concerns are definitely outside your control and very different that the ones you faced here.

    Going without the help is definitely an option, even if running the household without them poses you problems would not encounter here. Otherwise, roll with the punches, enjoy the benefits and stay vigilant while sticking to your moral compass about how to treat employees, just like any other employer should do. I would suggest inquiring with both your staff you trust and your friends/acquaintances there who are more experienced in the matter for recommendations on replacing the ones you just let go. Are there headhunter/placement type companies there that cater to expats? Both your staff & the headhunter would have a vested interest in recommending someone who would earn your trust & approval.

    I appreciate you sharing this story and your struggles with being the fair but firm chatelaine and hope these observations are somewhat helpful.

    • April 26, 2010 3:10 am

      Hey there – I have decided not to hire another cook right now. We will head home for the summer before too long and we are finding out that we are managing just fine without the hassle of “help” at least for right now. We were going to keep this couple on retainer for the summer which meant paying them a decent amount of money to do nothing and encourage their dishonesty. I just could not seeing doing it. The rest of the staff is all chipping in nicely to help out as much as they can – I would rather the money go to them. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The frustrating thing is that no matter how hard I stomp my foot, some things simply will not change. Most people here can separate the good from the not so good and enjoy the benefits of having staff. And of course, there are staff members who work very hard and are extremely honest – they are just all taken. ๐Ÿ™‚


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