Cultural differences

The things no maids seem to understand

1:12 PM

I wrote quite a couple of posts about maids in India, and in the nearly 9 years I have been there I had the very good, the good, the bad and the downright ugly, but there are things that no matter how many times you explain them, no maid will really grasp, not even the good ones like the one I have now. And frankly I gave up because it’s not worth loosing breath and saliva over these matters. If you are new to India, here is the list of the things you can if you want try to explain, consider a bonus if followed, but should not sweat upon.

- Draining baskets: at the exception of one maid, all asked for it, and I refused, because the basket in question is a giant space eater in which they will pile your washed dishes without any rhyme and order which could cause to breakage of your non steel glasses and plates. If you have a separate utility area where you can keep the damn thing out of sight, fine go for it, I never really had that luxury and the way I see it, the damn basket would cause me to use more expletive during the day having to move it around to use my tiny kitchen, or bump into it, for the few minutes it is used to drain a dishes each day…not worth the hassle. My Kitchen is modular, and I like it neat so I always store away the clean stuff promptly, but hey never stopped even my current maid for asking I buy one a million time.

- The other reason I do not want to buy one, is that my kitchen has a sink with a draining platform. The problem is that day in day out I end up with this scenario:


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As you can see the draining area is clear and all the stuff are piled dripping wet on the granite counter. The reason being that despite my showing her how to do it right, explaining how to do it right and repeating a million time that the ribbed thing on the side of the sink IS the new draining basket my maid still soap up all the dishes one by one, pile them all soapy on the draining area, and then rinse them one by one and dump them on the granite. While the correct way would be to soap one, rinse it and place titled on the slots of the draining area, and take the new dish to repeat all over again. I had this draining system in all my flat but one, and in all the houses that had one I explained the system, only for the maid to ignore it, I even had a particularly cheeky one telling me that no there are too many dishes and it can’t be done, only for me to show that yes it could and be blurted to my face it is time consuming…that was the crappy Navi Mumbai maid I once upon a time told about if you were wondering. After so many years trying to explain how to stack the dishes…I gave up, they still don’t get it, probably never will. I just try to remember to clear them away fast and mop the counter dry so I get my workspace back and don’t get too much water leaking between the wall and the counter top as it has been sealed poorly, otherwise the storage area below gets wet.

- For them there is no such thing as too much soap, soap cleans, and more soap equals to cleaner. Don’t let them use liquid dish soap unless you plan on putting a dent in your budget, they can empty a bottle in a week (been there), get the good old desi alternative : dish soap bars, they will still disappear in a week, the difference is that a bottle cost about 90 rupees and a bar cost 15. And they don;t stop there, floor cleaner used in excess is apparently also better than just a cap for many, go for the cheap, or like me, go with none at all, the floor is mopped daily, and I’m not living in a hospital, so it doesn’t need to be 99.9% germ free, germs found in houses anyway help you build up immunity, and I do my wallet and the environment a huge favour. I would go for vinegar if it wasn’t so costly around here.

- Don’t bother confusing them with too many cleaning products, they will not remember half of what you told them, will end up using the same thing for everything anyway and you will loose your mind over it. I had a maid in Chennai who used the dish wash liquid soap to mop the floor I kid you not! Buy one floor cleaner, one dish soap, and a toilet cleaner and let it be, if you are a clean freak and want more stuff, keep it for yourself and do that speciality cleaning yourself.

- They strongly believe that huge bucket of waters poured all over the balconies and in the bathroom is better than moping these area. Even in my current flat, with my current maid where we have western style bathrooms with properly segregated wet and dry area she will wet it all over, never use a mop at all, and never even use a sponge to wash the basin. I tried telling all my maids to MOP the bathrooms, they simply don’t. Invest into a foam wiper blade thingy and wipe off the excess yourself to avoid breaking your leg. And never mind that they could clean a balcony with half the water, they still will fill the bucket to the rim and pour, water preservation is apparently not their concern.

- Back to the dishes, don’t bother trying to explain that a scotch brite sponge/scrubber can be used on the sponge side to clean melamine plates with patterns, non-stick coating pans and other fancy items with prints on them. The will use the green scrubber side for EVERYTHING even if there is nothing to wipe, there is one of Ishi’s tiffin box that lost a cartoon design in just a week, and I gave up buying non-stick pans eons ago, they will strip the coating in less than a month with vigorous scrubbing, never mind that nothing ever stuck to the bottom of said pan. If you have non stick stuff, clean them yourself if you value them, because no matter how many times you tell them not to scrub them, they’ll keep on doing it

- They have trouble getting the concept of dusting too, or they will bang a dry cloth on your furniture just spreading the dust somewhere else, or they will mop them with a dripping wet cloth. I managed to get mine to stop mopping them with a super wet cloth, but haven’t been able to make her switch to the proper microfiber duster that grab the dust without being soaked. Only WET cleanses, dry can’t do that in their mind. I even showed her how to dry dust…massive fail, she doesn’t get it, but since the dust accumulates so fast in India one need to dust twice daily, so she does it in the morning her way, I do it in the afternoon my own way. Don’t bother trying to make them use pledge, it’s costly and they won’t use it right and all it does is buy you around 12 hours of dust build up.

- if you are very particular about certain cleaning tasks and really really want them done a specific way, do it yourself, learn to pick your battle with household stuff in India, a spick span glossy home is not possible here, give the thing you don’t nit pick too much over to the maid, do the other yourself.

- if you don’t have a washing machine and care about your clothes, wash them yourself, the Indian way consist of banging them hard on a stone or the bathroom floor while wet, it will kill anything in just a few months, we used to let the maid clean them in the beginning, before we got a washing machine, the stains would not come out, the fabric looked worn out a few weeks after purchasing said item, and I even had neighbours reporting that they were constantly sewing button back on their husband’s shirts because the maid’s bang wash technique broke them.

- Remember that more than in the West your maid doesn’t come from a background where she will be used to multiple cleaning products, and gear, or know that certain items need to be washed with care. Provide her with tools she can understand, most maid will not get how to use a mop broom, so even if it breaks your heart to seem them squat on the flour to mop, let them do it. Each time I moved to a new place I always asked my maid what type of mop she wanted and what she was more comfortable using, the one I have now is the first one that asked for a mop broom and knows how to use it well, so we invested in a 800 bucks microfiber pad scotch brite one. It comes in handy when we spill stuff and both DH and I can mop the floor ourselves with it too, but if she was not comfy with it, we wouldn’t ask her to use it in the first place.

And more important than all for you not to loose your sanity is to remember than when you delegate a task, you must accept loosing a bit of control over it. You can offer tips, try to explain to a certain point, but that stops there.

22 comments

  1. Try a GALA Kitchen Scrubber Green, a sponge in a plastic net, scrubbs well and does not scratch (But not coatet bake trays!!!), is cheaper and lasts long, can be washed in washing machine and zapped in the Microwave...

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  2. Nisha2:03 PM

    Could you not find a drainer rack that hangs above the sink? I remember seeing one that looked just like a cupboard from the front, but had wire racks and an open bottom from which the dishes could drip in to the sink. It looked like a part of the modular kitchen. i wonder if it was custom made.

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  3. It's not my own flat, and the past 4 kitchen I had in the last 2 years had no space for such a thing, the one we have now it the one with the least space of all above the counter, the water purifier takes that space. Beside I'm really really not the type to let dishes pile up more than a few minutes, I am a bit of a neat freak when it comes to the kitchen, things must be stored away in their designated space :-)
    And I am not sure the maid would take the effort putting the thing in a overhead rack in an organized matter either, if after many explanation they cant understand that you wash one thing after the other completely and put it on the drain platfrom before soaping and rinsing the next I doubt they would put it anywhere else, they all seem to just pile up things with no order on top of the other, the basket would be just for them to not have to bother about things sliding and containing their random pile up :-(

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  4. Yes I had one of these in the past, but even with one of these I lost a non-stick kadai :( The maid must have had a strong arm and mad-scrub technique. Right now I use the system of having one spong scrubber I use myself, mostly to use to wash my daughter's bottles and sippy cups because my maid doesn't believe in rinsing the sponge or making sure the soap bar is free of food stuff, once the maid's sponge is dead I give her mine and take a new one for myself, by then the green pad side is a bit softer and makes less scratches. When the maid is not there and I have to do the dishes, I use my own sponge, because using the slimy food stuff incrusted one is something I just find too gross to touch, I'm a bit OCD in the kitchen :-)

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  5. gayatri3:25 PM

    Hahahah!!I have gone thru the same problems.None of them understand why we buy so many cleaning liquids.Why do we use less soap?it goes bouncer for them.

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  6. mynextlifewillbe6:04 PM

    You would probaly be apalled at my cleaning skilss too. For tile floors i use dishwash soap too,what is wrong with that? Unless its a special wood which needs extra care,cleaning plus waxing,dish wash soap works perfectly ok. If its really dirty then just something heavier with more chemicals is used but i dont use that everyday except the bathroom.

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  7. I had a maid in the pervious flat we left in in Bangalore in 2011 who was a scavenger and had a real diva attitude too. Back then I had the misfortune to have been roped into Amway by a neighbour (got out of it after two meetings) I had their environment friendly super concentrate flour cleaner then, to be fair it was great, good value for money if you use it right, but so not worth it with Indian maids. Anyway, first my maid flatly refused to use it, lecturing me on how only PHENOL would do and she would use nothing else, I told her that it was my cleaner or nothing, and her to say it was a bad cleaner because it had no smell! I told her to use it period, especially because our balconies there were getting really dirty fast being on the side of a main road. I showed her how to put half a cap in the bucket, she made some drama ueen sigh, but because I was firm enough used it, two days later I see a monster foam in the bucket and on the floor, I let it slide only to watch her carefully the next day when I noticed she poured almost half a cup wort of the stuff in the bucket! I told her to stop, use the cap provided and do only half of that, she told me that with one cap it doesn't foam enough because the cleaner is bad, I yell at her saying it is a costly premium imported product, and exasperated she told me that it's too much trouble to pour the liquid in the cap and then in the bucket! We were a little over a month away from relocating when I caught her doing that, so I figured out I would bear with her, seemd like less trouble than finding a maid just for one month, when we relocated my bottle was almost empty and I had a smaller one left, my current maid used it the right way, but when it got finished I decided not to buy anything else, frankly the floors look as nice and clean without a floor cleaner, and my balconies here are catching less dirt for some reason.

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  8. dishwash soap is too costly in India to have it end up on my floors every single day, and maids will pour tons in the water around here leaving the floor sticky with residues. Since m floors get mopped daily, water alone really works just fine, if there is a sticky spill somwhere I will wipe it with some glass cleaner myself. In fact since we stopped using a cleaner at all, my feet get less dirty walking around, I really think that the way most maids uses cleaners is actually making the floor less clean, the residual detergent make dust stick to it and make your feet icky :-)

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  9. Sonal8:15 PM

    We are gonna shift to mumbai in a few months. Your apartment looks like its got almost everything i've been looking for. Modular kitchen, western bathrooms etc.How much rent do you pay for this? I am assuming ur flat is 2BHK. Even we want a 2BHK.

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  10. Yes my flat is a 2BHK, we live in Chandivali which is pretty much still part of Powai, the rents can be slightly steep here we pay 40k this year for it, when we moved in last yer it was 36k, we are thinking of moving next year, there are cheaper appartment building with the same amenities and fixtures in the same area as well. In Mumbai however how close you live to the work place matters a lot that's the reason we are here and not to a cheaper area. The further you go in the suburbs the easier on the pocket the rent will be, new construction buildings are more likely to get modular kitchens and proper planned bathrooms than older ones. The biggest issue in Mumbai rent prices set aside is the space, it's though to find flats that are big enough, have modern fittings and come within your budget :-(
    Where exactly in Mumbai were you thinking of looking for a place? Start looking for price ranges on websites such as magic bricks and 99 acres, that can give you a very good idea of what is around in your choosen locality. So that you can negociate prices better should you find something you like.
    I forgot to mention our flat is "semi-furnished" for that price, it came with 2 AC units the landlord installed, wardrobes in both rooms, and even the cabinets above the kitchen counters were added by the landlord when he lived there, they aren't standard fixture in our building, only the bottom ones were.

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  11. Great post. I'm sure many will find it quite helpful. I don't remember much about our first maid but our second maid was really good. She only used a small amount of cleaner in the mop bucket and she did a good job on our floor.

    I don't like those big baskets either. They definitely get in the way.

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  12. These draining baskets have their use, my MIL has one because the dishes are all washed in the courtyard behind the kitchen, the basket sits in the dishwash area set there, we put the dirty dishes there and the maid washes them and bring everything inside to store away in the basket and once done the basket goes back outside.
    I think my maid like most ladies in her area do wash their dishes outside so the basket makes plenty of sense to them, it makes it convenient to keep them contained and carry them back inside. In a modern apartment with a tiny kitchen and no utility area it makes zero sense at all, the baset in itself would be more of a inconvenience than anything. But yeah they don;t get the purpose of the ribbed area next to the sink regardless.

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  13. I've had the same problem with maids also. I usually do a 2 week training 'program' to get them into a routine & demonstrate EXACTLY how I'd like things done- but to no avail.
    They always end up going back to doing things how THEY want them done.

    One thing that drives me nuts is when they use the same FILTHY rag to 'clean' everything. How can you get anything 'clean' with a FiLTHY rag? I provide a bag of clean rags & a place to put dirty ones when through with them- why is it so hard to use a clean rag everyday as I ask?
    I'm always amazed that the maid cannot see things to clean herself, like the 3 foot spider web dangling from the light fixture or the grubby black handprints on my white refrigerator? Why do I need to continuously point here out to be cleaned? Argh!
    I do all the laundry & ironing myself also as I've had too many clothes ruined by maids also. Certain things like cleaning the china cabinet or the bookcases I do myself also. Otherwise way too many things end up broken or destroyed.
    I'd be embarrassed for my American friends & family to see how 'dirty' my house is, but you are correct- it is impossible to keep a house in India as clean as a house in the 'west'.

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  14. Yeah I don't get this filthy rag thing, that's one of the things I gave up trying to explain and forgot to write about in my blog, I swear my maid will keep using the same sponge mop until it feeling slimey to the touch and then some more, I tried to point out that once you used it you rinse it, but it end up nevering being done, so I just get rid of the thing as soon as it looks like it's growing new things.
    Another thing I gave up nagging about is how you or wash your hands bfore opening the fridge or a cabinet, or clean the chapatti dough off it if you forgot, they don't do it, if you don;t clean behind the maid the dough crusts on the fridge...very annoying.
    My fridge also has a cold water dispenser, we fill the tank in the morning and it's empty at night, my maid find this amazing, and I have no problem her getting some cool water to drink, but she found the dispenser such an amazing thing that she would use the ice cold water to make her tea! I told her that this was a waste of cooking gas, and that I have a water bottle at room temperature on the counter for that purpose, she understood but still has her moments when she forgets it and go for the cold water...sigh
    I give the ironing out, the guy who does it does a great job, but when my maid started enquiring about it to take the job I put my foot down, first there is no guarantee she will do it right, because she is probably not used to do it, then because she works 4 houses a day and it felt like more than she can chew, ther eare days she is barely touching the ground trying to keep her schedule and houses clean, the last thing I need is clothes that never get ironed, not to mention she wanted to do it in our home, and I have no ironing board and no space to really keep one, and she pointed that she can do it at my dinning table...nope not happening, this is a fine wooden table, I don;t need the iron's heat ruining it. She might be a bit pissed there and I get how she wants to make extra money, but things have to work for me too.

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  15. Oh and mine sees things that are dirty and usually see to them being clean, I appareciate that, but the a few weeks ago I had to talk her out of spending an hour cleaning all the windows, granted they are a bit dirty, but it was raining cats and dogs, the monsoon was in full blast and it didn't make sense at all. Because whatever she would have cleaned would have been dirty in less than a day again thanks to the rain. I don't think she exactly got what I was trying to explain though, she must have found wierd that I insisted on keeping the windows dirty.

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  16. You are smart to send your ironing out, my first maid ruined our carpeting ironing on a blanket on the floor. Unfortunately she would iron on the blanket then set the HOT iron on the acrylic carpeting- thus burning holes in it.
    When we lived in Delhi I often sent out the laundry to be ironed, the problem there was not all of the laundry came back. My hangers were not always returned either, the garment would come back neatly ironed and folded but 'sans' hanger.
    I just grab the filthy rag/scrubber thing, replace it with a clean one & toss the filthy one in the rubbish to be burned also. I think they truly believe that 'filthy rag' or sponge is supposed to last forever.

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  17. Oh dear! I would have been fuming mad if my maid burnt hole in the carpet.
    The ironing services I used over the years were all good, I think in 8 years of using it I lost only one tiny toddler pair of shorts, the thing that could have easily fallen anywhere. We don't send anything out with hangers though.
    I think maids don't dare taking the initiative to throw away a dirty rag, but they could at least inform us the damn thing need replacing, they sure tell me when the broom is kaput and need to be changed, so why not the sponge mops? Oh well!

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  18. Sonal1:53 PM

    Well we maybe moving to borivali. But i dont think we can afford to pay 40k per month. will look for something cheaper than this. I mean just throwing half 1/3 of hubby's salary on just rent is not gonna help us because we are planning to build a house on a land which we already own in Hyd in the near future. So gotta save a lot for that plus i need to pay for domestic help, because i cant manage on my own. :-) But thanks for the info it was very useful.

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  19. Borivali is much much cheaper than Powai and surrounding area, for about the same amenities, the only reason we aren't there is that it's way too far from DH's office and commute time in Mumbai can be a real killer, so if one can afford it better go for the nearest to office possible.

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  20. Sharell11:40 PM

    Ha! I wanted a draining basket in my kitchen so much, I actually brought one back to India with me from Australia!! A proper stainless steel one that still hasn't rusted after 3 years... unlike items I've bought in India.

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  21. was the one your brought to India one of these with slots to organise your plates and glasses? These are great, but that's not the one my maids wanted, they wanted the giangantic half sphere things in which your throw everything with no order and that doesn't even totally fit on the counter of a modular kitchen, the type in which my daughter could fit in with ease.
    And oh god the things that rust! I'm so fed up with that.

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  22. Nisha1:37 PM

    The one I had seen was really nice with different slots for plates and glasses and so on. Not possible to pile stuff up. Thought it was a great idea. If I had one like that I might be tempted to just leave the plates there itself.

    I can understand why your maids soap all and rinse all. I used to do that before getting the dishwasher too. It is so much more mechanical and goes so much faster.

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