Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Pretty Side of "Ugly Americans"

I'm sure all of us are familiar with the proverbial ugly American. We have a reputation, not undeserved I admit, of being culturally insensitive, wanting the world to do everything our way, etc. With all of the negative stereotypes I've heard, it was refreshing to hear a positive one the other day. As part of our move to Jordan, we agreed that it would likely make sense to hire someone to help in the house. Originally, I was intending to have someone who lived out and came a couple of times a week to clean the house. However, in looking at our needs and the availability, we finally decided to bring in a live-in person to help with housework and the kids. We wanted a skilled gal Friday part housekeeper, part maid, part Nanny. And, of course given our situation, we needed someone who spoke English. Our experience in this area was quite interesting.

The first agency my mother-in-law called indicated that they had a lovely Filipina girl who spoke English and would be perfect. So, El 3atal's Mom asked to speak with her. Astonishingly in the 15 seconds between the last question the agency owner asked her and the request, the girl left to go to her apartment! Warning signs clanged in my head, but we went anyway to meet her. She seemed very sweet and nice. Unfortunately, she didn't speak English. She'd been taught to say her name, her age, and the fact that she was single, but could not udnerstand any of the other questions we asked. She kept repeating the answers above as if they were a mantra. We were unable to determine her qualifications, but the lack of English rendered it unimportant anyway.

The second person we interviewed we heard of through a contact at our church. She spoke very good English. With the upside came a downside. She wanted 3 times the going rate. Oh, and (minor point here), she had none of the qualifications we were seeking. She had experience with one 4 year old boy (we couldn't really gain a view of what she had done other than escort him to school), had never changed a diaper, had no experience with cleaning, and preferred to live out. My overall impression was that she would not have been satisfied with the exorbitant rate she was requesting and would have considered housework to be beneath her. So, another bust.

By now, you're wondering about the title of this piece aren't you? Our third interview went much, much better. This was through another different agency. The owner is married to a Filipina and has been in the business for many years. He happened to have a candidate in country brought for someone else whose needs had changed. So, after a relaxed (for us, at least) interview, we settled on the third candidate who speaks good English, has experience with kids (including a partial Bachelor's in ECE), and no attitude. As we spoke with the young lady, the owner of the agency expounded to her about how lucky she was. Among the most prominent of his reasons is that I (Madame) am an American. He explained to the candidate that Jordanians treat their household helpers as slaves. Americans, on the hand, treat their helpers like people. He must have told her that God had blessed her at least 10 times. Now, I suspect that many Americans are like me. I didn't grow up with a maid, in fact we had no help (live-in or otherwise). In our most recent home, we had a Nanny for the children while I was at work and a cleaning lady who came every other week. But, in general, these were paid professionals who lived in their own homes. So, this is new territory for me. And, I suspect that this probably does make me a more sensitive and appreciative employer. So, it was nice to hear about the pretty side of we ugly Americans. It will be an adventure (as is everything), getting used to our new addition. So far, our new assistant has definitely been the answer to our prayers. So, as always...



At 12:26 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I so agree with you. I guess it's this little something we believe about "all men (and women) being equal."
The other day, I was walking and passed a Filipina looking lady going the other way. I smiled and said "Ahlan". Her face lit up, and she said, "Hi!" Poor woman, it must be hard for her here!

At 2:07 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...


I am in complete agreement with you. I find it honestly rather hard to be an American with help. But, I just try to treat our helper the way a) I'd want to be treated and b) I'd treat someone helping us in the States.


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