How to Have Helpful Help – Part 1: You are Not in Control

People who have never had a housecleaner, gardener, tailor, or a person who brings you tea at work believe that having said help is a hedonistic luxury. This is because they believe in the Vulcan Mind Meld. But the Vulcan Mind Meld does not exist, which you will figure out as soon as you have a housecleaner, gardener, tailor, or person who bring you tea at work.

Newbies to the Middle East learn of the ease of hiring domestic employees and become overjoyed. Old-hands sigh and place bets on who will freak-out first. Because it’s impossible to explain to a newbie, try we might, that housecleaners have their OWN IDEAS about what a ‘clean’ house means and explaining, pointing, demonstrating, getting frustrated and finagling will have ZERO effect – they know what they want to do and they will do it.

I have a small pair of decorative birds. I hate decorative birds that appear to be kissing. My housecleaner loves decorative birds that appear to be kissing. So every time I come home, their beaks are touching. I move them. She moves them. 4 years and counting.

If you say, “Oh that is ridiculous,” you are a newbie. If you counter me with the story about how your housecleaner shakes out the ‘welcome mat’ and replaces it upside down or folds the towels the wrong way or over-waters the plants so they all die or insists on using toilet bowl cleaner on the kitchen sink, then you can sit down next to me.

“Just explain patiently,” recommends the newbie. Sweet little newbies, they are so soft and clueless, like baby pandas. I like to tape newbies who gush, so I can play their words back to them when they show up in my office frothing and screaming that the tea assistant brought over-sugared tea again and why can’t he… Exactly. He can’t, he won’t, he doesn’t want to, he is physically incapable to making tea with less than 8 spoons of tea. And what are you, with your Oxbridge first, Wharton MBA and $400 shoes, going to do about it? Or more to the point, what can you do to a man whose yearly income is less than what you spend on sparkling water? Nothing. He has been screamed at by better than you and your attempts at bonhomie are useless. You aren’t friends. You work, he works, you think your work is more important because you make a lot of money but if you look at it in terms of impact – your salary pays for what? If the two of you were sat down and asked, “Who are you helping – how is your work benefiting people?” who would have a better answer? He probably supports over 10 people, giving relatives the chance for good food, health care, safe housing and education that they might not otherwise have. Your salary goes for…  So. New attitude. Tip excessively (that means at least £1) and be pleasant or make the tea yourself.

About people who work in your home, newbies think that if you don’t get on with the person, you should just hire a new one. Old hands know if you don’t bond with the first one, it’s almost impossible to bond properly with other ones.

And you need to give up the control – let the housecleaner buy the mops, sponges, dustclothes and pails and give you the recipt. You reimburse with a tip. (If you can get them, of course buy eco-friendly cleaners, but if there is a choice – let the housecleaner choose.)

In addition to good wages, bottles of water and control over when they work, what gardeners usually want is a part of the garden to grow vegetables. Most gardeners are good at their job and not only know, but like, to work with plants and having to just work with plants the ‘madame’ choose is no fun, so I always take him with me to the garden store to let him pick out plants and give him a section of the garden as “your choice.” That means a variety of vegetables that he grows and takes home with him, fine with me. If he doesn’t want aphids on his eggplants, he will make sure there are not aphids on my gardenias.

It’s all very 1800s at times when my housecleaner bends down to touch my feet or grabs my hand to kiss it, but I know the second I am out the door, she will be putting her own clothes in the washing machine, moving the rugs, forgetting to dust the fans and breaking clay pots. It’s a balance – from my part: fair wages and no yelling, from them: pretty much whatever they feel like doing. No man is a hero to his valet – no valet is a hero to his employer. We are all human so it’s best just to get on with it.