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Housemaids: To Have or Not to Have

Daniel writes on any subject based on his actual experiences and those of others as well as topics founded on facts established by research.

When the question is posed to a housewife: "how many maids do you need?" she will invariably answer “I’d like to have as many as I can.”

And why not? Every married woman (and unmarried ones too) who is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of a home would certainly, without doubt, like to have at least one housemaid or domestic helper. The more, the better. Unfortunately this is wishful thinking for most average women in the western world.

But the question really is not “how many maids do you need?” It should be “how many maids are really necessary?”

This article will show how in many cases the need for maids is very much misunderstood by many households. Here is an actual experience in my life which taught me how the need for maids is often exaggerated.

Housemaid Ironing Masters' Clothes-Circa 1912

Housemaid Ironing Masters' Clothes-Circa 1912

My First Exposure to a Foreign Culture

In was in 1973 when I first had the opportunity of traveling abroad. I had just recently changed jobs and was then working for a British company at its branch in Manila, Philippines. As a new recruit for the position of sales executive it was a policy of the company to send new hires to England for sales training on the company's full line of products.

After my first week of working at head office in London, staying at a hotel all the time, I was invited by my British counterpart, by the name of Arthur, to spend the weekend at his home with his family. He suggested it would be good for me to spend two days experiencing the life and culture of a typical British family.

So, after work on Friday, off we went on a long drive to his home which was about 90 miles southwest of London. Arthur lived in a quaint seaside town in a nice two story home with his wife Samantha and two teenage sons. I cannot at this time remember the name of the town nor the names of Arthur's boys.

As we are having dinner one evening, Arthur’s wife, Samantha, turns to me and says: “Arthur tells me you have two little boys back home?”

“Yes, ages four and two.” I replied.

Samantha continues: “With two boys at those ages your wife must have her hands full. What with you out of the country and all. Does your wife work?”

“No, my wife, Cory, doesn’t work. But yes, it would be quite hectic for her if she didn’t have help. But we have a nanny that pretty much takes care of the two boys on a full time basis.”

Samantha raises an eyebrow and says: “Really? You mean the nanny lives in your home full time like an au pair?”

Nanny and child

Nanny and child

“Yes, that’s exactly what she is. An au pair, with a monthly salary, plus free room and board. She also has her own bedroom that has its own toilet and bath."

“Oh, that’s nice. Your wife can then dedicate all her time to doing other things in the home without having to worry about the kids.”

I was a little embarrassed when I replied:

“Well, she doesn’t have to do much around the house because we have two other live-in domestic helpers that take care of all the household chores. One looks after the kitchen and does all the cooking as well as do the little laundry for our small family of four. The other maid does all the house cleaning and whatever else needs to be done around the house."

Three Maids Serving a Family of Four?

Samantha puts her hands to her mouth and exclaims with a shocked expression: “Oh my goodness! You mean you have three live-ine housemaids serving the needs of a household of only four people? Is this a common thing in the Philippines?”

“Yes, it is a common thing in the middle class of Philippine society. The higher echelons of society may also have additional household help in the form of chauffeurs, majordomo, gardener, grounds keeper or just more maids. The lower members of society may have less but almost every household of the working class will have at least one domestic helper.”

Housemaid cleaner – ca 1912

Housemaid cleaner – ca 1912

“You see, Samantha, it is not unusual in my country to have multiple maids even if one isn’t rich. It’s just a part of the culture of the country. This is also very common in most third world countries as well as developing countries of the world.”

And Samantha continues. “But wouldn’t three maids in a small household just get in each other’s way? I just can’t imagine how three maids would have enough work in a modest size home”

I didn’t realize it then until many years later, that indeed three maids catering to the needs of a family of four was too much, until my family immigrated to the United States in the 1980s

A British Expatriate Family In A Foreign Country

Several months after my trip to England, my employer, which was headquartered in London, was invited by the Philippine government to send over to the Philippines, a specialist in security papers. His job was to assist in the setting up of a security printing plant for the country's Central Bank. The printing operation was for the production of high security documents such as bank checks, lottery tickets, postage stamps, passports, bond certificates and many other high security documents.

I became good friends with the Brit expatriate, Paul, who came to the Philippines with his wife and their one-year old baby. Paul’s wife, Emily, was totally new to a life outside Europe. My wife, Cory, assisted Emily in getting herself established in her new life in an Asian country very much different than her native England.

Here now I found myself and my wife in a situation similar to my experience of my first visit to England. It was our turn to acquaint these foreigners to the lifestyle and culture of the Far East.

The first order of the day was of course finding suitable housing for their small family of three. Cory found them a nice comfortable dwelling in one of the upper middle-class neighborhoods. It was a three bedroom, 300 square meter (approx. 3200 sq.ft.) two-story house. Each bedroom had its own toilet and bath. The master bedroom was a fairly large affair with a walk-in closet. It also had a small powder room on the first floor for the use of visitors. A real nice home, albeit a little large for a small family of three.

After moving in to their new home, Cory helped Emily in the process of selecting domestic helpers to help her manage her new household. After going through several maid service agencies they found two maids that fit the bill. Both were to be live-in maids. One would serve like a nanny to help Emily care for the tot and the other maid to help with other household chores.

Several months passed, and in one of our get-togethers we asked how they were getting along in their new life outside of their native land. Emily was a little ashamed when she said she had terminated the services of one of the maids. My wife was surprised and so was I.

“What happened?” asked Cory.

“Did the maid not work out to your satisfaction? Did she upset you in any way? Was her work quality below standards? Did she not get along with your one-year old baby? Was she dishonest in any way? Please tell us if there is anything we can do to help you.”

With much embarrassment Emily said: “I don’t know how to say this but I just didn’t know what to do with two maids. I couldn’t find enough work to keep both maids busy the entire day.”

Despite their house being larger than ours with only three people living in it, and one being a baby, Cory and I were somewhat stunned that Emily couldn’t find enough work for two maids. In our smaller home with more residents, we had three maids.

Life in the United States

It was many years later, as we lived in the United States, that Cory and I looked back to those years in the Philippines and realized how and why our English friends were so stunned that we needed three lived-in maids to serve the needs of four people. Living in the US opened our eyes to how pampered the Philippine housewife was in managing her household affairs.

When we came to the US we had, not two little boys, but a seven month old baby girl as well. We began a new life in a new country with no domestic help to count on. You would think this would have traumatized my young wife in adjusting to this new lifestyle. But we knew exactly what we were up against and we were well prepared to meet the demands of a lifestyle without maids.

Lesson Learned

After adjusting and experiencing our new life without domestic help, my wife and I began to see just how much waste it was to have so many domestic helpers when it was totally unnecessary. For our small family of four in the Philippines two domestic helpers would have been sufficient. And the second would not have needed to be a live-in maid but perhaps just be a day-maid or one who came two or three days every week to help out.

One would argue that the reason for the need for multiple maids in some countries is the lack of modern conveniences found in western homes. This is not true. Such appliances as vacuum cleaners, washer/dryer machines, automatic dishwashers, automatic coffee makers, microwave ovens and toaster ovens are all now found in middle class homes in the Philippines and in practically every country in the world. Yet the number of maids in middle class homes have remained basically unchanged.

If you ever travel and get to live in a developing country keep in mind that if you have all the modern home appliances, as will surely be the case, you won’t need as many maids as the local residents would have you believe. Having more maids than what is necessary just leads to work inefficiency, incompetence, ineptitude.

Questions & Answers

Question: What does it cost to have a maid in the Philippines?

Answer: For a live-in maid, the salary is about 6,000 to 7,000 pesos per month, or approximately $115-$130. The employer must provide decent living quarters and three meals per day. The employer must also pay Social Security tax. It is also required to give the maid at least one paid day off per week. Optional benefits that are sometimes offered by generous employers are a week's paid vacation per year and one month's salary bonus at Christmas. It is extremely rare that an employer will offer health benefits, but sometimes a good employer will absorb the cost of minor medical needs if the maid has been in service for quite a long time.

© 2018 Daniel Mollat