Thursday, April 12, 2007

Profiles of Expats - You Find It!

This is a series on Profiles of Expats. I hope to show the good, the bad and the ugly side of expat personalities. You may know them, you may have seen them or you might be one yourself.

Disclaimer: I have lived as an American Expatriate for more than 10 years in several locations and come across numerous “characters” in my travels. However, this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Actually this episode is not fictional, but a true personal experience. It's a taste of what many expats go through when hiring domestic help. There are many Emily Gilmores out there (Gilmore Girls) who dispose of their household help regularly. Most of us try to maintain a decent relationship with the people we hire, but there are times when it does not work out - for a variety of reasons. This is my latest experience.


I fired my maid. No, she quit. No I fired her. No she quit.

She quit.

I couldn’t deal with her anymore; or the Boss Man’s complaints; and then she did something that pissed me off; and when I asked her about it, she said something that sent me through the roof, then ....

We hired her just as we were moving into our apartment. I was going to be leaving about a week after she started. We received a call from another expat who knew we might need a maid. She took the maid we were thinking of hiring (“J”) and referred us to the maid they were replacing (“R”). Their excuse for replacing R was that they had moved into a larger apartment and needed someone who could work more hours.

R is a younger woman, with 2 children and was accompanied by her mother for her interview. She came with three written recommendations, as well. She and her mom must've known we were somewhat desperate and came in demanding this amount of money, this amount of bonus, this and that; “my daughter does not do that,” and on and on. I thought the amount they wanted was outrageous, but she was a Coptic Christian and I was told that they were honest and good workers. Actually, I should add, there's a bit of bias against Islamic Egyptians within certain parts of the expat community. You hear quotes like, "they steal," "they're untrustworthy," and it goes on and on. That had little to do with our decision, since we knew of no other maids available at the time, and yes, we were rather desperate.

It’s dirty here in Cairo. I even brought weather stripping back last month to seal all the spaces in the sliding doors and windows that don’t shut properly (nothing here is square.) If a bug can fly through it, you know sand can too. Just on a daily basis the miniscule specks of sand you find on a table that you cleaned the evening before are everywhere. Unless you shutter up your home, depriving yourself of daylight and any other minute intrusions, you need to clean every fucking day. Dust does not build up gradually here, it accumulates second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour and the next thing you know, you’re neck deep in sand.

Back to R:

A few things sent off alarms about her:
1) Their demands and how pushy they were about them.
2) Her mother’s eyes popped open, as she gasped, ”this is a very large apartment!” (It’s not really.)
3) Her mother seemed to be overly involved.
4) The second day she called in sick. (She would only work Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30 / 9:00 AM – 12:30 / 1:00 PM.)

A Record of what went wrong and when: (And possibly of my State Of Denial.)

(1) First day, a mirror broke. I brought a fisheye mirror from the States. We got it from Target, so it was not an expensive item. Workmen were here and she was cleaning in the same room, in the corner where the mirror was laying on a table. I heard a crash, something like glass breaking and walked in to see what happened. All the workmen looked over at her and she was bending over the table cleaning. Since she was leaning over the mirror I did not see it broken, until later. I suspected it was her doing, but really doubted my memory, as it was a chaotic day and there were workmen finishing things all over the apartment.

(2) Then the second day she called in sick (looking back now I wonder if this was guilt / worry over the broken mirror.)

(3) She came with shining recommendations, two of which were from male employers and one from her most recent. They stated that she was more than willing to purchase groceries, cook, etc if need be. So when I was away, the Boss Man left her a note with some money and asked if she could replenish a few items – nothing major, mostly light bulbs. The store is one block away and they even deliver! (All she had to do was call!) She probably could’ve asked the boab (doorman). She refused. I brushed it off as a result of fear due to the awful rumors about the “Maadi Serial Killer.”
(4) Then she washed his white tee shirts with his black socks using bleach, in hot water, when I explicitly showed her how to use the washer and how to wash differently colored items. It was actually a review since she was “experienced” at doing laundry. I even fucking told her “cold water” for clothing! So the Boss Man told her “no laundry, I do it myself.”

Most of this time the apartment was virtually empty, except for three beds and a few chairs, futon sofa and tables in the T.V. room. While I was gone, the Boss Man got his metrosexual freak on and furnished the living room and dining room. The furniture arrived about a week before my return.

When I returned five weeks later, Number 1 Son came with me along with Doggie. We were pretty much recuperating the first few days from jet lag, and then off venturing about town the rest of the week. I really didn’t care, since the apartment appeared to be clean, but I hadn’t really seen her in action, or taken a good look either. I was of the mindset, “relax - don’t get anal about the housekeeping.”

(5) She’s supposed to work four hours and usually works three and half max. When she’s already changed her clothes she comes to ask me if there’s anything else I need. This is so typical; our maid in Baku pulled this shit too. They go change into their nice street clothes and then ask you (dare you) to ask them for further work. “Finish. You needing anything else?” I started to get overly suspicious that she was just a princess. She just had that attitude.

(6) When she said, “Mr. says not to do laundry.” I told her he preferred me to wash the clothes. She had been folding the laundry for me and then decided to quit, quite suddenly (something that I noticed - like a “fuck you” statement?)

One morning I was lining the kitchen cabinet shelves with adhesive white lining paper. The cabinets were hand painted white and from experience I knew, with all the shifting of plates, etc., the paint would scratch. I decided to line the shelves with white contact paper. Besides it's easier to clean and doesn't seem to accumulate as much dust, or maybe just looks cleaner. Whatever - I'm all for it. R sees me doing this and says, "you working?" I just let that one slide.

I’m a hands off type of person with some people – if you’re gonna dig a hole, do it yourself.

(7) Boss Man says R was washing dishes and I told her upon my return not to hand wash anymore dishes. Just put them into the dishwasher and we would run it after dinner. As I was getting dishes and some other items out of the cabinets for dinner, I noticed an oily residue on them, screaming “botulism!” After further investigation, I ended up putting half the china, silverware, glasses and bake-ware back through the dishwasher. This is standard procedure in Baku as well, where people worry more about microbes than mold; where the driver sticks his black nailed finger into some yogurt at the bazaar, sticks in your face and says, “you like try?”

(8) The week before last, we were getting ready to hang posters that we had framed (and which I had lugged back from the U.S.) The Boss Man suggested I get the vacuum out. When I looked in the broom closet, the vacuum had a huge rip in the hose, where it meets the suction foot coupler. So we taped it up, with duct tape, shoved it back together. (I love duct tape.) Then the Boss Man showed me where R had actually broken part of the body (floor nozzle – go figure) while I was gone, and that too was duct taped up. This was a new vacuum mind you – hardly a month old, when she originally broke it. So then when she came into work the next day, not only did she re-break the hose joint we fixed the night before, she broke the hose in another area. It looked like someone sliced into it with a razor blade (several of which we had lying around because we needed them for other work, like scraping paint off of tiles and sinks.) I just decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, as the vacuum was made in Egypt and let’s face it, it’s not a Bosch or Siemens – it’s a cheap copy of a Kenwood. Who’s to blame – the maid or the manufacturer? This is a toss up, but I suspected she was abusing the equipment.

(9) Then I noticed a hazy white gloss atop my parquet floors. This was disturbing. I wasn’t sure it was her method of cleaning, which I guessed was slopping all the dirt around from one room to the next, a reaction of some sort or the fact that she did not wring out the mop enough and left too much water sitting on the floor. The floors had been re-sanded and re-finished before we moved in, per our request (something they call "scraping de floors" around here). I specifically told her to use vinegar and water. I never smelled the vinegar, but the water started to reek. Now my guess is, she thought if it looked drenched, it must be spotless. And another guess is, that she might be using bleach; or that she was not even using a cleaning agent at all. It was annoying to have beautiful wood floors looking like shit. Just because the water here is highly chlorinated, does mean you can skip the soap.

Then this past week, after she demanded the whole week off for Easter week (Coptic Orthodox ceremonial days), she also demanded half of her bonus with her pay in advance (cause that was another holiday where she would be absent.) Her bonus was not due until Christmas. I thought something was up: like she’d take it and call in saying she quite. No such luck. But I feel like a fool trying to please her and ignoring all the crap that was going on. Maybe I let it go too far, but shit, I was hoping this would work out.

She shows up last week, for her one day so far this month and is friendly, but for some reason, all of her friendliness reminds me of a certain cousin of mine who is a compulsive liar. She reminds the Boss Man of his late sister. That’s one psychotic combination!
Then she gets down to cleaning and as I told the Boss Man before, I am so unhappy with the way this has turned out - I couldn’t train her properly due to lack of time, she doesn’t listen anyway, unless you take away responsibilities, and while I’m on chat with the kids or working on my blog she just gives me the evil eye. Oh and btw, I do change out of my pajamas for her.

The curtain guys came to install the drapes for the living room and dining room on Saturday. I had lilies on the table making the whole room smell like a funeral parlor. They were drooping and dropping and I was actually embarrassed as I had not noticed it earlier. So after they left, I threw out the flowers, put a small clock in its place and positioned a small sheesha pipe by one of the kid’s photos on the table.

So on Tuesday (R was off Sunday – another freaking Holiday) I have her translate to the gardener for me. He and I have already discussed, in broken English and broken Arabic, what we're going to do. I ask her to ask him a one sentence question. She starts talking and the conversation goes on, much to my dislike. More on that some other time. When I ask an employee to translate, that's what I expect, and from the little Arabic I know, common courtesy (Salaam, kefel hal?) was not involved. It's R-U-D-E! It's a major anger trigger for me. How do I know you're not asking him what I pay him? huh? (Like it's any of your business.) One major rule: Just Don't! Don't fucking do that! Do I speak Greek in front of you or to you? Fuck no! Don't do that.

I think I need to start meditating.

Later R is in the living room doing something around the table and looking at me strangely. I just brushed it off – again. Then later I find a small, tiny sheesha pipe with the lip end posed up against the wall in a very strange situation. It’s a small pipe Number 1 Son and I picked out together at the Khan. I distinctly remember placing it on the table, unbroken after the curtain guys left. She was the only person who would’ve touched it and the Boss Man would’ve said so, if he had done it. It was a cheap little Khan trinket; nothing to write home about, but something Number 1 Son and I both liked.

You can tell when something’s askance – it just does not look right.

(10) So I pick up the pipe and it literally falls apart, into three pieces. There were two pieces to begin with and now three. So I was upset, but not overly. I was upset that she hadn’t said anything to me about it. Again it’s a cheap little trinket from the bazaar, but Boss Man says call her up and get to the bottom of this. He says, “fire her ass! She’s broken enough in this house.” I was upset, didn’t want to call her that night, waited 24 hours to get rid of my immediate anger and called her the next afternoon.

I Wanted to get it over with before Thursday as she said she’d be in church that day (“all day”), getting all oiled up per tradition and it’s the week before Easter (Holy Week). This is the time if you have not confessed during the year, when you now get down on your fucking knees, in front of the priest and literally beg for forgiveness; the time you owe up to all the shit you pulled this past year; the time to cleanse your soul and rid your mind of guilt, while your body has been exposed to a Lenten diet; so you can partake in Holy Communion (bread and wine: we do it right in the Greek Orthodox Church where you get wine from a spoon that’s got germs on it from everyone in front of you in line and a piece of the driest bread - so dry it gives you cotton-mouth. Yeah, we do it right, cause at that point you’re high and dry.) This is the time to come clean.

(11) So I call her on Wednesday late afternoon, thinking maybe she’ll own up to it. I go through all the cordialities and then ask if she forgot to tell me something that happened the day before. She acts like she’s oblivious. Then when I tell her, she says, “yes, but you find it.” She denies breaking the cheap little sheesha pipe regardless of how much I reassure her it’s no problem. All she repeats is, ‘Yes, but you found it.” “You find vacuum, yes? You find it.” “I not break any thing, you find it.” In other words - fuck you! Fuck me!

Okay, so I reassure her that if she breaks anything in the future to tell me – it’s no problem. We had a houseboy in Abu Dhabi who continually broke things with his elbow when he was vacuuming, but he was worth his weight in gold. R is not and as the weekend passed and I noticed corners with sawdust from the curtain guys that had not been vacuumed and pieces of furniture positioned to cover it up; stuff like that. It became apparent to me that I was a fool, and that this was not going to work out. It just pissed me off more and more as the week went on.

I started getting really annoyed, angry and vented. One day I was going to fire her ass, the next maybe not, until I came back to reality and decided I needed to come up with a non-confrontational way to get rid of her. I was originally going to ask for her key to the apartment (pretending to check my lock) and then tell her to get her ass out of my house. I just can’t do that. I’m Greek. We start shaking when we get highly emotionally charged and it is not a good thing. I think that’s what makes us so damned crazy. I personally did not want to go through the emotional upheaval getting into a hissy fit with a maid. I did not want "a scene.” Maybe it’s because I’m pissed off at myself, as well, for letting it get this far; and I’m avoiding or in denial.

Boss Man says I can’t call her a lair. I think it’s because maybe she can come back and sue me, like that judge who plagiarized some Egyptian websites, they showed him up as the plagiarist he is and now he’s suing them?! So I had to watch my mouth. No someone tells me. It’s not that at all. For every auto accident in Cairo, they need not only a tow truck, but a psychiatrist, since everyone here is also very emotional.

I decided I would not discuss the damage she had done to our possessions. With the excuse of needing full time help; help that can cook, shop (for the Boss Man when I’m away) and care for Doggie. I would give her 30 days notice. (Actually we do need more help.) This gives her time to look for another position and for me to find a new maid. Plus, she would get paid for her week off and I think that’s a good deal.

Tuesday, after her week off she arrives, sees me on the porch (Doggie just went out for her morning constitutional) and wow, was that a dirty look. She comes in all happy and so I tell her we need to talk and explain how we need someone who can put in more time. She says maybe she can come in for two hours on the other days. I say, “no we need someone all day, someone who is willing to shop and care for the dog.” Blah, blah, blah, back and forth the discussion goes. For each new idea she has, I have one that is more difficult for her to match. I tell her, “you have thirty days - one month. This gives you time to make money and also find a job. This gives me time to find a new maid.” She asks if it’s about something “you think I broke” and I tell her no. I am not going there with this crazy bitch. Just not gonna do it, cause it will get ugly. Think about it: a Greek bitch and a crazy Egyptian girl, who feels rejected – just more stuff to get broken.

She’s disappointed and after much back and forth, agrees. She goes in to change her clothes, which she keeps in the laundry room. On the counter, in the laundry room I left two clay candle holders from Baku. They had been on the front porch, which I spent the two previous days sweeping, hosing, moping and thoroughly cleaning along with the accessories. It was a hint and maybe it worked, because she came out with her work clothes in her hands and said, “I think I just give you key now and leave.”

I said, “are you sure you want to do this?” I was unemotional, since I didn’t care what she did at this point, but she’d be throwing away money. She became slightly hysterical, points her finger in my face, blaming me for her son’s education and most likely everything else wrong in her life.

She wanted half a month’s pay (including the one week holiday) and then called the Boss Man at his office demanding such. Wow – the nerve. I have no idea what exactly was said, but I think she figured out that she had screwed herself – message received?

Now I have a spanking brand new vacuum, because the old one just expired, coincidentally about an hour after she stomped out of the apartment (co-dependency issues?) I moped the floors doing a mop / vacuum thing, which was a major pain as I had to rinse the freaking mop out after each section I moped, dip it in slightly soapy water and do another section. Low and behold, that glossy white haze that she continually left on my hardwood floors was now gone and I could finally see the sheen from a nice parquet. It’s fucking amazing what a little soap and water will do.


  1. I think I could write a blog about all the issues I encountered w/ hired help in Egypt. Our first maid worked full time for the owner of the flat (who lived upstairs) and she had cleaned for the previous tenant. We didn't hire her initially, but I recall clothing items disappearing and then reappearing, as though someone had worn them. They would reappear in obvious locations. It seemed she had kept a key and was entering and exiting at her leisure. She would overuse the cleaning products or steal them, I wasn't sure. She would take things, like the remaining shampoo or hair products, and when I'd ask about them, they would reappear in places like...the mop bucket. It really skewed my perception of Egyptians for a long time. We later hired a Coptic girl who was exceptionally reliable, though needed to be taught quite a bit. I found that when you had a good maid and you recommended her to other expats, the maid would become a bit too overly confidant, shucking duties. To be fair, our Coptic maid never stole more than a piece of chocolate, but I can't say the same for our other ones.

  2. Just stumbled upon your blog and have spent the afternoon reading your 'expat wives' post - but in particular this one about your maid. I was an expat (hotelier) wife in Germany - Turkey - India & Sri Lanka - and we have just had a long (lovely) stint in Sydney Australia... but as fate would have it we are off again - this time to Cairo. Your post reminded me of all the things that made me nuts. In Australia you can't afford a maid - but it is such a clean country that having a weekly clean is enough. The privacy of not having a full time maid has been wonderful. I Guess I am going to have to rememer just how 'to pull it together' all over again. We will be living in Maadi.

  3. Lynda:

    Actually, that maid in the article was recommended to us by another expat family, which made me feel taken advantage of besides, doubly.

    We found a really great maid about a month or so later. I went to the ACE Club here in Maadi - expat drinking hole, which is run by a bunch of Sudanese refugees. I got several calls from my small ad there, and non what-so-ever from CSA, which is another expat club in the area.

    My recommendation, is to go to the local church in Maadi - Maadi Community Church or the ACE Club. You'll have to pay 25 Egyptian Pounds at CSA for posting the ad too. If you have a pet, you might want to specify that in the ad too.

    Good luck. I'm sure you'll like Maadi - it's a nice area. Do you know where in Maadi you'll be living?

  4. Thanks for the advice. I will check out the ACE club. No pets (nothing other than the dust bunnies under the bed) - At this stage we are still in negotiation about the living situation - Are there any particular parts of Maadi you would advise? I am still researching - I think the plan at the moment is to do a short term rented apartment, because it will take 4 months for our house to be shipped over (although as I find more and more information I am taking less and less with That should give me a chance to find something I like. We have a little 6 year old that will be coming with us - so schooling is a big issue.

  5. Well, depends on the school. Maadi apparently seems to be the center for foreign schools. I know there's the Cairo American College (American school) in Maadi, Digla. There's a French School and I think a British school in Maadi, as well - but Maadi has different neighborhoods, and it's best to know which is which. We live in old Maadi and frequent Road 9. Maadi Digla is where a lot of families with kids live, for the American school. Maadi Gedida (New Maadi) is mostly Egyptian and farther out.

    You will probably live in old Maadi or Digla. Just let me say this - Digla is crowded, the streets are small and security is super high. Old Maadi has a lot of security as well, though I think we have more villas occupied by diplomats. The grocery shops are in Digla, or Road 9. We like it in old Maadi - beautiful villas, beautiful streets and we can walk to dinner (Road 9, Digla, and the corniche area depending on the weather.)

    If you can, you might want to order a book called: Cairo (the practical) Guide and the companion Cairo Maps, which actually has a map of Maadi (many maps don't). Also, CSA has a where you can also get information.

    As for furnishings, you can have them made here, but things move slowly here and you have to have patience.