The Care and Handling Of Your Housemaid
with Yurie Horiguchi
With the advent of so many newcomers each year, it is sometimes necessary to repeat a former column. Bear with me, old-timers.
One of the first questions newcomers ask concerns maids—their availability and the care and handling of.
Americans in particular, who have never had a maid before, seem to find it quite a frightening experience. One such person asked me that she should say to the maid at the initial interview.
The sad fact of the matter is that today most maids do the interviewing while the lady of the house sits back with a sick grin, trying to provide the right answers.
Good maids are getting so scare that demand exceeds supply, giving them all the leeway necessary to pick and choose the family for which they will eventually condescend to work.
It is, of course, impossible to give generalized answers on queries concerning maids, and bow to keep them once acquired. But the foremost consensus is that unless there is a mutually harmonious rapport between mistress and maid, it simply won’t work out.
This rapport is a state of hand and is not something that can be induced. In other words, if the maid decides she likes you and/or your children and/or your pets, she will put up with some idiosyncracies.
If the rapport is not total but the pay is generous and the house comfortable, with reasonable rest and day-off periods provided, site will put up with a few of your idiosyncracies, but will not be too responsive.
Devotion to a family in which one works is a matter of individual sentiment. In the old days, a maid was considered to be, in a sense, a member of the family. The family for which she worked was responsible for her well-being as well as her welfare, and maids consequently gave it loyalty.
Today the turnover in foreign families in Japan is so frequent – an average of every two years that an experienced maid tries not to get emotionally involved, no matter how fond she may become of you or your kids.
Maids like to be told what to do and how you expect it to be done from the start. They like to have a schedule to follow in the beginning, and once they know what is expected of them they will generally continue under their own steam.
“Dailies” like to be told what they may take from the refrigerator at lunch-time if the mistress intends to be absent. Most new maids are shy about opening refrigerators, not knowing what is being “kept specially” and I heard of one who went hungry the whole day and never returned.
If you set out a can of soup or frozen or canned food for the maid’s lunch, it would be helpful for you to explain how to use them. Though most maids working for foreigners speak a little English, not all can read it.
If you leave a dish to be warmed up in the oven for lunch, please don’t fail to show the maid how your oven works. It is surprising how many mistresses forget this small detail, as well as showing maids how to use gadgets (automatic can-openers, etc.) with which they are not familiar.
Having a maid for the first time is such euphoria for some young mothers that they sometimes go off for the whole day without leaving any particular instructions or numbers at which they can be reached.
Always tell your maid what time you expect to lie back, and if there is a baby or young child in the house, give her the telephone number of your husband’s office and his Japanese secretary’s name. If it is an emergency, the Japanese secretary will he able to cope much better than you or your husband.
A good maid is not overly fond or respectful of mistresses who are too friendly. Despite the democratization process imposed on Japan after the war, there is still a distinction between social classes among the Japanese.
A Japanese maid knows her place and would like you to know yours too, with a mutual respect for privacy.
In particular, please do not introduce your maid to your guests at a dinner party, for instance, especially if Japanese guests are present. This has happened in my presence several times and it is difficult to know who is more embarrassed the maid or the Japanese guests.
A very old family retainer or a governess are the only exceptions.
“Dailies,” even when paid by the month, do not generally expect twice yearly bonuses. Live-in maids, however, may sometimes have it written into their contracts, or make a verbal agreement concerning bonuses when they’re hired.
There are two major gift-giving seasons in Japan. The first is in the middle of June, called o-chugen, and the other in the middle of December, called o-seibo. A maid (daily) would appreciate a gift, either monetary (in an envelope) or a present, at those times.
However, Japanese maids are quite aware that Christmas is the foreigner’s main gift-giving season, and would like to be remembered also at that time. Depending on your nationality, they often prefer something from your own country than a locally bought gift.
Many maids also appreciate good quality and clean hand-me-downs. Most “dailies” are married women or widows with children. Find out discreetly the latter’s ages and if you have children of about the same age the maid will probably be happy to receive their out-grown clothing.
However, if you yourself weigh in the neighborhood of 160-200 lbs., don’t give your cast-off clothing to your 95 lbs. maid. Send them to one of the many bazaars for gaijin.
A maid hates to tell a mistress to her face that she wants to quit because she is not happy with her. so she makes up stories about a sick father, mother, child, relative, etc., and leaves with no intention of returning, even though she may forfeit some pay.
If you are unhappy with your maid, it is customary to give her one or two weeks’ notice, and a certain sum in severance pay (which is up to you to decide).
Finally, in the waiting rooms of domestic agencies, maids exchange opinions and experiences, and there is an unwritten blacklist of unpopular mistresses, uncomfortable homes and “impossible” children.
So in the final analysis, it is really up to you—the mistress of the house and mother of children—to be able to keep a maid under the best of circumstances.