Friday, August 27, 2004

Cleaning Lady Hell

The following are journal excerpts, describing my difficulties finding a cleaning lady when we first arrived in Bratislava.

I can't believe I am having such a hard time with this. I'm more and more convinced that there are some sort of cultural differences I don't understand at play here.

The first cleaning lady was Edita. I found her through another expat, who, after I arranged to try Edita, confessed that she found Edita "complicated." I found her annoying. She didn't speak any English (which is what I expected). What I did not expect was that she also did not speak any Slovak. Someone from The Spouse’s office helped me interview her, and neglected to tell me they spoke Hungarian together. For the life of me, I could not understand why I was not getting anywhere with my Slovak phrasebook.

So we settled into a language of grunts and squeaks. She worked hard and did a good job, but she was always underfoot. I have never had a cleaning lady who seemed to want to be in the exact spot I was ALL THE TIME. I think she was trying so hard to make a good impression that she was becoming rather spastic. She did clean all the windows. I finally decided she had to go, and I got The Spouse’s Office Manager to deliver the bad news.

Then we went to an agency. They sent me Viera. Viera made it quite clear to me that she had a college degree. She speaks a little English. She and her (now ex) husband had run a pension, so she was a cleaning and cooking expert. Maybe. But she suffered a series of personal crises beginning with the swollen testicles of her (current) boyfriend. That required some sort of emergency hospitalisation (and catheterisation through his stomach if I understood her correctly). This was followed by a medical disaster involving her mother. Of the three or four days she worked for me, I don't think she was ever on time. She then wanted to make up the hours by staying later, but by then I usually just wanted my house back.

She cooked one night. Some sort of beige soup. It involved canned vegetables, dumplings, potatoes, AND came with bread. Hmm. I kept telling her to please iron The Spouse’s shirts, and while she did do some ironing, the best I ever got out of her in the shirt department was one white shirt. She did clean all the windows.

So I was just thinking that perhaps I ought to speak to the agency about her when they called Office Manager and explained that they had pulled the plug on Viera and were sending me this Cleaning Goddess who had worked for the Japanese Embassy. (I did not realize until later that at the time there was no Japanese Embassy in Bratislava. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

This one we guarantee, they said. She speaks English. She's worked for us for five years. So the next day, let’s call her Dr. Eva arrives at my door for an interview. She can't seem to figure out how to open the (unlocked) gate, but it was raining, and she had taken the wrong bus, so I was willing to let it go.

She is a 50-something retired microbiologist. I'm still a little afraid of her. She announced what her hours would be (I was only thinking about three days a week, but I guess she's coming four). She announced that I would be paying her directly as the agency takes 55 percent of what I pay. ("But I have a contract . . . " I whined.) She announced that at least one day a week the four of us (me, the girls, and her) would go on some sort of fresh air outing. Together. Okay. She doesn't like using bleach for the white laundry as it gives one eczema. Dogs should stay outside as they promote allergies (they probably should stay outside, but she's lucky the dogs no longer sleep on our beds). She sighed mightily at the sight of our bedroom (with the floor still covered with suitcases and piles). I tried to explain that the upstairs had only one small closet, and it's already full. She verified that. She announced that she will require three hours to clean the house each time. How was she going to do the cooking? How was she going to get to the grocery store. (I naively thought that, like my previous housekeeper in Buenos Aires, I could have her help with the provisioning). I offered taxi fare. "Too expensive! I'm also an economist!" she announced. I offered to drive her. "We'll go together!" she decided. She carefully wrote out the hours she would work, reminded me that she is very punctual, and left.

I am becoming more and more convinced that Dr. Eva doesn't see very well. I have been getting a little hostile about the dirty sinks and dust on the piano, but decided perhaps she was merely a victim of bad direction. I think she can't see dust and dog hair--things we have a lot of. I am finding that I am going around after her and vacuuming and dusting and cleaning sinks after she's left. She's a decent cook and does nice job with the laundry, but I find her mixing colours in the wash that can lead to disasters.

The other day I tried to show her how to use the coffee maker (so she could make coffee for all of us in the morning when she arrives). Just turn it on, I pleaded. But, no, she'd just make a single cup, Turkish-style. I wonder if she's not understanding me, or if she's ignoring me.

She has, thankfully, shown no interest in the windows.

This morning I approached with my written list of daily chores. She seemed happy enough with "The Program," (something she asked me for), but adopted a strange, manipulative, deference when I showed her how to make the coffee and where Buddy the Dog escapes from the back yard (he has a death wish, I am convinced). She did drag out all her cleaning supplies, vacuumed with a vengence, got most of the bathrooms cleaner than usual, but missed a sink and a lot of dust and dog hair. There's probably going to be snot in my coffee, too.

While I was in London, Carla convinced me to fire Dr. Eva ("It’s not going to get any better. Sack her!" she said).

So I sacked her because she hadn't done any cleaning while I was gone. There were dishes upstairs from the day I left for London. The final straw came when I discovered that, although she was unable to push a button and turn on the already-prepared coffeemaker, she had been making coffee for The Spouse while I was gone. THAT was her final mistake.


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