Friday, April 16, 2010

Domestic Help

The only domestic help I had ever known in the United States had been a cleaning lady who came to clean the house once a week. She was rarely seen and simply came, did her job and left, usually as quickly as possible. I had actually BEEN the domestic help when I worked as a nanny one summer.

Single Girl
So when I went to Mexico, I was not at all prepared at how to deal with domestic help. All of my friends had numerous domestic employees who always seemed to be doing something. When I rented my first apartment in Mexico, I was informed that “La SeƱora Chayito” would clean my apartment every day and was told the salary that I should pay her. I protested a bit, because I didn’t necessarily want a maid, but she came with the apartment, so to speak. It seemed kind of cool to have a maid/cleaning lady, but I wasn’t sure how much I would really need her since I was a single girl who worked all the time. As time went by, I came to love the way Chayito cleaned my apartment and left it smelling like pine cleaner. She un-made and re-made my bed so that it looked like something out of a magazine. Everything was in it’s place. To this day, I remember the smell of Pinol and it makes me think of Chayito.

I was beginning to really like the whole domestic employee situation.

As a newlywed, I hired a maid who was “de entrada por salida,” a day maid. Most domestic employees in Mexico are found by word of mouth. She arrived early every morning and worked until early evening on weekdays. Rayito had years of experience and knew exactly what to do. Luckily, I didn’t have to give her any instruction at all and she kept the house in amazing shape. My mother once questioned why I needed a full time staff, but it is amazing how much effort it takes to run a household in Mexico.

Floors had to be swept, mopped and polished every day, especially during the dry season. Food is generally made from scratch. Every day, I purchased fresh vegetables, fruits, tortillas, and meat. Even the chicken was bought daily. My trip to the market and the various stalls easily took an hour or so each day. Cleaning the produce was a whole other long process. Dishes were washed by hand and laundry was hung on the line. It truly was a lot of work. We chatted while I cooked, she helped me clean and chop vegetables. I learned about her family she taught me so many things.

After I became pregnant and found out that I was expecting twins, Rayito told me that I would need a full time live in maid, “una muchacha de planta.” I was so sad because I wanted Rayito to stay with me. She had become a friend, a part of the family, but it was not meant to be. It was tough to look for a new maid and after the minnies were born, my ex-mother in law “lent” us one of her live in maids for a while. After working with me, Rayito opened a food stand and did quite well with it.

Wife and Mommy of twins
The needs of the household grew along with the size of my family. A friend recommended a young girl named Angelica who I promptly hired, along with her sister. I didn’t really “need” two maids, but they were from a far away village and both needed jobs in the city. Angelica went to school at night and both girls lived in the separate “cuarto de servicio” behind the house. Their furnished room had bunk bed, a private bathroom, and all of the linens and furnishings that were needed. The girls simply arrived with their clothes. As it turned out, I had to show these girls exactly what needed to be done and they both kept quite busy. It was a real learning experience for me because I had to tell them exactly what to do. It sounds easy, but it was actually quite an experience to explain to someone how to mop! These young ladies became like my adopted daughters and I frequently found myself giving advice about life, love, and other things. They truly became a part of the family. Angelica accompanied us on vacations to the beach, trips to Mexico City, and everywhere else we went. She was my constant companion. At birthday parties, weddings, baptisms, and other social events, there were always at least 20-30 maids in attendance with the guests. Both girls also really liked food from the United States, especially chocolate chips, which are pretty rare in Mexico.

Then Miguel Angel came to work with us. He was originally the husband’s driver/bodyguard, but I liked and trusted him so he started to help me at home during the day, too. At one point, between the husband and I, we had a staff of about 7 or 8 consisting of maids, drivers, bodyguards, gardeners, and a cook. And everyone was busy and happy.

My mother and nana just adored Miguel Angel and loved how he opened car doors for them and helped them at the grocery store when they visited. They weren't too sure about the girls and didn't like the smell of the pine cleaner as much as I did. Santiago was our hilarious bodyguard who loudly sang songs in English even though he didn't speak a word of English. His smile was so warm and my minnies loved him.

When I left Mexico, one of my most important priorities was finding happy homes for my domestic employees. Some of them had come to depend on me not only for a salary but also for a place to live.

There is an expression in Mexico that maids are “la felicidad del hogar,” the happiness of the home. It is SO true. I can’t imagine my life in Mexico without the help and value relationships I had with my "muchachas". Mexican friends who live in the United States always name domestic help as one of the top things they miss about Mexico.

Thanks for reading my long insight about my life in Mexico. It is fun for me to share my experiences with you.

Have a fantastic Friday and a wonderful weekend.



  1. What would I do without my cleaning ladies. They're from Brazil, and seem so happy when they help. I even had another lady before them, who moved back to Mexico to see her son (who is 6 now, and hadn't seen him since he was 2!) but she was still nice enough to find the two ladies I have now, so I wouldn't have to worry about searching for another one. :)

    Loved your stories too!

  2. Isn't it amazing how some people take such pride in their work! I just fired housekeeper #5 this morning as she really had no idea how to clean and kept calling in sick!

    Maybe I need to find a nice lady from Mexico!

  3. I love reading about your Mexican adventures!

  4. Such great stories! I love hearing about your stories of Mexico. Sounds amazing! :)
    XOXO- Vy

  5. Its amazing how different things are in Mexico! I love hearing about your time down there, its just so interessting!

  6. So interesting to learn more about another culture, and so sweet that these people became like family members!

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  7. FASCINATING! I live so close to Mexico now, but know so little about it! VERY interesting post, thank you!

  8. How interesting!! I have a cleaning lady, once a week. It sounds silly I think sometimes, but she really does take a large burdon off of my hands. I can't imagine how different it is to live in Mexico, but it does sound like help is essential!

  9. keep 'em coming... I love reading about them!

  10. Great story... we have a maid service and these three women clean like a whirlwind!

    Your situation sounds a bit like the relationships my mother always has with her maids. She gets very involved in their lives, and it is always very traumatic (for her) when one has to leave!

  11. I love reading about your time in Mexico - it's so fresh and interesting! Thanks for sharing :)

  12. Another great post, B Always interesting and insightful! :)



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