We fired our third maid yesterday. Maid #1 wasn’t a great cleaner, although I believe she was honest. And, in truth, looking back, she may have needed to come for a full day to get the job done, not just a half day.
Just as I was becoming more and more suspicious of Maid #2, she left to go back to school. She’d probably "raised" enough money to pay for the next semester…
Hal did the firing of Maid #3. I couldn’t stomach it. When she was done for the day, he said: "We won’t be needing you anymore." She didn’t say anything in reply, she just left. She knew why she was fired. She was stealing. It is very disheartening, very discouraging. And makes us mad as hell.
We are good employers. We invite you into our home, we are appreciative for the work you do. We don’t hover or complain. You are paid what you ask ($2/hour plus $2/day for travel). You get lunch, the same thing we eat which is always good because Hal or Mom fixes it. You are invited to sit at the table with us, although no one ever does. You are welcome to whatever we have to eat in the kitchen, invited to make yourself at home.
If you aren’t exactly on time, no problem. If you want to change days, no problem. If you want a day off, no problem. If you need to bring your kids, no problem. I don’t tell you how to clean, I don’t inspect the corners. I like the house to smell clean and not have crap laying around. And my laundry folded. (I’d rather clean a bathroom than fold laundry.) Otherwise, whatever.
Just don’t steal from us.
How did we know? Yesterday, we tested her to know for sure, but we were already pretty certain. Up till Sunday, I overlooked so many clues because I didn’t want it to be so. My gut said she was not trustworthy. It was just a feeling, but it was pretty strong. I dismissed it and hired her anyway. So I didn’t feel right firing her when I hadn’t noticed anything missing…
I realize that’s part of the In-House Ladrona system. There is never any noticeable stuff missing: cameras, ipods, phones, flashlights… stuff you see and use – that’s all right where you left it. If there’s a pile of change on the dresser, it’s there later in the day. Maybe not all of it… who counts their loose change?
It’s the stuff you don’t see that walks away: food, towels, sheets, clothes you hardly wear, a hand mixer (I KNOW we had one when we moved here), a cel phone in a box tucked away for future use (ditto)… Don’t have them anymore. They’ve disappeared. My friend Isabela told me ladrones [la-DRONE-ace, thieves] bring little containers and take a bit of shampoo, lotions, cleansers each time they come. A bar of soap. Toilet paper. Lightbulbs. Batteries. Tools. Stuff you and I would find totally boring to steal. IF we stole.
The biggest clue for me (until last Sunday night) was the fact that Maids #2 and #3, sisters I was told, brought biggish purses to work. I wondered why they would bring an over-sized handbag to work. The few times I really took notice, the bags did not seem bulging when they arrived. But were packed tight when they left. Call me totally naive and head in the sand, but I so badly wanted to believe they were honest, I tried not to notice that stupid bag! Dummy.
You know, when they would come downstairs to collect their pay at the end of the day, they never brought the bag downstairs with them. It stayed tucked away in the laundry room. I’d pay them, they’d go up, get the bag and leave. I know this seems so innocuous. Alone, it’s not enough to convict. But with everything else… a picture starts to form.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the 80,000 colones ($160) I had tucked away in my desk drawer. It is donation money I collect each month for the Hogar Salvando Alcohólico – a short term rehab for alcoholics – in Escazú. I was not able to deposit that money before I left to go save my mother’s life, so I tucked it in the back of the drawer under some stuff. You’d have to really look to find it. IF you even needed to open the drawer. Someone did. I went to prepare the deposit last Sunday and it was gone. I hated discovering that. And there was simply no one else who could have taken it. No one. When I told Hal, he said he was certain he was missing money from the back of a drawer in our bedroom as well. A substantial sum… From when Maid #2 was here. I don’t want to think about it.
These women are well-groomed. Not poor, not starving, far from it. You would say they look "prosperous" which is what Hal says to me when he thinks I’ve gained weight but doesn’t want to say the "F" word. Because he knows he would die slowly and painfully.
So we tested her yesterday: we put 4000 colones in Hal’s pants pocket in the laundry. At the end of the day, we did not have that 4000 colones back. And her bag, which I did notice that morning was slack, was now BULGING. I wanted to look in it, but I did not. I didn’t want to get caught looking in it. And I just didn’t want to know what she was taking. She obviously felt she had a right to my stuff. I know I should have confronted her, that she will go on to steal from someone else with impunity. But I couldn’t do it.
I miss Renata, my housekeeper of almost eight years in Key West. [This picture is from my last trip to Key West.] Mo and Ryan were the ring-bearers at her wedding to Greg, a Monroe County detective and a National Guardsman who’s done a tour in Iraq. We’ve known their little boy Christopher since he was in utero. I love her mom, Teresa, who lives in Slovakia. I’ve met her whole family. She comes to all my parties (cleans house in the day, comes to party at night!) Every Thursday for eight years she came to my house and made it right again. Hal routinely left money in his pants pockets and Renata would leave it on the dryer. I used to introduce her as my wife. Is she now my ex-wife? I miss her as much
as I miss anyone else in Key West – she’s part of our family.
Different culture, different expectations, different rules. From now on, we will be more protective of our home. I didn’t want to believe it. Now I do. I will trust my gut. If it happens again, I will confront, I will not be shy about it. Stealing is wrong, whether it’s 100 colones or 180,000. I have a little whoop-ass left over from the overpriced hellhole. I’m keeping it handy. Fool me once…
I was reading with a dead serious/pissed off face until you got to the ‘We have a saying in Texas and I think in Tenneessee ……..fool me …once, ..I mean you can’t fool again’ that is one of my favorite Bushisms
and when I say that I mean that ………
I personally believe.uhhhhhhhh……that videos like this in Irak and …….South Africa……..such as……..
well , whatever she said http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WALIARHHLII
You get my vote for queen. Or whatever! Still chuckling…
I think I am going to give a raise to my maid, now I am scared that some gringa from Escazu tries to entice her into a new position LOL
The one time I said “have you seen a ring such and such” and she started looking for it like crazy (Because she thought that I asumed that she took it) I knew she was a good person
Even though I never push my luck, before she comes (every other day that is) I do a ‘preflight check ‘ , all dvds go into their cases (or she would scratch them) , things that she can break (and she can break almost anything in existence) go into the ‘do not touch box’ and all cash gets collected
my wife is terrible leaving her jewelry everywhere though and I supose I should take care of that in the future (that is, collect it myself and put them somewhere safe)
You treat them respectfully but perhaps you should try not being so generous and letting them know that you are the boss and keep some distance (although that doesnt solve the problem with a determined thief but sometimes seeing too much ‘abundance’ makes them bolder into the ‘they have too much and I have too little and here comes Robin Hood’ )
Now I know where I can get a job in CR. I don’t clean well but I don’t steal. I need to add that to my resume.
Robert, you are HIRED. Unless I can get Wolfie’s person…
And yes Wolfie, I need to keep my distance a little until they earn my trust. Everyone else has to earn my trust, I have to earn other people’s… what am I thinking? And I am really going to be on the lookout, trust my gut.
Take two dollars an hour and try to live on it for a week.
Dear Mr. Curmudgeon, I knew I’d get flak from rich gringos for revealing what I pay per hour. It’s better than the going rate, it’s what they asked and, until I have an income, it’s what I can afford. If I could still afford to pay my beloved Renata, I might not be living in Costa Rica… Thank God I lost my job. There is a slew of cultural stuff going on as well. If you don’t have a clue, it means you don’t live here or haven’t lived here for very long or you are in as much denial as I was. Until an employee has earned my trust, I wouldn’t offer a colon more than they ask. And a thief is a thief. Paying her more money would not have changed her.
Just an opinion. I’ve looked at prices in Costa Rica, and some things are almost as expensive as in the U.S. $2/hour does not seem at all a good hourly wage. I understand that theft is not at all nice. However, theft is more likely to take place when someone is poor and makes very little money, and that applies to all countries.
I felt the same as you until I lived in Costa Rica. $2/hour is a fine hourly wage here. I know because I asked around about wages when I first got here. Your research has not touched on wages?
Some things may be almost as expensive, but most things are far far from it. Otherwise, most of us expats would not be living here. Why would be put up with the lack of services if we could live anywhere in the world for the same money? Costa Rica is beautiful, the people are friendly, no military – I could sing its praises for hours before tiring. But if it were expensive to live here, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be in Alabama… it is far cheaper to live there than here. (Not including medical care. I’d still have to come here for that.)
And none of the big companies that have call centers and production facilities scattered about the country would be here if Costa Rica were as expensive to hire as it is in developed nations.
Unjust? From where you sit, it looks THAT way. From where I now sit, it looks like we have improved the living conditions for everyone around us by providing jobs and needing services. Rome wasn’t built in a day. If Costa Rica keeps improving, wages will go up. They’ve gone up in the 20 months I’ve been here.
Poverty is no excuse for theft. And I don’t believe your conclusion is correct that “theft is more likely to take place when someone is poor and makes very little money…” On what do you base that?
Theft is theft, whether picking a pocket or manipulating the money supply. You are probably not including central bankers and politicians in your conclusion. THERE’s a den of thieves. Not a poor person among them and robbing us blind like the in-house ladrones: poco a poco.
my, my touchy about the subject. Yea I know the justification and the solution to the problem is not easy. Especially when you are a guest in another country. There is more to the psychology of theft, the divide between rich and poor, etc.. I do wonder why when people move to another country like Costa Rica they feel they need help to make their lives easier. Are they sooo busy and involved with other things that they just don’t have any spare time on their hands to clean up after themselves.
$2 an hour is a very good wage for a domestic here. As a comparison, a nurse earns about $350 a month, and the Head of Immigration at the airport earns less than $400 a month (wages published in the Tico Times)
You said: “Poverty is no excuse for theft. And I don’t believe your conclusion is correct that “theft is more likely to take place when someone is poor and makes very little money…” On what do you base that?”
I base it on studies which have concluded that all manner of crime except white collar (which has different motivating factors), is directly correlated to socioeconomics. Again, stealing is not a pleasant thing, particularly when one is on the receiving end. I’m just commenting that it tends to occur in far greater numbers per capita, among the poor and needy, whether you are on the receiving end or not. I could suggest that you do your own cleaning as we do here Stateside, but then you might call me names. 😛
I will say this: You do have an interesting blog and I admire greatly your strength to relocate to a country so different from the U.S. I don’t know if I would have the cojones to do it. 🙂
Oh my, you’re at it again, Saratica – there you go, telling the truth. Shame on you. I’m dripping sarcasm, as usual. Did you know Saratica is a territory somewhere in Moldova? Has nothing to do with anything, just wondered…
I have a great maid. I don’t *think* she’s stealing from me, and I don’t think she would from anyone. Too proud. Drop me an email and I’ll get you in touch. I’m in Escazu also. Not sure where she lives, but she does more than one house here.
Antiquated thinking – that poverty leads to stealing. These are the same folks who believe in Santa Claus and “someday.” It’s the richest of the rich that steal the most often. The fact that they don’t believe that is what makes it possible! Sad, but true.
Anyway, I think you know by now I’m a straight-shooter. Give me a jingle if you’re still looking. Two of my housekeeper’s “bosses” (she calls them) went back to Colombia, and she really needs the work. One of her 3 daughters has leukemia (13 years old), and the medical bills are piling up.
Keep on keepin’ on, lady. I read you for a breath of fresh air.
Mr. C., I am a little touchy on the subject. Sorry to be so grouchy. I struggled with the issue, I’ve ridden that roller coaster, but I’ve come around and I’m ok with the way it works here. When you are actually here, dealing with everyday life, it is very different than how it looks from afar.
Sarah, I would never call you names! I save that for stupid people LIKE THOSE MORON PALACE GUYS. Still plotting my revenge. I didn’t do my own cleaning stateside either. I loved having Renata come and put my house back together, do the laundry, clean the corners. But I may get the chance to do it here. I’ll report on how I do!
It is generally accepted that poverty leads to theft. But I just don’t (won’t? can’t?) buy it. Except for people who are actually starving who steal food. Theft is a moral issue. These two women who stole from us are NOT starving. They stole for a living. We went to change a light bulb today and there are none anywhere. I had a nice stack of bulbs. Gone. This is how these women make a living. It used to seem so far fetched to me, but since it’s happened to me exactly as I was warned it would, NOW I believe it.
Cojones? Or madness….? Having our lives so devastated in Key West by Wilma and the economy made picking up and moving to a completely foreign country seem like the softer easier way! Thank you for reading.
Hi DJ – Someone named a territory after me? Wow. I guess I should look that up on a map… I’m not quite ready for a new maid yet, but I will contact you. Who knows how I will feel tomorrow! Thank you. I need a couple of weeks to nest in my house without worrying if my stuff is being taken right under my nose. It is unnerving to realize you’ve invited someone into your home and all they saw was an opportunity to take what didn’t belong to them.
I don’t think I could stop writing now if I tried. Hal better get a good job!!!
Hi Taryn, I saw those wages listed, too. $400/month is a very good wage here, which is about $2.30/hour. Hal met a cab driver the other day who said he makes about $500/month and that he considers this an excellent income. They wouldn’t believe it in Key West…
Hi Saratica – Without getting into the philosophy of theivery and poverty, we pay the same $2/hour. It was what was asked by our maid. She comes 2-3 days per week. She stays from 9 am to 2 to 4 pm, depending on what we need and what she can accomadate.
We just moved into our rental and she is the maid of our landlord and came highly recommended. She has been with our landlord for 16 years. We have also invited her in to our family as if she was part of our family. Anytime we sit to eat, we ask her to join. And she does. And she eats. We had a few maids (not hired by us, that cleaned the vacation rentals we stayed in) that would sit with us but not really eat. I like that she eats. Also, she makes herself coffee whenever she wants – I take these little things to mean that she is comfortable in our home. As we are still moving in, there is not much heavy-duty cleaning, but just having her there to help out, stay with the kids if we need to run an errand, etc. is WONDERFUL. And the kids love her (even though she speaks no English). The baby really lights up when she sees her. She has shown us where to get a haircut for Gus, taken us furniture shopping and just played with the kids. She has also cleaned the bathrooms, hung laundry and cooked gallo pint. When she comes and when she leaves, she says goodbye to all the children calling them “mi amor” and just generally clucking over them. I am hoping that someone who can be this integral and kind to my family, would not steal.
As for Mr C. Um, Yes, that is part of why we moved to another country. We wanted a lifestyle. Time to play games and talk with our children, not to be rushing from 50+ hours/week jobs, cleaning, shopping, etc. with no time for relaxed communication. I have no problem cleaning. In fact, even with a maid coming – I still plan to clean right along side of her. I will do some work, she will do some work and we will both have some time with the kids and they won’t feel neglected. I want my kids to see that there is no job I would feel is beneath me, but that being able to have help will make all of our lives more “easy” as you say and hopefully more engaged and fufilling.
After reading this my husband reminds me that we have been too trusting and are tempting her by leaving batteries and such in easy to see places. Just like Wolfie, we do a pre-flight check for the obvious things, money, small electronics and the like.
In the meantime, if someone drains a little shampoo on the side or picks up some colones from the dresser that I would never miss, I am not as up-in-arms as you are. Maybe I will change my tune once it happens to me, but for now I am not going to worry about the right or wrong about what someone else is doing. As long as she is loving and kind to my children I will just consider this a bonus to the salary. Now if she takes the tv, that is another matter!
Now YOU KNOW. I’ve never had a maid and will never have one. I don’t like strangers in my house. The guys that helped me rennovate taught me a lot. Stealing is in the culture here. Why, I have no idea. Maybe because the legal system lets them get away with it. They steal from each other. They also don’t make close friends with each other like we do. Families stick together, the rest are outsiders.
Now you know, you have to secure your stuff. “You can’t trust anyone”. I was told that and didn’t want to believe it. Now, I do. If you are nice and include them with your family, they will want more. Usually a loan. I was like you. I trust everyone. Not anymore. Now you know, when they bring a bag to work, lock it up until they leave. I “lost” many tools not insisting that their bags were put up until they needed them.
Wish I lived closer. I love to clean and could use a job even at $2/hour.
We could really use a “Merry Maids” here and I’ve thought of having that business but the liability is just too great. Good luck.
Sara: You pay the market rate. If you paid more, you would be criticized by some who would let you know that you were branding yourself as a “stupid gringa” who deserved no respect and furthermore was so rich that you didn’t need/wouldn’t miss the things that disappeared anyhow! Most people seem to agree that it’s best to pay the going rate, maybe on the high end. Our last maid was great. When she left to have a baby, I just didn’t have the stomach to search for someone new and live through all the potential problems. I really did like having her to thoroughly clean the house, but Gene does an acceptable job of cleaning and says he doesn’t mind doing it.
Thank you, Laurie! Until you live here, you don’t understand the psychology. Wolfie’s point about being too generous too fast was the same thing: I need to keep my distance until I know I can trust her. Having the stomach for a new person is the only thing holding me back right now. But my house is all floors and windows… I have a feeling my stomach will be stronger fast! BTW, how much does Gene charge? I can pay bus fare, as well…
Hi Jen – thanks for sharing all this. So glad to hear you have someone great, honest and loves being with the kids!!!
Being the victim of thievery changes your outlook: it just makes you mad as hell. I remember the first time I was robbed, when I lived in Venice, CA in the late ’70s. Someone broke into my dinky little apartment and stole my dinky jewelry (the most valuable being my high school ring). It was devastating. I felt violated and no longer safe in my home. Looking back, I’m sure I was. If nothing else, they saw how little I had! But you are forever changed. The light is dimmed and will never be as bright again. (Pretty dramatic, eh? True, though.)
The thing about the shampoo… it’s not much, you are right. But if they will take shampoo, they will take other stuff. A thief is a thief. They aren’t taking it because they need shampoo. They are taking it because you have so much and they have a right to your stuff. You NEED to share, is what they think. They won’t stop at shampoo. Particularly if they get away with it. Discovering I have no light bulbs (the $7 “natural sunlight” kind) anywhere in the house was a shocker. It’s depressing to know that I will discover more stuff gone as the days go by… Very depressing. Like the white pants that disappeared a couple weeks ago…
Stop looking for stuff missing, let it go and chalk it up to “fool me once”. It’s disheartening but I have been robbed so many times, it doesn’t devastate me like before. You “get used to it”. It’s only stuff. I know you are bigger than that and learn fast. Plus, you are a generous person.
I was like a squirrel in my house, hiding everything in different spots. I suspected my boyfriend of taking things so I hid my special diamond ring in a blue pill bottle stuffed with cotton so it wouldn’t rattle. Of course, I forgot about it and while cleaning out a box one day, I tossed the blue pill bottle in the trash after shaking it and determining it was empty. It took about a week but one day it HIT ME, THAT was where I squirreled away my most precious ring. So it goes….
I knew real fascist in Mexico once. By real I mean from Italy during the Mussolini period. She told me to be careful not to tip to much because it would spoil the person doing something for me. Hmmm
OH, Teri, that diamond ring in the trash story hurts!!! I’m afraid to hide stuff because I’d forget where I hid it…
Mr. C., you are welcome to spoil everyone you meet! Come on down, live a little.
Sorry to hear about your maid problems. A bit of analogy would be office workers taking home pens/envelopes/paper, its widely acceptable in the US (when I still had a job). So with respect to shampoos and stuff, I’d try my best to prevent those things from getting stolen, but in reality if they want to steal, they’ll find a way – my point is try not to get paranoid about every bit of detail.
Higher value items, especially cash should ALWAYS be locked up. I suggest buying a safe. If you show them that you are careless and very lenient, they will take advantage of that. It is a good idea to keep your distance.
Thanks for the invite. Have been there, done that. Live most of the time in Southern Chile now. “We call curmudgeons “irascible,””grouchy” even “mean.” But the world needs curmudgeons. They refuse to see life through the filter of wishful thinking and are outspoken in their devotion to the harsh realities of life. They protect the rest of us, stumbling about blindly behind our rose-colored glasses, from ourselves.” Didn’t I read something about taking off the rose-colored glasses a little while ago? May I should change the nom de plume to A. Devilsadvocate. Your blog is really good.
Thank you, Anonymous – I’m starting to get the picture about keeping my distance!
Mr. C/D, Southern Chile, eh? That’s exotic. We looked at Chile, but too far away. At least it was. There are days when “farther away” has a definite appeal. Thank you for taking on such a thankless task. You are right: somebody has to. I’m trying to lose the rose-colored glasses for good, but like a bad penny…. The world can be such a harsh place, sometimes a little rosy glow is in order. Thank you.
We like reading your blog because it gives us another perspective of Costa Rica. If you read our website, you will note that because of our situation, Costa Rica is not in a good light for us at the moment. We took note of your comment – “Different culture, different expectations, different rules.”
You are so right, so so right.
Thanks for letting us comment on your blog
Raffie, Angelo and Fanny 🙂
I couldn’t figure out what your blog was about until I went to the first post in August. Sheesh. Tell me his name and if I meet him, I’ll punch him. There but for the grace of God go I.
Very interesting thread. I imagine that most people wouldn’t mind having someone else clean up after them. I certainly wouldn’t.
Regarding the pay, it is pretty surprising until you put it in perspective. $2/hr in the US amounts to indentured servitude, but I can see it being a decent wage in a country with a lower cost of living. This list of vegetable prices (http://www.doscolones.com/doscolones/2007/02/farmers_market_.html) was an eye-opener for me.
Now I don’t know the source of these statistics (http://www.costarica.com/Business/Numbers-&-Statistics/Salary/), but if the rate of $2/hr for someone with a Bachelor’s is true, then maids are doing quite well. However, if I were to find a very good, honest maid, I would certainly consider increasing the pay significantly.
And thanks for that reminder of the kinder, stupider, not yet an obvious pawn of pure evil Dubya.
Hey Dubya finally told the truth: we will be at war in Iraq forever. Somehow I don’t feel any better…
My Honduran husband tells me all the time things like Wolfie said: “You treat them respectfully but perhaps you should try not being so generous and letting them know that you are the boss and keep some distance.”
He says it is NOT the norm to sit down to eat with employees and that it makes them uncomfortable. He’s from a very poor family so he is NOT looking at this from the elite class viewpoint. I’ve seen first hand that generosity is often taken as stupidity by many.
I have no doubt that you were a kind and wonderful employer, paid a fair wage, and probably did other things above and beyond what is required. There are just some people who are thieves, plain and simple. These same people steal from the poor, too, so those talking about the “take from the rich” adage are full of it.
I’m with you 100% and I can identify with you. If you are like me, it isn’t the theft of towels or even money, but the theft of your trust that hurts so much.
That is exactly true: it hurts! I’ve been keeping my distance much more from my new maid… but as time goes by, I trust her more and more. Upcoming blog post.
It is another world, this world of maids and classes… you have to respect it here or you suffer. In the U.S., we are taught that differentiating between classes is bad, bad, bad. Here it is expected and, if you don’t, you are indeed taken as stupid and an easy target. Not to mention rude. People like the known, even if that equates to “rudeness” where we come from.