I fired Maid #5 today. I'm getting pretty good at it now. Let's call her Dani. Dani was fired for stealing, just like the last four. She's worked for me for about a year and a half. I found her through a friend, Lori, who's employed her for 8 years. Eight years… I thought I couldn't miss with this recommendation.
Dani worked two 5-hour days a week for Lori, the same for me. We paid her close to $5/hour, not including vacation days, CAJA (national health care) and aguinaldo [ah-gwi-NAL-dough, Christmas bonus). We gave her clothes, told her to eat what she wanted. We were very good to her. Not that that makes any difference whatsoever. I guess I expected her to be grateful. What does that say about me? Yuck. Clearly, I got some cultural s–t on my side of the fence, too.
About two months ago, she started bringing her granddaughter to work with her. I don't know why, but red flags started going cha-ching in my head. Quietly, at first, in the background, silenced by the ADORABLE granddaugher. Oh my goodness: curly hair, precious little voice calling, "Noni! Donde esta?" [Nana, where are you?] I'm a sucker for little girls.
Did I mention when the boys were little I dressed them in girl clothes, painted their nails and put lipstick on them? Don't tell them I told you that. Little girls are so cool. That's Belle with the boys, my friend Penny's little girl who now towers over me (like who doesn't) and is the closest I came to having a girl. Penny got to buy cute clothes with matching purses.
And lately, I felt a different energy from Dani. I don't know exactly what tipped me off, but, suddenly, I was suspicious. And then I started noticing things were gone. I went to find a lightbulb, I knew I had two but couldn't find them. Maybe the boys used them? Hal mentioned in passing that we were running out of glassware. Our kitchen towel supply was running low. Didn't I just buy a big tub of laundry detergent? Weren't there more bars of soap in that drawer? I thought we had more AA batteries than that. What happened to all the canned tuna?
So I started watching her purse when she arrived and when she left. Did it look the same? I was dismayed to notice, that, no, it wasn't the same. It was definitely fatter when she left. I hated discovering that.
I called Lori and told her my suspicions. She said she had had doubts in the past, here and there, but nothing worth pursuing. Her house is much neater than mine with only two people, so it would be more noticeable if things went missing. The next day, Dani cleaned Lori's house. Late in the day, Lori looked in Dani's purse and found a roll of toilet paper. Bummer.
Here's the first culturally puzzling thing: Lori took the toilet paper out of Dani's bag without mentioning it. Now, you know Dani noticed, right? But not a word. She's due at my house the next day… what am I going to do?
As much I hate to, I do it: I look in her purse late in the day while she is downstairs mopping. I find a plastic baggie full of oatmeal, a nice new dishtowel and two torn ones (?), a folded up tshirt and something else I can't identify during a quickie peek. I take out the new dishtowel and close the bag. I can't tell you how disappointed I was. I don't know the word to describe the feeling I had about someone stealing from me, even though it's happened so many times before. But Dani is lovely in every other way. I like her and I believe she likes me. "Violated" is much too strong a word, even for expensive batteries. But it's something along those lines.
Before you think she is starving, she is not. Does she need these things? Define need. She can certainly live without them. Can she use them? Absolutely. So far as I can tell, she only stole things she can use. I doubt she's selling batteries to buy drugs or pizza.
Here's the really culturally puzzling thing I can't quite wrap my head around: I don't think she calls it stealing. I think she thinks that I have it, I can afford it, I have plenty of it, she's not taking much, she has way less than me… so she deserves to have some of it.
It's like the Latin way of saying, "The dishes broke today," rather than, "I broke the dishes today." No ownership.
Today, when I was firing her (all in Spanish, by the way), I told her I looked in her purse and saw my things in there. At one point, she said, "I never took any books or money." Like that made the other stuff ok – she obviously thought that. I told her it didn't matter what she took, it was that she took.
You know, she never looked down, never looked ashamed, yet I felt guilty about spying in her purse. She was upset and wanted to keep the job, promised she'd never do it again. But no comprehension that she'd done something wrong. I don't hold this against her. Guilt is worthless and shame can be harmful. But I find it culturally curious. She was very upset she was losing the job. She signed my letter stating why I was firing her. I gave her a copy and, even though I fired her for stealing, I still had to pay her vacation pay (about $180) and aguinaldo ($200).
She left. I cried, I wonder if she did. I'm curious to hear how she reacts tomorrow at Lori's house. Lori will not fire her, but she will tell Dani she knows all, she will take back her house keys and, from now on, she will check Dani's bag before she leaves the house. I wonder if Dani will be angry at me for firing her, or if she will be sorry she lost half her income with no chance of referral to a new position.
Here's the last puzzling cultural oddity: if Dani is remorseful, which would indicate she (might) not steal again, I would consider hiring her back. She was the best cleaner I've had in four years. She is quiet, works hard, lovely. Even now, I can't say a bad word about her. Except for the whole stealing thing… which I don't think she thinks is stealing. See? I'm culturally confused.
P.S. I asked for a lot of advice from friends. It's all right here in pdf format, from direct to hard to soft. Some good ideas for any kind of employer/employee relationship, but particularly aimed at this cultural divide.
I feel for you! We’ve had our own experiences. The only way to be sure someone isn’t taking things is to not have them there in the first place. Yeah, I do floors and windows.
I experienced stealing on the two occasions we rented a vacation house near San Ramon.
since both times, the articles missing were insigificant and since I was aware of this cultural anomaly and even expected it, I said nothing to the maids.
Still, it bothers me that I cannot get used to this cultural difference even by adjusting my expectations to accommodate it. I think what bothers me is that in order to acccept the behaviour, I would also have to accept that the thieves’ attitude toward me is one of some contempt. Do they steal from their friends and economic peers as well? I doubt it. They are segregating me from their society when they steal from me. That is what offends me. I am desirous to belong to their society to some degree and their actions forever push me away. I guess we will have to get used to living the lives of a segregated group as long as we are percieved as having more than those with whom we live. You know, I canalmost understand it.
You did the right thing. The fact that you have something is not justification for her stealing it.
The fact that the CR people are decendents of Spanish criminals is also not a reason to justify the theft of your property.
Next! I am sure there is an honest person looking for a job in your area.
You did such a GREAT job trying to explain that cultural phenomenon. It’s just unimaginable for us outsiders. I remember our gardener stealing Troy’s sunglasses. Troy confronted him on it and he just took them off…handed them back to Troy and continued mowing the lawn. No denial, no guilt no apology. It was weird to watch.
Thanks again for having Wes and I over, you are great hosts!
Well, I was not so lucky. The first robbery was my computer. The second was a motorcylce. The third was 2 computers, one new one with ALL our business stuff on it. My new camera, our gun and EVERY piece of jewelry I owned valued at over 15 grand! I fired the maid. Her friends in the village hate me. WE have alarms now and fences and a perro bravo. I hired a new maid. She leaves her purse where I can see it. The new maid no longer cleans my bedroom which is a separate building. We have bars on this house and a safe room with bars. Sad but most robberies are inside jobs and trust me if you so not fire them they will get braver and steal more and more. Watch em like a hawk and don;t let them see your valuables. It is so sad but they think nothing of stealing what they want! It has happened 6 or 7 times oin the last few weeks in the village I live in. We were told when we came to Costa Rica to not give your maids and gardeners ANYTHING. I think those words are words of wisdom. Now my maid works for almost 3 months and gets fired for a week and we start the cycle all over again. No more bonuses or insurance for maids. Sad but that is how it is for me.
I can’t say I blame you a bit! I’d do the same. I know I am still naive. I won’t hire her back… just too many questions and doubts floating around in my head. So we will start new. I’ve heard the “three month” rule from others. Thank you for telling your story.
Thanks, Shawna, it was a pleasure! How’s life in the fast lane?
You know, I’ve been feeling the same things about our maid but in a very different kind of way as the things that are disappearing from our house are very odd: our son’s medical records, my computer token, some key receipts, my one of a kind cell phone adapter (which it cost me dearly over Ebay), you know stuff that makes me angry to lose but that are completely worthless to her.. So why I feel suspicious, I dont know. I felt guilty until I deliberately buried 3 500 colones coins in the bucket where we keep all the small coins. Guess what, they were not there when we got back at night. Then my StarWars CD collection went missing and I made a scene in front of her. The next day the neighborhood gardener turned them in. Weird!!! I wont fire her because she is darn good with the house but I keep thinking…
I read so many different theories and solutions from my friends… you have to do what works for you. If she’s stealing money, that is actual theft and no one is in denial about that. I think that’s why Dani was so quick to tell me that she hasn’t stolen any books or money… THAT would be stealing. Otherwise, it’s little stuff. I don’t know what to tell you… except good luck with it!!! I’m interviewing a new maid next week (who will probably run screaming from the house when she sees it… I don’t do floors and windows. Yet.)
Oh crap, I read this the day before my worker for two years returns to CR with his wife and kid to stay at my house!!!
I trust him but I forget sometimes that that is the way it is HERE! Thanks Sally for putting me back on alert. I want to trust people but get let down everytime it seems! What to do???
Found your blog today just in the nick of time…moving to Costa Rica in 12 months…and had hoped to find a blogger that could fill me in during the upcoming winter. Guess you’re it! LOL Anyway, thanks for the laugh..”I miss my maid etc.” nearly killed myself laughing here in Toronto. So here’s the deal….retiring in a year…want the next move to be to Costa Rica…never been….son, age 21 checking it out for me in four weeks with the new squeeze and will report back. Made the decision purely on gut instinct and a lot of research. Want to rent a two bedroom not too distant from the ocean at a reasonable rate. Any thoughts as to where I should begin to look? Wil be coming down in February for my first peek and would be very grateful for your advice. Take care and thanks for your work on the blog….
Hi Sharon, for a good beach town to start with, I’d start in Quepos/Manuel Antonio. Then visit around from there. Jacó would be my second choice. You definitely want to visit the Caribbean side, Puerto Viejo, but I wouldn’t start there just because it’s so far away (relatively). My favorite beach town is Uvita/Ojochal about two hours south of Quepos. But you have to get used to Costa Rica first and I would start in Quepos for that. Not too far from San José and “high society” (hahahahahaha), but far enough away you’ll know if you like it or not!
Not sure how to find a rental there from far away. There’s a Century 21 office in Quepos, been there a long time. You might get your son to start there!
Keep me posted – you definitely need a blog!!! Moving here without ever having been here before makes a really good story…!
That is a culturally confusing situation. It is so hard to know where Dani was coming from – I wonder if she would likely tell the truth if asked to explain the rationalization for her behavior at work. Lori took an interesting approach – keeping Dani on as housekeeper, but not letting her get away with dishonest acts. It is nice to give food and occasional gifts as positive reinforcement for hard work (in addition to a salary).
Here’s a story you all might learn a lesson from, I’ll try to be brief.. I visited Jaco when I was 29 and I fell in love with this town I was lucky and met a lot nice people one of these friends was a local Tica who could speak perfect english (lucky for me) now we were good friends and always had plenty of laughs, nothing romantic just friends. After several different trips I ended up wanting to buy a house here, I just couldn’t pass it up. My friend actually help me buy a house from a family member perfect, out of gratitude I payed her $500.00 to be nice and to thank her for all her time and help even though we were friends. She ended up meeting a nice American boy, and they fell in love and he came to stay with her here in Jaco. They were young and broke and looking for a place to rent, I had an empty home as I was traveling back and forth from the states. I realized I could really use someone looking over the place when I was away and considering that I had a 3 bedroom house i offered to rent it to them for $200.00 a month which was cheap for sure. They accepted, things were great they even got married, after about 1 year they decided to move on and do new things and I wished them luck. When I returned from the states I found that she taken almost everything from my house, dishes, pans, pots, alarm clock my barbecue, bath towels, anything she could put to use. And it wasn’t as though she went far she just moved across the street and of course we were still friends. I was forced to go to her house and take back all my things!, most I never saw again and I gave up on those. The worst part, was that she was shocked and accused me of being “CHEAP” and that of course I could afford to give up all these items. I was very disappointed to say the least.
Matthew, that is an excellent example of why this is so culturally confusing. I think it has to something to do with the 150% faith in La Madre: that no matter what you do you will be forgiven and go to heaven. So you can justify and firmly believe pretty much whatever you want. No worries…