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.