Emmy makes me want to be a better person.

Emmy is our helper. She came into our lives after Emma and the more itinerant Bess. Granted, she is slow. But oh, when she’s done with the house it sparkles.

When I come back to a house that Emmy has left, I feel full of hope and good resolutions. The desire to Put Things Away and Be Neat creeps in. I do the washing up on time and take my shoes into the bedroom after gym for the first few days. Mid week, I may dust.

Many Europeans are uncomfortable with the idea of a maid (referred to here as helper). They see it as a form of slavery. It is not necessarily so. In fact, seeing it that way demeans what is an honest job. Of course, it is only an honest job if you’re paying your helper fairly and not treating her like crap.

In India, we’ve grown up with maids. They become part of the extended family. Nevertheless, they are not quite. They always refer to their employers as Sir or Ma’am and they generally sit on the floor or on a separate stool and eat in the kitchen. I have always been uncomfortable with this.

However, it is a system that works. The thinking in India is that unless you nag and harangue the maids, they won’t do a good job. I learnt the hard way that this is true. The maids function only under a culture of fear. Frankly though this seems to be the case to greater or lesser degrees with all of India. We cut corners where we can. Finding loopholes is to be admired.

Moreoever, on and off, the maids will steal from you. This is a betrayal I cannot stand. I understand it stems from poverty but it still hurts.

So when I came to HK I was determined not to employ anyone. If I had to nag someone to do the work, and pay them to boot, I’d rather do it myself. Moreover, I hated that dependence on maids that people labour under in India. It’s a minor, no major, crisis if one’s maid doesn’t show up.

However, at some point, V’s friend’s helper needed work and so we decided to try her out. The helpers come reasonably priced here and we can have them in only once a week. We were hooked. The helper did her work competently with no urging from me. In fact, she had her mp3 player on all the time while I just read or watched TV. Ocassionally if I wanted something done, I shouted so she could hear me over the music. I’m sure this arrangement would not work with everyone but my thinking was – if she’s doing it better than I would do it, that’s good enough for me.

Unfortunately Emma decided she wanted a life and so she brought us Bess. Who didn’t measure up but began to not come after a while. And then we got Emmy.

Emmy is cheerful and chatty where Emma was taciturn. She is slow where Emma was fast but she is thorough. She is honest – if we leave money for her two hours and she’s worked for less, she leaves the change. This is astonishing to me but it works because it makes us trust her. She also takes initiative. She cleans under the sofa. She rescues my watch from behind the bed. She does things without being asked. Part of this is so that she can stay longer and be paid for an extra hour. But as long as she’s working, I’m happy.

And as I said, at the end of it, when I look around the house with a deep sigh of pleasure, it’s worth it. Sadly, it means I’m also a little addicted.

The other day I said to V: “Other than you, Emmy is the best thing in my life right now”.

Advertisements