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Born To Be Served?
By Bernie Suttle
As Elizabeth Regina II and her younger sister Princes Margaret grew from birth through childhood into adulthood they never returned a cup, plate, glass, or any cutlery to the kitchen. Nor did they ever make a meal, put away their clothes, do a wash, rinse something out or even draw their own bath. They were born to be served. They had others for that: servants, housekeepers, maids and cooks. This Royal duo did not learn to do the tasks but did learn how to direct those who did.
Most Americans learn to do the tasks but never how to relate to those who might do the tasks for them. Back home, in the States, we have a cleaning lady who works for us several hours every two weeks. We prepare for her by tidying up the house, putting dirty dishes in the dish washer, hanging up our clothes, picking up and stacking newspapers, magazines and books and leaving a check as we vacate the house to allow her total control.
When gringoes go to Mexico for an extended stay, it is usual for a maid to come with the house or apartment they move into. She is not hired for a limited period of time, or to accomplish certain assigned tasks. She gives her whole self. She is part of the family and starts right away without any major instructions. How could there be any? She only speaks Spanish and we only speak English.
Like many others ours is called “Nena.” Nena gives her whole self and does what her family has done for generations. But we don’t know what to call her. Maid? Servant? Hired help? None of these is quite right, but she comes with the property and is added to our family.
We come from a place where our behavior and relationships with others are defined in our national holiday, “Independence Day.” We act and expect all others to follow the premise, “Don’t get too close.” We are mechanically and emotionally ill-equipped to have others do personal tasks for us.
Nena works with an arsenal of wet mops, dry mops, brooms, dustpans, rags, brushes and various other manual devices. She is a whirlwind of activity. While cleaning she puts away (hides) everything she comes across; clothes, shoes, socks, blankets, pans, door mats, PJs, tooth brushes and things left out for donation to The Goodwill. She appears to not trust the dishwasher, carefully removing clean dishes, hand washing them and placing them on the sink board. She then firmly closes the door to the empty machine monster.
The Spanish word limpiar means “to clean.” I am sure that I have strongly urged Nena to clean, be clean, clean the house, clean me, clean my wife, and to clean our ropa. I’m as dangerous with this word, limpiar, as a three-year-old is with a spray can of paint.
In response, Nena smiles, nods, says “Si Si,” then makes an uninterrupted response in Spanish that is just short of The Declaration of Independence in length, rising in tone at the end indicating a question—I think. I answer, “Si Si,” not knowing to what I have agreed.
Nena works most diligently, continuously, and when finished often presents us with a regalo (a gift): a potted plant, a framed photo of her family, a holy picture card. What are her boundaries? Is she to venture outside to the patio, to the walks, pool area? Or will this possibly incite a jurisdictional dispute with the pool man or gardener? I dare not broach this subject with her.
She arrives and departs by bus from her home about three miles away with a half-mile hike from the bus stop to our house. We leave her pesos in a drawer as her compensation; it is mysteriously empty at the end of her visit. If we forget to pay her it is “muy bien” and we double up the next time.
We come from a “Do It Yourself” culture. We don’t hire anything done until too late. We don’t know how we should relate to employees. We need a Book that tells us how. “Dominance for Dummies?”
As we weren’t born to be served, and don’t know that role, perhaps we’ll just let Nena be what she has shown us she is, a member of our family.