by Ivo Henfling
This week, I would like to share with you some unusual things housekeepers in Costa Rica do that are very normal to them. Housekeepers do these strange things because they come from a different culture and background than us and you should realize this before you hire her. Some of these acts are committed because of lack of knowledge that we assume they have, other because their logic is different than ours, both because of a different lifestyle. It does not mean they are wrong.
I DO want to thank Don for sending me an email this week where he gave me the idea for this blog and #1 on the list: Ivo, thanks for your new blogs. I always find them quite interesting and informative. An interesting but useless fact learned from an employee of the 3M Company over a glass of wine at a winery event nearby our home in October: Costa Rica has the highest per capita usage of 3M Scotch-Brite Sponges in the world.
1. Scotch-Brite sponges
I asked our housekeeper about the use of Scotch-Brite sponges in our household and she had a laugh out of it because we prohibited all use of these sponges until she understood she could not use those sponges on our stainless steel appliances because scratched appliances look horrible. She still uses 2 of those sponges a week, just to do the dishes, although we have a dishwasher. At home they do not have appliances, even less stainless steel ones.
2. How to mop a floor
They love to clean floors and as long as it smells clean it is clean. They use the soap, instead of putting it in a bucket of water, straight onto the floor and then move the mop or a towel spreading it out until the floor feels clean. Most only have a dirt floor at home.
Do not look up, just look down. No matter how many cobwebs you might have, the house is clean as long as the floors are clean. They just do not realize you need to clean cobwebs once in a while too, so remind them to. At home they might not have a ceiling.
Never ask you maid to clean your asparagus. She will not only clean the stems, she will throw out the tips too. They do not eat asparagus at home, only rice and beans and they add an egg to that once a week.
5. Cleaning your desk
When the maid cleans your desk, she will either stack everything up or move everything around without any direction. She thinks it does not matter where things are. I taught her to move everything clockwise so if I cannot find something I just look a little bit to the right. Her husband does not have a desk or a computer so you will have to help her a bit here.
6. Check the garbage
You need to check the garbage once in a while before she takes it out to the street and make sure she sees you when you do so. It is their way of taking things home you do not need, like toilet paper, soap, detergent and even you iPod. And it is not a bad habit to check their bags before they go home once in a while. If you do it openly, straightforward and from the first day it is not seen as an ugly habit by them and it keeps them honest. They feel that you do not need the things you do not use every day, they do need them. And if you have two of them, you do not need the second one.
7. Christmas time
Most domestic employees in Costa Rica are Nicaraguan and they will ask for more vacation days than they have accumulated, to go to Nicaragua during Christmas time. Many housekeepers do not come back in the new year at all or several months late. So do not pay them more “Aguinaldo” and vacation days than they deserve. They see responsibility differently than we do and they do not feel they have an obligation to be back at work when they should. If by the time they get back you have found another maid, so be it, they will just find another job.
8. When you read a book
When you stop reading your book, use a bookmarker and do not put it upside down on the page you are at. You will find the book closed without a marker. Maids in Costa Rica rarely read a book.
Our housekeeper has been with us for 5 years now. She is totally honest and though we know she takes home little things once in a while, we are very happy to have her. Perfect maids do not exist. If you have an honest one who works well and listens to your suggestions, try to keep her. Treat her well and pay her right.
If you are just moving to Costa Rica, ask your GoDutch real estate agent to help you find a house keeper. There is always someone who knows about a housekeeper looking for a job. Be patient and careful. Do not leave money and jewelry lying around, that will be a temptation for them. She is also your way to learn Spanish the easy way, do not expect them to learn English.
If you can come up with even more unusual things your housekeer in Costa Rica does, feel free to post them in the comments. If my system does not cooperate with you to do so, just send me the comments by email. You would be surprised how many newcomers you will help with these comments.
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I DO want to remind our readers that we appreciate any referrals you can send us. I know you all meet people on the plane, in the supermarket, at yoga, at the gym, at the Blooms ladies club, at the potluck organized by your community. Please remember the GoDutch Realty agents when you talk about your home in Costa Rica, when you meet someone who wants to purchase one, we appreciate it.