07 August 2013

Your maid and you - a Malaysian experience

My current maid has been with me for 8 years and 4 months. 

Do you think that's a long time? I think so. Heck, most people can't even stick that long in one job.

I've had my share of troubles with maids. My current maid is my 4th maid in the 12.5 years since I started employing a maid to help run my household.

Of the previous 3 maids, 1 went home on account of her pre-existing medical condition (not due to me, to be clear), another went home due to personal family problems after extending her contract with me.

It was only the third maid who drove me nuts, and I cut short her contract. My husband said I was turning into someone else altogether when I got into a rage with that maid. So, it was for her safety and my sanity.

The general complaints about foreign domestic helpers in Malaysia might include:
  • dishonest
  • rude
  • stubborn and unwilling to learn
  • incapable of learning 
  • language barrier
  • lazy
  • her work is not at an acceptable level
  • her cooking is terrible
  • always hungry and over-eats
  • steals food
  • perpetually home-sick
  • unhygienic

What makes a workable working relationship between a maid and her lady employer and the family she works for?

I think, with this current maid, I have mellowed a lot and become more accepting and understanding. I treat her like a younger sister. I talk to her like a friend. I provide emotional support when she needs it. I guide and teach her lots of stuff like English, reading, basic hygiene and science, morals and how to manage her finances. She in turn teaches me folk and traditional medicine from her village, interesting dishes, the way of life and the mentality of people from her village and the other girls who leave their homeland to work as maids abroad.

I am happy to say that after working for me for so long, she has lifted her family out of their poverty trap. She put 2 brothers through school, provided the funds for another brother to work abroad, renovated their family home, bought farming land for her parents, and has learned to put away money in her own name back home.

She has been trustworthy, honest and hard working. Undoubtedly, her salary is quite good compared to other maids. She also has her moods, which I tolerate. Who doesn't have black days? But she knows all this, and willingly and diligently does her work. She learns to cook new dishes all the time. She cooks better than me. And before she goes back to her village for her holiday break, she pre-cooks meals for me to freeze, to ease my load. I didn't ask her to do this. She wanted to do it.

At the same time, I don't behave like some "tai-tai" who won't/ can't do anything in the home. I don't tell her, "Please make me a cup of tea." I know of some people who call for their maids to bring the soya sauce or chilly sauce or some special oil to the dining table when they are midway through their dinner. Consecutively. Not even all at one go. So the poor maid, darts in and out of the kitchen to the dining table (perhaps the fabulously rich or royal families do this, but can't a normal person get off their chair and get these additional condiments themselves?).

I do my fair share of housework. I tend my garden. I tidy up the children's books and toys and their rooms. I tidy up both my husband's and my own study areas. If there is some part of the house that I notice hasn't been cleaned or wiped for sometime, I either mention it to my maid or I clean it myself. If I do the latter, my maid immediately gets the hint, too. That's better than scolding your maid, I think. 

I believe these are the things that an employer should NOT do to their maid:

  • limit their food intake (unless they are eating excessively)
  • continually criticize them on their cooking, and in front of the whole family
  • make them work late into the night
  • insist they wake up at 5:30am. It's ok if they sleep in some days.
  • only instruct them on their work, otherwise ignore them
  • scream at them in displeasure
  • think that maids have no feelings
  • keep calling the maid to attend to your smallest needs

There was an interesting movie about the lives of African-American maids in the USA in the 1960s called the Help . I really enjoyed that movie.

I don't know when my maid will stop working for me. That day will come I am sure, and when it does, I will miss her.

(image from https://twitter.com/AmazingMaids)


  1. Hi there;

    We too are planning to get a maid. Where do we start? Agent? Agent fees seems to be pricey!

    How much the maid's salary? Some of my friends pay about RM800 to RM1000. One guy pays only RM650.

    Any suggestions? Personal contacts?

    1. Hi Huba-Huba, how are you? All settled in I hope.

      Yeah agency fees are pricey but what to do. It's what our govt has agreed to.

      I think most new maids whether Indonesian or Cambodian start at RM650-700. Of course Filipinos are above RM1k.

      My maid came with me from KL, so I haven't used any maid agencies in Ipoh. Can't recommend you any, unless you want some agencies which I know friends here have used.

  2. Hi KL girl in Ipoh,
    At my brother's house, we treat the maid as part of the family, she eats on the same table as us and we take her with us when we are out for dinning. I totally agree with you about maids. However, my MIL is exactly like the people you mentioned, who would criticize and tell off the maid before the whole family. Always call out the maid to do the smallest tasks from one side of the house to the other side. The worst is the maid can only eat after we finish our dinner (and literally eat our leftover food) and is prohibited to go outside in case she runoff or hang out with the foreign workers.
    Her ways of treating the maid is also affecting my young son who's only 2 and half. He would copy the grandma and call out the maid's name loudly which I hate the most. My only hope would be in some small chances she'd come across your blog and finally have some changes as to how she 'manages' the maid.

    1. Hi Al!

      Yes it's true, some people do treat their maids very badly. And the children pick up this sort of thing, which I think is a very bad example to set for the young. You will need to explain to your son that that is not the right way to treat a person.

      Well, you could "accidentally" tell your MIL about this article you read....hahaha!

  3. If you dont mind, would you mind getting me your friends maid agents contact details.

    1. Hi Huba Huba, sure, I'll ask around and pass you the info.