Maid in the Philippines

There is a Ying and Yang I taught my children as they were growing up.  It consisted of two opposite maxims;

(a)     Always be inquisitive, learn and try new things.
(b)    Just because something ‘can’ be done does not necessarily mean it ‘should’ be done.

This creates a balanced tension, in my view, of being intelligent enough to always keep learning.. yet not so dumb as to do every stupid idea that comes to mind.  As a result my three sons and one daughter are bright, intelligent and creative individuals. 

If you plan to debate them, you better have your ducks in a row.  However another side result has been incidents such as teaching them how to build a Potato-Canon, how to ignite a propane tank with flares, duct tape and a rifle and other adventures of their own that have given me a decent amount of grey in my hair over the years.  And that’s just the stuff I know about.

So when I boarded my plane in LAX to begin my journey to the Philippines my girlfriend had informed me that I would be greeted upon arrival by my new maid.  (My girlfriend had business to attend to in the U.S. at the time.)  “My maid?”  I’ve never needed a maid.  Okay.. maybe my Mom and first-wife would disagree with me on that but, I didn’t plan on having any maid.  But I was open to the idea.  I’m willing to give it a go.  Might be nice to have a maid.  It would be something new.

My next thought was, “Hmm.. I wonder if she’s hot.”  Well, my girlfriend was the one to pick her out so.. you can guess how that interview process went.  I met the maid at the airport and she was very helpful in getting me situated at my new studio.  She had planned to spend the whole day with me showing me around and unpacking but, instead I treated her to lunch and sent her home after two hours.  I wanted to figure all this stuff out on my own as much as I could.  But she did show me where to buy groceries, get a taxi, gave me my key and put up some curtains for me before she left.  She’s a nice woman, a gentle and sweet old soul.  Didn’t look anything like the picture my mind had conjured up during the flight though.  But that was okay.  I never in my life figured on having a maid in the first place.  Although here they use the word, ‘Helper‘ more often than maid.

As an American, I have this aversion to having anyone in a subservient position to me.  I’m all for ‘chain-of-command’.  I’m all for levels of administration in a business.  There has to be rank and authority in order to maintain a system of order properly.  But even when I watch some of the discourses between Bruce Wayne and Alfred, the faithful butler, some part of my independent, anti-slavery fiber feels uneasy with the whole ‘maid/butler’ arrangement.  I don’t mind someone working for me.  I’ve hired guys to mow the lawn or do home improvements.  But I respect them as a human being.  They are not ‘less than’ me in any way just because I’m exchanging money for their services.  Yet so much of my perspective about having a ‘servant’ in the house is opposed to the idea of someone doing stuff I can, and perhaps should, be doing for myself.  To be addressed as ‘Sir’ with each sentence only reaffirms this uneasiness.

To clarify, my ‘maid’ (or ‘Ya-Ya’ as they are often called when they care for children) is not a live-in maid.  The arrangement was that she would stop by every 10 days to clean up and do the laundry.  Some sweeping, dishes and laundry.  Okay, I suppose that would be helpful.  And as I thought about it, isn’t it better that I’m employing someone in need of finances rather than just handing out money randomly to strangers?  She gets an income, I get a clean studio.  Looking at it this way, I feel I’m doing something for the local economy.

So, the first month things seemed to be going okay.  With one exception.. the laundry.  It turns out my maid is just OCD about scrubbing the hell out of my shirts with this stiff brush she brings with her.  She spent over 2 hours hand scrubbing five shirts that were at the most a bit sweaty, but not stained in any way.  To me, hand-wash is a simple process.  Fill a basin with water.  Add some water softener and detergent.  Soak and agitate it a little bit.  Rinse with clean water and hang to dry.  Should take no more than 30 minutes.  But 2 hours?  After she did her first load of laundry and hung it to dry, the following morning I brought it in and tried on a t-shirt.  “What the hell?”  The collar was big enough now to pass a volleyball through.  There it was, all wango’d out from over-scrubbing with that infernal brush.  All my soft cottons looked like some kids had played tug-of-war with them.

So, her 2nd visit I had a calm chat with her.  “No brush.  No scrubbing.  Just soak in detergent and rinse.  Okay?”  She swore she never used the brush even though I saw her using it with my own eyes.. for hours.  But, I gave her another chance.  She did another load while I slept since I was sick with a flu-bug at the time.  I take down the dry laundry the next morning.. same thing.  In addition some bleach spots on two of my shirts.

Now, here’s the thing.. I wear size XL and XXL depending on the manufacturer.  I had already gone to the local mall and after checking EVERY brand of shirt in the entire department store. . guess what?  XXL in the Philippines means a shirt that will fit a 17 year old kid.  It wasn’t even close.  No way was I gonna fit into the local sizes here and they didn’t have a “Giant American” shirt store anywhere on my island.  So.. losing shirt casualties to the maid was soon to leave me with nothing to wear but shirts that hung down to my knee-caps like some Boy-Band reject.

So I delegated this to my girlfriend asking her to.. in full, clear and completely understandable local dialect let the maid know that I wanted NO BRUSH used on my laundry.  Just soak, rinse and dry.  That’s it.  No scrubby-scrubby for hours.  But no, another bad batch of laundry the next visit.  Dismayed, I then asked my girlfriend to break the news nicely to the maid that “it’s just not working out”.

So I took a load to the local laundry place in town.  Here, it’s not a self-operated laundromat like back home.  Instead you drop off your laundry where they weigh it, charge by the ‘kilo’ (whatever that is) and you pick up your clean laundry 2 or 3 days later.  I took only half a load just to try them out.  Good news is.. they did a fantastic job!  Clean, smelling fresh and neatly folded in a plastic bag.  But.. $5 to wash two towels, 3 shirts and a bedsheet?  That’s not gonna work.

I tossed my laundry receipt on the table at the local food court where I often meet up with the workers there and get a bite to eat.  We get to talking about my laundry issues and one of them offers to take the job.  At first this seemed like a good idea.  ‘She’ is at my side of the island for her job at the mall anyway so picking up my laundry and doing some cleaning would be no inconvenience.  All was set until a few days later she was fired from her mall job.  Now, if there’s one thing I’ve learned here it is that your worker’s problems somehow always end up in your lap as your problem.  I could already foresee the agreed upon amount of 300 pesos per visit turning into me paying for her transportation, twice, in order to get my laundry returned.  That would put me at about $30 a month for laundry.  So I scrapped that plan.  Plus she’d started training on another island so, I might not see my laundry returned for a week or more.  That’s just not gonna work for me either.

I spoke with my girlfriend and she was telling me how her maid that she’s had for over 8 years is wanting more and more advances on her pay and taking extra days off without asking.  In addition tossing her dishes around in an abusive manner and slamming cupboards.   I told her that if that kind of thing keeps up it might be time to let the maid go and get a replacement.  In the Philippines, it’s easier to get a new maid than getting crack in East L.A.  As Chris Rock would say, all you gotta do is open your door and yell out, “I need crack!”.  That’s how eager women are here to earn an honest living in the current economy.  Just stand out the door and yell, “I need a helper!” and pick out your next maid.

The incident with my girlfriend’s maid brings me to something a friend of mine once told me.  He’s an attorney and has been in practice for years.  He said that ‘familiarity’ was the worst turning point that could happen with any of his clients.  He’s a very good man, very humble and generous.  As such, he said some of his long-term clients felt that his friendliness meant that now they were entitled to free legal time and services.  The line between provider and client had become blurred and now he was expected to provide his services for free.  With a maid, here, it’s the opposite.  Once they become ‘familiar’ with their employer.. they expect more money for providing less service.  More pay advances.  More days off.  Less chores around the house.  Even to the point of taking bags of groceries with them from the fridge as they leave for home.  I kid you not.

For this reason the whole idea of having a ‘live-in’ maid seems like it can only go one of two directions.  One direction is that the line between Employer and Employee are consistently reinforced, never blurred.  The ‘help’ are not treated as friends or family.  They are there to perform tasks and there’s no time for idle chit-chat or letting them in on anything of a personal nature.  Well, here in the Philippines.. good luck with that.  People here are chatty.  Sharing meals is part and parcel of the culture.  Making bonds and emotional ties is just how Filipinos are.

So, instead, it usually goes the other direction.. ‘familiarity’ sets in quickly and the next thing you know.. their problems end up on your lap.  Now you’re the ‘bad guy’ for not bailing them out of whatever jam they’re into this particular month.  In the United States it’s rare that an employee comes into his employer’s office and says, “I already spent all my money.  Can you give me some more?”.  But here that’s not uncommon at all.  When I heard of this my response was, “If I pulled that in the States.. my boss would just look at me and say, ‘..sounds like a ‘you’ problem, not a ‘me’ problem.’ ”   And then I’d be told to go back to work.  “See you next pay review, we’ll talk more about it then.”  Here, the expectations from a ‘servant’ to their employer seem to just assume that by working for you, somehow you are somewhat responsible for them in all areas.

So today I did my first two loads of laundry myself.  It took me 30 minutes.  No big deal.  Wash.  Rinse. Dry.  It’s not rocket-surgery or brain-science.  It’s just laundry for cryin’ out loud.  I usually keep the dishes to a minimum and sweeping the studio I do about once a week.  In all reality I don’t need a maid.  But most everyone else around here has one.  The price is cheap, especially for just 3 days a month rather than a live-in maid.  Maybe I’ll revisit the idea again down the road.

But then again, just because I can does not necessarily mean I should.  We’ll see.

Henry V.

Author: Reekay

About Me.. In 2011 I made the decision to move to the Philippines within a year. Since 2012 I’ve been traveling through various islands of the Philippines as a full-time Expat. (Mactan, Bohol, Panglao, Moalboal, Dumaguete, Bacong, Boracay, Cebu) I recently spent the year living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Share with me here my ongoing adventures of life in the Philippines. Dating, vlogging, cooking, traveling and sharing the information with you needed to make your own plans for living as a full-time expat in Southeast Asia.
— Reekay


  1. hi henry
    im sure your girlfriend can introduce you to a very good seamstress. thats one of the benefits of living there, tailor made clothes just for you.

    1. So, with a seamstress.. do I buy a small shirt and they make it bigger? Or do they come up with designs of shirts and then I pick one they make in my size? What exactly does the seamstress ‘do’?

  2. hi henry
    seamstress will custom sew clothes for you to your body measurements. bring examples in hand or pictures of what you want just to be sure of end results. discuss details like zippers and buttons maybe you may have to supply these yourself. they will advice you how much yardage of material YOU WILL NEED TO PURCHASE for the article of clothing. lots of department stores there to purchase fabrics.

  3. Henry

    My wife would buy material and have her seamstress sew dresses for her…cost 400-500 php…cost in us 80 bucks.

  4. Hmm.. I may have to do just that. I enjoy my loose, cotton shirts but can never find them in my size.. and the mall down the street sells fabric. Thanks Maria and Ron for the suggestions!

  5. Haha Henry, one thing i can say about you is that you learn FAST. We have all done the maid thing in the past. Apart from a few other surprises you will yet to experience in the Philippines, doing things yourself here will be the most trouble free experinces you will enjoy. My advice is keep your money in your wallet.

  6. Ahhhhh….Henry…I love da pic of ur maid…!!!…hahaha…!!!
    Of course ..knowing PI girls…I knew ya didnt get THAT for ur maid..!!!
    One thing for sure…if ya dont know already…girls in the PI, and Thailand….EXTREMELY jealous…if ur at the mall with ur girl…dont even look at another girl…best saved for looking later….Scotty

    1. Yep, I noticed that. ha! Good thing is that my g/f and I make a joke out of it. She’s knows I’m not blind and I know she’s not dumb. Pretty girls everywhere, can’t help but notice. But anything beyond 2 nano-seconds is no-muy-bueno. ha!

  7. Funny story about my first maid adventure. Back around 1984 when I moved into my first apartment in Olongapo, I hired a girl that I knew from one of my favorite watering holes. A good girl, just a waitress, but she always seemed to be at the end of her money with no week left. So, I asked her if she would be interested in earning some extra money and do my laundry for me. She ecstatically accepted the job and began doing my laundry a couple days a week. On occasion, I would hear some giggling going on during the laundry sessions, and one day discovered why. When it came to washing my skivvies, I learned that my laundry lady sub-contracted that particular job to her friend, who would accompany her to the job. Apparently her little friend found it extremely funny when she discovered the occasional back end ‘puppy stain’ and would almost giggle uncontrollably while they flung the skivvies back and forth between them. They were having more fun than should be legally allowed when doing laundry. I eventually went out and purchased new skivvies and that put an end to that embarrassing moment! 😉

    1. Ha!.. that’s crazy. 🙂 All mine are the dark, colored ones. I’ve kinda gotten used to the whole ‘ladle/bucket’ toilet routine.. but usually I end up leaving about a gallon of water all over the floor by the time I’m done.

    1. Update 9/17/2012.. Well, the new maid did an amazing job! She cleaned everything. It’s cleaner than when I moved in. Very hard worker and cheerful attitude. Just hoping things don’t get complicated. (knock on wood) 🙂

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