Saturday, August 10, 2013

Making it fit...the ex-pat life!

I have read a couple of articles recently from other expats directed at this years new intake. It's that time of year when the newbies arrive, just in time for the new school year. I was thinking what my advice would be, especially to those on their first overseas assignment, arriving here in Bangers.

I think that yes listen to all the advice you can get but then, you need to factor yourself into that equation.You need to make the expat life fit you. To go several years in the wrong size shoes is not comfortable! The later part is something I definitely didn't do when it came to domestic help.

My Grandma and my mother both at different stages in their lives had 'a lady that did'. My Grandma had Annie (I can still picture her) who came in from the local village a couple of mornings a week. Although my Grandma did have a few mod. cons. there were still the silver tea pots to polish! My mother worked full-time, so over the years a variety of home helps popped in for a few hours when no-one was home and vacuumed and dusted. This was definitely not a Downton Abbey or Upstairs/Downstairs sort of scenario as these home helps thought nothing of being pretty firm with my sister and me, and were not slow in telling tales to the parents. We would also rub shoulders with their kids at school.

I'd never experienced a full time maid, so this whole concept of someone in the house all day was new to me. But as it was something you do in India, I did it. Although my mod.cons are somewhat behind that of even some fellow ex-pats who have dishwashers, tumble driers and proper ovens, I do have some gadgets that make the maids job less labour intensive and not as time consuming as it once would have been. However, labour in India is cheap, so a full time maid it was.

Sweetie was with us for two years plus in our Vista house and I realize now that over time I sort of lost control of the house, especially the kitchen. When our shipment of stuff arrived from the US, Sweetie unpacked the kitchen. And from then on in, I never really felt it was my kitchen. She didn't cook all the time and obviously was not in the kitchen all the time but I think I sort of felt she was. Cleaning our three bed house, even in the dust of India, doing the laundry (not the ironing), and cooking one dish a couple of days a week is not a full time job but as she was paid to do a full time job she hung about, mainly on her phone all day. With hindsight she was far too bright and her English far too good to be a maid. As the two years went by the 'malingering maid' syndrome probably kicked into overdrive. She knew my weeks pattern and regular appointments and played it and I guess I let her.

From outside it sounds like a full time maid must be bliss - and it is for some people but not for everyone. It's a different relationship from any most of us have had before and if you can define that and make it work for you without feeling you are losing your independence, control or privacy then go for it.

The kids are obviously growing older and less needy, exiting the 'hood on the bus at 7.45, returning at 4.45 and then pretty independent until dusk. So not in control of the kids or the domain was shrinking!!

So when we were moving on to Ozone, Sweetie did not come with us. She lives in completely the opposite direction, so it was a good opportunity for a break. We gave her a good payoff and she found a new job very quickly.

Now I do have a maid but results based, Theresa. She comes in for a couple of hours a day during the week and whips round the house like a bat out of hell. If her phone rings she holds it under her chin and abruptly deals with the caller as she scrubs and dusts. She's basically a dust demon.

I have control of my small kitchen and I have cooked and baked way more in our shorter time in Ozone than I did in Vista. I know where everything is and what we have. I do the laundry - so we all end up with the right clothes in the right places.

I know some expats do really well with a full domestic staff and settle into that routine very well. But, it didn't work for me and took me two years to figure that out. So my message to this years newbies is as you launch into your new overseas assignment, listen to all the advice everyone has - it's truly priceless but then make sure your life in India fits you. We are all different shapes and sizes. There are plenty of tailors and adjustments can be made!!

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