December 7, 2007

La Gringa goes through the looking glass

The Nursery Alice, published 1890
Image from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Wikipedia

Alice: But I don't want to go among mad people.
The Cheshire Cat:
Oh, you can't help that.
We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.
How do you know I'm mad?
The Cheshire Cat:
You must be. Or you wouldn't have come here.

Sometimes I do feel that I am Alice in Wonderland and that I have come to a world where nothing makes sense to my way of thinking. I often have to double check myself with El Jefe, the Honduran, to find out if it's me or someone else who isn't making sense. (It isn't always me!)

Often when I go off on a tirade about irresponsibility and poor decisions in a blog article, someone will usually comment that that is the Honduran culture, I need to get used to it, and I need to assimilate and be like Hondurans are.

Uh, okay. Does that mean that I get to be irresponsible, too? Apparently not, as I was heartily chastised yesterday morning by Nora, my housekeeper.

(Yes, I decided to give Nora another chance. It will be interesting blog material if nothing else. ;-) )

We called her this week and asked if she wanted to work on Wednesday. She jumped at the chance. "What time should I come?" she asked. I said that since she had problems with the buses, she could come at 7:30 a.m. instead of 7:00.

Alice: Curiouser and curiouser!

I arose early just so I would be dressed and downstairs and ready to let her in at 7:30. So, of course, she came at 8:00 with stories about bus delays. "Fine, fine," says flexible me. "No problem. You can just work an extra half an hour or we can adjust your pay for the hours worked, whichever you prefer."

The Mock Turtle: What is the use of repeating all
that stuff, if you don't explain it as you go on?
It's by far the most confusing thing I ever heard!

Later in the day we had one of those mind boggling Honduran conversations that goes round and round in circles, leaving you totally confused and unsatisfied. She came to me to ask what hours I wanted her to work. I said, "What hours do you want to work, Nora?" She said she would work whatever hours I wanted her to. I said but you have problems with the bus in the morning and get home too late at night (so she has told me), so you tell me what hours you can work, given the bus schedule. But she doesn't know the bus schedule and again insisted that I set the hours.

I said that it really doesn't matter to me, because we can calculate her hourly rate and adjust her pay for whatever hours she can work, so it just depends on whether she wants to or is able to work a full day or not. Again, she insisted that I tell her what time to come.

Starting to get a little exasperated by this time, I said, "Nora, I can say 'come at THIS TIME and leave at THIS TIME' but las muchachas (household workers) always come when they want to and leave when they want to, so just tell me what hours are convenient for you and we'll calculate what your pay would be and then you can decide." Nope! Not going to do it.

Trying to show her how reasonable and flexible I am, I said, for example, if you only want to work 4 or 6 hours a day, that would be fine, too, and we would just adjust your salary to L.xx or L.xx per day. Shocked, she said, "No! It wouldn't be worth it for me to come, because the bus is so expensive."

EXACTLY! I exclaimed, thinking "Eureka! She finally gets it." That is why I suggested a full day of work (8 hours) for a (much) larger salary rather than the part-day that many maids work for a much lower salary. I said, "It's the same for me: It's not worth it for me to pay so much if you aren't going to work the full day. It has to be fair for you and fair for me." I explained that I set the high salary considering her time and the expense of riding the bus. (She knows very well that this is a salary that she could not make anywhere else.) Still no resolution from her but she said that she
needs to work a full day.

I said that it would be simpler for me if she would just tell me what time she is able to get here, considering the bus and her responsibilities at home. She did say that she could come at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow because her husband Carlos would be working in this area and could bring her on his bike. I asked if she was sure, that she didn't have to come that early, but no, she said she would come at 7:00. Okay, fine.

So what happened? I forgot to set my alarm and overslept until 8:00 a.m.! I jumped out of bed and rushed downstairs to open the gate for her. She, acting very flustered, exclaimed that she had been waiting for half an hour and had rung the doorbell six times.

(Wait a minute! "Waiting half an hour"? That means that she was half an hour late arriving and I was half an hour late opening the door. Isn't that the same thing???!!!)

I did feel bad. Even when other people are undependable with me, I still have that sense of responsibility and timeliness instilled in my genes. I may have relaxed my expectations of others, but I'm not going to change.

Mad Hatter: No wonder you're late.
Why, this watch is exactly two days slow.

The first time she told me, I just responded that I had overslept and that we can't hear the doorbell from upstairs when the bedroom door is shut. The second time she recounted her lengthy wait and repeated door bell ringing, I sympathized, saying yes, I know how you feel because that is exactly how I felt yesterday when I got up early and you didn't come until 8:00. Me: Smile. Her: Eyes widened. The third time she brought it up, adding, "No me gusta," (I don't like it!), I reminded her that when I said to come at 7:00 before, she came at 7:30, and yesterday when I said to come at 7:30, she came at 8:00, so I really didn't know what time she would come. Smile. (Heh, heh, that got a little surprised look from her.)

Alice: It would be so nice if something
made sense for a change.

I'll have to admit that I was beginning to get a little annoyed at this chastisement from my employee. The first time or two: fine, I deserved it. But the third and fourth times, and then repeating it again to El Jefe a couple of hours later? Tattletale! And besides, I rarely even mention it to her when she comes late and certainly never pound her about it for hours!

After a while, I realized that she was afraid that I would dock her pay because she wasn't working at 7:30 − Another example of how I won't assimilate. Fair is fair to me. If she was here but couldn't work because of me, of course I won't dock her pay even though she apparently seems to think that many Honduran employers would. Conversely, she needs to learn that if she isn't here, she won't be paid. It's that simple.

They don't know it, but those who say that I should go with the flow really don't mean it. They want to pick and choose where they think I should assimilate and where they wouldn't approve if I "did as the Romans". They would be horrified if I docked Nora's pay because I overslept, or paid the miserly wages that most maids make, or "forgot" to go to the bank to pay her at the end of the week, or called her stupid or hounded her to hurry up during the day, as many have told me their previous Honduran employers have done.

All of this may sound like a tirade to you, but, honestly, it isn't! I'm really trying to understand what sometimes seems to me the un-understandable. I'm really almost enjoying the challenge. If I did as many suggested and just forgot about having a maid, I would be giving up. But that would not be assimilating, now would it?

I have figured out one thing: The laid back, sometimes irresponsible culture is okay for the people, but not for those people around them. Okay, it still doesn't make sense, but at least I know now.

Alice: If I had a world of my own,
everything would be nonsense.
Nothing would be what it is,
because everything would be what it isn't.
And contrary-wise, what is, it wouldn't be.
And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?

Quotes are from "Alice's Adventure in Wonderland," a novel written by Lewis Carroll in 1865. It is a story about a young girl who falls through a rabbit hole and ends up in a crazy, seemingly nonsensical world where nothing is as it seems, plants, animals, playing cards, and doorknobs talk, a caterpillar smokes a hookah, and Alice continually grows larger or smaller to adapt to her surroundings. "Through the Looking Glass" was a sequel to Alice in Wonderland.

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