May 1, 2009

The gringa way

garden, La Ceiba, Honduras
I decided to try a new approach with Arexy, the new maid. I've always believed that if you explain the reason and show why something should be done a certain way, that the person will see the reasoning and remember it better. I've also mistakenly thought, as most gringos initially do, that people would enjoy learning to do something new or in a 'better' way. I've tried and tried that over the years with both male and female workers here in Honduras with not much success. A little, but not much.

What I've found, and what El Jefe has told me, is that low level workers are very childlike and that I should just tell them what to do and not try to be friends. It is rare to find someone who puts some thought into what they are doing. These workers (mostly) just do what they are told, if they remember, which they won't all of the time, just like children. (Please don't bother to tell me this is condescending. It has been true most of the time and that's all I can say.)

One worker even told us that he preferred that we just tell him what to do and then stand over him and watch him and correct him the entire time. That was an amazing cultural enlightenment for me, since I had seen another Honduran neighbor do that with him while he called him names like 'pendejo' and 'cabrón'! That anyone would prefer that kind of treatment was beyond me.

The main problem with my theory is that uneducated Hondurans are probably just not going to believe my reasons. Many only know one way to do something and see no reason to learn another. "I've never heard of that before!" No matter that doctors and scientists and professionals in every area have proven something to be fact to the rest of the world, if it's not done that way in Honduras, it can't be true. Most have been raised to believe that all chemicals are good and that if a little is good, a lot is even better. Spray bug spray all over your counter and then slap the tortilla dough down on it − what's the problem?

Things to do with health or hygiene that can't be instantly proven will be ignored. I understand that the very basic health and hygiene knowledge that we all grow up learning and think that everyone knows is not known among most of the poor. The connection between not washing hands and getting diarrhea and parasites is a foreign concept. You can't see germs or bacteria so they don't exist.

Additionally, since most well-to-do Honduran women have never cleaned their own house or painted it, worked in the garden, mowed the lawn, grown vegetables or turned the compost pile, laid tile or installed a faucet, the workers assume that I couldn't possibly know what I'm talking about and feel justified in ignoring me.

Another problem is that, in some cases, it is hard to say that 'this way' is better/safer/faster/healthier/more hygienic than 'that way' without insulting the 'Honduran way.' If I say filling the sink with hot soapy water to wash dishes gets the dishes cleaner and is more hygienic, it kind of sounds like I'm putting down the Honduran way. I'm not. Most people don't have hot water in their kitchen or even any running water, so I understand why they wash dishes the way they do. I, however, do have hot water and I want to use it!

So what I've taken to doing is saying with a smile that 'this way' might seem a little strange but it is 'the gringa way.' Period. I bite my tongue not to say why it is the gringa way. It's too soon to tell how that is going to work out, but I think that Arexy can accept that I am an expert on gringa ways better than she can accept that I've had a lot of years of doing my own housecleaning under my belt.

I feel just a tiny bit guilty that poor Arexy is now going to think that all gringas have my weird ways. For example, she may now think that all gringas want to save all of their plastic bags and reuse the same old ones in the trashcan over and over. She also now may think that all gringas use vinegar to wash their floors or save their coffee grounds and food scraps for the big garbage pile (compost pile) out back. I can tell that those kinds of things are perplexing and a little disturbing to her. ;-D
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