A good ayi is hard to find anywhere in the world

By Louise Ho Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/12 18:33:40

Like many foreigners in Shanghai, I became spoiled by my ayi (domestic helper) while I was living there. Shanghai, although getting increasingly expensive by the year, is a cosmopolitan paradise, replete with world-class apartments and an abundance of maids - who only charge 30 yuan ($4.74) per hour.

That said, the quality of cleaning by most Chinese ayi often leaves much to be desired. Many expats complain that their ayi are lazy, will only do what you specifically tell them to, and are not sanitary or hygienic (e.g. using the same cloth to clean a toilet and the kitchen counter). Stories of theft by ayi are also common; according to media reports, some ayi even go so far as murder just to gain favor (and bonuses) from their wealthy employers.

After I moved to Paris in 2017, I had high hopes of finding a French maid (called "femme de ménage"). My French husband assured me that maids in Paris are much more professional than in Shanghai - but also three or four times more expensive.

My first experience, however, was a big disappointment. We were recommended a helper from Poland. Similar to Shanghai, where ayi are mostly migrants, maids in Paris are not locals. They are usually from East Europe, Portugal, Africa or the Philippines. We paid her 15 euros ($18) per hour to clean two hours once a week.

The first time she cleaned our apartment, she put on her A-game. But her work quickly got sloppy. We asked her to spend 30 minutes on the floor, but she only cleaned it for 10. The bathroom was also always left dirty. We decided to fire her after less than two months.

A friend of my husband had a very efficient maid from Madagascar for eight months. But right before summer holiday she suddenly disappeared without explanation. I had a similar experience in Shanghai. My hard-working ayi from East China's Anhui Province worked for several families in the same residential compound. But one day she just disappeared, not bothering to return our calls.

Another time, my husband's friend hired a Filipino woman; he kept her for a whole year and was quite happy with her work. She also babysat his daughter. But she was working in Paris illegally and eventually asked him to "declare" her - which means that an employer must pay an additional 15 percent for welfare and two days of paid holiday per month. Our friend said no.

Based on these examples, we can see that problems encountered by employers with their household help are universal. Maids in Paris, though more expensive, are not necessarily better than their Chinese counterparts. Perhaps only in a perfect world can one ask for a perfect ayi; otherwise, we must accept them warts and all.

Finding a good ayi in Shanghai or in Paris requires a long trial-and-error process not to mention a great deal of luck. The Xinmin Weekly reported in July 2017 that there are as many as 2,400 ayi agencies in Shanghai alone, but I never went to such agencies when I lived there. I hired mine based on people's personal recommendations. To find a maid in Paris is similar: through recommendations, by paying an agency or simply posting an ad at your local supermarket.

It is very common for French families to have part-time domestic helpers clean their homes and tend to their children. But most are not officially declared. This is the preferred way because it's cheaper for employers. Likewise, most maids in Paris want to be paid "under the table" so that they don't have to pay taxes. Only the super rich in Paris can afford a full-time live-in maid, which costs a whopping 30,000 to 45,000 euros per year.

My sister-in-law recently referred us to her Portuguese helper. Thus far, she is very proactive and we are happy with her work. We get along well in my limited French language abilities. She just might be the best maid I have ever had! Shanghai was reportedly expected to open its doors to more Filipino domestic workers, but perhaps the city should also consider other countries, such as Portugal.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT



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