On the Beach

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Not such a spoilt expat brat

There are many reasons why I feel to be lucky to be living here but I am slightly ashamed to admit to one of them: I get much more "help" here than I did in the UK.

"Help"? You ask, what do you mean? Well, I feel weird saying it- I suspect partly because I have been tinged by British colonial guilt- but basically I get an awful lot more assistance with menial tasks which, frankly, have never given me any joy: cleaning, ironing, packing my shopping, unpacking my shopping, washing my car and even putting petrol in my car.

 It's only been 16 months, I don't think I can even remember how to switch on my vacuum cleaner or iron, I have trouble finding cleaning products in the house- this is all thanks to our lovely domestic help, Judith, who comes in 3 times a week for a day. I am sure she relishes nothing more than the sight of accumulated pots and pans when she comes to work (we have a hidden sink in the scullery, so to guests we look civilised, only those that venture to the scullery know that we are revolting beasts but for Judith).

At the supermarket checkout, I am free to vacantly stare at the wall or check my messages while a lovely person packs my shopping into bags by category. A young gentleman then whisks the trolley in the direction of the car and unpacks my shopping into the car. If the kids are with me, he'll put them in the car, fussing over them  all the while. Another young man then directs me out of my parking spot and, after the trauma of actually having to drive the car home by myself, Judith helps me unpack the groceries. After this ordeal, I have to prepare my lunch (can't afford a chef- the shame!) and Judith clears up after us.

If the car needs petrol, I pull into the petrol station and wait for someone to fill up my car and clean my windscreens. No cash? No problem! The card machine is brought to your car window, interrupting your listening to the news only briefly. We have become so accustomed to this that, when visiting London last year, we pulled up at a petrol station and my husband just sat in the car. I opened the door, he said: "What are you doing? Do you need something from the shop?".

I must admit I find these things indulgent and wonderful after living in SE London where I paid too much money to people to move around the dirt in my house for a couple of hours a week, where I struggled to pack my shopping fast enough, people in the queue tsk-tsking behind me. And no one ever filled the car up for me. It's not that these things are so terrible to do yourself, just so much nicer if someone does them for you.

In South Africa, there is an oversupply of unskilled labour which is the main reason who so much help is so affordable. It feels almost like the New Deal under Roosevelt where you actually "invent" jobs to give people something to do, a way to make money. Obviously, this isn't like paying people to carry balloons through the streets, it's much more useful. Crucially it provides people with few skills the ability to earn money. And it makes my life, well, a bit better.

So, for a while, these things have been a guilty pleasure for me, better than chocolate, better than wine. But I have felt a bit ashamed: my biggest fear about having to move away is that I will have to clean my own house, pack my own shopping and fill up my own car. Worse, I won't be able to complain about it. I thought I was a total expat brat. A shameful colonial-era beast.

So it was with great relief the other day, that I had the following conversation with a tradesman who came to quote on something at my house. He had to check something on the roof and came down with a fistful of leaves. Here's the conversation:

Him: "There are a lot of leaves up there, they'll block your gutter. Make sure you get it cleaned out regularly."
Me: "OK, sure. I'll remember."
Him: "Just ask your garden boy to do it every so often."
Me: "I'll tell my husband. We don't have a garden boy."

He looks at me. Silence. Disbelief.

Him: "You don't have a garden boy?". Now, he says this in a voice which implies that rather than telling him we don't have a gardener, I have told him that we don't use the toilets, we just defecate on the lawn.

Me:" No, we don't. My husband enjoys gardening."

He walks backwards a couple of steps, as if moving slowly away from a madwoman brandishing a knife.

Him: "OK, the quote will, er, be with you soon."

I haven't yet received the quote which makes me think he is either inefficient or considers us too weird too work for.

So, whilst getting another quote might be a hassle, at least I feel a bit about myself. I don't have a gardener. Or, even worse, a live-in garden boy and 2 maids like one family of four  I know.

So perhaps South Africa has not ruined me completely.

But there's still time.

1 comment:

  1. Ha ha, this reminds me when I drove across England the week I arrived and had to learn very quickly how to add petrol and oil myself!