Attack of the Class Guilt

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I know he doesn’t mean to, but Ale can make me feel like such an asshole sometimes. Maybe it’s the insane cultural differences, but there are times when talking to him makes me feel like I don’t deserve to consider myself Marxist. Or “human being” for that matter.

A lot of it has to do with the fact that I have maids. Well, not me – my family does. I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my lifetime and he never batted so much as an eyelash when I told him about those. But when I mentioned that we have maids in the house, he was so shocked that had to interrupt our conversation to tell his parents about it.

“So what do you do at home if you don’t do any chores?” he asked me.

“Ummm…I work. I go online. I play guitar,” I mumbled.

I know that in Europe and the rest of the Western world, nobody has maids in their house unless they’re really really rich. Over here, it’s normal for most middle class families have at least one maid in the household. Still, I never realized how much I have in common with a spoiled brat until he started explaining to me how weird it would be for him to have someone clean up his room, cook his meals, and do the household chores for him.


Ate Diding and Ale

What made it worse for me was when he kept asking me all these questions about the helpers who live in our house two days ago. Stuff like how old they are, if they have any kids. All I could answer was an, “Umm…I never really got around to asking them.”

“So you don’t talk to them? Even if you live in the same house?”

“Not really. I like to keep to myself. Besides, just because you live with someone doesn’t mean you have to talk to that person.”

“Honey, I know that, but I don’t know…if we had maids in our house I’d probably talk to them a lot.”

Yeah, that made me feel like a class A asshole all right.

The funny part is that I can’t justify why I need any maids around because I’m the type of person who can live with clothes all over my bed and survive on canned food and restaurant leftovers. Okay, maybe it’s nice to have someone make your meals for you when you’re a real dunce in the kitchen (or when you’re just plain too lazy to ever get around to learning how to cook). But…is it really that hard for us to do our own cleaning and cooking? I know that people here need jobs and stuff, but a job where you have to do stuff people can very well do on their own is starting to sound more and more wrong to me. Also, I’m having so much difficulty trying to find a reason why I find it so hard to strike up a normal conversation with our maids. I’m chalking it up to the fact that I’m not really a sociable person unless the mood strikes me, but I’m afraid that the real reason for this might be that I still cling to a few more classist attitudes than I thought.


I <3 a man who can cook.
Because I can’t tell a frying pan from a wok.

Right now Ale is making dinner for us downstairs (spaghetti ala-something something), where “us” is my parents, my sister, and the maids. When we were talking about cooking dinner last night, he asked me if the maids could join us at the dinner table. I couldn’t have been more shocked. My family and the maids, all eating at one table. How totally awkward and inappropriate is that?

32 thoughts on “Attack of the Class Guilt

  1. Awww. It’s ok. And I know this isn’t going to help, but we don’t have maids, haha. It’s just usually my dad and my mom anyway, and they both handle their time. We do have someone who comes twice a week to do the laundry and stuff. But I did grow up with maids and yayas. I learned how to do things on my own in college.

    In La Union, there are two house maids to help around the house. My tita there still does a lot of cleaning, though. Oh, and OMG I remember when I was there during Holy Week and I + the 2 maids were the only one home. I was online and one of them sat beside me and started talking about WoW and DoTA. O_O Shit I didn’t know about.

    Helga’s last blog post..88db.COM?S BLOGGER NIGHT; TMB PRESENTS: THE BANANA GANGBANG ROCK FESTIVAL.

  2. Awww don’t feel bad Lauren, at a certain point in time we had maids too. And like Helga, I learned how to do things on my own in college too. But I still don’t know how to cook (like Anne) and I’m still lazy at cleaning or house chores for that matter. I want a maid!!!

  3. Hello Lauren,

    Hmmmm….? What’s all this nonsense about Marxism? Who needs ‘isms’ when they have a working brain? Sounds like you are having a culture clash will Ale that tells you that you are part of the ‘elite’ and Ale detests it. Shocked to have maids eat with you? That’s always been the norm in my humble abode…..especially when the maid cooks our dinner but even when I cook, which I often do. Shame Lauren. Maybe one day soon you will wake up and realize that you are part of the snob class (if only by the accident of birth) that the millions of ‘slaves’ detest.(for good reason) If you do not feel part of it then it’s simple……Leave!

    Where I come from, a 22 year old still living with Mum & Dad is treated with friendly taunts. Here it is normal for adults to still bunk with parents past the age of 30, and I’m talking about the poorer classes. Poverty is the given reason and quite acceptable but, living in a big house in Valle Verde and the like, I would also tend to deride such ‘overstaying brats’ who ramble so liberally about their lofty opinions about the injustices of class and vacuously invoke Marxism.
    (Especially those with an expensive education and so many family connections to draw on for an independent flight from the comfortable nest of privilege)

    You’ll figure it out sooner or later. :)

    Cautiously,
    -P-

    • Marius

      I beg your pardon. Marxism is not something that we brandish like Nike or what have you. It’s a discipline in the university; and it’s being taught. Go soak your head.

  4. yuki

    where I come from, being 22 and living at home is the norm. Purely out of real estate expenses. So was middle class families having maids (about 100 years ago tho). A job is a job, and I don’t think there are much differences among all the service jobs anyway. Westerners think that their cultural heritage is the most free and democratic than anyone else’s but that’s just wrong! I guess with personal relationships with such a person though, you’d need to work it out between yourselves where you can both agree on.

  5. It’s one thing for an “alien” to ask questions about the nuances of how we live our lives (though diverse) here and another to mock and school us of the “proper” ways when “proper” can only be relative to a select demographic. With the minutes I interacted with Ale, I see him as more of the former. So yeah, I agree with thegreatest that he’s cool.

    I had this bonding moment with your maids when I cooked stuff for our birthday bash in March. And they surprisingly know my name. I grew up with maids, too, until I went to highschool. When I grow older, I’d want to be a butler for some rich superhero’s mansion or chateaus somewhere in London.

    Fritz’s last blog post..The Low Down: Andrew Lloyd Webber week on American Idol (Season 7)

  6. Sasha

    We’ve always treated our maids like family, since we’ve had the same ones my entire life. My yaya probably knows more about me than my mother, treats me like a daughter, and is coming to my wedding. She has traveled with us and my parents have ensured that she will continue to do so.
    Personally, I don’t detest the maid culture in the Philippines, it provides a lot of people opportunities that they never would have had. I know of many maids whose employers have actively supported their continued education and life improvement, and who are now successfully working as nurses etc. My yaya never had an interest in that, but because of working for us, and us supporting her family, her nieces and nephews have managed to improve their lives when they otherwise would not have had the opportunity. In another instance, one of our old drivers got a mechanic degree while with us, opened up a taxi company, and is about to immigrate to Canada. It really all depends on how people are treated, if they are nurtured and supported, they can do great things with their lives and situations.
    Westerners can look down on the maid culture as much as they want, but in the upper classes the situation is the same. Once people can afford to have a maid or housekeeper, they do. Those McMansions don’t clean themselves.

  7. It’s interesting reading the comments to this article. Especially those related to my rather (admittedly) abrasive one. YUKI has a good point, but I am a ‘Westener’ (still don’t know what that means) and I hardly think that Anglo – European culture is free and democratic. The term ‘service jobs’ admits that there are ‘servants’ and therefore ‘masters’ and this in itself opens up the debate of inequality in class, or caste systems. In the Philippines (and everywhere for that matter) the wages of the ‘service class’ is kept at a deliberate low level to ensure that those ‘servants’ never progress beyond their alloted place and ensures that there will be never ending new generations of servants to serve the masters.

    FRITZ tells us that “proper” can only be relative to a select demographic”……well that does not serve as a good justification for treating people as slaves. I’m sure that to moral people everywhere such displays are seen for what they are wherever they are observed.

    I have been here long enough to witness some detestable examples of this. I once saw a rich Filipino family in a classy hotel restaurant publicly ‘slap’ their driver for some mistake. The humiliated driver stood there repeating “O po sir” like some mantra until he was sent to correct his blunder. Then I witnessed how the family group laughed and mocked him in his absence. Even the kids had a good laugh. They didn’t see another scene which was within my gaze. On his way out, the driver was comforted by a waiter who witnessed the abuse at the table. He briefly put his arm loosely around the drivers shoulder as he led him to the door. They exchanged a brief smile which told of the affinity felt between two classes of servants. One of them had the luxury of wearing a waiters tuxedo to allow him a hint of an illusion that he was of the same rank as the similarly attired patrons that he served.

    As for LEMONS disappointment “they end up abusing you naman”…..well I have had my share of this too. Perhaps it is as much of a leap of faith for a maid to accept, suddenly being treated as an equal after years of the opposite. I once let a neurotic dog out of a neighbors cage in Taiwan because I was fed up with seeing the dog beaten and kept as an ornament in the driveway. The first thing the dog did was to bite my arm. I wasn’t too surprised.

    Hope I didn’t insult anyone. I love reading Laurens blog.

  8. OOPS! Backtrack…….

    Lauren,

    I hope you don’t think I am accusing your family of treating your maids as ‘slaves’. Absolutely NOT! I was just being general about the issue in it’s extreme form. :)

  9. my goodness, lauren! not that I am drooling all over your blog readers that I am filthy rich but I am, I really am and I am still very humble to our maids. I even chat with them about wowowee and baduy teleseryes even if I don’t watch it. Shame on you lauren, shame!

    don’t get me wrong, I am not mad here but maybe you could lower yourself a little to others who are in the lesser class. God bless you.

  10. hello there Lauren, in my house I have one maid too and two assistant of my Mother. And I come from a third world country in Asia where its also a common thing to have maids :)
    So ur entry this time not bothered me at all. Ale seems fun and yeah i love men who can cook too :p

    But I think there’s nothing wrong with having dinner in one table with the maid(s) because I do that too, and the fun thing is we can learn another point of view in life, believe me lol.

    All the best, Lauren :)

  11. We also have maids here in our house. I never went eating with them though. Probably because I eat either at the living room or inside my room. :D But one thing that I did with the maids was watch TV. Hehe.

    You better start learning to cook soon :D The only thing I know about cooking is using the microwave, oven toaster and the rice cooker :D

    karla’s last blog post..The Banana Gangbang Rock Festival coverage

  12. Just wondering… If you’re the guy and Ale is the opposite, would (s)he still think that way, would he still question you about your “dealings” with your maids?

    I asked my beau before why he doesn’t converse with their helper. And he bluntly told me back, “What’s there to talk about? Would they be interested when I yak about my games?” Coming from the opposite site (one who talks to the helper and befriends them), I readily understood what he meant. I don’t see a point in him having a “personal” relationship with Nana.

    Yoru’s last blog post..Privacy Policy Reminder (re: Google Adsense)

  13. For me and basically well, a lot of guys like girls who can do house stuff even if the girl’s an independent type of woman. Even if a woman has maids but if she knoes the basics of household stuff, well it’s really a thumbs-up!

    And yeah, I guess it’s just right that everyone must knoe how to cook and clean the house. Maids are helpers, they help us with the cleaning and managing the house, they don’t do all the cleaning and all sort of stuff in the house because they’re just “helpers”.

    dak’s last blog post..I am not gone, I am just away…

  14. that’s a thought…

    And I agree to a certain degree with this: “proper” can only be relative to a select demographic, but then again, there’s this word we call “perspective” and that maybe is the thing that he’s really saying, not to mock but to share.

    Chell’s last blog post..Sony TV Is The Best

  15. I sympathize, really. :) But nice that Ale’s all go for equality et humanitas. ^.-

    I’ll say it reflects a lot on how people grow up in the country. It’s also toeing a line between personal and professionalism — yes, they live in the same house…but on the other hand, they work to earn their keep there. (I wish there was even a nicer way to say that. :S) It’s always good to know them – their names, families, some of their problems. They are still human beings, their worker status does not rob them from that.

    It’s just a tough line to toe when you need to be firm in telling them that they have to work.

    Mia M.’s last blog post..Baclaran Market

  16. D_LAURA

    i recognise the reason maids are used in the phils, especially the young girls from the poorer provinces, because three guesses where they’ll end up if they can’t earn enough money to send back home or live off on, so cooking and cleaning is a better alternative than working the streets.

    when i visited my family in the phils the maids regularly ate with us and we hung out and watched wowowee. they also gave me space and i gave them theirs, and we talked about their anxieties, and their opinions on filipino culture and society. i found out that one of them had a kid. and there’s something heart-breaking to know that she only saw her son every three months, who lived a 12 hour bus ride and 8 hour boat trip away (she couldn’t afford to fly). so before i left i gave her the rest of my cash some money for presents for her little boy. often my uncle cooked for them too. to be quite honest, my aunt and uncle had basically adopted their ‘maids’ as they’re even younger than i am.

    as, essentially, a ‘foreigner’ but still, to some extent, a ‘local’ i think i have a better understanding of where ale and you are coming from. i work whilst i study, and i wash the dishes, and take a share of vacuuming the house. i don’t cook because the only thing i can cook is mi goreng, and my mum does the laundry. the rents pay for my school books, but i buy everything else: my train tickets, my booze when i go out, all the clothes i splurge on, and i’ve began paying rent to my folks, which they’re putting away for me so i can get my own place. sometimes my mum calls me before i come home to buy some groceries and i use the money i’ve earned and don’t expect a reimbursement. (i know this all seems like gratuitous self-love, but bear with me.)

    i think the term ‘perspective’ is a good term, not just from me, or ale, or foreigners, or locals, or you, but everyone and their individual narratives and experiences. i also recognise the social stratification in the phils and how difficult it is to get a job. i also understand that maids are not so much a necessity but a form of employment (which is necessary for them), as so long as the social and economic strata of the phils remains stagnant then maids will continue to be used.

    change works from within the system, and complacency only perpetuates it. and when you’re used to the system it’s often difficult to see because it’s normalised. conversely, as a foreigner it’s difficult to understand the mechanics of a different social system, and maids are such a foreign concept to anyone not in the bill gates class if you live in the ‘west’. i don’t see what ale as said as a criticism, but rather an idealistic observation.

    then there is the question of filipino overseas domestic workers who are exploited, abused, and often coerced and forced in to bondage. there’s always a place for ideals and beliefs, and moral and ethical codes, but for the moment let’s work with personal and social attitudes, first. i don’t think you’re classist, nor particularly naive, just desensitized.

    this was a great and insightful entry, just keep doing your thang. :)

  17. I worked with a German and last year for a project. He asked me the same thing. Why do we have “slaves,” in a self-righteous, the-west-is-the-most-civilized-you-are-primitive tone. Of course, I came up with a piercing retort… two months after the conversation… which I have kept to myself until now. Here it is:

    “Slaves? Did you just say slaves? Let’s have a quick history quiz here. 1) How long has slavery been legal in Europe? You probably don’t know the answer, but I’m sure it’s a pretty long time—think ancient Greece to the 20th century. 2) Who systematically enslaved millions Africans for three long centuries? Yep, white people. 3) Who has ancestors who owned Oprah’s ancestors? Yes, white people. 4) And what is the essential requirement for belonging to the Klu Klux Klan? You got it right again—you have to be white! Read up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery

    “So don’t go moralizing at me, white boy… But don’t get me wrong. We share your ideals of social justice and a minimum quality of life for everyone. We love our yayas like fairy godmothers, and if we had magical powers, we’d give them a Cinderella story. But we don’t. So, white boy, tell me: how do we fix this? What do you want us to do? Not hire someone who would otherwise earn a fraction planting casava? Pay them the same level as college graduates? And it is not as bad as you think. When you think “housemaids,” you think slaves as in Amistad, and it gnaws your conscience. White guilt is your karma. When we think of housemaids, it’s a combination of employment and brining someone into the intimacy of the family. But if you have a bright idea on how to make our society nearer to affluent Europe, we are all ears.”

    The best counter attack to class guilt is white guilt :-P

    Side note: wow, this is actually you. The last time I read your blog, I think you were in highschool. Remember that post of yours about jologs and conyos? I was doing research for my parody paper on the jologs back then: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Nino_Gonzales/jologs (I’m still interested in identity topics. I recently wrote an essay which deals with race, class and consumerism: http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php?title=User:Nino_Gonzales/conyo ). I did not recognize your voice, and wouldn’t have made the connection if it weren’t for your pics. Great stuff you have here!

  18. he shouldnt bug you with the maids in your house. its a different habit than what he is used to. it doesnt feel right to him because he wasnt braught up w it. but maids are no slaves, as long as they are treated and paid right there should be no issue having a maid or two in your house. in the philippines man’s work is not as expensive as lets say europe, so we can afford things that to europeans seem like luxuries. further, the women working as maids dont do it for fun, its a necessity for them to have a job and earn a salary.
    on the other hand, not doing the cleaning job ourselves isnt shameful either. as long as you dont behave like a slob and dont create extra work for them on purpose paying a made to do the work frees up more of your time for other things, which is highly appreciated when you start working or have a family to take care of.
    The only negative thing of growing up w a made is not knowing how to do these tasks when you need them. but thats part of education.

  19. I have European relatives who didn’t question about having helpers in the house. I guess, uhmm, Ale isn’t too familiar about Asians having maids and such. My Mom knows a lot about our maids. I ask her about them, so even though I hardly talk to them at least I know a bit. *lol* I do not talk to them because they’re maids, but because I’m not really sociable. I’m the type who wants to be talked to first. :) Also, we eat with our maids except if it’s breakfast merienda (sp?) time. It would be fine for our family if we didn’t have maids, but living in a building with dogs… That doesn’t seem like a good idea. :P

    Shabby’s last blog post..Looking for…

  20. Lauren, honey, allow me to offer another perspective.

    When I was in Amsterdam last year, I had a meeting with a self-organized group of Overseas Filipino domestic helpers who are working to regularize their status (in the US, you would call that TNT’s working for amnesty). I was so pleased to hear the president of the organization declare that she has 13 clients, mostly really filthy, stinking-rich Hollanders in government. She had clients, she wasn’t an employee, and her services were needed.

    Then, we talked about “branding.” I asked them, “Who says that everybody else has the right to call you domestic workers?” To which someone in the group replied, “Someone suggested that we call ourselves Domestic Service Professionals.” I reacted with “That’s it! You have the right to dignify your work as well as the right to label yourselves whoever and whatever you are.” It was as if several light bulbs just exploded into brilliance in this meeting room that Saturday afternoon. I remember that the attendees were so happy with their lesson (would you believe it was about Blogging Basics with doses of Self-Esteem Management?) that they bought the teacher and the guest lecturer (me!) huge McDonald burgers.

    As for Ale’s reactions, it’s absolutely normal. Just remind him, “That when in Rome, do what the Romans do.” In the Philippines, there are maids. Fact of life. Period.

    Here are some of my own observations and opinions:

    1. The Philippines continues to operate on a feudal system when it comes to having domestic helpers. The employers are expected to take care of their trusted staff through thick and thin even when they retire.

    2. Even here in the US, in really rich households, the cook and the butler do not sit down for dinner with the family.

    I don’t know about other US households but in the few Filipino households that I’ve been to, they have nannies, not maids. Housekeepers, not maids.

    3. Getting to know your domestic helpers means that you acknowledge and respect them as human beings and appreciate the value of their work.

    I am also aware that we might have had many bad experiences with domestic helpers — thus, we tend to create a boundary such as not talking in a very “familiar” way since “familiarity breeds contempt.” Please tell Ale that this is a very real situation. Trust is earned both ways.

    Lauren, even when I was staying with you, I’ve always made it a point to chat with your domestic helpers because I appreciate what they do and I’m curious to know more about their lives and how they think. Yes, I do end up giving some life skills tips to them and sharing our experiences.

    I’m not saying that I didn’t go through what you’ve gone through. In fact, I have. I really empathize with your blog entry on this one.

    Don’t be too hard on yourself, dearest. Even if Ale expresses an opinion that somewhat makes you feel like you’re not living up to a certain standard, please remember TO HONOR YOUR EXPERIENCES. You’re not expected to be full of wisdom. You’re expected to be a true example of what a human being is — that you are perfect as you are.So, just be. In this case, by writing about a difficult experience and insight, you’ve acknowledged what you’ve learned about yourself — during this timeframe. And, the best part is, you force us to think and re-think about our own life experiences. Now, THAT is a gift to whoever comes into your life. Well done!

    I love you!

    Tita lorna

  21. Shortened your domain from intellectual wank this morning, and found this blog. Wow, a lot of cool posts up here. You’re a great writer! This one did confirm my suspicion that you are an aristocrat though ;)

    My gut reaction here was that just to avoid being a total hypocrite, you might want to avoid using the word marxist to describe yourself. Then, on a whim, I did a search on google for “karl marx maid”, and now my mind has been totally blown. Seems “Fuzzy K” had a maid too. See what Ale thinks of that. LOL.

    I gave up thinking i was a marxist in my mid 20s. It’s good as a point of view in the framework of a dialectic with capitalism, but as a way of running a society on its own, it has problems, just like capitalism itself. A broadly egalitarian capitalism where competition is encouraged, corruption is stigmatized, and the “invisible hand” is tempered by proper regulation – all within a society that values human dignity and love of ones neighbor – that now seems to be the best possible government to me.

    Human dignity means at least knowing if she has kids. I think you understand that now, but I dont see you wearing all-gray jumpsuits that you washed yourself anytime soon.

    j

    • Lauren

      Can i just say – the social class where I come from doesn’t dictate what kind of person I am, Go ahead and think that I’m an aristocrat. I know who I am and I’m not going to bother explaining why I’m not the way most people from my social class.

      Also, I’m not really sure if I’m Marxist. I mean, I believe in a lot of the ideas and I analyze a lot of events using that as a framework, but I doubt that a real communist state will ever be realized.

  22. yeah, i see what u mean. I was just responding to your line “talking to him makes me feel like I don’t deserve to consider myself Marxist.”

    Your class doesnt dictate who u are, but then at the same time, for all of us it does mold our personality and viewpoints. I really appreciate your self-analysis on all this. Thats what makes this a really great blog-post, and why I really respect you, despite my slight jabs.

    But you have to admit there’s a 0% chance that someone who grew up in a nipa hut with 2 rice farmer parent could have had a maid their whole life and never asked her if she had kids. Its an aristocratic dilema.

    Modern life is full of these dilemas for all of us. Like thomas Jefferson having a slave girlfriend while he was writing “all men are created equal” in the declaration of independence.

    Just to show that im not trying to attack you personally, ill add one more point here. Western wannabe-marxist kids typically type there pseudo-intellectual diatribes on computers that use slave-labor manufactured parts from china. As do their microwave ovens, washing machines, air conditioners, etc. They just use a capitalist system as a slavery abstraction layer to create the modern conveniences that keep them from needing to spend 6 hours a day on household chores.

    and yes, i’m living the same lifestyle. not immune from criticism, just trying to do my best in context… same as u.

    jon

  23. pik

    Yeah, that is pretty strange and weird. Maybe they are generally wealthier over there in the Philippines, but either way maids of any sort are blatant toff territory.

    Either way, if you are concerned about class struggle on a personal, genuine basis (ie. you have firsthand experience with prole / blue collars) and not one based on the glamour of adherance to certain political doctrines, and you are able to go out and prove this and make a difference, then personal background should become something of a trifling insignificance. It’ll always be there, you can’t erase it but it doesn’t stop you from contributing to the cause.

    Karl Marx, Joe Strummer, Engels were all comfortably middle class, got shit flung at them for it but made a difference, spoke for a cause and raised awareness nonetheless. They could’ve easily sat on their arse or packed it in when they got bored, dismissing their previous efforts as a passing lark and gone back to daddy’s company or whatever, but they stuck with their guns to the grave.

    If you are serious, then you will probably give it a fair stab. If not you may well “grow out of it” and look a massive hypocrite, but then lots of people make mistakes which they are later able to reflect good-humouredly on.

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