My house was cleaned by two friendly, Hispanic, decidedly-awake women on Memorial Day. They arrived 15 minutes early for our 8:00 a.m. appointment, while I was still scrambling to shove belongings into closets they will never open, humming as they unloaded their cleaning supplies. Mariella tackled the living room, where our dog has shed enough hair to make a new fur coat for another dog, while Alma literally used her elbow to remove grease from a stove that hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned since I moved into my boyfriend’s house six months ago. Housekeeping is not my forte – who knew baseboards could look this clean?
My boyfriend and I are, generally, not the type of people who would employ a cleaning service. The guilt and discomfort that come along with paying people to do your dirty work don’t often outweigh the desire to have a cleaner house. But with the advent of companies like Living Social and Groupon, the deals they provide make luxurious expenditures seem less… 1 percent-y. If you can have a cleaning service come and work like your very own band of merry little elves for $50, you’re not living the high life; you’ve just gotten a good deal.
Americans have a strange aversion to admitting the people serving them are doing exactly that – serving. It’s not demeaning to be a gas station attendant, or a maid, or a waitress, but with our convoluted history of slavery and classism, we’ve gotten to the point where the guilt of letting someone do the work we’re too lazy, busy, or disinclined to do ourselves makes us ingratiating and insincere. We make disingenuous small talk with those doing menial tasks, thinking ourselves superior while harboring the shameful consciences of those who buy more comfortable lives with our college-earned income.
The people who serve us come from many different stations in life. I myself worked as a waitress, landscaper, and nanny for many years, while a number of my friends worked on farms, cleaned houses, or did general labor to make ends meet. My boyfriend, now an attorney, worked at a tire factory throughout college, with burns on his arms to prove it. Many of my friends went on to successful professional careers punctuated by raises, promotions, and mortgages, yet they seem to have forgotten the reality of being poor and dependent upon others’ good will to eat, pay rent, and pay bills. This became abundantly clear to me while I was out with some friends, two of whom were waitresses in a past life, who chose to tip a great server with a measly 15 percent. I was astounded. And embarrassed.
I guess I don’t really have a point, but with the recession still a looming shadow in many lives, it seems strange to me that our perspective on making ends meet hasn’t shifted all that much. With more people out of work and turning to positions they believe are beneath them, it’s odd the general populace isn’t taking a second look at the way we treat our hired help. Outrage over the displacement of American workers by illegal immigrants is so misguided that I can’t even fathom how they came to this conclusion – Americans aren’t out picking apples because they don’t have the opportunity, they’re not out there because they don’t want to do backbreaking work for less than minimum wage. We should all take a page from Mariella and Alma, two young women working on a holiday, who arrived early, cheerfully and did a great job cleaning my house. Seriously, the baseboards look awesome – well worth the tip.
Image from http://www.thevipersnest.com/2011/01/new-years-housekeeping.html