If you would like to live like royalty, I recommend moving to the Philippines. Before coming here, I had never imagined that the lighter form of servitude existed here. Some people may say that I am exaggerating, but I think there are few other places you will find this kind of convenience. First of all, almost all well-off Filipino households have live-in or live-out helpers who take care of everything. And when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. That person cleans your house, cooks, washes dishes, does the ironing, takes care of your children, dog, paints your portrait, washes your car, and, if needed, drives you everywhere… Wealthier people have three or more helpers, each one with a particular role. One cleans your house, another one works for you as a driver, and the other helps to take care of your children. When I called them helpers, I was being nice. Robertas, on the other hand, was more straight forward and simply called them servants. So these helpers (let’s just stick to that word; ignore Robertas) spend at least five days at your house, often for far less than minimum wage, eat with you, and share your roof over their heads. To ex-pats’ wives, this is a very affordable luxury. Especially those who have small children and don’t want to do anything themselves but would prefer not to ruin their manicures. Sounds like paradise, right?
When we first came to the Philippines, we found ourselves with one such helper as a present because the owner of our house is rarely at home, and she needs someone to take care of the house all the time. At first, it felt very strange. We didn’t know how to deal with it. We asked him to clean our attic, wash Robertas’s car once a week, and to take Paiko out if we were late. Robertas paid him 20 EUR every week for it. We tried to make friends with the helper, sometimes gave him food. We thought it was a fair deal according to the local rates, and these few tasks we asked him to do were nothing. However, I still felt a bit guilty – why does that poor man have to clean our attic when I could do it myself… Over time our helper showed up upstairs less and less often, so ended up cleaning the attic myself, but he still took the money. Even when he did dare show up, I could find a lot of dust left everywhere. Maybe we weren’t paying him enough? We decided to offer him 30 EUR per week for the same work. We thought it would motivate him to work harder. And what do you think happened? He got drunk the very next weekend after we gave him more money. And he didn’t clean A-NY-THING. That stung, so we just gave up.
Over time our helper showed up upstairs less and less often, so ended up cleaning the attic myself, but he still took the money.
Now he still lives downstairs and washes Robertas’ car, but we found another helper to clean the attic. Today we feel just a bit less a king and a queen as our two servants only really count as half each.
Our status as royalty notwithstanding, I am thrilled Robertas still choooses to drive himself. He certainly has more than enough energy when we go on trips.
So I have mentioned the conveniences here, but the throne also comes with more than its fair share of headaches. Being waited on hand and foot does make me feel uncomfortable, but it is more than that. Let me tell you about other odd jobs here.
Elevator Ates * are competing with 24/7 servants for the top spot on my list. Those ladies push your buttons even in the smallest of buildings from early in the morning to late in the evening every day. It works like this: you come to the elevator, you smile and say which floor you wish to go to. The lady pushes the button. When we just moved to the Philippines, I entered the elevator and pushed the button by myself; I didn’t understand it was actually someone’s job. So I was wondering why this one lady was staring daggers at me. Since that moment, I haven’t pushed any button yet.
In second place are the supermarket kuyas * who help you pack your scanned items. Sometimes these packers are sooo slow that it drives me crazy, and I start getting a little rude. In those cases, I take one of the bags from them and start doing it myself. This makes them pause and give me a look, but I get the job done ten times faster.
Coming in third, are the men who stand near exits of supermarkets’ . Their job is to stamp your receipt. Yes, that’s it. The first time he was asked to show his receipt, Robertas got mad and started cursing. Why does he need to show a receipt to a stranger? What he bought is his own business. But the man was persistent, and, eventually, Robertas understood that it was the man’s job. My boyfriend apologized and looked a bit sheepish. From then on, Robertas shows all his receipts with a smile and as politely as he can.
I could continue to talk about all these odd jobs in the Philippines, and we would never reach the end. I feel sorry for those people because I imagine myself in their place. I swear, I would go crazy within hours. Could you imagine pushing the elevator buttons for 12 hours every day?..
Lastly, I would like to share my strange experience while visiting shops in the Philippines because of the super weird employees’ rules. If you know what you need, you can usually buy, say, a vacuum cleaner in 5 minutes in Lithuania. It took us a whole hour in the Philippines. That’s because Robertas needed to sign at least 20 different receipts plus fill in an entire questionnaire solely about his address. When I looked at Robertas, Why do you need my address?! It’s a ****** vacuum cleaner! – was written all over his red face, and I totally understood. It felt like we were taking out a huge loan. I could see him writing down his office address and somehow “forgetting” his real telephone number. Then I got mad at him and asked why he was so rude to the employee, who had nothing to do with those strange rules. “He needs to start asking his boss questions about these pointless procedures” – Robertas preached. And this happens whenever you need to buy something significant in the Philippines. Once, when we were buying a mattress, the staff asked Robertas if they could make a copy of his credit card. Can you imagine that?? And they didn’t understand why Robertas got upset. In these situations, we feel like aliens here where nobody knows how credit cards work and how important it is to take care of your private data.
And this is me this morning. Our helper was missing again so I had to take Paiko out.
*Ate in Filipino just means older sister, but the word is also used to address most women who perform some sort service for you. But don’t think these Ates are always friendly. Some of them can be as surly as a habitual drunk at 6 AM.
*Kuya is like Ate but for males.