Domestic helper cultural differences

Dealing with Domestic Helper Cultural Differences

We’ve all heard about cultural differences, especially in families with domestic helpers. But what are common cultural differences and how can you avoid letting them turn into issues?

Due to varying upbringings, cultures and situational factors, people from different backgrounds do many things differently. Just as German and French people have different eating habits, so do we all have different habits around the house.

We have often heard about the big cultural differences, but it is especially the small ones that lead to frowned eyebrows and frustrated sighs. When it comes to cultural differences with your domestic helper, we mostly deal with the private household culture where cultural differences are often hidden. After all, you don’t ask a visiting friend to clean the bathroom or pack the fridge!

Domestic helper cultural differences
Domestic helpers embracing Chinese culture

But with my last helper there were no cultural differences

Consciously or unconsciously, we benchmark our helpers against their predecessors, but this can be unfair, especially in the first months. In the first months you are really training your helper and building a relationship of trust. If you constantly compare your new helper with the old one who had more experience, it will probably never work with your new helper.

Give your new helper time to adjust. Your previous domestic worker probably was also not perfect at the beginning. She also had to learn your household’s way of doing things. Every helper is different.

Cultural differences vs. Habits

When your helper does something, or does not, you may be baffled and perplexed by it at first. What you will have to find out is if it is a cultural difference or a habit. This depends on the duty but also her previous experience.

A helper who has worked over ten years in Hong Kong or the Middle East will probably know how to handle garbage or use the washing machine. In this case you are more likely to deal with different habits: did her previous employer separate the laundry on colour (not everyone does) or based on material? In this case you will have to clearly communicate your expectations and habits, but you are less likely to deal with cultural differences.

If the helper is a first-timer she will probably face more cultural differences:

  • You don’t understand why she always uses bottled water, even to cook spaghetti and wash the vegetables. She is not doing this to make you spend more money, instead she is doing this because she doesn’t trust tap water – even when it’s boiled. This may very well have to do with her upbringing.
  • You don’t understand why she uses so much salt and sugar when cooking. Your helper may do this because that is what she is used to back home.
  • You don’t understand why she doesn’t use the fridge for all the same items you do. Perhaps this is because of different ways of doing things in her home country.
Domestic helper cultural problems are quite common
Domestic helpers performing cultural dances

What can I do to limit the impact of cultural differences?

It can be extremely frustrating for both the employer and helper to handle domestic helper cultural differences. But there is something that can be done to limit the annoyances and to understand each other better. After all, your household will be most peaceful when there are no conflicts and misunderstandings.  In general, there are a few things you as an employer can do:

  • Ask yourself if your instructions were clear. Your helper is likely not a native English speaker so maybe she did not understand you clearly. Did you speak too fast? Did you use vague words? At the end of the day if she doesn’t understand you, she will not be able to do her job as well.
  • Ask her questions. Before you tell her to use any of your appliances, ask her if she knows how to use them correctly. She may never have used a food processor or slow cooker. If you are unsure, show her first how to use the appliance.
  • Give clear instructions. Don’t say: “please do the laundry today”. Instead tell her: “I want you to wash all the black and dark blue clothes on 40 degrees.”
  • Engage her. If she does something differently from how you would do it, ask her why. She may tell you this is how it is done at her home.
  • Be approachable. Let her know that it is ok to make mistakes, but that she should come to you if she doesn’t know how to do something the way you are used to.
  • Be open to new ways. Your helper may do things differently, but that is not always bad. Perhaps her way of folding leads to less creases in your cloths.
  • Turn cultural differences into positives. Easier said than done, but worth it.

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