Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Spain is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your Spanish language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, despite being a cultural foundation and a well-known industry, Spanish domestic workers face a great deal of struggle in their daily lives, both at and away from work.
Most Spaniards and Latin Americans have some sort of home help. Most of the families [The Importance of Family in Spain and Latin America] have uniformed maids who are there to help take care of some of the duties of mothers. Spanish and Latin American mothers are working and this makes it a challenge for them to take care of all the duties they should. A uniformed maid stays in the house all the time, cooks, washes, irons and does a few other womanly duties. When the woman of the house has given birth, the maids will come in to help take care of her and the newborn. Maids are in middle class homes and the mega-rich homes.
The mega rich have a host of workers in their large penthouses including nannies, chauffeurs, gardeners, and other workers who come in every week to ensure that the compound and other sections of the home are running as they should. Most professionals will have someone employed temporarily to run errands when they are not available.
The rich and the upper middle class view having servants as a status symbol. Live-in maids are mostly afforded by the rich in the society. Most of the times, these maids are paid less than the minimum wage in the excuse that they are given a room and food. Some live-in maids have worked for a single family for years and live with their families in the servants’ quarters. With years, they have created a bond between them and their bosses. Granted, they have been made part of their bosses’ families and may even have parties thrown for them.
While Latin Americans and Spaniards are a close knit society, the relationships may not always be good. Among the population, there are human rights groups calling for domestic workers to be paid well as the labor laws stipulate without going below the required minimum wage. These human rights groups also say that the hours of work should be regulated, the workers should get paid holidays, get statutory time off, and even pension provisions.
As an expat, you will have to get used to home help. Spaniards believe that employing house helps is a way of employing people who would otherwise be unemployed. Granted, there are agencies connecting house helps with potential employers based on recommendations from previous employers and references from friends and family. They make it easy for employers to find domestic workers and for the maids and other workers to find work.
Some of the terms used to describe house helps are derogatory. Learn the names of your workers and address them by these names. Some Spaniards will refer their workers as “la empleada,” which means the hired help, “la muchacha,” which means the girl, or “la sirvienta,” for the servant. Irrespective of the age of the worker, these terms are inappropriate. The most offensive termsare “la gata,” which means the cat, and “la criada,” which means raised. These terms date back many years ago when Spaniards would take young girls barely twelve to work in their homes.
Uniformed maids have been featured in almost every telenovela on the market. In most cases, they are the main act or they are involved in the intrigues and subplots. When telenovelas became popular in the 60’s, it was noted that there is a rise in the number of poor girls, many of them hailing from poor cultures. These maids came to the city to find work and ended up being servants of the rich in the society.
Telenovelas used to be watched in the afternoon when these domestic workers were resting. This gave them time to enjoy the telenovelas like everyone else in the family. Telenovelas follow the same story line. They have tweaked the story of Cinderella so that a poor house help finds love and happiness in the bosses’ son. The reality, however is never so romantic. The house helps are treated like they are not part of the family.
Latin American live-in maids do not always get the life seen in telenovelas. The maids work for long hours with low pay. They live far away from their families, get no paid holidays, no pension, and in most cases, they have no written contracts. This leaves them open to mistreatment on the hands of their bosses. Couples with the fact that they can be fired any time, it can be a very difficult life. But these maids are a mainstay in soap operas, which helps as it depicts them in a better way. In some soap operas, however, the maids are mistreated, which does not help the real maids living in their bosses’ houses.
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