Friday, April 9, 2010

Book Group

I went to Book Group last night, also known as, "Drink Too Much Wine On A School Night Group." We are a group of twelve women and we read a book a month. We take turns choosing the book and hosting. We get together to discuss the book and enjoy drinks and food. And laughing. Always laughing. And usually somebody backs over somebody's shrubbery on the way out. Last night did not disappoint.

We read The Help. Which is a good book. An easy read. The kind of book that seems made for a movie. You kind of think that maybe the author already has the actors picked out for the different characters as she's writing it. But it was fun to discuss. None of us came from the kind of household that had 'help' at home. So it would be interesting to hear from some of the FS folks who do have experience in that department. Does the help really know everything that goes on in the house? I mean Every-thing?

None of my Book Group friends know anything about our Foreign Service aspirations. Weird, huh? I think about telling them, but it seems too hard to explain. Especially since we don't know for sure that the FS will happen. And if so, when. Plus, I think the Book Group friends would think I'm crazy. Which might be. But they also might be boring. Or closed-minded, anyway, I don't feel like changing their minds. Or opening them. So, I refill my glass. hahaha. They talk about PTA and rubber stamping projects. Scrapbooks. The neighborhood. Gossip. Hair. Waxing. ouch! Vacations. They talk about kids sports. Easter. All innocent enough. Then someone asked how my Easter was. And I told about my father-in-law telling his cheery Easter story of shooting his beloved childhood dog between the eyes and... silence ...silence ...people looking around at each other ...silence (oh, crap! Where are my car keys?)...then ...BWAHa, hhahahahahaha. Phew. I thought I was toast. I mean maybe some things fly in the blogosphere and just fall flat in the planned community 'burbs.

In any case. The evening ended with everybody having a big 'ole slice of homemade chocolate cream pie. And if you've read The Help, you'll understand, we were all pausing to laugh uncomfortably before digging in to that pie.


Jodi H said...

Small world - I just finished reading The Help this week. My friend who is from upstate NY and married into a big southern family with help recommended it.

Our post is literally a stones throw from slavery - much more so than the US is now. In fact, the DR has seven different words to describe people of color - just so that no one has to call anyone else the forbidden word "black." For this reason, and for the reason I now have "help," I found this book very thought provoking given my new life.

I struggle with the help thing a lot for a million reasons, but I wouldn't change having help here. It was really hard the first few months not having help for so, so many reasons (most of which simply have to do with how much more challenging even the simplest tasks are here). That said, I don't exactly relish the fact that we have doesn't seem to totally fit me. But, for now, in this FS life, it works for us.

Great post. And I'm with you - I'll never eat chocolate cake the same way again. : )

David L. said...

Natalie and I were the same way about keeping hush-hush on the foreign service stuff until she passed all of her tests. Figured it would take away some of the pressure. Then we told everyone it could be a year or so until we got called off the list, which probably was a mistake because that invoked all sorts of questions we didn't have accurate answers for. And then we had to let my parents down easily when we got called off faster than we expected.

Crystal said...

Chocolate Cream Pie? That is my kind of group!!! I have wanted to Read "The Help". But I have been reading other really great books lately. Thanks for reminding me of it : )

How are doing as far as the FS life? I hope all is well~

Crystal said...

Chocolate Cream Pie? That is my kind of group!!! I have wanted to Read "The Help". But I have been reading other really great books lately. Thanks for reminding me of it : )

How are doing as far as the FS life? I hope all is well~

Anonymous said...

I have had help in various African countries. In those counties help is the norm even for people who you would think could not afford. My help sometimes had help at home. It is not viewed as it can be in the US. I am back in the US now and when in passing I mention I have help, people are shocked and it is looked down upon. I might add I work full time and going to school full time.

Connie said...

I was raised to be a 'do it yourself' kind of girl. To be the one who OWNED the house and all its responsibilities. I also thought it terrible to 'take advantage' of others and pay such small wages, etc. Well, then I moved to my first post. The laundry rooms were in the basement, 3 floors down, no elevator, I had a newborn, and I was working full time! I had hired a nanny, because there was NO other childcare. I paid a premium price ($300 a month, the going rate was $100), because I wanted an educated lady with good English. She did all of my housework too - probably out of gratitude for hiring her. See, she was over 50, and nobody wanted her. Then I hired the laundry guy. He asked for $25 a month for laundry (washed and ironed, picked up and delivered at our door) 2 times a week. This was, at the time, about $15 more than average minimum wage in the country, and he had more than one job! Then, despite living in a 3rd floor apt, a gardener asked for a job. $20 a month. What the heck?! Why not? He found an available patch of dirt, I bought him seeds, and he grew veggies for us (and whoever else he shared with. He was good at his job and the garden flourished), he brought me cut flowers and cared for the plants on my balcony - some of which he gave me. I also had to pay a driver - who would often help me in the market and carry my bags upstairs - to take me shopping because we couldn't bring our car. So, for $345, plus whatever little the driver asked for in fees (and what I gave in tips - bag carrying wasn't his job!), a month, not only did I have a nanny/maid, laundry guy, and gardener... I provided comparatively well paying jobs to THREE families. Sure, I could have 'done it myself' ... but that would have been very difficult for me (with the job, baby, lack of car, etc) and honestly, it would have been very selfish too. $345 was nothing to me a month, but it was a good 'living' for my employees.

As for 'the help' knowing everything, well, we never had live-in help, but I am sure they knew us quite well... but I didn't care. We always treated our employees well and that truly fosters loyalty. I do not have a maid now, because I do not need much help. I only want about 10hrs a week part-time. I want to hire someone who does not need sponsoring (work visa and legal/medical costs), who just wants a bit of extra cash per month. I'm willing to pay a very good hourly wage. Salary is much more expensive at my current post, and I have less 'throw-away' income since I do not work these days, so I cannot be a fully supportive employer, as I would be if I were looking for full time help... now I guess I have to figure out how to be a good part-time employer!

Natalie Buda Smith said...

We told family and some friends about the entry-into-the-FS journey, and others we didn't.

The hardest part for us was when people knew, but didn't understand how long the process takes. They kept asking, "aren't you in the FS yet?" or "when is it going to start?"

It is hard to keep responding to these questions, when you have no idea yourself!

As for The Help, I need to read the book after your endorsement.

I didn't grow up with "help" around, but I did grow up on a family farm that included my extended family and hired farm hands. A different type of environment but it does inform the way I interact with our domestic help in India.

Trust is a big part of the relationship, which you gain through positive experiences or setting boundaries. If you have that trust, then I have found the working relationship to be a lot more comfortable.

Women in India constantly ask me with amazement, if I had help back in the U.S. They can not believe someone would make the choice to not have help if it was available. It is a different culture.

Living in India is a lot harder than in the U.S., at least Kolkata is harder than D.C. The modern conveniences are not available and it takes a lot of time to get things done. I have rationalized having hired help as a way to keep our lives running smoothly and employ hard workers, with benefits not available to them from the average employer.

It is actually seen as a negative if you do not hire help at this post. Other help see it as someone loosing a job vs. someone being exploited.

Yes, they do know more about us than I would like, but also know that it is not a good reflection on them to tell others, since they may get a bad reputation.

We are able to keep some privacy!