When FrenchBoy was single and lived alone he had a “femme de ménage” who came once a week and cleaned the entire apartment from top to bottom. Also, French Mother-in-law was responsible for taking care of his nutritional needs. In addition to the Sunday dinners from which he would bring home 2-3 days worth of leftovers, French Mother-in-law was known to come into his apartment while he was at work, do his laundry, and then put all kinds of home-made reheatable goodies in his freezer before leaving. For many years we would laugh and call it the “magic freezer”. Stuff would just show up there—complete with labels on how it should be reheated.
Fast forward 2 years. The magic is gone. Literally. At some point, that oddly coincided with me moving to France, the cleaning lady disappeared. And the “Magic Freezer” became less magical. All of this was totally cool with me because after-all, who wants their mother-in-law going through their laundry or telling them what to eat for dinner every night? On the other hand, about 6 months into the deal I realized that I was getting’ the shaft. Why? Because apparently French mothers don’t actually teach their French sons how to do stuff. Only Italian mothers have French moms beat when it comes to creating complete Mamma’s boys.
I can go on and on about how lovely my French Boy is because frankly he is absolutely delicious in every way, but I’d be a damn liar if I told you he was good at keeping house. He can do insanely complex mathematical calculations in his head, but he cannot cook, or clean, or do laundry. This of course leaves me to handle all these tasks unless we want to live in complete filth and squalor.
And so, we argued, and bickered, and moped, and threw things at eachother, (Ok, I did most of the throwing of things) and yet still the division of labor in our household never reached a parity that would make me happy. After-all, I work 10 hour days too! I don’t have clients banging down my door to buy my artwork, I have to chase them down and tackle them. So why is it that after a hard day of making art and chasing down clients for said art, I’m still required to do 75% of the cooking and cleaning chores?
The French language is very telling:
Femme = Woman
Femme = Wife
Femme de ménage = Cleaning Lady
(Hence my favorite exclamation during arguments: “I’m your Femme, not your Femme de Ménage!” )
Oh, and what if the person that cleans your house is a dude? I’ve asked around and apparently there is no word for that in the French language--- probably because it has never happened!
Now I’m sure there are hundreds of reasons and explanations for why these things are the way they are, but rather than ponder all of that…
Friday I hired a maid.
After talking about it for almost 2 years we finally just did it. FrenchBoy called to make an appointment, and I went in and signed the contract. Two days later they sent a very nice woman over for an interview. I was very nervous about this, but it turned out great. (There really should be a page on maid interviewing in the “Welcome to Yuppyville” handbook.) She is a very nice lady and I hired her on the spot. She is upstairs doing my windows as I am typing this.
Wanna hear the weirdest part about hiring a maid? The agency asked me if I had any preference as to what kind of maid I wanted (male/female/ age, etc.) ---all kinds of stuff that would be blatantly illegal in the U.S. I’m sure. I told her I didn’t care, but I am now kicking myself for not requesting a big muscle-bound blonde dude. What was I thinking?
Ok wanna hear the absolute coolest part of hiring a maid? As thanks for hiring a legal worker from an agency rather than paying someone “au noir” (off the books), at the end of the year the French government gives us back 50% of the money we’ve paid during the year as a tax refund.
Thanks Sarko! C’est belle la vie en France!