Monday, February 18, 2008

Sarko Cleans My Toilets.

FrenchBoy and I don’t argue much about anything of importance. We think scarily alike when it comes to most things, in spite of our vastly different upbringings and all of the obvious cultural differences. The one thing that really makes us want to throw rocks at eachother is the division of labor in the house--or in our case, the apartment.

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!


Travel said...

Can I get a house-boy? I really need one! If McCain, Clinton or Obama want to guarantee my vote, they need to promise to rebate 50% of the cost at the end of the year for hiring legally. I have long been told that housekeepers can't be married, they have to be hired.


David said...

"Because apparently French mothers don’t actually teach their French sons how to do stuff."

I assume you're being sarcastic, but just in case: no, all French Boys are not like yours (I am one myself) and I actually was shocked by the description of his life when he was single. That parents give you leftovers is quite common when the kids have recently left home (let's say between age 18 and 20), but the rest is definitely not normal in France (I don't think my mom ever had the keys to my apartment)... Just so you know. ;-)

Madame K said...

David- Ah HA! Just as I suspected! My husband and his family are a band of carnival freaks!

I do enjoy the free food though.

Cherise said...

Hiring a cleaning lady was the best thing we have ever done - and I actually like cleaning. It just became impossible to keep up and still have a normal life (or work on home renovations which sometimes take priority over clean toilets...). Alas, we don't get 50%back!

I'm kind of jealous of the magic freezer. I want one.

Samantha said...

I think David is the one who's not normal, LOL - most of the Frenchies I know (Fab included) are like French Boy. And next time, tell him "Je suis pas ta bonne" and watch how he reacts!!

Mark Reynolds said...

Most of the French dinners I've had in people's homes here have been cooked all or in part by the man - though that might just be for special occasion meals. I don't think they're as good about most of the other chores though, except for the younger ones...

That magic fridge sounds awesome.

Andromeda said...

my boy's a little neat freak (he's even been known to occasionally clean my sty of an apartment!) but can only microwave things. his mom sat me down this weekend and explained how to make all the stuff he likes. i guess that means she likes me, but um, can't she teach him too??

screamish said...

hee hee I can't believe too..;for like 6 years with my ex we never had a washing machine because la belle mere would collect his washing once a week from our apartment. I eventually settled into a boycott, refusing to hand over mine, but the downside was I got to do it by hand.

Oh yeah, and the leftovers...I remember one night I'd cooked some wierd curry he didnt approve of and he called his maman and she brought over some of what she'd made for that night...

jeeez those were the days.....

Camille Acey said...

"Because apparently French mothers don’t actually teach their French sons how to do stuff."

I love my SlovenianBoy but haha we have had to yell at his mother (who lives downstairs) to stop doing stuff for him/us. He is not as disciplined as he could be about doing stuff for himself since he knows she will kick in and fill in the gaps. I hope as time passes by that she will fall back.

Oh European men! I love him but I can't believe 'em.

The Late Bloomer said...

Yeah, um, cleaning -- another issue that's tough to deal with! Especially when you're a lazyass like me when it comes to housecleaning. I have this anal, OCD side of me that wants the housecleaning to be DONE, but then there's this other lazy side of me that simply can't ever find the motivation and the discipline to get it all done. There are some things I do with a snap of the fingers, like the laundry and washing dishes (most of the time!), and I'm also gradually learning to enjoy cooking -- at least when I'm not too tired, especially after work!

But the toilets, and the bathroom, and the scrubbing of the floors -- oh, and DAMN, don't even mention the washing of the windows! It's been MONTHS, I'm embarrassed to say... (I really shouldn't be admitting that here!) UGH, I hate it ALL! I wish I could say I found it soothing or liberating or calming or whatever, but it just AIN'T the CASE! And I SOOOO wish we could afford a maid.

Maybe one of these days... Maybe, in a pipedream... In the meantime, once again I'll just live vicariously through you!

OH, and P.S. ~ I bet my Frenchman could give your Frenchman a run for the money in the messiness department -- he is the most "bordellique" man I know! And I know it's not gonna get better, because he's 43! Boy, was he spoiled...