Monday, December 19, 2005

My Nanny Also Cleans Windows

I have friends from all walks of life and some are quite a bit more well off than I am. Saturday night I went to a house warming party of friends (and I mean friends in the true sense of the word), who just moved into an over $1 million home. And if you discount it as being Canadian dollars, don't. It's probably also over US$1 million.

I was very impressed with their new house, sure, what's not to be impressed? Their walk-in closet is the size of my bedroom, and their five-year-old daughter's room is bigger than my living room. Not to mention that her (the daughter's) adjacent bathroom is twice the size of my main bathroom.

So we walked around the house and I kept complimenting the finishing and the layout and cracking jokes about the sheer size and saying how pretty and all, until... until we reached the nanny's room. In a basement the size of a large, no, huge apartment, one corner was closed off as the nanny's room. Small and cold. Heck, it is smaller than any room I have in my little place, has a lowered ceiling which in some parts a person can't even stand straight. After seeing the size of everything else, this was quite a letdown. But I said nothing. I didn't comment on the fact that this nanny who has been with them for nearly five years and is raising their three little ones (the five-year-old is the oldest) has a dinky tiny cold room in the basement.

If that was the end of things, it wouldn't have been that bad, but later on in the evening, another person asked my friend if it is true that her nanny is away for a month. My friend explained that yes, she's away for a month to see her family in the Philippines. 'How did you agree to that?' the person asked. My friend explained that it was in their original agreement that the nanny would combine two years vacation and instead take a month off every two years. 'I wouldn't allow it,' that other person said in a belligerent and decisive tone.

It was at that point that I felt I should have said something. It was at that point that I wanted to say that just because we are fortunate enough live in a country that enables us easy life doesn't mean we should forget how others live. I wanted to say that just because we can afford having slave labour doesn't mean that we should act like slave drivers.
But I didn't. I didn't want to stir things up, you see, I didn't want to offend my good friends who stood by me when I needed them. I didn't want to criticize that person and indirectly my friends in their house. So I said nothing. In fact, no one said anything and I left wondering if no one said anything when the Nazis slowly came to power and people simply didn't speak out because they didn't want to insult their hosts, or because it wasn't appropriate in that social setting, or because whatever other reason. Of course, there is a big difference and I'm taking it to an extreme but I was just wondering.

And now, now I feel sick to my stomach you see. Sick for me, for everybody else who was there and especially for that other person, whom I always considered a friend, and probably will continue to see in social settings. And I know I will be polite, and that makes me sick. I don't think that person was polite, you see, I don't think that person considered saying things like that in a social setting the same way I considered answering. That person offended me and I will continue the relation ship as if nothing happened. And that makes me sick.



Anne Merril said...

Ouch. It's always hard when your morals and a friends moral's disagree. I've lost friends through speaking my mind.

For your own sanity, have you thought about having a quiet word with them? Not in a social setting, but just one day over coffee.

Some people can be completely unaware of their own bigotry.

Good comment about the march of Nazi beliefs. Yes, it does start small, "they aren't as good as us". "They're stupid". "They don't feel like we do."

It's an easy trap to fall into.

Maybe it something you could address in your writing?

Carter said...

The moral high ground is often very uncomfortable. Speaking out and offending your friends is a painful option, but, as you say, what about the nanny? Doesn't she deserves some defense of her human dignity? There are no easy answers to this situation, and whatever you do is going to cause you and someone else heartbreak.

Would I have the courage to speak out? I have to admit probably not. Few of us do, unfortunately, at least until it's too late, and that's how Nazism happens.

I wish I could take the cup from you, but all I can do is say that I, for one, will support and understand no matter what you do.

Best of luck.

Ryan Oakley said...

Well Melly. That's the last time I have you over.

But seriously - disgusting.

Gina said...

I'd like to think that you are friends with people who are as thoughtful as you and wouldn't be jerks like the man at their party. I'd bet that despite the small room the nanny has, that they try and take care of her as any reasonible person would do with the woman who is raising their children.

That being said, i might mention to your friend how offended you were by their guest's comments. I would bring it up that way, it's not your friend (while you seem to have issue with the fact they neglected to include even confort in all their luxury).

Explain how you thought his comments were out of line and you were trying to think of her by not saying anything at their party, but you really needed to let her know how you felt.

dog1net said...

You would think that the parents would value the person taking care of their children as much as they seem to value their children. But then, "value" is a relative term, isn't it. The think about money, though, is that some people assume they can afford to be insensitive. You are rich for recognizing the difference.

David Amulet said...

Well, if you recognize that it makes you feel sick then perhaps it's best just to suck it up and confront them about it. At least you'd sleep a bit easier.

-- david

Melly said...

Anne, I used to that. Speak my mind that is, but I found that oddly enough it was me who was considered the rude one. GO figure.

I don't think I'll ever tell them anything. It's not like they don't know my views, they do, and it's not like they're going to change theirs.

And yes, I address bigotry and racism often in my writing. It's how I actually started, believe it or not.

Melly said...

Thanks Carter :)
And you totally got my comment about Nazi Germany.

Ryan, thank goodness, I wasn't really sure how to tell you that your place isn't up to my standards of $1 million houses :-)
Besides, the way you're stalling, I'm not sure I'll ever see you again!
Oh, and disgusting pretty much sums it up.

Melly said...

Gina, you're absolutely right. My friends (with the house) do treat their nanny very well, despite the small room.

Thing is, that other person, I should say that other couple, are also friends. AEven very good friends. And they too generally treat their nanny well.

I've always had problem with some moral issues with that other couple, but they've always been true friends and are in general good people. They just tend to think that money does allow them more...

Trust me, they know exactly how I feel. I have made that clear on more than one occasion, it didn't change anything. So I doubt I'll try again.

Melly said...

Scot, you're so right. They really do think that. Or at least behave in that manner.
Thank you so much :)

David, I have talked to them often about this. It only leads to them teasing me and doesn't change how they speak or what they think.
No one is perfect, I guess, and we sometimes take the bitter with the sweet, right? I guess that's what I'm doing here.

David Amulet said...

I guess you're right, although if a "friend" of mine acted like that to me after I pointed this out to them, we wouldn't be friends long. You are a patient soul.

-- david

Jennifer said...

I would have said something...but I do that often...speak when I shouldn't or speak when I should but others won't and then they get upset. Certain things bother me in life, and the situation you just described is one of them.

I probably would have had a few upset people, but sometimes I wonder if people realize how they sound. Sometimes I think they need to hear a different view point whether they like it or not...

:) Can you tell I've never been one to bite my tongue.

Paul Darcy said...


Life is full of choices. Some we make wisely, others foolishly. But we do make them.

Who (should this be whom?) we choose as friends falls right there into the "choice" column.

My suggestion is that if a friend is making you uncomfortable, why bother with them? Surround yourself with people you are happy to be with, give you a boost, make your life better. It is a choice after all.

And no one person has great odds of changing the world order (Winston Churchhill spoke out for many years before World War 2 about what was going on in Germany to little effect), but if you act like the kind of person you would like to be friends with - the world will be enriched. It is a constant struggle to be true to yourself and with that comes occasional conflict - and great things to write about.

Those that behave badly (as you descibed) will, I believe, be lonely souls living in a shallow world fo self-fulfilment. I pity them actually.

Sorry to drivel on. Hope you can solve your dilema.

Deborah said...

I hate it when people get uppity like that. But I'm glad that your friend agreed to her nanny to take that month off so she could be with her family. :)

Melly said...

Thanks David :)

No Jennifer, your tongue is unbitten :)
I used to be like you, very outspoken, but I did learn to bite my tongue following certain episodes. Perhaps if the settings were different I would have said something, but a) they talked among themselves, not to me, and b) they do really know how I feel about this, so it's not like it would have mattered.

Melly said...

Ah, Paul, yes indeed. Life is full of choices, but even these choices aren't black and white and even our best of friends can sometimes be a**holes, right?

The people I talked about are generally good people, who, as far as I am concerned, helped me through one of the roughest times in my life. So I don't feel like I have a choice really, or don't need to have a choice.

(It's a bit like having a spouse with opposing political views :)

Melly said...

Deborah, exactly. I was glad to hear it too and maybe I should learn to concentrate on the positive more like you often do.

Pat Kirby said...

I've never been known for tact, obviously. So the guest at the party would have recieved some righteous snark. Heck, I'm Mexican, the daughter of an immigrant. The old "let the brown people clean our toilets, but f-em, otherwise" attitude irks much.

If you do confront your friend, keep in mind that no matter how gentle the approach, it may result in a much cooler friendship anyway.

With regards to friends. Usually, when finding that my beliefs and those of a friend have diverged that much, I gently disengage from the friendship. The truth is, not all friendships have the stuff to weather a lifetime.

On a side note, I thought is was interesting to see that (some) Canadians have gone the way of vacuous consumption, same as many of us Yanks. Here in the U.S., it's super-sized everything including houses. Vast amounts of space dedicated to areas that we don't even spend much time in. For instance, the bathroom. I've seen so many bathrooms that were bigger than my living room. How much time do these people spend in the bathroom, really? Especially, if they are working to maintain their "blingy" lifestyle?

And don't get me started on the twenty-foot ceilings. Why? Do they intend to keep pigeons in the high rafters?

Melly said...

The bigger the better is the culture of some Canadians, yes indeed. As socialistic as Canada tries to be, cleaning the toilet still falls usually to the new immigrants or those who come to Canada to do just that (through nanny agencies etc.)

The culture of excess is beyond my understanding too, but then again, I also probably live in excess compared to others, so I can't really criticize. But I soooo understand you.

You're right though, I will probably find it harder to maintain absolute normalcy with that other person, and things will chill between us. I doubt that other person will even notice though, so all is well :)

Bill said...

I have just stumbled on your blog and came to rest here. You point out a serious flaw in "free" societies, the desire to establish and maintain a class system based primarily on wealth. In such societies, there has always been and will continue to be a need for slaves, people who work for the wealthy but are rewarded far less than the high-class employers, the "masters."
But in this specific situation, it seems to me that you had three options. You only mentioned two.
One is to remain silent in the face of this discrimination. This was your choice.
A second is to preach your own morality. This is what you suggest you considered doing.
The third is humor. I tend to think that is the real alternative here. When you see this kind of discrimination, laugh at it and belittle with humor those who discriminate.
Much of society's real humor exists for this purpose, to keep us on the right course without really taking offense or becoming defensive about our prejudices.
Unfortunately, we who tend to be sensitive about discrimination aren't all skilled comedians.

Melly said...

Oh, Bill, you have no idea how many times I wished I could use humour, but when I remark (even if I think it's funny), it tends to be quite sarcastic or cynical and people tend to get hurt, so I'd rather keep my mouth shut unless I want to get into it. I so wish i had that third option. Those who can use humour are truely blessed. BUt it sounds like you may be more like me with regards to humour :)

Steven Sweet said...

If you can't speak your mind, then I don't think you truely have friends here. If you can't be yourself, then who are you? Do what feels right and everything will work out.

Melly said...

Hi Steven, you speak words that are only too true. If you can't be yourself around friends, then are they really your friends?
However, once my point was known (which I relayed it on different occasions), is it worth it to constantly have arguments about the same subject? I don't feel that it is.
What would you do, for example, if your spouse didn't agree with you on some points, would you always remind them of the difference? Probably not, otherwise you would be in a state of constant alert and somtimes one just wants to relax so they accept the others as is (and sometimes, they argue :)