I never had the assistance of domestic help as I was growing up. Okay, there was the cleaning woman who came by our house every two weeks to help out my sainted mother, but that’s it.
Even when the Mannski Family left the United States and landed on the Continent, we never took advantage of any domestic help. Okay, this was mainly because it was as prohibitively expensive as it is in the States, but we knew co-workers of my fantastic wife who did avail themselves of this option.
Actually, I’m glad we never hired a maid or helper because I know I would have felt particularly awkward having someone walk around my living space cleaning and dusting and vacuuming while I was trying to write or edit my work.
Well, all that has come to an end here in Thailand as we have had to hire domestic help and my trepidation of feeling awkward has certainly come true. While I certainly feel terribly odd about having another person wash my dishes or mop my floor when I have two perfectly good working hands and feet, this is not the main source of feeling like a fish on a bicycle.
No, it’s the conversation. Even putting aside the fact that I speak no Thai and she speaks little English (oh, why couldn’t we move to another place where they speak French) and so our dialogue sounds like it came out of a Dick-and-Jane story, this is not the source of my awkwardness. It’s the subjects of which we speak. While it would be dandy if we could stick to cabbages and kings and sealing wax and things, this is not the case.
But first, some background.
Ophelia, my youngest child and only daughter, lost a tooth during the night here in the Land of Smiles. Her missing piece of hardware was a molar so there was some bleeding. Nothing to be too worried about.
The next morning, as I was on the computer continuing my work on David’s manuscript, our maid came over with the bloody sheet. She showed me the linen with the red splotch and asked, in her halting English, “Her first time?”
Because our maid’s English is not all that good and is heavily accented, it took me a few tries to understand what she was saying. I finally did decipher three words and finally understood that the “Her” meant Ophelia.
I was still somewhat paying attention to my editing task and so my mental process was working on a reply that revolved around the fact that my daughter had lost several teeth during her short life. I actually thought it was odd why our maid thought my grade-school daughter had never lost a tooth before.
Then I saw the blood on the sheet and it hit me like a Tooth Fairy with a sledgehammer what our maid was really asking about.
She was asking if this was Ophelia’s first period.
More than watching someone wash my socks while I sat at the computer, our maid and I had now moved way past “awkward” and into the land of downright “stomach-churning uncomfortable”.
Why a complete stranger (and one I was paying) would even broach the subject of my daughter’s menstrual cycle is beyond me?
Maybe this culture has different attitudes that I’m not aware of.