Saudi Arabia: More Answers about Having a Housemaid

An American Bedu reader sent me some great questions about having a housemaid.  I’m sharing these questions along with my own answers.

It is very common for Saudis and expatriate families to engage a housemaid whether full time or part time.  The culture and lifestyle in Saudi Arabia is different than that of Western countries and lends itself to employing a housemaid.

For example, as part of a large and extended Saudi family, I may not know when I’d have unexpected guests.  Or if there were a typical gathering of family, I’d easily have anywhere from 40 to 60 individuals to look after and prepare food for.  In addition, the climate of Saudi Arabia is such that floors require daily sweeping and mopping due to the sand which has a tendency to get into everything.  Daily dusting is required too.  This is on top of the regular routine tasks that one has to do with running and maintaining a house.

The questions though that I have been asked to specifically respond are as follows:  If a family has help in the kitchen, how exactly does the woman manage the cooking?  Is she very hands-on with making sure how the cooking is done and planning the meals, etc. or is someone else doing this?  How in the world does someone manage houses with tons of people?

A housemaid can be of tremendous help in the kitchen and especially so when preparing food for a group of individuals.  Some housemaids may prepare most of the meal but I always liked to do my own cooking with a housemaid assisting me as a “sous chef.”  For example, much of the traditional Saudi dishes require a lot of preparation and chopping of vegetables.  I’d typically have my housemaid chop the necessary ingredients that required chopping.  Once that was done, then I would prepare the dish which I was making.  Sometimes I would have the housemaid make the salad but only after she had been trained and there was no doubt she would follow good hygienic practices. 

The housemaid would also be responsible for setting up the area where we would eat in addition to cleaning up after the meal.  My housemaid would typically serve tea or coffee (khawa) to guests.

When I would have large numbers of guests, I would coordinate and delineate tasks among my own and any other housemaids which were in the house.  With large numbers of guests (usually Saudi family members)  it would be typical for them to bring their own housemaids with them to help out.

Usually during the Spring break my husband and I would host family members at our home for ten days.  We would average between 25 – 30 guests eating and sleeping in our home during that period.  I’d have about 4 housemaids in the home during that time.

The housemaids would be responsible for individual tasks such as sweeping, mopping, dusting, doing laundry, ironing, cleaning the bathrooms and keeping the kitchen clean.  Each housemaid would take responsibility for keeping the area clean and tidy where “her” family slept.  This routine worked well in my home.

  Now if my husband and I were having a function in our home which was comprised mostly of other expatriates, I’d usually “borrow” the housemaids of my sister-in-laws for the function.  Of course, my own housemaid and the “borrowed” housemaids would be paid extra for their assistance.  They’d be tasked with helping to prepare the meal and also serving so I could have my time free to socialize with guests.  After the guests left they would clean up the house.

The woman of the house primary will undertake most of the cooking.  The housemaid will generally do the rest of the tasks associated with running the house.  If there is a large family, more than one housemaid may be employed.

Unlike in the West many Saudi children and teens are not required to do chores or clean their room.  This is part of the culture and tradition in a society where housemaids are more the norm.


7 Responses

  1. I’m bothered about the stories I have read about the mistreatment of house maids. I hope that it is not wide spread.

  2. AB should write a post on the other side of this topic which is…house maids that behave badly…and there are many stories..for
    one i know a friend in the UAE who had a maid to look after her baby girl while she was to work part-time..while my friend was away ..the maid would invite strange men over the home and sleep with them in the martial bed of the mother and father…security camera’s caught men coming into the apartment…the owners were notified and now the maid and her lovers are sitting in jail.
    Imagine if one of the men had been a pedo/crimial/rapist..what could of happened to the baby.
    Its not always one sided…

  3. I always wonder who cleans the maid’s house.

  4. @djd – well, in Saudi the maids usually don’t have houses. However, when I lived in Pakistan the individual who took care of my house did have someone take care of his house. (In Pakistan it was more common to have a male major domo who took care of the home)

  5. Yeah, I’m with Gwendolyn. Let’s see a story about the mistreatment of maids in Saudi households and the way the make them work holding back their payment, not giving the enough personal time, and keeping them from contacting their families. So let’s not sugar coat things here, because I have witnessed the horror of it all. :-/

  6. I used to live in Saudi a few years back, and the topic of housemaids was always fascinating to me. While I see no problem in employing a maid to help out with large gatherings or provide extra assistance to a large family, I do however see it as a problem when housemaids are so heavily relied upon to do common household chores.
    I see the fact that children and teenagers who aren’t expected to clean up after themselves and contribute to the household as a major issue that’s been largely underestimated. Children learn very important life skills and good work-ethic by being given age-appropriate tasks to perform in the home. By depriving them of this, you are risking raising a bunch of lazy, incompetent, and insensitive adults.
    If you live in Saudi, I’m sure you know what I am talking about and have witnessed this yourselves.
    Maids are abused and abuse others, that’s nothing new. To me, I see the poor children that are neglected, forgotten, and thrown with the maids as the greatest concern in this debate. All the issues associated with having maids in the home can be remedied if enough people just realized that they don’t need a maid to survive. period.

  7. “Children learn very important life skills and good work-ethic by being given age-appropriate tasks to perform in the home. By depriving them of this, you are risking raising a bunch of lazy, incompetent, and insensitive adults.”

    Sadly, it has already reached that level a long time ago. :-/

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