Saudi Arabia: Which One is She? Maid, Helper or Friend?

domestic help


With Ramadan 2013 starting on or about the 8th of July, many Muslims throughout the Kingdom will be looking for additional assistance during the Holy month and perhaps through the Hajj season.  This is a period of time when meals take on an additional importance and particularly after the second week of Ramadan has passed, many large families gather to spend the rest of Ramadan together.  Ramadan is a high season throughout the Kingdom with housemaids in demand.

But my question is, who is the housemaid?  Is she just a maid or instead perhaps a helper or friend?  I think it is fair to say that the Saudi families who have had the same domestic worker for multiple years the formal employee-employer relationship begins to blur a little.  Instead of a mere maid she may be better viewed as a helper (less derogatory sounding) or maybe even a friend.  Regardless of what term applied there still needs to be a modicum of distance to preserve the employee-employer relationship.

If you have the opportunities to talk to Saudis who have had the same domestic worker in their home for a period of years, they generally refer to her with affection.  They know about her family, her desires and goals for both herself and her family and in many cases, these Saudis will do what they can to further improve her life.  They’ll not only keep her clothed or have her receive medical attention when ill but sometimes go beyond to help with her family giving her children better educational opportunities.

When a housemaid is serving a family for whom both know is only a limited period of time, the same degree of closeness or trust may never develop.  This can be especially true among expatriates who have engaged a housemaid while in the Kingdom.  Unlike the Saudi family, the expatriate family will eventually either go on to another assignment in a different country or return to their home country.

Expatriates, with an emphasis on Western Expatriates, may have a reputation for treating their domestic help nicer and more like a family member or friend.  Expatriates will generally pay the domestic help a higher salary too.  As a result, many domestics would prefer to work for an expatriate family.

But that does not mean the domestic may view acts of kindness by the expatriate in the same manner as the expatriate.  Domestic help may try to take advantage of the expatriate who has not grown up in a culture where domestic help is the norm.  As a result, the relationship gets blurred and the domestic help may try to manipulate the expatriate.  The manipulation can take place in requesting salary advances, loans, request for medicines or simply sharing how bad they have it such as poor living accommodations, etc.

The domestic may start out working well for the expatriate but ultimately her work ethics may start to slack off.  She may not be as punctual or reliable.  Eventually the expatriate may learn she was also stealing small items or monies from the household.  This tends to happen not only because the domestic does not have a pure heart but because the expatiate family has been too kind as well.

I’m not trying to say that Saudis are the best managers of domestic help or that all is rosy if a domestic helper works for a Saudi.  But I wish to sensitive readers that engaging and retaining reliable and trustworthy domestic help is also its own work in progress.

I believe there could be a market for seminars on both engaging, treating and retaining domestic help in addition to seminars for the domestic help on training and having a successful long term relationship with their employer.


12 Responses

  1. A good read Carol! I would like to point out that the expatriates may pay higher salaries because that is what the domestic runaway is asking for. They are working illegally or under another sponsor. Most of these women stay no more than a year, and move on when they get bored, usually with personal items from the employer. This also happens to Saudis who hire a “local”. You are absolutely correct when you wrote having a longtime worker becomes one of the family. I noticed in my husband’s family, some of the older workers who have stayed for years in a home, becomes a companion for the children or the employer. She attends weddings, vacations with the family and looks over the home. It’s so sad how most of these workers come from abusive homes, they are so fragile.

    If I may give a little piece of advise to expatriates hiring local help, know where the domestic worker is living. When I hired local help, I always had my driver dive her home once in a while. 🙂

  2. Good advice Norma!

    I also caution individuals to be careful of “Madame’s.” This will generally be an Arab woman (not necessarily a Saudi) who places domestic help in-country. Her fee, which is generally half of the domestic help’s monthly salary, is paid up front. Since the domestic helper is not sponsored by the family, she can leave whenever she wants and has the support/power of her Madame behind her.

    I used the services of a Madame once and after one month the domestic helper left. She received a premium salary because she was hired in-country plus we had to pay the Madame’s fee. It was a very expensive month.

    On Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 4:19 PM, American Bedu

  3. Aaagh, happened to me as well!! Will never do that again. Having a contract is the best for both sides, employer and domestic worker.

  4. Sadly it seems that many families go through a series of helpers before able to settle down with one who fits best into the needs.

    On Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 1:47 AM, American Bedu

  5. I personally hire more helpers during the season of Ramadan, to make sure my kids are no going crazy or screaming during prayer time, to help with all the eating feast at night time and of course to take care of my male needs since my wife does not like to have sex during the Ramadan.

  6. Bassim:

    You are pathetic.

  7. Bassim…a little honesty is rather refreshing. 😉

  8. Bassim, does that mean you hire prostitutes?
    And what about your wife? Does she get to hire a gigolo to amuse her while you are committing your adultery?
    Indeed a refreshing view on the holy month.

  9. In Islam men do as they please, sorry if you feel otherwise, but men come first and women, well their opinion is not taken in a serious way. Adultery happens everywhere my dear, Saudi, America, everywhere! My wife, well my mom chose her for me as they do in Saudi, but I am still looking for that perfect woman that I can lie my head in her chest and be proud of her.

  10. Truth from Bassim Abukelb.

  11. Bassim:

    There are no perfect women nor men first fallacy. Next, adultery happens everywhere yes….but in many places the man/woman can walk away or stay as a matter of choice. Next you had a choice in your fate and chose to accept your wife chosen by another. You could have done otherwise……your decision……yours alone……..

    Next fallacy, you can be proud of any woman who you invest yourself and time into by providing her opportunity and ability…….humanity is something to be proud of and we all share in that common thread.

    Thank you for admitting that Islam is a play yard of boys and not men. Men do as they please and women are not taken seriously is a very telling statement that in Islam, humanity is not taken seriously as it is demeaning to humanity itself and in doing so demeans men themselves. Your statement is a prime example of why the Islam/Culture you adhere to belittles us all.

    Although I applaud you on your candor.

    Remember blind adherence and blind faith leaves us all in the dark seeking any form of light whether good or bad.

  12. For Bassim Abughazallah.
    I know it’s too late for my reply, but I think I should write it anyway.
    Sadly you said “In Islam men do as they please” but that’s a big lie you made it and lived in it. You are a shame to all Muslims.
    May Allah guide you to the right road.

    And for bigstick1.
    I’m sorry that you getting a bad impression about Islam (and I can’t blame you after what Bassim said), but you can’t judge a religion by looking to a corrupted person pretending to be a Muslim but taking Islam with his own ideals (Not the real ideals of Islam).
    If I can do like your judgement, I can look to a corrupted Christian and say “All Christians are bad and their religion too).

    I’m so sorry that I couldn’t clarify this earlier.

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