Friday, April 18, 2008

Management Experience

I've never been confident with my management ability. As an employer, I've only managed staff once. I had an intern as a social worker. It didn't go well. I suppose this disinterest in acting as manager may have helped fuel my reticence toward hiring help.

But after my years in China, I'll be able to add "manager" to my resume.

A friend recently asked how our new ayi is doing.

Sabrina: She started just over a month ago, right? How's it coming?

Lynne: Actually, its going kind of downhill lately. I don't know what it is.

Sabrina: Is she getting lazy?

Lynne: Yeah! That sums it up really well! She seems a lot more interested in playing with the girls than in cleaning the house!

Sabrina: Well, I can understand that. I think that happens with everyone. Just time to pull in the reins a bit.

And the more I've thought about it, the more I realize she's right. Other friends with as little ayi experience as I went in with the same expectations. We hoped to be hiring magic elves who quietly entered our homes, made them sparkle, and then disappeared without ever being noticed. I bought a phrasebook specifically made for us with ayis, which bears out this expectation. Rather than translating phrases like please clean the bathroom or can you cook fried rice?, it has phrases like these:

Only enter an occupied room if necessary.

Please eat your lunch in your room.

Talk with respect at all times.

Be honest, always tell the truth.

Take a shower every day and look presentable at all times.

Wash your hair at least 3 times a week.

If an employer spoke to me this way, I would likely quit. Labelled The Ayi Survival Guide, at the very best this books prepares someone for the worst case scenario. But sadly, I fear the motivation is much worse. A showcase of cultural superiority, the book voices how many people speak about their ayis. That they never shower. That they can't be trusted. That they are all that way. Language that smacks of racism and classism.

In reaction to this classist attitude, I hesitated to act as a manager in my home. But then I placed myself in her shoes. If I had showed up at a job for 1 month where no one ever told me what to do, likely I would drift toward spending time with the kids, flipping through magazines and chattering with the adults as well. It seems like a natural human response. My employee needs a manager.

I pulled out an English - Chinese dictionary yesterday to explain a word to her. She took the dictionary and looked at it with wonder. She walked to the window and studied it in the light. She searched for nearly 5 minutes, during which time I waited patiently for what must be something profound that she meant to tell me. She brought the book over and showed me the word laoban.
wo shi ni de laoban, she said. You are my boss.

It seems that the only person uncomfortable with me telling her what to do is myself.

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