UMM O+N is now at

Umm has moved to Wordpress.
And those of you kind enough to list me on your blog, please update the link:
Let's go...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

If he is a HOUSE BOY...

... who are you? Mistress of Anal Snobbery?
I hate this term -- house boy.
House boy = Grown men, who, due to a sad twist of fate, end up in poorly paid jobs in the Gulf and try earning some extra bucks in their free time by cleaning homes and doing random chores, for measly amounts.

Can't we at least afford them some dignity and call them Cleaners or Helpers? But, House boys? Who the hell do we think we are? Isn't colonialism a thing of the past?

I know people living in palatial houses, with an income of over $10k a month, who grudge the $100 they pay these guys for cleaning their homes.
If only I had a riyal for every "Just because we live in a big house he is asking for a hike!"
Hike of what? $20?

Before I digress, this is not a rant about people's generosity or the lack of it.
It's about their insensitivity. Let's assume that they don't know the history of the term (see PS below). Let's assume their ignorance. Still. Doesn't it irk them even a teeny-weeny bit when they refer to their 40+ cleaner, from the sub-continent, as a houseboy?

The ones who throw the term around with so much pride are usually women -- yes, it's us who can display this degree of insensitivity, when it comes to 'lesser' beings. the men are far more equable in these matters. they usually refer to most people by name -- not the driver, the servant, the houseboy... but as babu, rangan or joe.

I've heard women talk about their houseboys, exchanging juicy snippets on their greed for more money, while sipping coffee from their Villeroy & Boch cups; and the men in discussion would be on the other side of the wall, well within hearing distance.
Not that it's forgivable to refer to them this way when they are not around! It's just the degrees of insensitivity.

To be fair, it's not only those living in fancy villas and high-rises who use this term with great abandon. It's everybody. From dingy shared rooms to your regular-joe apartment blocks, the echoes of 'house boy' vibrate...

I guess, the term somehow allows people to place themselves on a different and higher level. "I am the Mistress of my Abode (humble or otherwise) and I have a houseboy!"
Probably not intentional -- just something in our subconscious...

When I reply to people's queries of 'houseboy' with 'my cleaner' or 'the person who comes to help me'... most don't even register the point.

Have I ever openly told friends (at least) not to use the term? I plead guilty. I have never. Most of my friends treat their cleaners with respect, despite calling them houseboys, and I am terribly scared of offending some close friends, so I keep my mouth shut.

But no more. I am sending this post to them...

PS: House boy


Sonia said...

The "term" houseboy is probably derived from houseman. In most hotels, housekeeping attendants are called housemen.

And not only women talk about their new house, new phone, new house"boys". Some men do as well. Yes yes yes!

Teesu (very very Indian, very very good) said...

I do think that referring to people by their names is the way to go despite dignity of labour and all that good stuff. I feel uncomfortable calling anybody by their designation, simply because I think the person is so much more than that.

umm oviya said...

s: origin of houseboy is in the ps link... men too huh? must be some really pansy ones.
teesu: name is the best. but as a generic term and you want to ask 'if you know of a ****', then we need to be careful of the words we choose. i think i've already pissed off a few friends i've sent this too. :(

RaĂșl y Pablo said...

me gusta mucho tu blog lo visito a diario visita el mio y si t gusta deja un comentario de si t gusta o no y nos linkeamos los blogs

nitya said...

Amazing that across geographies, people who are so different are so much the same in the worst ways!