Sunday, September 18, 2005

How snooty are you?

I have been reading an old rap editorial of Youp van’t Hek, a roguish Dutch columnist who writes for the NRC Handelsblad [a Dutch newspaper].

This editorial collection, written between 1993 and 1994, are zipped in a thin paperback. It was given to me by Dutchman when I protested -- “I must start reading Dutch books!” [insert frustrated look here]. Thankfully, he had taste and knew exactly how to amuse me, lol. This author proved to be a winner, a real entertainment albeit sardonic in his views, which makes him a very good read.

AMAH HOELA, one of his old columns, which incidentally is also the title of the book, is our read for today.

An amah means “Au Pair” and in other words, “Nanny”. Therefore I am guessing, Hoela is a name of a person, and in most cases, a woman.

Before I go on writing this entry, I would like to give my excuses to the Au Pair community, their loved ones, or whoever related who might be reading this entry and may find it offensive. This has nothing to do with you (although in reality, life isn’t fair), but this is merely an insight of our struggle on Human Rights and Equality, particularly in the Dutch culture setting.

In 1993-1994, Youp van’t Hek successfully dismembered the Dutch elite’s ego in the alleged rousing of the inevitable -hell, god forbid- trend in the Netherlands: AMAHS or AU PAIRS.

Amah Hoela excerpt in Dutch I:Wat is een amah? Een amah is een derdewereldmevrouw met veel honger en weinig financiele eisen, die voor een kleine vijfhonderd gulden per maand de kinderen doet, wast, kookt, strijkt en in datzelfde bedrag zit ook nog drie avonden per week oppassen... Veelal zijn het Filippijnsen, maar ook de Poolse en Tsjechische dames doen het heel erg goed.

English translation: “What is an amah? An amah is a poverty(-hunger) stricken woman coming from the third world country with very little financial demands. For 500 guilders [€ 227] a month, she would take care of your kids, wash, cook, iron; and with that same money will also baby sit your kids for 3 nights a week.

Most are Filipinos, but there are also Polish and Czech ladies that do the job really well.” ***

The third world country phrase in there is quite rude, but nonetheless, it’s true, so I won’t wager any argument and nitpick about it. € 227 would be roughly PHP 15,580 monthly salary and I assume with living in arrangements [remember this is more than 10 years ago].

Amah Hoela Dutch excerpt II: “Een amah heeft natuurlijk veel voordelen. Ze is niet alleen feodaal goedkoop maar meestal ook erg gelovig en dat houdt in dat ze ’s nachts niet gaat sloeren en slempen in de plaatselijke discotheek. Daarbij stuurt ze al het geld naar haar vaderland en daar kunnen ze een paar dubbeltjes meer zeker goed gebruiken. Dus nog even vijf uurtjes extra oppassen voor een tientje doet ze graag. En het belangrijkste: ze klaagt niet. Niet alleen omdat haar Engels daar te gebrekkig voor is, maar ze is ook veel te bang dat ze weer naar huis wordt gestuurd... Ik ben bang dat er op de Larensche Mixed Hockey Club een broekrok tegen haar vriendin durft te bekennen dat hun amah gewoon mee aan tafel zit en dit onder het motto: wij zijn niet zo erg als de rest.”

English translation II: “An amah of course has many advantages. She is not only scandalously cheap but most of the time she is very religious. Because of that, she does not frequent the local disco in town and corrupt herself until the wee hours of the mornings. Besides, she sends all her money to her homeland where for a few more cents her family can make real good use of the money. So a little extra 5 hours of baby sitting for just 10 guilders [€ 5.00], she will gladly do. And what’s most important: she does not whine. Not only because her English is too limited; but she’s also very afraid of being sent back home.

I am afraid that in the Laren Mixed Hockey Club, she [the employer of the amah] will have the audacity to profess to her girl friend that their amah sits normally together with the family in the dinner table, and with the belief of: we are not so bad like the rest.” ***

Now, isn’t this so true about our poor countrymen? They would do anything within their power to walk the extra mile and earn the extra money no matter how little it is, just so they can send a little bit more back home to their impoverished families. Sad, but true.

But what did these rich bogus personalities do?

Sarcasm check: Will you, with your high buying power status, exploit people for cheap labor, for their lack of intelligence, for their weak confidence, and take advantage of their poverty stricken situations back home because they have little or no choice?

And what really riled me up is this. How these types of elites try to reassure themselves through their dim-witted flimsy excuse of - they are not so bad like the rest [read how au pairs in Asia and Middle East are treated].

Amah Hoela Dutch excerpt III:Op de Hilversumsche Golfclub schijnt al een echtpaar met twee amah’s rond te lopen en ik ben bang dat dat binnenkort de trend wordt. Een amaatje extra... Als de amah binnenkort met handen en voeten vertelt over haar broers die in de sloppen van Manilla wonen, komt ongetwijfeld de vraag of er daar ook niet eentje van deze kant uit wil komen. Voor de tuin en voor de klusjes. Wij willen jouw broer best helpen!!!... Dronken grapje op de herenplee van de Kennemer: wat is het verschil tussen een amah en een Golden Retriever? De hond kom niet als je fluit.

English translation III: “In the Hilversum Golf Club, there was already a couple spotted walking around with their two au pairs. I am afraid this will soon become a trend. An extra au pair...

And then, when the au pair, with hands and feet tells about her brothers [she had to use her hands when talking because of her limited communication skills] living in the slums of Manila; came the undisputable question of -- will one of her brothers come to Holland too? He can do the gardening and the other house chores. Hey, we just want to help your brother!!!

Drunkard jokes in the male toilet of the Kennemer: What is the difference between an au pair and a Golden Retriever? The dog doesn’t always come to you when you whistle.” ***

Well, I hope you saw the sarcasm of the author. He basically criticized the show off rich for pompously parading their au pairs in these exclusive hobby clubs. A bah! hambug exploitation act, for such little price to publicly display these naive poor women to support their haughty egos and high hat social status in the society. He stomped on the noses of this so-called cream of the crop, and since then the elite society in the Netherlands squirreled away from parading their amahs in public.

Well that’s the Netherlands, a country where showing off your riches and social status is frowned upon. How about in other places? Such as in other EU countries, in Hongkong, in Singapore, and in the Middle East [where there are a lot of Filipina domestic helpers/au pairs]?

In the Philippines, many of the stuck-up elites deliberately exercise this. They parade their domestic helpers in public without contempt. Rather, they do it with much gusto, with much pride, as if flaunting their newest expensive hand bag or jewelry for people to see is next to godliness – so people know they are rich and think they are above the rest.

I don’t know, but, I don’t think it’s the Dutch influence in me, but back home, every time I see nannies and maids garbed in their white uniforms and towed by their chin-high-up bosses, it just makes me cringe with disgust and my teeth grate. I just find this preposterous. It makes you wonder if these people are sick (in the mind perhaps, lol!) that they need a nurse look-alike following them around. Can I say I am just so embarrassed for them?

Growing up, we had maids with us and far be it that my parents would dress them up in uniforms. I also had a call-in maid myself back in Manila who comes in during weekends. I always cooked for her while she does the cleaning, washing, and ironing.

I just simply do not understand the inequality many people give to and label on helpers. Why create a big chasm between the employer and helper status? It’s a decent job.


A shameful social disease -- “Hey look at me, I am one of the few privilege; my nanny’s and maids are clothed in crisp white uniforms. In just a click of my finger, they fulfill whatever I demand. I rock!”

*Dutch excerpts taken from Amah Hoela by Youp van’t Hek, 1994

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