RE­VENGE OF THE MAIDS

The wEAlTH GAp is soar­ing, tra­di­tions are wan­ing, and RE­SENT­MENT no longer stays silent.

Town & Country (Philippines) - - MANNERS& MISDEMEANORS - By Marisa Meltzer

last sum­mer, in a lux­ury apart­ment com­plex out­side New Delhi, all hell broke loose. It started when a woman ac­cused one of her maids of steal­ing around $250. The maid then claimed that, as pun­ish­ment, her em­ployer wouldn’t let her go home. word spread and a riot broke out, com­plete with crowds of do­mes­tics shout­ing, “To­day we will kill her! we will kill the madam!” The em­ploy­ers re­tal­i­ated by lock­ing their maids out. A boom in the lo­cal take­out food in­dus­try al­legedly en­sued.

Dis­putes be­tween em­ploy­ers and their do­mes­tic staff rarely erupt into such chaos, but this af­fair did high­light the un­der­ly­ing fragility of the re­la­tion­ship, a tick­ing time bomb of class con­flict when not del­i­cately man­aged. The sto­ries that make it into the news are often grue­some: the in­fa­mous pa­pin sis­ters, live-in maids in France who were con­victed of mur­der­ing the wife and daugh­ter of the fam­ily that em­ployed them, in 1933 (the events in­spired sev­eral movies and Jean Genet’s 1947 play the Maids); linda Stein, the New York real es­tate agent whose personal as­sis­tant con­fessed to beat­ing her to death. And then there are tales of treach­ery, such as when two of Nigella law­son and Charles Saatchi’s personal as­sis­tants were ac­cused of charg­ing $1 mil­lion worth of cloth­ing and trips on the cou­ple’s credit cards.

To be sure, some em­ploy­ers have done plenty to earn re­sent­ment. In the late ’90s the new york times cov­ered the saga of a paraguayan maid, Mina Zayas, who claimed that her Up­per East Side em­ploy­ers had un­der­paid her, made her work around the clock, and taken her pass­port. “I saw it with my own eyes,” one so­cial vet­eran who wished to re­main anony­mous whis­pers. “I couldn’t be­lieve that it went on. Separately, there was a very rich cou­ple in l.A.— whom I al­ways thought very sleazy—who also stole the pass­ports of their maids and wouldn’t let them leave.”

But even less dra­matic sit­u­a­tions can be fraught with ten­sion. “The wealth gap is so much more cav­ernous and tan­gi­ble th­ese days that there ob­vi­ously has to be some fall­out in the home,” says keen so­cial ob­server Holly peter­son. “It’s Marie-An­toinette time no mat­ter where you turn. More ten­sions and is­sues and con­flicts and re­sent­ments are go­ing to be in Tech­ni­color, given what’s go­ing on po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally in this coun­try.”

The po­ten­tial for ex­plo­sion cer­tainly seems greater than it was in the times re­called by Edith whar­ton nov­els, when gen­er­ally one ei­ther em­ployed ser­vants or was one. “There’s this idea of the golden

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