Wayside Hints For The Maid
( Originally Published 1904 )
CONSIDER the importance of mistress and servant being on good terms, with one another.
It has more to do with the comfort and convenience of both than, unfortunately, either is always ready to admit.
The foundation of a smooth-running house-hold machine very largely rests on mutual confidence, good will and consideration being maintained between mistress and servant.
We have it on Biblical authority that a house divided against itself cannot stand. And when two people are supposed to be working together, hand in hand, but in reality are working one against the other, what sort of result can be expected? Things are pretty sure to go wrong. It is genuine, friendly union that produces satisfaction, not alone in regard to the work that is, being done, but in the hearts of those who are doing it.
I write in equal friendliness to both mistress and servant, with the same recognition of the rights of both, with the 'same desire to see both make the best of life.
It is a mistake—I am now trying to talk from the servant's point of view particularly—to enter a new house with your, mind made up be-forehand that you are going into a campaign, that your mistress and you are commencing a warfare, and her interests and yours are op-posed., Rather begin by believing that she may prove a friend. The fact that you are engaged for the place is in itself a proof of her belief that you are, the right person for it. Whether your work is to be the tending of costly furniture, expensive ornaments, or valuable crockery, or to prepare the food for the table, her selecting .you for the task is evidence of her respect-for your capacity. Should it be the children you have charge of, that is a still stronger testimony to her faith in you. This, therefore, is flattering to your own' sense of self-respect. In turn, you ought to begin your relations with her by giving her credit for good intentions, for that is only her due. Do your best to believe in her from the start; it will be time enough to change your opinion whenever you are given cause to do so.
They say that half the secret of getting satisfied with new surroundings is to come resolved to like them. Don't begin by saying, each time you find yourself alone, This place won't suit me." It is pretty sure not to suit you if you take that sort of view even' before you have given it a fair trial. Being sure you " won't be suited " creates a feeling of antagonism in your mistress' mind against you, and in your mind against her. Naturally it does—naturally it .must. Many mistresses have not a very happy manner, don't know the way to give directions, and so forth; but back of all this is not necessarily either pride or want of care or thought, but often merely lack of experience; or, in other cases, may be. due to the fact of your being strangers, and her constitutional shyness before strangers. Many women—even women of the world—are like that. Give your mistress a chance. When you are longer acquainted, ten to one it will be quite different. And, for none of us can tell, it is possible that there " were others " in your place before, who were not as good as you are, and created . an unfavorable impression on the mistress. Such a thing hap-pens not uncommonly, for there are all sorts of people in every line of business, and if your mistress had legitimate cause, in the case of others, to be on her guard, she can't very well be blamed for at first displaying towards a new-comer some of the suspicion she has learned to harbor in the past. Time is needed on both sides, to consummate proper acquaintance. The best of mistresses sometimes fail to receive the appreciation they deserve from their servants. And this occurs, too, in instances where the employers not alone treat their employes well, but think so much of them that they are even fond of sounding their praises in conversation with other mistresses.
Certainly, you will do the right and proper thing by taking the part of your fellow-workers, your own comrades, wherever injustice is done to any one of them, whether it be a case of unfair blame laid on one of yourselves by a mistress, or if it be a case of overwork, poor board, or room accommodations which are dark, con-fined, or otherwise unhealthy. And you have reason on your side too, if you don't think much of one who is content to keep a situation where such conditions prevail. But beware of the per-son who, while really well treated in all respects, goes about saying she is a victim of tyranny which doesn't exist; slurs the employer she is still content to live with; and so seeks to injure the reputation of a household which in truth deserves praise instead of condemnation. Just remember this much, that a complainer like that is a free agent, there is no law to compel her to remain in a bad situation; and that if it is as bad as she paints it, and she has any kind of proper regard for herself, 'she will throw it up quickly.
Think as highly of your situation as you conscientiously can, and endeavor to retain a good opinion of yourself as well, and base that good opinion on your own good work, well done. No pay is so enjoyed as pay well and truly earned. You will find that your occupation as a servant is as honorable as any is the land, provided that you make it so; for the valued servant who stays steadily in the same family is herself an advertisement of her own worth, and an evidence that- she is necessary . to her employers. Be-sides, her continued service with them shows that they must be good people to live with. Moving from one situation to another does not pay. Good clothes, the regard of the family you live with, and money saved, are the re-wards of her who holds the record for long service in the same situation.
-You have as much reason to be proud of your office as any person in the community has of theirs, if you do your work with Your might, and are straightforward, reliable, and true. Reflection will convince you that you are far above the average store or warehouse employe in what you possess and do—duties, as a matter of fact, more dignified than theirs are; more free from temptations, infinitely better housed, better dressed, and, in the long run, with a greater amount of money for yourself.
There is one little thing more to be said: To stand too strictly on the letter of your engagement, insisting that you are asked to do this and that little thing you never hired yourself to do, is a mistake. Wherever you may look, you will find that, in almost every business or occupation, there are many odds and ends in the way of small tasks to be done which are not strictly in the day's work: Whether the employe is very high up socially, or comparatively low down, he and she are frequently and cheer-fully performing tasks—greater or lesser ones —without any return in cash.
You will discover it to be a safe principle, depend on it, to do such- additional " chores " when they happen along, with a willing spirit. You are much more likely to gain than to lose by it, sooner or later; if not in one way, then in another.
There are a great many don'ts which the maid may profitably practise. Cooking is an art which tries the temper at times, and the sudden appearance of the mistress of the household in the kitchen at a- moment when something particular is being done, or something is going wrong, makes the intrusion perhaps seem pro-vocative. -But will an outburst of disrespect or downright temper mend matters? Not in the slightest degree. The intruder should be in-formed of the exact condition of affairs, and if she -has come down with an unreasonable re-quest for an extra dish to be prepared or some change of arrangements which will complicate matters and delay the dinner, the cook should meet her squarely on the issue and tell her plainly what is, and what is not, possible for accomplishment. If reason will not appeal to the mistress, cook should say, in her ordinary tones and without getting excited, " Very well. I will do my best, but can only hope to avoid disappointing you." The mistress will then be responsible for any failure of the dinner, and it is safe to say that if she is sensible, and the cool: knows her business, she will soon take her lessons to heart. The trouble with many girls is that they are afraid to speak tip, and allow their mistresses to lay out work for them which can-not possibly be done, without protesting at the state of things. Subsequently, when the failure of accomplishment is discovered, the vials of wrath are opened on the unfortunate 'creature's head. A word of explanation might have saved a wordy war, perhaps ending in a dismissal. Either this happens, or the girl, feeling that an attempt to impose upon her has been made, commences a tirade against her mistress and becomes what is known as saucy. This is some-thing a servant can never guard against too particularly. Her position in the house gives her no prerogative to berate her mistress, however foolishly the mistress may act. There is always the alternative of leaving; which, if she be at all useful, will prove more of a punishment to the mistress than the receipt of a lot of rhodomontade about right and wrong.
The obliging nature is often intruded and imposed upon by the mean, contemptible, and ignorant, but even such a fact should not dissuade the maid from being as obliging as possible on all occasions. When repeated efforts are made, either by the mistress or fellow-servants, to get the best of every transaction, it will be time for the object of their selfishness to protect herself by ways which, while not too conspicuous, will let others know that, if good-natured, she is not inclined to be every designing person's fool.