Housekeeping in Cancun

On about my 3rd day in Cancun (more than 4 years ago) I found myself talking to the U.S. Consular agent here. She told me that one of the best things about living in Cancun was that you could have a housekeeper full time for about $60 USD per week (prices have gone up since then).

I was completely repulsed by that. The idea that one of the best things about living somewhere is that labor is cheap and so you can have someone else clean your shit while you sit around on your lazy ass did not sit well with me. Tell me that the best thing about living in a place is the pristine nature or the rich culture or the great infrastructure or the great employment opportunities. But don’t tell me that I should be happy because I get to order someone around and pay them so little that their quality of life will be significantly lower than mine.

When I lived in the U.S. the various house cleaners who helped me over the years were all paid well, and from what I could see each had a very similar level of life to mine. They traveled. One of them was a member of the same gym I went to. Two of them drove nicer cars than I did. And all of them spoke at least two languages fluently.

But here in Mexico housekeepers get paid crap and both their standard of living and their educational levels are dramatically lower than mine. And it makes me sick.

I feel blessed and taken care of by the woman who cleans my house for me. She keeps this chaotic house full of pets and knick-knacks and messy people in order. I’m immensely grateful to her, without her the house is a pig sty and I always feel I’m behind. But with her cleaning the house just once a week I feel like I can catch up with myself. And so I pay her very well at $250 mxp per day; the woman across the street pays her housekeeper just $150 mxp per day (and her house is bigger). I gave my housekeeper a Christmas bonus, and two Christmas presents. And when her kids have their birthdays I will give her another bonus, so she can spend a little extra on them then.

Recently my housekeeper came to me and asked me to help her find more cleaning jobs. She had a couple of days a week to fill in her schedule. So I sent around an email to my rich ex-pat women acquaintances and I recommended her. One of these women called immediately and wanted to hear all about my housekeeper. But when I told her how much I was paying she actually got upset with me. She told me that I couldn’t pay my housekeeper that much because I “will spoil her” and then she would think she was worth too much! I actually got yelled at because I was at risk of raising someone’s self esteem and sense of self worth. Yuck.

I would pay my housekeeper 4 times as much if I could. She’s cleaning my toilets for God’s sake. And with 11 animals and 2 messy people here she works plenty hard for us. Unfortunately I have to live in this strangled economy also, and so $250 mxp is all I can afford. But I’m happy to be able to give her as much as I can afford, she deserves it and she earns every cent.

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5 Responses to “Housekeeping in Cancun”

  1. islagringo
    December 31st, 2007 19:58

    you most certainly have the right attitude going about this situation. Good for you!

  2. johndish
    January 1st, 2008 09:31


    I really do miss the personal attention we were able to afford in Cancun. But, we paid well (against the scale) and treated our people well.

    Our last maid lived with us and we paid her 1100 pesos per week but, it was better than any other job she could have gotten. Additionally at xmas we gave her a full month bonus and she did everything with us as family not as help.

    Our gardner ate lunch with us and recieved a full month bonus at xmas.

    I was just in Arriaga, Chiapas and the going rate there is 50 pesos per day. Now 50 pesos in Arriaga is a hell of a lot more in Arriaga than in cancun but, still.

    And we wonder why people are dying to cross the border and do construction for $8 an hour?

  3. RiverGirl
    January 1st, 2008 12:17

    I think most people I know here do pay their workers decently and treat them well. But I am bothered by the attitude that some people have about exploiting cheap labor. It’s just wrong.

  4. heatherinparadise
    January 3rd, 2008 00:32

    I completely understand your point of view, and I hold it myself with regard to paying a fair wage for fair work.

    One point of view that I had never thought of, however, came from one of my Mexican friends. He complained that when gringos pay a wage higher than the “going” rate, it makes it very difficult for Mexicans to hire help when they need it, since people know they can just go to gringos for work instead.

    It’s a fine and treacherous line; one that I struggle with mightily sometimes. Like you, however, I pay what I can afford to pay or I do without.

  5. RiverGirl
    January 3rd, 2008 14:42

    It is true that running up the cost of labor by “overpaying” probably is a bad thing in many ways. I mean I don’t want to hurt my housekeeper by having her miss out on jobs because she’s holding out for too much money. But I guess she needs to know how to charge what she can get, i.e. charge more when she can get more, and less when she can’t. She has to take that responsibility.

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