You are not worthy to sit at my table

…. or I am not worthy to sit at your table.

One thing that was and is hard for me to understand is the HUGE mental barrier between the “upper” and “lower” class in Chile. Even though in Europe me and Liz would probably be middle to lower middle class for sure we are considered upper class here in Chile.

I grew up in Austria in a little & beautiful village with 2000 inhabitants. For me it was normal that when someone comes to do work in the house that they would be offered lunch and we would usually all sit around the table with the workers and have a great conversation. My parents  (who had a small business) even invited the tax inspector to have lunch with us as they were going over the tax records to check if they are able to find some irregularities.

When Liz and me moved in to our new house here in Chile there was a carpenter we relied heavily on. He put in the wooden floor in the entire house and broke one wall to make a big living room out of a previously tiny room which was parted from the hallway by a wall. On their last day Liz and me were already living in the house and we served them lunch at our table. We had an awesome conversation and got to understand part of their lives. Franzisco, the main guy is very young but has been a self employed carpenter since the age of 14 (!?) and his coworkers were his dad and his younger brother who is about to join the army. I did not feel any awkwardness but remember my Nana asking me if they are going to sit at our table. She was surprised. She was also invited to join us but politely declined.

Since it never rains in Santiago and Liz and I travel a lot for work and also for leisure we need an automatic watering system else the garden will never be green. In summer you need to water daily else the grass will burn. So we had the automatic system put in by workers. They worked here almost a week. The first day I invited them for lunch and they refused. They were very happy to accept the lunch but said they do not want to eat with us. They said it was much better to have it outside so they can get back to work faster. It was really cold outside. Liz had warned me that the workers will not feel comfortable with me inviting them to our table. That is the norm in Chile. I discovered it multiple times and also discussed it with friends. Workers will not want to sit at your table. They don’t feel comfortable.

My Nanny (the housekeeper).

We have here 2 times per week and pay her significantly more then the average Nannies are paid here in Santiago. This is probably because I am foreign and not used to the concept of being served and wanting to be a good “employer”. In the UK I was living in shared accommodation and we sometimes hired a cleaner but she would take per 2 hours what my Nanny here in Chile gains in 7 hours of work. Needless to say that the housekeepers in the UK are more efficient with their time than the Nannies in Chile 😉

I love cooking and hate cleaning… Nannies here in Chile often cook for their “bosses” but I never asked mine to cook for me since I prefer she uses her time to wash and iron and clean the house. I actually cook for my Nanny 🙂 which I believe she must find hilarious and probably is part of her evening conversation with friends and family. Despite the fact that I cook for her and I knew she ate I never knew where she was eating until on Friday I discovered it. I was shocked. She was eating in the laundry room. See the picture for details:

Not only is it not very comfortable there but being winter it is also very cold in this room so I asked her to please eat at the lunch table. Since I was leaving she did and she thanked me (?!.) Again I spoke to Chilean friends and they told me her behavior is very normal. That is how it is in Chile. Before posting I asked my wife to quickly check what I am writing… She doesn’t think it is because they believe they are not worth it… I do. What is your opinion? Does your Nanny eat with you? At your table or after you – I would be happy to hear your thoughts…..

11 thoughts on “You are not worthy to sit at my table

  1. We eat lunch with our nana when she comes (1 time per week). I find it ludicrous that if the food is made and there is space at the table, then why wouldn’t she be able to eat with us? Why would we make her wait and eat later? I just think that is silly. She is a human being too and I feel like when people make their nanas eat later or in a different place, it is not treating them very human-like.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.
      I fully agree with you Tyffanie that it seems strange to “us foreigners” that the nanas / workers etc.. eat at a different time.

      “Why would we make her wait and eat later? ”

      My point was at least that is my experience that they choose to eat at a later time. With they I mean our nanna and the nanas of the mostly Chillean friends I have spoken too.

  2. We don’t have a nana (which is why the apartment is always a mess) though if we did it would be strange for her not to be eating at the table with us. The fact that some people make nanas eat elsewhere is degrading in my opinion.

    Having said that, I have also seen this isolation factor coming from nanas, maestros (Hired hands) etc. For some reason they feel uncomfortable when you do invite them to lunch and try and squirm out of the invite. Maybe because they’ve already heard how bad my cooking is. 🙂

  3. Yeah, we invited our nana to our wedding because she’s part of the family after being with us for so long, and we literally had to ask her four or five times because she kept saying no to our invitation and that it wasn’t her place to go. I also think she probably thought it was going to be super fancy, and it really wasn’t so she had nothing to worry about, but she might’ve thought she didn’t have anything to wear? I don’t know. But I do think that nanas don’t want to eat at the same table because they feel that it “isn’t their place” to do so. It’s weird.

    1. cool for her joining you to the wedding. i remember you once wrote that you went to one of her kids wedding no? did not find that post right now but remember i liked it 🙂

      since i work from home and my wife usually from the office i would actually appreciate lunch with my “nana” but i don’t want to push her to something she does not feel comfortable with.

  4. roknil

    You should read a book called “Siutico” it takes the big picture on this issues.

    There is nanas that will be buried into their employer family’s tomb, and others just talking to they for the paycheck day.

    The real difference is how you treat people and if that is OK with you.

    Personally if my nana calls us to lunch time, at least, she also belongs to the table with us for her lunch time.

  5. Great post on a great topic. There’s another side to this too. I don’t eat lunch at home much, but I used to ask my housekeeper to sit down to lunch with me, but it became very clear very quickly that she was uncomfortable. We get along just fine, but she’s there to work, not chitchat, and the sooner she’s done, the sooner she can go home (she doesn’t have strict hours). She’s also a bit shy and it was clearly painful for both of us as I tried to put her to ease and who knows what was going around in her mind about this weird gringa behavior of asking her to sit down at the table. After a few tries, it just became pretty clear that we were better off each going about our own business on the days that she’s here.

  6. Max

    Ah…yes…nanas…I miss them here in the UK. When I tell my friends here I used to have a maid they thought I came from a super wealthy family…they probably thought I had a butler too. 🙂

    From my experience it depends on the nanas…some just want to collect their pay and go home and have no interest in becoming ‘close’ with the family. They just want to keep it professional. Others, as another poster said, practically become family.

    I think everyone should invite them to integrate but if the nana does not want to then I think its probably best to leave it at that…as Margaret said, it can just turn painfully awkward.

  7. I am a Chilean expat living in Canada. What would appear to be a natural thing for most foreigners to do, it’s almost a no-no for most Chileans.

    My father was a very forward thinking businessman and he had a large dining room built at his factory where the workers received free food provided by my dad’s company. At my father’s request (orders!) our whole family would regularly join the workers and share the same food. He would remind us, in no uncertain terms, that we were all equal, period.

    I can fully understand why some of your help would not sit down to eat with you. They (your paid help) have it ingrained in their brains that the two of you belong to diiferent segments of Chile’s society.

    Chile still is a highly divided society. The origins of this division go far back to our Spanish Conquistadores who weren’t the kindest and most loving people around.

    The Americans have had a very similar situation with their Afro-Americans citizens. I guess our brains have very long memories, and even after hundreds of years, we still subconsciously remember how our ancestors were treated.

  8. Fernando Salazar

    What amazes me most is that being your wife a “mejicana” this stuff actually surprises you! It’s like being very naïf or posing as a super evolved human.

    Don’t take me wrong, I don’t mean to be rude, but please don’t insult other cultures just because they are different than yours. Just think of the highly class-conscious Indian culture, it’s really shocking even for us under-developed-latin-american-countries.

    You might argue that you’re not insulting only commenting out, but it isn’t true, THERE IS is a strong critique in your post, just comparing how “my” developed-country-culture treats others that work for me as servants or something alike.

    Having been in other latinamerican countries I can tell you by own experience that mejicanos have a strong classist culture, you just cannot think or expect to go upper classes and have dinner with them because you don’t even talk the SAME language. It’s exactly the same in the peruvian culture, BUT BOTH are stronger or more OPENLY declared than here in Chile.

    Millions of successful lower class mexican (and peruvian) immigrants to developed countries, should make us think why they are finding those opportunities in foreign countries and not their own.

    Chile might not be the best country in social equality but it is gradually going for a better and a more participative society.

    P.S.#1 I was tempted to write about middle age European slavery of people of the third world custom but …

    P.S. #2 I’m not Chilean born but my heart belongs to this generous land and people.

    P.S. #3 I’m not angry about Europe or neither developed countries at all, in fact I’m going to Germany to stay there for 1.5 years and learning German awesome fast AND I have just been approved an immigrant visa to the US that I waited for 8 years!

    Mit freundlichen Grüße!

  9. icha torres

    My nana used to tell me how, when she was a kid in school, the other kids used to make fun of her indigenous name. Here defense was not that her family was actually more “Chilean” than theirs or that it was awesome to be Mapuche, but rather that they also had indigenous ancestry, if not an indigenous name, and therefore they shouldn’t make fun. She had it ingrained in her mind that indigenous was inferior. Yes a similar thing happens in the US, for example, with Mexican “immigrants” in the Southwest, which used to be a part of Mexico, which is emblematic of the racist culture of the US, whereas the Spanish/Indigenous divide in Chile is demonstrative of the classist and racist culture here.

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