You have an ayi who has been working with you for months, maybe years, but she still doesn’t take the initiative to come up with meals ideas, buy new vegetables, make more quantities to freeze them, prepare week-end meals in advance. She sees a pile of clean clothes on the sofa or bed, but won’t fold them or doesn’t put them away.
There are a few reasons she might not be making any initiative. Below are some suggestions for you to solve this pesky problem.
Chinese culture doesn’t necessarily encourage taking initiative.
Chinese people are hard workers, but they often do not like to take initiative. For them, this is an issue of whom a responsibility belongs to exactly. Suggesting an idea implies that the person will be in charge of that proposal, beginning to end, and that they will therefore be responsible if it fails. For example, I used to work in a luxury Chinese hotel. My manager one day asked me, “Olivia, why are you fighting so hard for this project? If you don’t follow what the top management suggests but nobody signs up for this event, it will be your fault.”
For your ayi, it is exactly the same. She probably has a fear of doing things wrong. Think: you are her manager; she is part of your staff. Your job is to encourage her and help her gain confidence. She needs to know that you understand that new ideas for a menu is often not easy, but that you are ready to experiment with her without getting upset. You want to encourage her initiatives and that she can be rewarded at the end of the year for her effort.
Try to put yourself in her shoes.
Let’s say you are an ayi and your Chinese employer asks you to prepare a meal. Maybe you’ve been to Chinese restaurants, maybe you took a few cooking classes but organizing a balanced authentically Chinese meal, day in and out, is something else entirely. So even if your ayi has been working for many years for expat families, remember that food habits are different between countries, even different between families from the same countries. So she will be afraid of getting it wrong.
Second, it is possible that nobody has ever explained Western cooking and culture concepts to her. For instance, that a portion of soup corresponds to one bowl, or that cherry tomatoes are not served as fruits like in China. Another example, that we don’t want a dish to be too salty because we put the salt on the table in order that everybody can adjust the seasoning once eating. In China, it is the cook who has the responsibility of right seasoning.
Take some time to talk.
Once employed, you may tend to tell her to cook right away or to do the shopping. But have you ever taken some time to talk precisely about your needs and family habits and make a list? Have you ever been shopping with her, explaining her where to find which product? Remember she can only read Chinese. Take time to tell her the brands you like, how to check the expiration date of a product. Have you ever cooked with her? By cooking, I mean teaching her step-by-step. The first time, introduce ingredients and tools and show her how to make the recipe. The second time, let her she cook and you watch her. Then third time she cooks alone.
Finally, write down your family’s normal preferences for a breakfast, lunch and dinner, (fruit for breakfast instead of very green vegetables, for example).
Once, my own ayi confided in me, “For ayis, the most difficult task is to come up with meal ideas because most of us have never shared a meal with the family who we work for. When you have dinner, we are already back home! “
It is imperative to take some time at the beginning to share with her your habits of shopping, cooking and other household duties. You may feel like time is a constraint but be sure that the time you share with her at the beginning is used for instruction you won’t have to repeat in the future. After a while you will realize how confident she feels and how less frustrated you are.
Meet Olivia at the free bilingual event below, where she’ll talk about how to prepare baby food and share her cooking expertise! Bring your ayi along.
Cuisine “Mei Wenti” for Busy Mums, May 9
Adults. Olivia’s Cuisine Mei Wenti debunks the myth that delicately delicious French meals are only for the experts. She’ll be talking about nutrition guidelines and essential cooking tools for preparing baby food along with kitchen organization and some of her prize recipes. Free. 10am-11am. Oasis International Hospital (wechat: 18811103237 Alexandra)
Photos: Pixabay, courtesy of Oasis International Hospital
Olivia is from South of France and is a food lover with an eye for nutrition. When she arrived in China she felt the need to iron out everyday kitchen problems so decided to teach her wonderful Ayi about balanced meals by introducing her to Western food culture. “Cuisine mei wenti” academy was born out of this need. Later in 2014, as she became a busy mum, she realized how cooking varied food for her little girl was important. This is how she came up with Babyfood Program.
Follow her on wechat: guinebaultolivia, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or sign up for her newsletter on www.cuisinemeiwenti.com/blog