Correct Terminology for household staff?

Discussion in 'Household Staff' started by Puspawarna, Aug 4, 2016.

  1. Puspawarna

    Puspawarna
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    I'm writing a little guide for new expats to hire household staff, and want to list common terminology at the beginning. You would think that after 17 years I would have this down pat, but as I try to lay things out with painstaking accuracy I realize I have some questions and gaps in my knowledge.

    Here's what I have written:

    • Pembantu – This term literally means “helper” but is usually used to refer to maids/cleaning staff.
    • Jaga – This is what expat employers call their guard staff. Penjaga would be more grammatically correct but no one says that. “Satpam” are somewhat similar but these are official security staff hired by businesses and communities.
    • Sopir (less often, pengemudi) – Driver
    • Pemasak – Cook.
    • Babysitter – If you read or hear references to a “babysitter” in Indonesian, it probably refers to a nanny (ie, full time child-care help) rather than what many of us foreigners think of as a “babysitter”: the teenager down the street that you pay for a couple of hours to watch your child on an ad hoc basis.

    Corrections are welcome to any of the above; I'm not sure I've actually ever heard anyone talk about a "pemasak." Is there a different term in common usage for a cook? (I've never hired one, so I've never paid attention to that.)

    Some other questions:

    • Is there an Indonesian word for "nanny" that is in common use, besides "babysitter"?
    • Does anyone still use the term "koki"? I was under the impression it is a bit offensive/pathetically dated now - kind of like referring to "negroes" in the United States.
    • Isn't there a term for "houseboy" that is now considered offensive as well? I can't remember it but it is on the tip of my tongue - I want to say "jasa" but of course that is not it.
    • Is there a word in common usage for gardeners? "Tukang kebun" may be a literal translation but I can't say I have ever heard anyone use it. (On the other hand, I've never hired a gardener, so what do I know?)
     
  2. HappyMan

    HappyMan Member Charter Member Cager

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    Someone once told me that pembantu was offensive. They preferred the work "helper"... cause translating it makes it nice.
     
  3. Puspawarna

    Puspawarna
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    Was that a trusted Indonesian native speaker who told you that? I can't say I've ever heard anyone complain about the term. It's quite neutral, really.
     
  4. HappyMan

    HappyMan Member Charter Member Cager

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    I'd have thought so, as well. Perhaps it was the fact that I said "pembantu" within hearing of the pembantu. They gave me two options of Mbak (only really suitable for Javanese) and "helper".
    The decisive factor in the exchange may well have been that I was referring (not addressing) to the person by their position, rather than with an honorific of some sort. That would make sense of the acceptability of "helper", as we don't make much use of honorifics in English, by comparison. Perhaps Mbak pembantu would have been acceptable, redundant as it is.
     
  5. dafluff

    dafluff
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    For cook, I usually hear Tukang Masak, almost never Pemasak. Pembantu is still commonly used, or Pembantu Rumah Tangga (PRT).

    Sometimes you hear "Tenaga Serabutan" which basically means do everything, similar to houseboy, I guess.

    Tukang Kebun is what I hear 100% of the time where I live.
     
  6. Nimbus

    Nimbus Active Member Charter Member Cager

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    Tukang is a very versatile Indonesian word. It literally means handyman (or handyperson since it's gender neutral), but it's appended to anything and everything, taking the meaning of 'specialist'.

    Tukang jahit: tailor / seamstress
    Tukang kebun: gardener
    Tukang jaga: guard
    Tukang cuci: washer
    Tukang masak: cook
    Tukang sayur: vegetable (grocery) peddler
    Tukang bakso: bakso peddler
    Tukang kayu: carpenter
    Tukang batu: mason
    and so on..

    It is also used mockingly to denote expertise in something. Tukang tidur: expert at sleeping a.k.a. sleepyhead, tukang marah is expert at being angry a.k.a. hothead etc.

    A mechanic is an exception, he's called a 'montir' in Indonesian, from Dutch/French 'monteur'. My guess is that the word was adopted the same time as 'sopir' (chauffeur)

    I don't know of any Indonesian equivalent for 'babysitter'. I'm afraid the word has been absorbed whole into Indonesian.

    Koki is an old word equivalent to 'cook', it was used mostly in a professional sense before 'chef' became popular. It's rarely used, even when I still lived in Jakarta. It's not offensive, simply strange.

    Other old terms are 'babu' (maid) and 'jongos' (page boy). They have fallen into disuse in the 80's, about the same time Indonesians stopped using tuan/nyonya/nona. These days babu and jongos are considered offensive due to their colonial origin. Jongos today has taken the meaning of minion or henchman.
     
  7. Puspawarna

    Puspawarna
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    Thank you Nimbus - I knew I could count on you! "Jongos" was the term I was thinking of. I only encountered it when reading some Malaysian literature that had been annotated for foreign readers - it warned us not to use the word.
     
  8. pinky321

    pinky321 Member Charter Member Cager

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    Pembantu : nowadays we often called "Assisten Rumah Tangga"
    Pemasak : Could also be "Tukang Masak"

     
  9. nd_eric_77

    nd_eric_77 Member Charter Member Cager

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    "Pembantu Rumah Tangga", often abbreviated as PRT, is the official title. We often casually say, "mbak" ("Miss") or just pembantu. In English, we say, "maid". Some PC-police are trying to eradicate "maid" from common use, but I find them to be overly sensitive.
    "Suster" = literally "nurse"; often used for nannies of small children. Sometimes you hear toddlers calling out, "Chus... Chus..." for short; mothers often call them just "sus". My guess is that the term comes from days of old when a suster might fill the role of "wet nurse", but that is just speculation.
    "Sopir" / "Supir" is "driver"; I have never heard them called anything else.
     
  10. Puspawarna

    Puspawarna
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    I'd forgotten about suster! Funny, because I always want to use "suster" in an on-line word game I play. I always think it's a word in English, and only when it doesn't work do I recall that the word is Indonesian.

    As to other names for driver - read signs in some of the parking lots. They sometimes say things like "pengemudi dilarang duduk di sini."

    (Although really all I want to do is help expats find staff, and communicate with staff, so the important words are the shared vocabulary between the two groups.)
     
  11. waarmstrong

    waarmstrong Well-Known Member Charter Member Cager

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    Among my friends and acquaintances here in the USA when speaking about living in Indonesia, I generally avoid the term maid, preferring housekeeper, domestic staff, domestic help, or household employees. Perhaps I am attaching undeserved negative Karma to the word and the distinction between maid and the words I use is without a difference. Still, I see it anyway, as a term that is from a time when economic class distinctions were punctuated by racial and ethnic bias.
     
  12. Puspawarna

    Puspawarna
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    You are so right. In fact, my rule in the US is "Don't talk about having household staff. Just don't."

    We were lucky in that when we were young and innocent, we moved from the US to Micronesia (our first time abroad - and no staff there). Our American neighbors had been posted to Thailand before Micronesia, and often told stories they thought were amusing about their Thai staff. As good liberals who had never lived abroad, we were horrified and judgmental. Now I know better, of course. But the experience taught me a good lesson, which is that people "back home" are unlikely to understand that having staff doesn't mean you are a pretentious twit at best, exploiter of the masses at worst.
     
  13. nd_eric_77

    nd_eric_77 Member Charter Member Cager

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    Have people's sensibilities changed that much since 2002?

    https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/maid_in_manhattan/

    When we lived in Houston in the mid 2000s, there was a quite successful company called "Molly Maid", and it never seemed to have any race / class stigma associated with it.
     
  14. Puspawarna

    Puspawarna
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    Hey, forget 2002 - my story (of being horrified about the discussion of maids) occurred in 1986!

    My point (not exactly the same as waarmie's) is not that there is anything wrong with being called a "maid." It is more that the idea of casually chatting about your domestic staff - whatever you call them - is horrifying to a lot of ordinary Americans.(*)

    Having a housecleaner come in to dust and vacuum once a week is no big deal, if you can afford it. But having someone - especially multiple people (maid, nanny, cook, guard, driver...) - work for you full time strikes many Americans as a little weird, and not in a good way.

    Okay, sure, if you are Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, you are probably going to have staff. But you probably shouldn't talk about it except to your fellow billionaires.

    (*) Traditionally the South is a bit different, I know. I guess I should say "non-Southern Americans."
     
  15. nd_eric_77

    nd_eric_77 Member Charter Member Cager

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    I see.
    When I am on holiday in America, I tend to hear stories about events which occur in daycare centers. Over here, such places are far less common because even people in the lower-middle socio-economic class can afford to hire an "mbak" or "suster" to accompany the children and do housework. In 2016 Jakarta, it is common for a couple to have a combined income of around 14 jt / month and hire a live-in mbak for 1.4 jt / month.
     
  16. john madden

    john madden
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    I wonder if the combination of these is why my wife and her friends consistently say "babysister" when they mean a child's carer/nanny.
     
  17. dafluff

    dafluff
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    Ahaha, yes, I stopped my self several times from typing that the Indonesian word you want for nanny is "babysister" not "babysitter". I almost hear that word exclusively.
     
  18. Nimbus

    Nimbus Active Member Charter Member Cager

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    Zuster is Dutch for 'sister', and just like in USA it's a term used to address nuns. Because in the old days most nurses in hospitals were nuns, the word 'suster' becomes 'nurse' in Indonesian to this day. Originally back in the 80's a 'babysitter' was a real trained suster, but was assigned the sole responsibility of taking care of a baby. As a professional nurse she wore an actual nurse uniform and received a nurse's salary, which was far higher than a regular maid's pay. Only rich people could afford a babysitter back then, so it became a status symbol to some. Today's babysitters retain the uniform and the higher pay, but they are not nurses anymore. The function as a status symbol remains, but diluted a bit because now middle class families can afford them.

    This would explain all the mish mash of suster, babysitter, babysuster and babysister.
     
  19. Nimbus

    Nimbus Active Member Charter Member Cager

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    By the way, these days we actively try to avoid using the term 'pembantu' and refer to female domestic help as either 'mbak' or 'bibi'. Pembantu was invented when Babu and Jongos became unacceptable, but today it's slightly disrespectful when not used in a strictly technical sense. Instead of saying 'Yati ini pembantu saya' (Yati is my helper) I prefer 'Yati ini kerja sama saya' (Yati works with me).
     
  20. Supir Angkot

    Supir Angkot Member Charter Member Cager

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    I think you can also exploit an informal bahasa gaul term (and often has humorous effect) as used by the Jakartan subculture.


    Pembokat (bahasa gaul)= pembantu (BI)
     
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