There's a house on Iona that I look after; keeping it clean, making it ready for people to stay in, doing the weeding... that kind of thing. Doesn't take much time out of my week, and I enjoy doing it most days. Part of that, I have discovered, is because the people staying there have always been gone or out when I go round.
Not this week.
It's used for people coming to redesign some of the displays at the Abbey, and they usually come on a Sunday and leave Friday. I come in Saturday when it's empty. The people this week decided to stay on over the weekend. Not too bad. Or it wouldn't have been if the guy I met wasn't Grumpy McJerkface.
When I saw there was someone there I popped my head round the door to introduce myself and tell him why I was in the house. Reasonable? No, as it turns out. He just looked at me like 'well get on with it then'. I clearly looked confused because he then said 'Do you need anything from me...?' When I told him I didn't he just walked away and ignored me from then on.
I went from human being to 'the help' in mere seconds. Now, I'm not naive enough to think that never happens. It was more that it was so weird to have that happen on Iona. No matter who you are and what you are there to do, the folk on Iona will stand and chat to you for two minutes - like you are a person with feelings. This guy brought in with him one of the worst aspects of 'normal society'.
Naturally, with the next couple of hours of thinking-free work I pondered this train of thought. We as a culture are shocked by topics such as slavery and equality. Why then do we continue to talk down to the person who cleans our houses, or the person who makes your coffee in the morning?
I got this a lot last year while working in the tearoom on Iona. Apparently making coffee for someone instantly makes you an idiot who will do what they are told thank-you-very-much. To me, it's just two people standing on either side of a counter. To some, there appears to be a better side of the counter to stand on. One woman told me I needed to find a man to support me so I could get out of there, as if it was degrading for me to work in such a place.
Unfortunately I have come up with no real answer to this. Is it a throw back from society as it used to be, when wait staff made up of the poorer classes made you and brought you your coffee and cleaned your house for you? Is it that this feeling of servitude lingers? Or is it something else?
If anyone has any thoughts on this, please comment. I'd be interested to know what other people think about this!