About half the people in my office are not Americans, and they are clearly the backbone of the office. When most of us stay for a year or two at most, they're they institutional knowledge that keeps our section running. It's a bit of a different story for them, because they have a professional position and are often very highly educated. However, they still often have to defer to decisions from Americans in most cases, many of whom have only been in the Foreign Service for two years or fewer. It's a bit bizarre.
My other main involvement to date with our local hires has been with the drivers in motor pool (see previous post for more details on how that works). It's uniformly bothersome that they all refer to me as miss hannah, and if I have some package I'm carrying, they scold me for carrying it myself and not letting them get it. It's so bizarre. I hate feeling like I'm their superior. The other day I was talking to one driver who has been working at the US embassy since before I was born. He still referred to me as ma'am and miss hannah, which sets off all kinds of warning bells in my head, probably due to having grown up on farms in Mississippi and Arkansas. If you have any tips on how to deal with this, please let me know.
One other thing - almost everyone here has a maid that they hire to do basic cleaning and sometimes cooking around the house. I understand that this is a fine Foreign Service tradition all around the world. Given the way that household staff are treated in Saudi Arabia (that's another story for another day), it was a bit of a thorny issue for me to consider. I did just hire a woman, Fathima, taking over her once-a-week contract from the person I replaced in the consular section, and when I realized what pay she was actually asking for, I felt ill. I think that, like her previous employer, I'll be paying her double what she actually asks for. She's here from Sri Lanka to earn money for her family, and at the rate she was asking it's hard for me to see how she is able to send anything back home, even working for three or four other people simultaneously.
Things to get used to, I suppose. Still, it's hard to shake off the willies that I get from the mentality of white person hires dark person to do menial stuff.