Maebans are essential to a complete falang existence. These women are clearly in possession of magical powers; they can make water jugs appear, trash disappear, and remove spots that falang had long resigned to permanence. Let’s face it: without their maebans, many falang would be lost, wandering the streets of Vientiane with unpressed shirts, mumbling about ant infestations and dirty toilets.
Maebans provide perfect fodder for two classic falang pastimes—complaining and bragging. What falang hasn’t sat through at least one conversation with a sympathetic look on their face, nodding in solidarity as their friend bemoaned their latest (almost certainly clothing-related) maeban catastrophe. ‘She put my white socks with the green stripe in my roommate’s wardrobe—my roommate only wears socks with blue stripes!’ ‘I left my nice sinh crumpled in a ball on the bathroom floor and my maeban washed it!’ ‘She keeps on putting my workout shirts in the pile with my normal t-shirts!’ The audacity! The horror! Falang take solace in commiserating and knowing they are not alone in having a maeban who always irons their pleats in the wrong direction.
Newly arrived to Vientiane and find conversation stalling at a housewarming party, all one has to do is say the magic word and watch the maeban conversation take over. ‘How much do you pay your maeban? How many days a week does she come? Does she stay there all day? Does your maeban cook food for you? How did she learn to do that?!’ For many falang, their maeban is the only person they regularly “practice their Lao” with, so they will also happily share funny anecdotes about little linguistic miscommunications around the house.
If falang happen across someone who does not employ a maeban, they often aren’t quite sure how to react. They must resist the urge to ask this person what it is like to wash their own dishes and hang their own clothes on a line. This falang anomaly may even know where to pay their electricity bill.
Sadly, for many falang their understanding of the gravity of their maeban-enabled disconnect from the ‘real world’ does not sink in until they return to their home country and one day find themselves standing with a toilet brush in their trembling hand. That’s when it really hits them—their maeban Noy really was a godsend…or was it Nok?