This article originally appeared on VICE Germany
She doesn't go digging for them, but Natalia* knows most of her customers' deepest, darkest secrets. The 43-year-old is one of an estimated 3.6 million people in Germany working as a domestic cleaner.
Natalia started in the industry at a young age, cleaning alongside her mother. She then worked as a waitress and a salesperson, until she decided to go back to being a cleaner ten years ago. Last year, she started her own cleaning company, which today has mostly elderly, financially well-off clients.
I spoke with Natalia to hear about the most horrible things she has ever been made to clean, and all the times she's found sex toys or dead people.
VICE: Hey Natalia. What's the worst thing you've ever had to clean up?
Natalia: I'd say it was a toilet covered in an elderly man's shit. The weirdest thing about it was that it wasn't the first time. The only explanation I can think of is that he shits standing up. Another time, it took me and my colleagues 18 hours to clean a kitchen. The owner was super rich and the house was nicely furnished, but completely filthy. My boss at the time only accepted the job because of how much it paid.
Have you ever found a dead person in a flat?
The worst thing I've ever experienced on the job was walking into someone's flat with them and finding their dead father just lying on the floor. It was terrible. A similar thing happened again, but that time I was alone. I found this woman just lying on her bed, head pressed into the pillow. All I could do for a while was stand there in complete shock. Eventually, I used the emergency service button by her bed to get help. Now, I'm always afraid that I'll stumble on to a body.
How often do you find sex toys while you're cleaning?
It’s only ever happened once. I was making an 80-year-old woman's bed when I found a vibrator wrapped in a towel. She was pretty calm when she realised that I must have seen it. The woman just turned and said, "Well, we've known each other long enough."
What's the most personal secret you've uncovered?
I was having a conversation with one of my long-term customers – an 85-year-old widow who always seemed very angry and bitter – when she confessed that she had never loved her husband. She went on to explain how she had lost her first love in the war, and eventually married her husband as a backup. After hearing that, I could understand why she was perpetually in a bad mood.
Are you actually cleaning during all the hours you charge?
I'd say I spend about a quarter of my time not working – checking my phone, having a cigarette outside or grabbing something to eat. But a lot of my clients, especially the elderly ones, don't really mind, because I'm not only there to clean, but to offer them some company. Sometimes I'll grab a coffee with them, we'll go for a walk or just sit around and have a chat. Sadly, for many people their cleaner is the only person they have regular contact with. An older gentleman once even offered to take me on a sailing trip, but I thought that was taking things a bit far.
How many of your customers clean before you turn up?
A few do, which makes it so much more boring and leaves me wondering what exactly they want me to do. So I just end up wiping down a few tables and arranging the biscuits and thinking about what I'm going to do later.
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What the strangest personal document you've found?
I once found a payslip from a customer who made it seem he was filthy rich, but he was actually on a monthly pension of €1,200.
How do men react on dates when you tell them what you do for a living?
Men usually think it's great. I think it has something to do with their primal instincts – they think that if a woman cleans well, it's a sign she'd make a good wife. I don't mind being looked at in that way. In general, I don't really care what people think of me.
Have you ever been attracted to a customer?
No, but they've tried it on with me. A client once offered me €50 to have sex with him, but I politely declined. Then, while I was cleaning, he sat on his sofa and watched porn. I asked him several times to turn it off, but he ignored me. I left and reported him to my boss. In situations like that it's good to have someone you can go to for help who will make it easier for you to dump a customer without losing the work.
Have you ever stolen from someone?
No, and I never would. I don't even look in their drawers.
*Natalia's name has been changed to protect her identity and her clients
This article originally appeared on VICE DE.