Friday, March 10, 2017

On Using the Good China

I was looking at some advertising from the 1940s and 1950s the other day, when post-war affluence met demographic trends to create the bridal industry that we know today, and I started thinking about how much I love my good china.

It grieves me, on some level, to think that I may be part of the last generation of brides to even want good china. The day after we got engaged, Mr. FC&G and I went to the department store and registered for our china, silverware, and other items. I remember how excited I was to finally - finally - get this lovely, delicate stuff and to have it displayed in my china cabinet. (Buying the china cabinet, which I had done years earlier, should have been my first clue that I was on the end of a demographic trend, because it took trips to many, many stores to find something that would function as such. No one offered a "china cabinet" per se.) Receiving the beautiful boxes of china as wedding gifts thrilled me, and, to this day, I stop and look at my china every time I walk into the dining room.

It made me sad when, a decade or so ago, I started reading reports of how people were no longer buying good china. They were afraid of breakage, they didn't want to wash it by hand, and they wanted the money to spend on something else. More power to them, I suppose. However, I also became aware, through personal experience, that no one knows how to act around good china any more.

I have let myself become shamed out of using the good stuff, because it invariably sparks some sort of contentious moment in which I either be a good hostess and let my guests have what they want, or I stand my ground. Since I am of the school of thought that holds that a good hostess, upon seeing her guest drink from the finger bowl, resolutely takes a swig out of her own, I usually wind up capitulating.

I have had guests hand plates back to me, asking for something not so precious and saying that they can eat off anything - and that's just when I'm using my second-best, "everyday" china that was my "good stuff" from when I was single. I have nearly bitten my tongue off to refrain from saying that, if they can eat off anything, surely they can figure out how to eat off a plate that I didn't buy in a boxed set in grad school.

I have had visitors charge into my kitchen and plunge their hands into my everyday silverware drawer, unwilling to wait until I retrieve a matched set for their use.  "Oh, don't go to any bother; I can get it," they say. But maybe I wanted to offer something nice for their use, and it's not like I don't have a couple of complete, matched sets of dessert forks that I can use to serve people.

I have even had people hand cloth napkins back to me and ask for a paper napkin. On that one, I have no choice but to protest, because I don't own any paper napkins, save for maybe a pack of birthday-themed ones shoved into the back of the pantry. I haven't otherwise purchased paper napkins in over a decade. I've learned to hide the paper towel roll if I have people over for a summer cookout, because they will invariably refuse to pick up a cloth napkin from the buffet and tell me that I shouldn't have to wash the cloth napkins. Really, folks, it's no trouble; I put them in the washer and hang them outside to dry. I'm not exactly washing them on a wash board and then starching and ironing them.

In short, I have let myself succumb to peer pressure to not enjoy and share my finest possessions, even though doing so brings me great joy. I want people to know that they mean a great deal to me, and that they are worth me creating an elegant experience. Am I going to serve picnic food outside on the good china?  Probably not. But I derive a lot of pleasure from using the china, the good silverware, and the pretty cloth napkins to enjoy a meal with friends or family. To me, it is my reward for serving my guests.

So, no more of this. From here forward, the good china is coming out of hiding once in a while, if only just for Mr. FC&G and I. We have long planned that, when we retire, we will get rid of the kitchen table and take only the good dining room table to our new home, and that we will likely use the china as well. I think that should start today. We deserve the joy of using the nicer things, and, if you are invited to our house, I hope you will do so too.

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