Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Etiquette Challenge Question: Counting and Recounting
Above, the inventory of silver lent by the royal Jewel House (the keeping department of thousands of pieces of silver used by the monarchy from the time of Henry VIII forward) for a royal dinner in 1768. The Jewel House was long respected as the most advanced convention and accurate method of cataloging a large collection of dining and decorative objects and slipped only in times when overseers of the collections wished not to be held accountable for lost items. The inventory above conclusively identifies the loss of three spoons. Credit: Silver, History and Design, edited by Philippa Glanville.
It was a habit of Kay Gottsegan, who gratefully taught me a lifetime worth of gracious things in what seemed like a few short moments, to count the silver when it was washed and the kitchen was settled after the evening. The first time I worked with her, she told me she would be into the kitchen at the end of the evening to "look at the silver." She was referring to her flatware.
We were just kids, working for her through high school or college during parties. She was a friend of my parents, our neighbor and also quite renown for her career, as was her Husband for his but that is another story: I gasped a little when she said that, my Mother took a cursory glance at the silver after parties but not so anyone would notice and certainly she would never say such a thing in front of caterer's or any other living human being, most especially not the guests.
Kay and my Mom came from two different schools of thought on this same issue: Be sure none of the silver went out in the trash when the plates were scraped, or (ghastly but not uncommon lately at all) were stolen by the service staff. It was my job to see to the tempo of her event and to look the kitchen over at the end of the evening. This included the silver which I lined up by type on the service buffet just before we threw the towel in, literally. She counted. Always twice, sometimes in front of her still lingering guests. I found this appalling at first because in my upbringing, this was a brazen implied accusation of staff or guest, both being unacceptable.
Do not misunderstand, my Mother or Father carried on the same process of counting. If something was missing, the garbage would have to be searched. If it did not turn up, my Mother would shrug it off, making a note to replace the utensil and counting it as a cost of entertaining.
In all the years I knew and worked happily (if somewhat apprehensively), for the Westchester entertaining legend that was the mighty and intimidating Mrs. Gottsegan, not one piece got away from her (us, that is). But I often wondered what she would have done if a piece of the Christofle had gone missing and not turned up after accidentally ending up in the kitchen garbage. We'll never know. She left this world, but caused me to love fashion as she did and in turn made me a hostess, but I still turn this over in my head late in the evening, a little memory-flooded from the second glass of wine (the one I have alone when looking after the last things in the service cabinets) of the night.
The counting has to be done. It has always been done because silver and vermeil have reached stratospheric prices in some patterns, become that much more difficult to find replacement pieces of, and are, most importantly, nearly always a thing to which much more value than just money applies. Those who do not count, in my experience, soon learn the value of doing so.
But what of this scenario, when it does appear a piece has been lifted?
I am of in my Mother's school: It is not worth an unfounded accusation or an unfair implication towards a friend or valued staff member. And you? Please tell us: What would you do?
This is a great prelude to the Thursday Etiquette Challange Workshop which will be starting next week. See you right back here then for your first challenge...
Reminders: Do not forget that you have a little time left to enter the reader giveaway for Taste, Acquiring What Money Can't Buy, by Letita Baldridge, here. And the ChillinJoy giveaway here.