Is it pretentious to use fine china we inherited while hosting holiday parties? – The Boston Globe

Is it pretentious to use fine china we inherited while hosting holiday parties? – The Boston Globe

Need advice dealing with a difficult situation? Send your questions to Miss Conduct.
We’re retired public school teachers. We inherited a set of fine china and silver. We’d like to use it for Thanksgiving but we’ve never set a fancy table for our friends. Would it be pretentious to use this stuff?
L.T. / Boston
It’s not pretentious at all! And if you’ll indulge me — I was one of those digression-prone teachers when I taught, so let me put a pin in your specific question and say that “pretentiousness” is a bad thing to get people worried about. A person can’t learn anything without feeling like an incompetent imposter for a while. Who do I think I am, speaking French or pumping iron or coding in Python? I feel silly, do I look that way? People need to overcome that self-consciousness in order to learn, as you both well know, and that can be enough of a challenge as it is. Let’s not make the fear of “pretentiousness” an obstacle. (The scare quotes aren’t meant to suggest that pretentiousness doesn’t exist — oh, it does — but that the annoyingly pretentious among us are either oblivious or heedless of that trait.)
OK, back to the syllabus: Break out the good stuff! If one does want to invoke pretentiousness, it’s arguably more so to keep the heirlooms in perpetual storage like you’re the British Museum, you know? Utensils are meant to be used, it’s right there in the name. Whoever you inherited the set from would love to see them used and enjoyed. (If I’m wrong about that, let’s pretend they’ve gotten a better attitude in the hereafter). You could say a few words about the giver and what their gift means to you before dinner. That can lead nicely into a blessing or round-robin “what are you grateful for this year” conversation. It will also contextualize the fancy flatware and convey to your guests that Thanksgiving at your place didn’t suddenly become a black-tie affair requiring them to change their own style. That’s the main thing to be concerned about — not that your guests will think you’re being a foppish host, but that they’ll feel expected to play the role of guest in a different and more formal way.
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Consider not using the full service, especially if it’s elaborate. I haven’t done the research, but I feel quite confident that Pinterest will have more than sufficient inspiration for integrating genuine-article tableware with more contemporary, funky pieces. This kind of eclectic table setting — the dining-room equivalent of mixing vintage, high-end, and mall fashion — would be both less imposing and more expressive of your own aesthetic. Being faced with more forks and knives than usual, or table items that haven’t appeared before, can feel like a pop quiz, so don’t put your guests in that position. And whatever you do, don’t overcrowd your table or your guests. If anyone broke anything they’d feel terrible, absolutely terrible, no matter how gracious you were about it. Less is more!
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Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.
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