Service of Little Luxuries

May 20th, 2010

Categories: Appreciation, Charity Begins at Home, Luxury, Treats

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It’s easy to criticize how others spend–or you may feel waste–money. We all have our little luxuries and they aren’t the same. Chances are, what’s important to you is considered frivolous to someone else and vice versa.

sunglassesAn acquaintance bought a pair of non-prescription designer sunglasses at what was for her a bargain price of $150. They normally cost $400, she said. Hiding behind those shades must make her feel like a million bucks. As long as I don’t squint when I’m in the sun and they look OK, what makes me happy is to pay $25 or less for sunglasses. I love beautiful clothes and accessories, though I’ve never been fashion label-addicted or impressed. It’s the overall effect I’m after at the best price I can find. Neither of us is right or wrong.

A bag of truffled [sic] popcorn @ $8.99 for three ounces and a $206 olive-wood handled picnic knife were featured in a Town & Country column, “Life’s a Picnic,” in the June issue. They got me thinking of my little luxuries. My current favorites: Verbena-scented soap, greeting cards on fine paper, creamy lipstick, getting my hair done when I don’t need it cut, buying a perfect gift and dinner party favors.

I also observe others’ essential non-essentials. Some are not so small.

refrig**A frugal friend who lived in a series of rental apartments couldn’t move in without a new refrigerator and top-of-the-line washing machine. In every other way, she was totally unspoiled and a penny-pincher by necessity. Hot water, disinfectant applied with a new sponge on the appliances that came with the apartments was not an option for her.

**Another pal watched every dime spent on herself and spent almost none. Fresh flowers were her only extravagance if you don’t count the wonderful, creative gifts she gave friends.

**I know people who still smoke. A pack runs upwards of $7 in New York City and I bet they can’t buy just one.

**Brought up to read the right side of the menu [where the prices are listed] before ordering food at a restaurant, I discovered my mom wasn’t as careful when traveling.

**Some eat dinner nightly with a bottle of wine. If you know where to buy wine these days, it can cost less than soda, milk, juice, or bottled tea or water. Compared to water from a tap, all of these drinks are luxuries.

manicure**Manicures, pedicures, massages and other spa amenities may not be my style but are very much in style and beloved.

What are your small–or not so small–luxuries? Have these changed recently? Are you judgmental about friends’ picks? Any in particular?

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12 Responses to “Service of Little Luxuries”

  1. Nancy Farrell Said:

    I’m critical about friends’ picks only when they are complaining about not having enough money and implying that I’m not complaining about finances because I’m married or because I’m “lucky.” Maybe I’m not complaining because it isn’t polite nor is it interesting.

    As far as luxuries go, I have to admit I’d rather spend my vacation in a proper hotel rather than a house or, worse yet, a tent. I love eating out (when I’m not getting room service, that is!)

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I’m with you about tents, Nancy! Super ugh.

    During a low point, an acquaintance, who had been through similar trauma, suggested I go to this boutique where I’d be treated like royalty. I’d be paying a king’s ransom for a piece of thread at the place and one of my stresses involved [lack of] money so that for me, the experience would not only have given me displeasure, it would have given me enormous pangs of anxiety. I couldn’t understand how she dared spend $1 on an unnecessary purchase so that spending thousands more than she had as a solution to happiness for either of us made even less sense to me.

    I don’t know her anymore and can’t say what happened and if she became one of the people who would complain that she had run out of money. We didn’t see life out of the same rose colored glasses.

  3. NenaghGal Said:

    I do love to have decent wine in the house. Only for Fridays and weekends (usually).

    Can’t give up buying UK Country Living every month – it’s my little indulgence. I love it. What else?

    Good food to have at home – not organic but good fresh things to inspire my cooking.

    With clothes, I love a good bargain and get no great satisfaction of buying something super expensive no matter how beautiful. Love the hunt and the thrill of finding a great dress that fits well and is really well priced.

    And I do love fresh flowers in the summer but I’m lucky, on Fridays the Country Market here in Nenagh sells the most exquisite, fresh cut from the garden, bunches for only 3 euro (about $5). Perfect for me.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I’m with you, NenaghGal, about bargains. I LOVE them. And we have great wine bargains and sometimes clothes bargains [I used to have more haunts–all out of business], but I have not found a source for inexpensive flowers and I love them, too. While I see some for not much money at delis, most last only a minute. I noted just this week that Dahlia, in Grand Central Station, that sells the most glorious roses that almost always open fully, increased the price to $15 from $10. Farmers market flowers are short-lived but lovely, while costly. I guess they fit under the little luxury umbrella, but more as a gift.

  5. JM Said:

    One little luxury I am not willing to give up is having The New York Times delivered to my door 7-days a week. It arrives around 5am in the morning. Combined with a cup of strong coffee – wow!!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JM,

    I, too, love to hold a paper in my hand though I admit to seeing more and more of my news on line, linking to headlines the Times sends me on Twitter or through news aggregators.

    Won’t be long, I fear, before this won’t be an option, but we are speaking of luxuries so maybe we will get a newsPAPER, but at $5/copy for the weekday issues, $15 for Sunday.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    I am all in favor of luxuries, small or large, but am puzzled by some of the above comments. Basically, why would one dream of questioning what others consider as a luxury, and/or the cost?

    On the other side of the coin, to whom does one owe explanations for ones actions? There are as many interpretations of luxury as there are people. For what it’s worth, I see one as being spontaneous, from a tiny object all the way up to vacation. The term “bargain” should not come into play, unless you don’t consider yourself your own best friend. Not being Buffet or Gates, and would suffocate in bargain basements and maids quarters, I haggle, and have saved a pile bringing down costs of flights and hotel rooms, to shrinking the price of silver in bad Spanish & non existent Arabic. After all, a luxury is a gift to oneself, so why should one stint?

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    Finding a bargain is one of the things I love to do and I am able to give myself even more luxurious treats when I do…which is why I love bargains and why it enters into the luxury conversation for me. I can pay $10 for a bar of verbena soap in Grand Central Station or $3.99 for maybe not the same but yet still nice verbena at TJ Maxx…so guess where I buy the soap?

    I think it’s horrid when people give gifts of money for wedding, graduation, birthday, etc. and then complain that they don’t think the money was well spent. In this case I totally agree with you–the purchases are nobody’s business.

    You are right: Nobody owes anyone explanations. In the extreme, however, there are folks who ask for handouts for basics–food and clothing for the children–when the person they are asking feels they have squandered their money on, say, a Mercedes, furs and such. You could argue that the car and coats were crucial luxuries for them, but…..Or I have known people who live in buildings where holiday tips are expected but they don’t give them because they feel they are having a bad year. Meanwhile, the doorman holds open the door to their sports car. I’m no saint and I can’t help but criticize.

    I must also plead guilty to opening my mouth with a none-of-my-business comment last week when we drove by a line of shacks in upstate NY, some of which had satellite TV dishes on the roof. I know quite a few people who have no TV or the very cheapest basic cable [the latter because in the city cable is essential to get a signal]. One reason they don’t have TV: Satellite or cable is expensive. And these friends don’t live in shacks and are trying not to.

    But that’s what luxury is about and the point of the post. To the shack-dwellers, TV is essential and none of our druthers are the same.

  9. Salvatore Chicero Said:

    As a confirmed hedonist, I loved reading your post!

    I love little luxuries just as much, however, over time those that I have come to appreciate the most have changed. I confess to being an accumulator, if possible, of nice things and luxurious experiences, but less so now. What I now appreciate the most is truly good service.

    By good service, I mean service which is professional, prompt, efficient, thorough and rendered in a sincerely cheerful and friendly manner. The server in whatever field, whether it be the law, government, medicine, or at the neighborhood drug store or restaurant, is someone who is neither obsequious nor arrogant, neither familiar nor standoffish, someone who is proud to serve, but doesn’t tell you so, who knows what he is doing but doesn’t rub it in that you don’t.

    The greatest luxury of all is service, at a restaurant for example, by a waiter you don’t even realize is waiting on you, but somehow is always there with what you want before you ask for it, and if you have a question, answers it as if what you asked was truly brilliant.

    I’ve had luxurious service like that occasionally in the past, but seldom recently in modern America.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Salvatore,

    A man after my own heart! How could I have forgotten service? Maybe I don’t consider it a little luxury, more a big one.

    Although the other night I had dinner at an inexpensive, uncomfortable, crowded, noisy restaurant with bad food–not poisonous or nasty, just lackluster, overcooked, tough and bland–with some of the best service I’ve experienced in years, anywhere! In spite of the surroundings, the service was luxurious. [I’m still not going back.]

    When you write about “modern America” lacking luxurious service, am I to understand that you find luxurious service in modern somewhere else?

  11. Salvatore Chicero Said:

    You make a good point, Jeanne. In an effort to be brief, I made the unexpressed assumption that the quality of the product being offered by a professional rendering exceptional service, whether he be a doctor, a postal clerk, a waiter, or whatever, would be of high quality. Obviously a charming, skilled physician, with patience but without medicines or medical equipment, is no luxury; the most willing of postal clerks is incapable of rendering exceptional service because of the hopelessly bureaucratic incompetence of his or her employer, and as in the example you cite, mediocre food rendered with great service is even sadder than a great meal served by a witless waiter.

    As to my words perhaps demeaning the general quality of service in modern America, I believe that the growing glorification of egalitarian principals as being the very cornerstone of the country’s culture, works against the likelihood of one who has experienced luxurious service elsewhere where equality is less of an issue, being likely to receive such service here.

    That written, I do confess that there is one uniquely American occupation, many of whose professionals render extraordinarily luxurious service to their patrons. With fond memories of Ernie, Nelson and John, I can testify that the greatest bartenders in the world are Americans, perhaps because of that very egalitarian tradition. While I’ve never run across a good lady bartender, I’ve known men serving bar who were big or little, fat or skinny, old or young, white or black, Christians or Jews. Those things make no difference if they know how to use their ears. But then again, supposedly the greatest psychiatrists in the world practice in America.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Salvatore,

    I would imagine that after a few drinks, anyone anywhere in the world would appear to be giving good service at a bar as long as they continued to pour what a patron wanted, which is their job.

    I am fascinated with the inference that a psychiatrist is related to a bartender…a drink and a shoulder to cry on certainly costs less than 3/4 of an hour with a psychiatrist.

    I consider myself to be egalitarian and I also think I provide excellent service to clients so I don’t believe your contention necessarily holds merit although the topic might make an interesting post.

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