You don’t get to choose your gifts. If you did, I’d have chosen a photographic memory, or being the person who can always get a problematic barbecue going, instead of my actual gift which is accidentally making friends with rich people.
I can’t help it. I’m a honey trap for high net worth individuals. If the mega-rich lined up for anything, they would line up to be friends with me.
I don’t even know why – whether it’s my personality, or the mixture of pity and gratitude they feel as they watch me touch-park my 2003 Honda CRV Sport between their Audi and their other Audi. And since they were meaning to do more charity this year anyway, having me over for lunch is sort of a box ticker, in that sense. If not tax deductible.
While I’ve come to accept my gift, being a friend to the one per cent is not without its hazards. I know, for example, that when they suggest dinner ‘somewhere low-key’, that means fewer than three Michelin stars, but more than one. When I bring wine to their dinner parties, I know to look away as they stare, confused, at the dot-matrix label and then hide my gift of 2015 ‘Shiraz Style’ Wine Drink (Not For Human Consumption) in the butler’s pantry behind the Grange Hermitage they use to make gravy.
Their houses, though. Their beautiful, beautiful houses. I may never get used to the particular sort of longing I experience in their exquisitely-curated dwellings. Not so much, jealousy as, um, well, another word that means jealousy.
And although it’s unlikely that you’ve been blessed with the same innate ability to befriend the affluent – not with your knack for languages and killer rack (nobody gets all the gifts) – chances are you’ll make at least one friend in this lifetime whose house is unimaginably superior to yours. You’ll find yourself grappling with the same sense of childlike wonder/paralysing despair when you step into their vestibule for the first time and realise you could fit your entire apartment into it. Twice. An almost physical agony when it turns out none of the artwork in their downstairs lav was originally part of a fancy calendar, and that there’s actual Aesop hand soap in their Aesop hand soap, not Palmolive Softwash they siphoned in with a funnel.
I wish I could tell you it gets easier, the more time you spend in homes that The World of Interiors passed over on grounds of being ‘too beautiful’. It doesn’t, but there are things we, the aesthetically-advanced but fiscally-challenged, can do to avoid making things worse. Especially during that difficult first visit.
If, during The Tour (yes, you have to do it, but you don’t have to accept the audio headset) you recognise the lovely Eiffel chairs in the guest kitchen, don’t be all ‘Oh! I have the same ones in red! Milan Direct, yes?’ No. Nothing is Eames-style here. Everything is Eames-actual. It’s best not to ask where they got anything you like and could see working in your own combined living room/eat-in sleeping area, because the answer is never ‘the SupaCenta by the airport’ and always ‘the most charming flea market in Paris’ to which there is no appropriate response. Apart from a single tear.
In the same way, if you can’t stop calling attention to how beautiful everything is or inadvertently mention how you’re planning to go home straight after this and light a small bonfire with your own possessions, your host will get embarrassed and say something apologetic like ‘Ugh, I like nice things!’ which makes it hard not to shout ‘WE ALL LIKE NICE THINGS. BECAUSE THEY’RE NICE!!! WHY UNIVERSE? WHY AM I A GARBAGE HUMAN?’ as you fall to the floor and make yourself liable for a car-payment’s worth of bespoke rug cleaning.
Really, your best bet, in the home of someone who’s made consistently better choices than you and been richly rewarded for it, it’s best not to say anything, or touch anything, or steal anything if you can help it. Although, to be honest, if it’s something small like a hand towel or marble-topped occasional table, they hardly ever notice. But maybe that’s just another one of my gifts.