It certainly won’t surprise anyone familiar with my blog that I use cloth napkins for every meal. In fact, the only paper napkins I have laying around are a few I’ve collected here and there when grabbing a bite to eat on the road. With only a couple Starbucks and Chipotle paper napkins in the house to speak of, cloth is all I have to offer guest. Whether they’re grabbing a bunch of grapes on their way through my kitchen or sharing a full meal with me, a cloth napkin is what they get.
This can lead to minor problems. The minorist of which is not having a paper napkin on hand when a guest specifically asks for one. I’m not so green that I need to completely disregard a visitor’s request. However, when my guests are also family members, I don’t give in so easily. My house, my rules; and my family always goes along. But going along isn’t necessarily the same as getting along as I found out when my sister and our nieces visited me for a few days last fall.
At dinner their first night in town, my niece Lacey (not her real name), age 9, used her cloth napkin the way she’d used hundreds of napkins — paper napkins — before, and why wouldn’t she? Paper napkins are practically all she’s ever known. She’s accustomed to using napkins as nothing more than a creased paper towel, and she knows exactly where it will end up — in the garbage. So Lacey went into the kitchen with her plate for seconds and returned to the table with no plate—just her napkin loaded with a second helping of greasy potato skins.
“Lacey,” I said, “please don’t use your napkin to carry greasy food, hun, use a plate, okay?” Almost before I could finish my sentence, my sister, Lacey’s Aunt, snapped, “It’s a napkin, Crissy.”
Did my sister think I was over reacting to the permanence of large grease stains on napkins I use daily, or had she too failed to grasp the difference between a cloth and paper napkin for all intents and purposes? Ten seconds later I got my answer when she spilled her red wine and used one of my cloth napkins to mop it up. AUUGH! I’m not making this up.
I do own paper towels (the recycled kind) as well as keep a bin of rags handy for wiping up spills, but that might have been too fine a point for the paper napkin crowd that expects napkins to do double duty around the house.
I should have known that when the not-so-green and the oh-so-green spend a long weekend together, there’s going to be misunderstandings and disappointment. On this particular occasion, I learned that you can’t expect children to know how to use something they’ve never been taught to use, and even some adults need to be reminded that there’s more than one way to clean up a spill.