Back in 1977 I fitted out my very first kitchen. I had a ridiculous amount of fun wandering through department stores and kitchen shops deciding what would be most useful and which items I might get at a later date. Even things as mundane as rubber spatulas, whisks and mixing bowls made me feel bouncy. It was at about this time that I was invited to my very first Tupperware party.
An impeccably groomed young(ish) woman introduced herself as Jenny, our sales consultant. She assured us all that there was absolutely no obligation to buy anything. Of course, if we did choose to buy a few items, this would add to the total sales for the evening and ensure that our hostess would receive a lovely gift as a reward for having us all around and for providing such a tasty afternoon tea… and she would be more than willing to sit with each of us in turn to advise us on our purchases…
Having delivered those little bombshells and neatly installing a small case of the guilts, Jenny got into the swing of things. First we had to endure a couple of mildly awkward icebreaker games. Somehow or other sharing the name of our first pets, where we went to school, our favourite colour or whether we could touch our right hand to our head at the same time as rubbing our belly was supposed to enhance our chi, make us feel relaxed and help us get to know one another better. I’m not a fan of ice breakers in general. They tend to be activities or questions that the under-12’s might find amusing or interesting, but leave me stone cold and significantly less relaxed than I was to start with – and yet they seem to have become part and parcel of any number of meetings, gatherings and events, much to my dismay.
Jenny barrelled on through her script, eliciting uncomfortable giggles and random information from all and sundry for 10 minutes, then moved on to the main game. She started by giving us a bit of background about the product, emphasising that all items came with a lifetime guarantee. Several bright smiles later we finally got to the point where she showed us some of the latest and/or most popular catalogue items, i.e. what we were actually there for.
Since I was still in kitchen-equipping mode, this part turned out to be surprisingly interesting. The products looked useful and I could definitely imagine a range of the matching canisters in my pantry, storing things away tidily and in such a way that critters couldn’t stealthily infest them. I also rather fancied the idea of an item called the Mix ‘n Stor, which was essentially a large measuring jug that doubled as a mixing bowl. It had a rubber/silicon anti-slip ring on the bottom and a lid that doubled as a splashguard in the event that one chose to use a hand-held electric beater to mix things in it. Very handy.
At about this point we were given the shiny colour brochures – and the price list. I’ve never been much of a poker player and I doubt my flinch was very subtle. Jenny pounced immediately, smiling brightly and reassuring me that I could actually get some of the goodies for free – if I booked demonstration of my own and invited at least six friends along. No pressure, of course, but booking a demonstration would also add to the overall points for the evening and my friend would then get even greater rewards for hosting the current event…
Not a lot has changed in almost forty years. The products are still very attractive, the sales reps are still well turned out and discreetly pushy, the icebreaker games are just as awkward – and the price list still makes me flinch. These days, however, supermarkets, department stores and kitchen shops are all overflowing with a plethora of comparable products that one can purchase at far more affordable prices and without the ‘no pressure’ sales technique. Despite this, however, Tupperware parties are enjoying a renaissance. Just last week I ended up attending my first in over a decade. I was one of a dozen or more guests, all but three of whom were between 25 and 35 years old. The older contingent neither wanted nor needed any more plastic items, no matter how attractive. We’d simply come along as a gesture of solidarity (the host for the evening being the daughter of a mutual friend) and to catch up with one another.
The surprise of the night was the glee with which the younger women fell upon the products, cooing at them as though they were novel and exotic. They sipped their champagne, nibbled on Brie, crackers and fresh cherries and compared what they’d already bought and what they were planning on getting. They used their smart phones to share their calendars and to book demonstrations and trotted out their credit cards to confirm their significantly overpriced purchases. It was fascinating to watch the buying and demonstration-booking frenzy, even though it was largely incomprehensible. Surely their mothers and grandmothers all have kitchens and pantries bursting at the seams with similar products bought at similar events during the 70’s and 80’s, I thought, so what’s the attraction?
By the time I left I’d concluded that Tupperware is rather like flared jeans, mini skirts, short shorts, tie-dyed T-shirts, low cut pants, bright colours, maxi-dresses and oats porridge (a super food, you know…). They’re all hang overs from the 70’s and have all been (re)discovered by a generation that has claimed them as new, rather than retro, and who find them original and exciting. Everything old is new again. Again.
Sadly the Mix ’n Stor no longer seems to be a catalogue item – and I never did get one.