Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cutting Class

A good Canadian expat friend told me recently about a run-in she’d had with a stranger here in London. I’m not sure what she did to upset him, but he ended the altercation by calling her ‘middle class’. She said she’d felt very insulted. “Well,” I said, “I guess that could be insulting. I mean, I’d have pegged you at upper middle class, actually.”

“No,” she replied, “you don’t get it. When people here say ‘middle class’, what they really mean is Tory/Conservative. He was basically calling me a snob.” Um... whaaa?

“So let me get this straight,” I said, trying to make sense of it all. “He decided, based on how you dressed and how you spoke, that you were little miss hoity-toity. But then his best zinger to that was ‘middle class’?”

“Yes, exactly.” At that point I had to change the subject to force my brain to stop chanting ‘does not compute… does not compute’.

I don't get why people here say 'middle class' when they really mean 'upper class'... I mean, if people with tons of money, education, and conservative values are middle class, and people with not much money, little education, and social values are ‘working class’, then where does that leave someone like me – who has plenty of education, but not a lot of money, and a mix of socially liberal and somewhat fiscally conservative values? According to the British class system, I don’t exist.

Also, according to Suzanne Moore's latest article in the Guardian, if you have good, classic taste, and don't dress like a) a hooker, or b) someone who's colour blind/ insane enough to follow every London fashion trend, then you must be Conservative. She uses this theory to attack Kate Middleton's elegant dress sense. Yes, she dresses conservatively, and yes, this is probably expected of her. But last time I checked, lots of people in this world also dress conservatively - bankers, flight attendants, professors, bus drivers, politicians, and even journalists - yet there's no way these very different people fit into the same political category.

Ms. Moore is pretending to rage against the system, but is in actual fact participating in a long-standing British tradition of forcing people into one of two boxes. Here, you're either poor or rich, educated or uneducated, conservative or liberal. There is no in-between. This is reflected in the vast display of wealth versus those living in near poverty. Congratulations, Britain! You are now well on your way to having the same disparity and inequality as Brazil and Mexico.

For the record, classic style isn't Conservative, it's French. And the Brits are just jealous because they can't pull it off.

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