Tuesday 22 September 2020

Class is Dead, Long Live Class: Definitions

To some, "posh" people went to a private school, however cheap and obscure. Their parents were teachers and business-people, rather than cleaners and lorry-drivers. But really posh people are aristocrats, who have old money, inherited land and stately homes. The category includes rich families who have always been friends of aristocrats.

In the US, it means well-off people who run the country. In the UK, it means people with a hereditary title who own large houses on country estates. (The Antiques Road Trip recently used “aristocracy” to mean “haute bourgeoisie” – the kind of people who went to the opera in the 19th century.)

Upper class: To tabloid (red-top) readers in the UK, it means upper middle class. They lump us with aristos, not caring about the vast disparity of wealth, power and land ownership.

Middle class:
In the US, it means working people who are doing OK at blue-collar jobs. In the UK, it means a snobbish elite obsessed with "clean eating" and being "woke".

George Orwell called himself a “striving exam-passer” – he was middle-middle-class, and had to pass exams because he couldn’t rely on powerful friends pulling strings to get him a job.

According to the National Readership Survey, the upper middles (Social Class A) are vastly outnumbered by the middle (Bs) and lower middles (C2s), and the aristos don’t even feature (despite owning half of Yorkshire). And the As, Bs and C1s are outnumbered almost two-to-one by the C2s, Ds and Es (skilled workers, unskilled workers and workless). No wonder the chaterati were so upset by the death of Diana, Princess of Wales: huge crowds appeared from nowhere, took over London, cried openly, tied teddy bears to trees, applauded Earl Spencer's address, laid a carpet of flowers in front of Kensington Palace, and then quietly disappeared again. The upper middles are still trying to forget that all these other people share the country with them. (What to say about Diana's funeral: "Of course I was sad, but I wasn't hysterical.")

I see the "exactly what is middle class" discussion is spreading! The Americans are right of course. The old British definition is silly. (@grodaeu)

I think the confusion is that in recent years we've accepted the American definition of middle class, i.e. everyone who isn't dirt poor, whereas the Telegraph still uses the traditional English definition, which is basically anyone who is rich but not traditional aristocracy. (@AndrejNkv)

In the early 90s, Louise Mensch claimed to be “upper-class, not middle”. Her father was a lawyer and her mother the headmistress of a prep school. Upper middle, I think, Louise.

It's confusing that the Guardian, among other publications, uses “middle class” to mean “upper middle class”. No wonder people think that anyone who “talks posh” must be enormously rich and privileged.

@mckellogs in the US wonders what working class people think of as “middle class”? She lists:

Gets desserts at restaurants
Has a specific hairdresser
Real butter
Fresh picked flowers
Lots of bed pillows

Dad’s parents were Scouse/Welsh/Irish – a miner and a former housemaid. Mum’s parents, on the other hand, were teachers, from Cambridge – and, therefore, posh: Gran had been to Egypt on holiday and wore berets. (Caitlin Moran, Times 2015)

In the past 50 years, the upper-middles have been forced to copy the lower-middles, and pass exams to get into university, get a job – though patronage and the Old Boy network still operates in the UK. An old schoolfriend agreed that when we were young nobody talked about careers, and besides there was a boom and any fool could get a job. If you were sacked there was always another job you could walk into. But then times changed swiftly – probably with the oil crisis and the end of the Summer of Love.

The Times in 2015 wrote a piece headlined: "Sloanes lose their place in society to the polite new Middleton class". The magazine Town and County started the rumour. Called after the family of the Duchess of Cambridge, the "Upper Middletons" have "neither vast wealth nor lineage". Instead they they value "close family relationships, loyalty, reliability and niceness". They send their children to co-ed boarding secondary schools like "Bradfield, Millfield or Marlborough". Says Town and Country: “Their children are perfectly turned out, polite and, dare we say it, slightly boring. They have nice manners, are popular, attend school parties with perfectly wrapped gifts and get decent grades.” The Upper Middletons live "in Battersea, Putney and Richmond" or “underwhelming” counties like Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Hertfordshire. They run "small businesses that can keep them close to home". "They prefer skiing and tennis to riding and hunting... they disdain bling and anything nouveau riche."  You can recognise them by their "high-street taste", white jeans and "nude" coloured shoes. Meow!

More here, and links to the rest.

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