Sunday 6 January 2013

Nasty Habits

The British upper middle classes think they are the best people in the country – in the world! But they have a few unappealing traits.

In the UK, the classes don’t mix much – which is probably why they are so suspicious of each other (benefit scroungers! toffs!). The top layers live in bubbles and only mingle with people from the right “background”.  Who said that these days the classes only mix on the race course? Is this why everyone loves Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs – because you have all the classes in the same soap opera? (Apparently DA shows aristos and staff being fearfully matey with each other – which would never have happened. Employers treated servants as non-people.)

Middle-class Upwards and Weybridges like to say “illegitimi non carborundum!” (Don’t let the bastards grind you down). They think other people are grinding them down, not the other way round.
They are obsessed with queuing – they really don’t see why they should spend a nanosecond in any queue of any kind. Their blood pressure rises on the tube (people are going through the ticket barrier before meeee!!!!), on trains, and especially in supermarkets where they time the people in front – who can never find their money fast enough and then pay in small change!!! Other customers may even misuse the shopping divider. (They still can't quite believe they are shopping in the same place as other people to whom they have not been introduced. And there are so many of them. And they bring their uncontrollable children. Some childless Upwards think that children should be banned.)

The top layers of society loathe intrusive security at airports. To be patted down – touched! – by common people! And treated just like everybody else! It’s an outrage! Don’t they realise who we are? "Don’t you feel guilty passing through customs even though you’ve got nothing to declare?"

Do you respond when someone lets you cross the road? All you need to do is nod, smile or wave - but to a stranger???

Top people often don’t reply when shop staff chat to them. They don’t think of it as being rude. These are common people they don’t know – why should they speak to them? They like to say: “I hate being sold things.” The shop staff have probably been told to smile and chat (and also hover to see nobody nicks anything).

They like to say: “We can't live in fear.” They are very afraid of fear. We should just shut up about paedophiles because all this talk is making people too afraid. That’s why they flapped over Harriet Harman wearing a stab vest in Peckham, and when Jacqui Smith said she didn’t like walking alone late at night. We mustn’t say that our streets aren’t safe because it would make people afraid. “Being mugged in Spain yet again hit my wallet hard. But the real cost is in losing trust in people.” (The Guardian, May 5 08)

And people shouldn’t show weakness, or emotion in public. Yachtswoman Ellen McArthur is not a national heroine because she whinged all the time in public. And she’s had too much attention and besides she’s common. John Prescott talking about his bulimia is “self-pity disguised as honesty”. And he’s definitely common. And they despise Nick Clegg for saying sorry. He’s an “apologiser” now. (September, 2012)

They hate vacuous celebrities. They are afraid their children will be unduly influenced. These celebrities are celebrated for common achievements like pop music and football, or else they’re just “famous for being famous”. They want their children to see Olympic athletes as role models instead. Or is that just everybody else’s children?

But they adore rather plain middle-aged male actors like Ken Stott, Jim Broadbent and Ian Holm. (Such a mahvellous actor – and he could be me!) They don’t idolise really pretty people, and never go mad over actresses.

Thanks to Twitter and the always wonderful Middle-Class Handbook.


  1. "Employers treated servants as non-people." - Where do you get that sort of thing?

  2. When Charles said, "Why be so polite to servants? they don't understand it," she had not given the Schlegel retort of, "If they don't understand it, I do." (Howards End)

  3. "She employed him for these intimate tasks with her usual scorn for servants, without even looking at him." Shop assistant Mignot is fitting a glove onto the hand of Mme Desforges in Zola's Ladies' Delight, 1880.

  4. And from a fictional woman in 1880 France you generalise to the whole of 1920s English middle and upper classes? One could even as well argue that Zola highlighted Mme Desforges because she wasn't typical. Or one could simply counter by inferring other fictional works like, well, why not Downton Abbey?

    Please don't get me wrong - judging from this blog, I think you're a very keen observer; I just think this impression isn't fair. Servants in 1880 or in 1920 didn't have the worst jobs of their times, and they certainly weren't serfs or slaves.

  5. Servants are "human, often very human, and they should certainly be treated reasonably and their rights respected." From The Woman's Book of Household Management by Florence Jack. She goes on to say that you should say please and thankyou, to servants, and good morning and good night. "A fear of familiarity should never be an excuse for a curt answer..." She also says that education has made the working classes less keen on being servants, and we must move with the times and make their lives more attractive.