Can I Still Have a Butler?
July 27, 2011 7:42 AM   Subscribe

How would one successfully blend in with the rich?

After watching The Talented Mr. Ripley, I am curious about how one would behave to blend in with the 'upper-class' rich in America nowadays. Are there different forms of etiquette that normal people wouldn't be aware of? What is considered gauche to bring up in conversation, and what social norms are expected?

I am curious to hear from people who are rich, or who interact often with people who have quite a lot of money. What are the faux pas that one may not be aware of? What are the unwritten rules?

Obviously, even the location of "America" is very broad and one cannot generalize easily. How does it change from the South to the Northeast, for example, or from California to the Midwest?

More specifically: if Mr. Ripley wanted to pass for rich in today's average large U.S. city, what would he need to be aware of before doing so?
posted by amicamentis to Society & Culture (46 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
the 2003 documentary born rich showed a interesting glimpse at that
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 7:51 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mr. Ripley is a fictional character. You might look at Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter for a Ripley case. The truth is that a lot more social norms go out the window than in when dealing with moneyed people. That is because wealth creates an envelope of security. Their lives are often, like many people, based on a routine of work, events and meetings. Frankly, they want to be treated like any other stranger you meet at a party. Be yourself.
posted by parmanparman at 7:52 AM on July 27, 2011

The movie Six Degrees of Separation deals with the same question but as applied to upper-middle-class rather than rich.
posted by alms at 7:53 AM on July 27, 2011

The Real Housewives series on Bravo are obviously edited to make their escapades look more sensational, but they do offer a look into that lifestyle, and highlight the point that the answer to your question varies wildly by location.
posted by mkultra at 7:57 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I work with and know many rich people (for your purposes let's set the bar at people with multiple millions of dollars) and they're . . . uh, normal. I live in Seattle and most of these people of whom I speak are first generation wealth derived from the tech industry and live on the West Coast. It's the norm in these circles to be understated about wealth. If you want to "pass for rich" in Seattle go buy a fleece jacket.
posted by donovan at 7:59 AM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

There's rich, and there's rich.

The former, the nouveau riche, need to demonstrate that they are rich and so flaunt it with expensive clothes, trips, fancy gadgets and cars, etc. They'd talk about where they've been, who they've seen, where they're going, why what they're doing right now is merely okay but not the best ever, and if you want a better X you'll go somewhere else (far away) and have that X instead. They'll treat domestics and shop clerks like crap, ostentiously pick up tabs, and in general be loud and obnoxious louts. They have a lot of keys, one for each car, one for each vacation home, and safety deposit boxes on four continents.

The rich, on the other hand, haven't got anything to prove. They don't care about money: it surrounds them like air. It's always there. They don't talk about it. They wear clothes that are either impeccably tailored or are somewhat worn (but of the best quality) but are not ostentatious. They use tools that work, always. They treat service people well as a rule, and always expect that their wishes will be filled promptly -- but if they're not don't get bent out of shape. They don't talk about where they've been or what they're going to do: they talk about things that interest them intellectually or socially. They eat where they want to eat, drink what they want, and don't care who pays the tab, except if they know they're with someone less fortunate will quietly make sure it happens without a fuss. They probably have zero keys, unless they're driving themselves, because wherever they could go that would be locked to someone else will have a houseman who will simply let them in.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:01 AM on July 27, 2011 [52 favorites]

The problem is that to pose as monied, you have to spend money. You have to buy tables for charity events, you have to pick up the outrageous tabs at the "hot" new restaurants, you have to have an expensive wardrobe of clothes and accessories. That new Birkin bag? If you're someone, you'll have it when it's out, not one year later after you've reached your turn on the waiting list. If you're really someone, you'll have it before it comes out.

Seconding observing the atrocious Real Housewives series for insights, though I think the NY edition deals the most of the classically wealthy type on which you seem to be focused.
posted by litnerd at 8:03 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Act crazy and eccentric.
Know many famous people on a first name basis and be able to call them directly on their personal phone. It would have to be a cross section of famous actors, politicians, scientists, artists, musicians, educators, philanthropists, athletes, maybe journalists, and other rich crazy people.

Now play it like Wedding Crashers...where the above groups think you are close with some other famous person. Never ever name drop.
The best way in is to have an "In person" that will get the ball rolling (you get the in person through persuasion or coercion). As your in person begins to introduce you, you then need to find out what can keep the individuals in the above groups motivated and interested in usually will be what you can do for them (good drugs, campaign $, money laundering, intellectual ideas, dirt, ?) Become the Dos Equis man.
You will then gain momentum, and begin to build your own contacts. At this time your in person has to either marry you, or have an unfortunate accident.

All the other boring rich people will fall into line. Any of the initial group that does question you needs to have an unfortunate accident. This should never happen if you have been getting them what they need. Any of the boring rich ones can be blackmailed or set up.

The end result is that you can act anyway you want and people will begin to emulate you or think of you as eccentric or crazy...which is what you would have to be to pull something like this off. Good luck!
posted by MrMulan at 8:06 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

No butler, but things are disposable. I didn't grow up poor at all, but when something broke in our house, you either repaired it (yourself) or made do with it in its broken state until such a time as it became absolutely necessary to have a new one. (And even then, it had to be a need, like an oven, and not something "frivolous" like a camera.)

But of the...let's say extremely well-off...people that I know, everything is disposable. The TV broke? Just get a new one! Your computer crashed? Get a new one! The zipper ripped on your skirt? Let's go shopping! The hinges on your doors are creaky? Let's remodel! Spilled something on the carpet? New carpet! And so on.

No amount of "are you kidding me? Just let me at a screwdriver, this'll only take a minute" seems to matter. To blend in, you'll need to let go of any urge you might have to fix things.
posted by phunniemee at 8:06 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm reminded of the (probably apocryphal) remarks between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Earnest Hemmingway:

FSF: The rich are different from you and me.
EH: Yes. They have more money.

I can't say I've known lots of rich people, but I've known some, and they were all over the map. Nouveau riche did tend to spend a little more, but old money is generally very quiet about their fortunes, and is somewhat shy about what they've fallen in to. Quiet, well mannered, not gauche or over the top.
posted by Gilbert at 8:11 AM on July 27, 2011

Read Class by Paul Fussell. It deals with all social classes, but has lots about the rich. Also one of the best reads you will experience in your life. You will not be able to put it down until you've finished it.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 8:12 AM on July 27, 2011 [20 favorites]

The Atlantic has covered the rich a couple times recently too.

The New Global Elite - about the new meritocratic rich (tech industry, businessmen, and financiers) and how they're actually more connected with each other than common people and the consequences of that.

While searching for that one, I came across "Secret Fears of the Super-Rich", which talks about a Boston College survey on how being rich affected their lives, and as the title mentioned, their anxieties and fears.
posted by FJT at 8:16 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've noticed that the very rich seem to have perfect "trimmings"- well-manicured nails, precise and attractive hair cut/color, perfect skin, expensive (though not ostentatious, usually) watches and jewelry, divine perfume.
posted by heyheylanagirl at 8:18 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was raised mostly middle class, but my mother and all my aunts were debutantes, and I went to boarding school with people whose family names you would recognize. I won't say I ever really fit in, but I agree completely with seanmpuckett's assessment of the "rich" as a different class from the nouveau riche one sees on those Housewives shows. The thing that struck me about my classmates was the complete obliviousness about money:

Girl: Do you ski?
Me: No, I'm afraid it's too expensive for me.
Girl: Oh, no, you don't need all your own equipment, you can just rent it.

Talking about money is the ultimate in gaucherie.

In spending time with rich relatives, what I can say is there is a sense of behavior that is just that much more tailored, every button buttoned, nothing said that could be left unsaid. You wouldn't wear an evening dress to dinner, but jeans and a t-shirt would be. . . surprising. No one would raise an eyebrow, but you'd notice. And if you showed up to a khakis and dress shirt occasion in jeans and a t-shirt, your host might surreptitiously change in to jeans and a t-shirt himself.

On preview:
I've noticed that the very rich seem to have perfect "trimmings"- well-manicured nails, precise and attractive hair cut/color, perfect skin, expensive (though not ostentatious, usually) watches and jewelry, divine perfume.
TOTALLY. It all comes out in the details. I tend to feel like an unmade bed at a family reunion.
posted by endless_forms at 8:20 AM on July 27, 2011 [11 favorites]

We've had a previously on this but I can't find it. The only thing I can really emphasise is that there is a vast divide between old money and new money. Born Rich money is not at all like Real Housewives money. It isn't necessarily a social divide - Jamie Johnson would still be friends with Ivanka Trump - but if you watch Born Rich you'll notice that the daughter of the financier is raised "in the lap of luxury" and is very aware that her education and shopping is privileged in a sort of tee-hee way. There's a functional awareness of the money in the way there isn't with old money families. It isn't a background, it's a Thing.

If you happen to watch Born Rich, you can wave at my dad. Who was not born rich, and is not rich, but is the attorney briefly featured at the beginning and the end of the film. Hi dad!
posted by DarlingBri at 8:26 AM on July 27, 2011

You might find The Millionaire Next Door interesting, as it basically sets out to answer precisely this question. It's a tiny bit dated (published in 1998) but certainly more current than anecdotes from the 80s or earlier.

I know some very wealthy people (tens of millions, net worth) who are pretty frugal. They spend money on things that matter to them, make investments, etc., but drive used-off-lease midrange domestic luxury cars, live in a low-cost rural area, have a big but not mansion-y house, etc. They cook and eat at home, and might be equally likely to go out to a local pizza place as to a white-tablecloth crumbscraper.

Many of the things that tend to be associated with wealth (brand new European luxury cars, huge houses, designer clothing) are status items. Those things are only valuable if you care about displaying status. At a certain level of wealth, some people just stop giving a crap. When you're making more money in interest every day than most people around you make in a year, there's not any need to rub it in everyone's faces.

Obviously though, there are rich people who never stop giving a crap, and do make a point of status displays long after they've achieved "fuck you money." There's a lot of diversity in backgrounds and personalities even among multi-millionaires. And the behavior and culture of a Boston Brahmin who inherited their money is going to be very different from a midwestern natural-gas baron, or the self-made real estate flipper. You need to get much more specific than just "the rich" in order to find a shared culture, IMO.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:45 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

My perceptions (male), in New England:
* An understanding of quality. Cost isn't as big a factor as the quality of something, like fabric.
* The only caveat to that is the look of it. Trends are popular but so are old standards and minimalist approaches, which surprise surprise, tend to be low cost and high quality.
* So to sum the above two up, you might know that Toyota and Hyundai are dependable cars, and would then look to the luxury version of both (Lexus for Toyota, can't remember Hyundai). For shoes you'll get a few pairs of expensive ones with the understanding you'll have them for years and take care of them, rather than buying lots of shoes over the same time period. Suits, watches (personal results linked), and shirts work the same.
* Information. They cast a wide net with multiple sources that are amongst the best available. How? ...
* People make the difference. If you find someone good, stick with them fiercely. Reward them. Make sure they know how good they are. Get them on retainer. It isn't just lawyers that do that. In short, build your own personal logistics network. Not surprisingly, it's harder over the internet, but still possible.
* Take command of situations. Tell people what you want, expect, and don't know. Don't hint at it. The art here is words, not aggressiveness.
* Be polite and take care of those around you. Example: If you're first at the elevator and alone, hold it for others waiting, then get in.
* An understanding of most aspects of social decorum. The dinner table especially. The rest you can sort of get away with if you're quiet about it.
* Detachment. The only people who get attention when they aren't doing something crazy is the people who look like they're about to. Just walk around, look around, etc. You've got time to figure things out if need be, or...
* Know good excuses. Even politely asking works wonders.
* Power doesn't matter. Giving away some of my responsibilities to others working their way up the ladder set me much higher org wise because I mentor people... I had been afraid of being blinked out. It's silly in hindsight.
* Accents are tricky. Mid-Atlantic, or none at all.
* Be willing to completely change things, as needed.
* Last but not least, do this long enough to be well aware of what is happening in all sectors of this effort, and understand you only have to follow an aspect of it if it suits you.
posted by jwells at 9:00 AM on July 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

My grandparents were Old Money. One admonition that really stuck with me (said in tones of accented Old Blood horror): You DON'T thank the help!

You can thank with a generous tip, but in general, the myriad services that people do for you should be treated as unremarkable, and the less said about them the better. You might perhaps to observe later that the service at X place is better/worse than at Y place, but that's about as far as it goes.
posted by Ys at 9:04 AM on July 27, 2011

In order to successfully fit in with the mega-rich, you have to know and be known by other mega-rich people. Old Money people already know or know of other Old Money people. New Money people get to know one another through events, business dealings, boards of directors or social gatherings.

You could pass for "rich" for a short while by taking on the accouterments of the rich, but if you don't have the connections and the ability to back up your claims in a research-able way, it won't last for very long in this day and age.
posted by xingcat at 9:06 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Rich does not equal upper class. AT ALL. They don’t even have to have anything to do with each other, and often don’t. There are lots of low-class rich people (Real Housewives) and lots of poor upper-class people. So it really depends on which you're talking about.

If you just want to appear simply rich, all you need to do is appear to have lots of money. Taste is irrelevant—you can simply imply that whatever you choose is what cost more, which will imply to this group that it’s the best. And there will always be plenty of people around to help you decide what to do with the money they think you have. That means clothing with obvious logos, a purse that has a waiting list, a gold (or even black) credit card. And whatever isn’t physically on hand to waive in front of others, you simply to talk about, whether it’s your Caribbean home, your staff, your famous friends, or your jewels that are too expensive to wear out.

If you want to appear upper-class, it’s a little harder. There are customs and standards, but it’s more about what has always been done rather than what everyone else is doing. “Such-and-such a store is where our family has always bought shoes” or more often such-and-such store is just where shoes come from, without further thought. Things are repaired, re-used, or adapted to simply because “new” is often a hassle. It’s in old-money houses where you’ll find doors that stick a little and handles that need to be jiggled just so. A taboo topic is anything that could make someone uncomfortable or cause an unpleasant scene. A topic that could out you as a phony is one that implies that you care what anyone else thinks (unless it’s your parents), that you are worried that things won’t wind up just fine, that you are in any way insecure about your place in the world or in society. But luckily, being upper-class, by its nature, has not changed much over the years. Most things in the Preppy Handbook or other older books about the thinking and behaviors of the upper classes probably still hold (the clothing and outer trappings might be a little dated, but not by much).
posted by thebazilist at 9:08 AM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I know a fair number of high-tech industry millionaires in the New England area. For the most part, they drive pretty normal cars (maybe they spring for a Carrera but probably not), have nice but not omgamazing houses, and dress in quality but not omgsuperfashionable clothing (only the very young ones rock the fleece; the ones above the age of 35 still tend to be casual but less college student-y). They tend to *do* omgamazing things with their money -- safari in Africa, wedding in Greece, fancy ski trips, random zero-G flights at whatever commercial company does that now, etc. So socially the people hanging out with them participating in these activities are very aware of what it takes, but outwardly in normal conversation upon first meeting them, you probably wouldn't know.

I know a couple of older tech billionaires, both self-made (aka not born rich). They dress in extremely high-quality clothing and shoes with very high quality but understated accessories, occasionally have drivers (but do still like driving their own cars), and take private (usually their own) jets. They pick up a bill without thinking, commenting, or broadcasting it; they are well-spoken but don't have any particular upper-class accent; they are unfailingly polite and professional when they should be and friendly but respectful once you get to know them. Their lifestyle might come up in conversation, but it is never the topic of conversation. Had I not been made aware of their net worth I would have figured they were just well-off classy older gentlemen.

The very small number I know who are attention-whorish with their money -- private islands, ridiculous houses that earn their own Wikipedia entries, ostentatious cars, etc -- would have been attention-whorish without the money. The money just helps them achieve their goal. See also: any Real Housewives, Kardashians, Paris Hilton, etc.

Generally the only thing I have learned is not to make a big deal out of it. Whether they're telling you about the wedding they attended on someone's superyacht, the private jet they're taking somewhere, or that they have to end our phone call because Goldie Hawn is on the other line (this actually happened to me once), I never go OMG YOUR LIFE IS AWESOME AND I WANT IT. I ask questions about the actual topic they're telling me about, not the wealthy lifestyle that is implied. That's nice about the wedding you went to on that yacht, tell me about the ceremony? The reception? Where's the couple taking their honeymoon? Oh, you're private jetting to a conference? Are you speaking there? What about? Hey, that's cool, is Goldie Hawn working with you on [project]? Though I'm just a few years out of college from a solidly middle-class background, I manage to keep up professional and friendly relationships with people like this without too much trouble, and I try hard to keep them from feeling uncomfortable that I'm fawning over the way they live their lives. I don't want to be a fangirl, I want to be their peer.

Then I go home and go OMG I WANT THEIR LIVES to my dog, who does not judge me, and start planning which fancy cars I'll buy when I win the lottery.
posted by olinerd at 9:09 AM on July 27, 2011 [14 favorites]

There's two sorts of rich. There's nouveau riche, or the newly moneyed, and they tend to be ostentatious. They spend it, talk about money, and take interest in the things money can buy, which depends on their interests. It may be art, it may be architecture, it may be expensive cars or sitting in on high-stakes poker games. To get along with them, you merely need share their interests. You need not even be wealthy -- and sometimes not being wealthy will be to your advantage, as part of the pleasure of wealth is showing off wealth. If you have an interest in expensive cars, they will be happy to talk about cars, show you their cars, take you with them car shopping, etc.

Then there is what Paul Fussell calls the "rich out of sight." They are old money, and have always had money, and tend to hide from public view. They were raised to stay out of the press and to never, ever make a show of having money. They will dress in well-made but unshowy clothes, drive beaten up old cars, and stick to a rather regular schedule. Money is not especially interesting to them. Depending on where they were raised, they will have certain manners, etc., often the sorts of things that feel antiquated. You can locate them through their children, sometimes, who will behave like nouveau riche. They can be a rough nut to crack. If they have wild kids, get to them through the kids, and all that requires is a desire to party. But they are a cloistered community, for their own protection, and you will never be able to pass yourself off as one of them, as they are in a very small group who all already know each other.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:16 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are there different forms of etiquette that normal people wouldn't be aware of?

No. But people who want to pretend that they are rich have a lot of etiquette to be followed. If you have 100 millions than you can eat a slice of pizza on the street and don't bother. If you make 100k and want to show that you are rich and elite then you don't want to be seen eating this 2 dollar pizza slice...
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:46 AM on July 27, 2011

As a former social climber with ideas above my station I'd agree with a lot said above, the markers are more subtle cause the rich rich have never given a thought to their social standing or money. You don't need to wear your wealth on your sleeve (how gouache) so it's more inconspicuous consumption - perfectly turned out details and a general smoothness. A big class marker that I was just the perpetrator of are brands you can;t really buy in a store - I notice a lady at a party has a scarf made by ELITE_DESIGNER_X who doesn't advertise cause ELITE_DESIGNER_X goes to the kind of parties and meets the right kind of people and they buy directly and the only way you would know this is if you too went to those kinds of parties and met those kinds of people (or are a total fashion nerd).

Tom Ford once had a saying that he changed the designs of Klein's shirts as soon as we saw them being worn at the airport.

I also think there is a very real difference between East Coast, MidWest, and West Coast upper-class affections but I'll limit myself to the East Coast.

There's a lot of things you don't pay for. Going on a trip? A friend can host you. You follow all the same media your wealthy friends follow. Social connections are everything cause you don't talk about money.

You probably have better skin care and are in better shape than average, cause you can afford to. Teeth would be straightened, moles removed, minor "issues" taken care of.

Above all it's the idea of The Voice. It's a combination of being raised in a way that may have included elocution lessons but values public appearance STRONGLY.

It's a polite voice, but it is confident. The expectation is you will always be taken seriously and just by saying something and asking for it, you will get it because not getting what you want almost never happens. Or, even if you don't get what you want, you will always be listened to and catered to and you'll always have an escape hatch.
posted by The Whelk at 9:47 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Transportation is the difference.

There's "rich," then there's "can afford to charter private jets," and then there's "has a private jet."
posted by joshu at 9:55 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly the biggest hurdle would be getting invited to the kinds of event where the rich gather, after that it's more a matter of looking well-turned out and not causing a fuss. Social Connections above all.
posted by The Whelk at 9:59 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

You may find this thread about class marker behaviours and mannerisms to be relevant.
posted by orange swan at 10:00 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can find a copy of the original Preppy Handbook, there's lots in there about the social/cultural details of coming from old money. (And yes, the book is satiric and certain elements of it are dated, but it's grounded in a fair bit of inside knowledge of that particular corner of the upper class.)
posted by scody at 10:11 AM on July 27, 2011

There's "rich," then there's "can afford to charter private jets," and then there's "has a private jet."

But remember how that exemplar of American royalty, JFK, Jr. traveled-- not by private jet but by flying his own private plane. In those old-money places, there's actually kind of a divide between the people who are old money and have the free time and resources to indulge in hobbies like flying their Cessnas to their vacation house and the newly minted billionaires who come in their G4s.
posted by deanc at 10:22 AM on July 27, 2011

Although I have never been rich, I was once mistaken for rich because of my (apparently) exquisite table manners. Of course, nothing was said to me directly. Someone else told me later.

On the topic of nouveau rich vs. old money, one thing I've noticed is a sense of social responsibility in the old moneyed rich. A kind of, "it's part of my place in society to do charitable works" rather than, "this money is all mine, I earned it." Of course, there are many exceptions, one being the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:58 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

One source of confusion in this thread is the difference between "class" and "money." This confusion arises because America's class system is our dirty little secret. The truth is, there is virtually no correlation between money and social class in America.

For example, someone up-thread mentioned The Millionaire Next Door. This is a great read, about working-class and middle-class families who happen to have a lot of money. (If memory serves, most of them became millionaires through owning a successful franchise branch like Quizno's or 7-11.)

At the time it was published, it served as a wonderful counter-check to the dominant culture of conspicuous consumption. I haven't read it recently, but I suspect its conclusions (to get rich, stop spending money) will turn out to have been quite prophetic.

Paul Fussell's Class is an interesting read, in so far as it is one of the few works which dares to openly discuss our class system. But it is sadly out of date on the particulars.

A better choice, and a book I would recommend to Mr. Ripley himself, is Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich by Robert Frank. It's a fascinating read, and a contemporary look at the lives of the super-rich. It is also careful to draw distinctions between money and social class, and explores the minefield that lies along those boundaries.
posted by ErikaB at 11:22 AM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

Vanity Fair magazine has doors into several worlds of rich. The Preppy Handbook defines New England [and to a certain extent Southern] old money. Old Money is based on land, family, history. Similar concerns to European minor nobility.

There are also articles about Old Money inheritance scandals, nouveau riche self-promotion, and slavish devotion to Royalty.

Side comment: Kate Middleton's eyeliner is NOT old money.
posted by ohshenandoah at 11:34 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

The one thing that might surprise you if you're not from money, is that everyone from money has a lawyer. It's simply a necessity in this day and age. To people without money, a lawyer is just somebody you call when something bad happens, like a plumber or an electrician. It's not like you know the guy by name and grew up with them and have their home number in your pocket or on speed-dial. People with money call their lawyers by their first names. People without money call their lawyers Mr. Such-and-Such.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:41 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Second-hand info, but it always stuck with me. Some long-ago-otherwise-forgotten magazine article talked about what a maitre d' looks for to determine if a man is really wealthy or just a poser: the shirt-buttons and stitching. Custom tailored and other high end shirts have a more finished look than less expensive ones, and it's obvious if you know what to look for. (Not that I would know what to look for, but this particular maitre d' apparently did.)

Personally, if I had to name what one thing all the wealthy people I have met had in common, it would be that they seem to have a sense that they absolutely belong wherever they are; they never seem out of place, or apologetic for their presence.
posted by The Deej at 11:45 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would say not needing a job/career. Also, being able to take trips on a whim.
posted by parakeetdog at 12:07 PM on July 27, 2011

Yeah, it really depends what "kind" of rich you mean.

I work with a lot of rich tech people (tens/hundreds of millions or more). You couldn't pick them out of a crowd from the others. They dress/act the same day-to-day. As some said above, they often do have expensive hobbies (racing, flying, etc) and vacations; but not all of them. They tend to dress in the same jeans-and-tshirt as everyone else in tech (even the billionaires do this). Other than knowing that they have money, there's no obvious way to tell who they are (especially since the other people around them tend to be solidly middle/upper-middle class programmers, who share a certain economic security).

The only real faux-pas would be talking about how rich they are. Part of the reason they're so indistinguishable is they don't tend to put a big emphasis on money or think it defines them in some way.

Rich people from other professions, "old money", etc can be very different, but I have little experience with those.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:25 PM on July 27, 2011

the 2003 documentary born rich showed a interesting glimpse at that

I went to (a very small) school with some of those kids. If I had to generalize, I'd say that rich people -- of the East Coast old-school style -- go out of their way NOT to flaunt their wealth (which makes it kind of exhausting for them to be around people who aren't so rich. To ponder aloud whether you should hop on the jet for a little R&R in Martinique is only "flaunting it" if the people in hearing distance don't have jets).

Table manners, as somebody mentioned above, never stood out to me. Quiet cultural capital did. That is: a certain attitude of gracious indifference to things that you and I would crow about: trips abroad, nights at the opera, etc. Not boredom, just... taking it all for granted. Concrete example: spilling red wine on your $5000 dress, reacting only with, "Well, shit! Ha ha, that sucked!" and continuing to party. Or, "Yeah, I spent spring break in [amazing foreign location]. Yeah, it was okay. Hey, you want to watch Dirty Dancing tonight?"

Warning: this attitude can prove infectious, and cause much cognitive dissonance for the middle-class child. When I came home on holidays, my parents noticed, and Did Not Approve.
posted by artemisia at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ripley would never be able to get away with his routine now. It's too easy to figure out where he didn't go to school, camps, summer, etc. via the internet.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:13 PM on July 27, 2011

If you need something to stand out for your Ripley-esque character (besides, you know, MURDER) it would be the loss of this kind of social connections, abusing trust and informention given privately - Truman Capote was completely frozen out of the high society he traveled in after reporting all their gossip in a novel and didn't have the wealth to fall back on.
posted by The Whelk at 2:14 PM on July 27, 2011

I loved the Bradley Cooper movie "Limitless" if only because Cooper's experience, once he hits is big, so perfectly captures the very modern portrayal of wealth that the Atlantic article "The New Global Elite" (mentioned above) defines. It's such a different depiction of wealth than the stuffy old Caddyshack snobs that populate 80s movies who keep losing their monocles in their tea.

When Bradley Cooper's character becomes enormously wealthy, he doesn't turn into a blueblood. He turns sleekly and intensely *global* - today's new rich: travel cross oceans at the speed of light, speak a smattering of languages, jetset with a coterie of highly educated global cosmopolitans who have have been (highly) educated (possibly abroad), hold connections that span the globe and are entrepreneurial and business-focused.
posted by sestaaak at 2:29 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Read Cheerful Money by Tad Friend for an interesting look inside an old money family. He talks about the preppy handbook -- sorry no link I am on my phone.

I work for many high net worth people old money and new and one thing I have noticed is the difference in the way they talk about their properties to other people. Old money people refer to the name of their estate or the neighborhood association the estate is located in. New money people talk about the town or region e.g. the hamptons, and might go on about being on the ocean, something an old money person would not do.

The comment about the slice of pizza is spot on -- similary one person I work for has asked for a ride when he heard I was heading to a certain neighborhood -- that he would be arriving at his destination in a work van was of no concern to him -- his driver had taken another family member somewhere and was not available.
posted by mlis at 3:44 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I work with and know many rich people (for your purposes let's set the bar at people with multiple millions of dollars) and they're . . . uh, normal. I live in Seattle and most of these people of whom I speak are first generation wealth derived from the tech industry and live on the West Coast. It's the norm in these circles to be understated about wealth. If you want to "pass for rich" in Seattle go buy a fleece jacket.

Yes, I know some myself. Very well. It's not discussed and you'd never know if you met them. They are a bit embarrassed about it.
posted by jgirl at 7:38 PM on July 27, 2011

I grew up in a moderately wealthy household (upper middle class, by most standards) but was constantly surrounded by absurdly rich people. As an adult, I socialize with those same people when I come home to visit.

The number one marker of wealth is a dizzying lack of perspective, of which they are completely unaware. As others have mentioned, rich people mostly socialize with each other, or with "the help." It's often difficult for them to understand how the majority of Americans live. They think of themselves as basically normal, and assume that anyone who would have to worry about things like health insurance or housing costs, or who needs any sort of government assistance, must be a "welfare queen" or an illegal immigrant or a lazy brown person who just makes bad choices.

I remember when the topic of public healthcare was hot, over and over again they would rant about it in front of me, and complain about how it would only benefit undesirables of one sort or didn't even occur to them that I, the adult daughter of one of their friends, didn't have any sort of insurance at the time myself.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:12 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am a mystery shopper and I sometimes do assignments where I have to pretend I make nearly a million dollars a year, or otherwise shop at places where it's nothing to drop a couple thousand dollars. As such, keep in mind that the settings in which I do this are directly related to money, but much of what people have already said still applies. And yes, there are a few types of rich.

This is how I look rich: I (female) wear tailored button-up shirts and slacks from Brook's Brothers, with simple understated black heels, and zero accessories. (This is actually how I dress most days, precisely because it makes one look very put-together and wealthy without costing terribly much in reality. And I hate jewelry, so.) I have a simple but attractive haircut with no special coloring. I wear natural-styled make-up that is slightly high-end (MAC, Makeup Forever, Sephora fare basically). Sometimes I wear a black tailored blazer, depending on the context.

If I have to do "Hollywood/creative rich" -- sometimes necessary in LA -- I add a bright green tie, sometimes a hat, usually the blazer except a bit wrinkled.

Rich housewife -- as opposed to being involved in the money-making process -- is also different. I wear more feminine clothes, a few accessories, and do my make-up somewhat more dramatically.

This is how I act rich: I put on an aire of confidence with a subdued but genuine kindness. I say little, listen closely and calmly, and when I do speak, it's with the understanding that I have authority, full stop; I don't have to press it or prove anything. I assume people will either do what I ask, or if there's a hitch somewhere, it will be easily smoothed over, and so act generally serene and composed. There is the idea to take the big steps and the details will work themselves out; this is definitely not something I can think in real life, because when you're not rich, you can't assume things will work out okay. I do not react to talk of money; it's irrelevant if something costs $1 or $700,000. I am polite, tactful, and never have a bad word to say about anyone or anything. I do not bring up anything untoward or colorful, and if someone brings something like that up, I just give a small amused smile.

"Hollywood/creative rich" is different. It is more animated. Sometimes I will react to prices, depending on the context. In my head, I often have the "secretly in debt but don't want to show it" idea. If the person I am talking to speaks colorfully -- they often do -- I will speak colorfully. If they don't, I retreat slightly to the generic rich attitude above.

Rich housewife is different. It is animated in an affected way. I act very slightly entitled but out of my depth, only because I don't think I could stand to act entirely entitled. I will react to prices in the sense that I may let my expressions somewhat betray that I think something is a lot of money, but I will gloss over it with a big smile and say it's okay. In other contexts I will be less entitled and simply say I will say I have to ask my husband. It just depends. This can be really, really cliche but after you see enough people like this, you realize it's a cliche for a reason; there are plenty of rich housewives who are awesome people, and I have met them, but the cliche is common enough that no one questions it.

There is, of course, "Type A asshole rich," which I never do, and honestly do not often see in reality.

I have never had anyone fail to fall for any of these, or give the appearance they thought I was acting oddly. They pretty much do what I want/expect.

Now, past that, I grew up lower-middle class and am now upper-middle class, and I have had some experience interacting with very upper class people in politics. The main thing I can tell you is that lower class people talk about money MUCH more, and have more open personalities.

People with money usually don't talk much about it, but they will bring up things like remodeling their home without acting like it means they have money. If conversations shift to talk of actual prices, there's usual a cue in the conversation that essentially amounts to "okay, we're going to agree to talk about money right now and it's not going to be considered rude." For example, someone brings up they're remodeling their house to rent it out, and someone else says, "I've been thinking of doing that, but the market's really bad right now. How do you feel about that?" and that's the cue. Then the person can say, "Well, honestly I'm not expecting to be able to rent it out for more than $1200 right now, and after the costs, well..." This deliberate cue might simply be an upper-middle class thing, rather than an upper class thing, because from the little bit I've seen of absurdly rich people, it's less of a social faux pas to mention literal prices, but it still seems that they do not talk about money overly much.

As for more "open personalities," I mean that when I was growing up I always felt I could say almost anything to another person that was lower or lower-middle class. When you don't have a lot of money, you get a lot of your amusement and happiness from joking around, and there's a lot of humor in dispensing with what's the appropriate way to act. You really can't do that as easily as upper-middle class; when new people venture to try it with me, they always have this aire of trepidation that dissolves away when I respond well to it. It's like they secretly want people they can say outrageous things to, but they don't often find an outlet. They will also often say these things by leaning in and lowering their voice, which is kind of endearing. Growing up in the lower-middle class, though, we would just say that shit loud in the living room and anyone came around we didn't know very well, it was like, "Hey, welcome to our crazy fucking get-together, have a good time."

Also, lower class people are usually more open in talking about their problems, especially monetary problems. I think it's because it's assumed that the other person can relate, and it's not really considered shameful. Upper class people tend to hide these things like it's shameful, I think because they feel it isolates them from their peers, but I dunno. Middle class, it just depends; they usually aren't as open as lower class, but they can be pretty open -- I think because in the US, at least, it's increasingly assumed that being middle class means you have precarious finances that can go from livable to nothing in short order, so it's less alienating to deal with those problems; you feel like everyone thinks about that sort of thing.

Another data point: at lower middle-class gatherings I've been to, people tell insanely funny stories and that's the main source of enjoyment; at upper middle-class gatherings I've been to, people play board games and drink in a very polite way. I like both, but I slightly prefer the lower class get-togethers.

There's always exceptions to all of this, like there are definitely wealthy people who are hilarious and have awesome personalities, or wealthy people who will talk openly about financial problems, but it's hard to get around generalities in answering the question. So, that's just been my experience thus far.
posted by Nattie at 10:33 AM on July 28, 2011 [25 favorites]

If you're a rich person working in finance, the social norms can be enormously different than a rich person working in technology, or a rich person working in Hollywood.

Finance and politics require a bit better etiquette than the rest, perhaps. But we don't have any 500-year-old dynasties of rich families in America, which takes a lot of the requirements and resets them.
posted by talldean at 2:23 PM on July 29, 2011

Actually, there is a kind of conspicuous dressing down in a lot of American upper sets, but it's a very stylized form of trying not to try, cause trying to impress is vulgar.
posted by The Whelk at 10:01 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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