Class consciousness
July 25, 2008 4:35 PM   Subscribe

What behaviours identify someone as belonging to the lower class, and resources (books/websites) for improving them?

Inspired by this question, I suspect that my lower-class childhood has left a mark. As I near the end of my degree, and a complete career change, it seems an ideal time for an image makeover. I'm wondering which traits and behaviours might cause some people (specifically employers rather than potential partners) to categorise someone as lower class? What are some positive or neutral behaviours of the upper class that could be adopted to make a person's class unidentifiable?
posted by b33j to Human Relations (71 answers total) 107 users marked this as a favorite
What are some positive or neutral behaviours of the upper class that could be adopted to make a person's class unidentifiable

This is extraordinarily dependent on where one lives. I see from your profile that you're Australian.

Here in the US, consciously adopting upper class affectations makes you look pompous. The tendency here is exactly the opposite: for the upper classes to play down, not for the lower classes to try to play up. But there's a cultural aversion to class differentiation here in the US overall.

I was under the impression that was the case in Australia, too, for the same reason: a conscious rejection of European class-consciousness.

My general attitude about that kind of thing: if someone rejects me for my perceived social class, then they're probably not someone I would want to associate with anyway.
posted by Class Goat at 4:47 PM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Entitlement or expectation underlie some behaviors of the empowered classes. The grittier aspects of life that depend on others must run smoothly, transparently, without any effort on your part. On the flip-side, demonstrating servitude or compliance in deference to others places you in a lower class.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:48 PM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Uh, I was thinking about things like holding cutlery but I didn't want to narrow it down and get suggestions just for books on etiquette. I don't want to emulate an upper class, just avoid employers (not friends or partners) making assumptions about me due to my class.
posted by b33j at 4:55 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm wondering which traits and behaviours might cause some people (specifically employers rather than potential partners) to categorise someone as lower class?

Poor grammar, both spoken and written.

I don't know if it's a regional thing, but every time I hear someone in my neck of the woods say "yous," (I.E., "How are yous doing?"), I cringe.
posted by at 4:57 PM on July 25, 2008 [5 favorites]

Your teeth are a big indicator, both because your smile is often part of the first-impression package, and also because there is generally no dental care whatsoever available to poor people. If you have yellow/brown/missing teeth, people will never assume you are rich.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 5:01 PM on July 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

If you are indeed from Australia, then I think much of what would categorise someone as 'lower class' (although I think 'bogan' would be a much more appropriate term) would be their habits more than their behaviours. Drink VB or XXXX, love the V8s, have a Holden jacket? That'd put you squarely in Boganville. Love your Barossa reds or Clare Valley whites, go to the Arts Festival, can't wait for that production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to come through? I think you're more in the 'upper class' (although I don't think I've ever actually used that term here).

But I think, for the most part, these habits and behaviours are just the large strokes and that most people wont get too hung up on them. By the criteria I just mentioned, I'm a good fit in the wine crowd and would be quite out of place at the Clipsal 500. That being said though, I have some good friends who loudly and proudly identify as 100% pure Boganus Australis. Sure, at first, neither of us thought we had much in common, but all it takes is time. If you're at a job interview and are worried about coming across badly, instead of trying to disguise yourself as someone different, just emphasize the parts of you that are most attractive to an employer. For example, I think most 'lower class' (again, it's an awkward term) people are far more open to strangers and willing to chat (think Darryl Kerrigan in The Castle), so that could be something you really stress in an interview.
posted by twirlypen at 5:05 PM on July 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

I agree with Heavily accented speech, overuse of slang or casual cursing, or poor diction can be indicators.
posted by netbros at 5:08 PM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ignatius J. Reilly, dental care varies throughout the world. Even then, you can have great teeth without ever having to visit a dentist, some are lucky that way.

I'd say diet is a pretty huge thing.
posted by fire&wings at 5:11 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Poor grammar, cheap or worn clothing, bad posture, poor hygiene and a sullen attitude towards perceived authority can cause one to be perceived as a guttersnipe. Wash yer 'ands an' face, an' remember that the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.
posted by Koko at 5:19 PM on July 25, 2008 [8 favorites]

It's neither a trait nor a behavior, but: teeth, straightness thereof.

The health-care situation in Australia is different than the US, so I don't know if this applies. But most middle-class and above kids in the US get at least some orthodontia (even for very, very minor crookedness), while many lower-class people simply can't afford it for their kids, even if they have more severe orthodontic issues. While people don't necessarily consciously discriminate against people with poor teeth, it is definitely a class marker. NY Times Magazine article.
posted by desuetude at 5:19 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Fitting in:
  • Keep yourself clean shaven. (this doesn't mean you can't have a beard or goatee, but keep it neat).
  • Don't wear wrinkled clothes or scuffed shoes unless you're working/playing outdoors.
  • Don't swear.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Expect things to go smoothly. Don't lose your shit if they don't. Unless it's big money business.
  • Arrive more than five minutes early (but less than ten).
  • Smile.
  • Get your teeth lightly whitened if you think they need it. None of that super-white stuff though.
  • Get into shape if you aren't.
  • Dress casually, but with a bit of style.
  • Know how to order food, wine and eat with class in a nice restaurant. the best way to learn is with an uncle or slightly older mentor. A country club type of guy is who you're after. If you're frank about the purpose of a few practice dinners out and you pick up the tab, they'll be flattered and impressed with you.
  • Relax. What could possibly worry someone as together as you are?

posted by terpia at 5:24 PM on July 25, 2008 [29 favorites]

Best answer: The book I mentioned in the other post, "Crossing the Tracks for Love: What to do When You and Your Partner Grew Up in Different Worlds", had many charts and checklists comparing and contrasting different traits of the lower class vs. the middle class vs. the upper middle class.

One thing I remember is how you drink beverages. People from lower class backgrounds tend to drink beverages straight from the can or bottle, while upper class people tend to pour their beverages into a cup or glass.
posted by sixcolors at 5:27 PM on July 25, 2008 [5 favorites]

Best answer: if someone rejects me for my perceived social class, then they're probably not someone I would want to associate with anyway.

But of course. The question was about employment, however, and we cannot always choose our workmates. Moreover, it becomes an issue with promotability. You can do a bang up job at the lower levels, but it could be a problem moving up the ladder. (There are exceptions of course, but that need not concern us here. The questioner wisely desires to improve his odds.)

TO the question, however. Not sure about where you live, but certainly in most major cities in the US there are short courses that address this very issue. Somewhat akin to what the old guard used to call finishing schools, at least for girls. They still exist, and the modern equivalent for modern young adult has come out of it. And don't assume being born middle class exempts one from their benefits. I've seen plenty of presumably well educated middle class adults jump right into telling the dirty joke in front of female managers, asking co-workers about when you're you're going to have children, making idle racist comments, . Think THe Office for negative examples. There are books, to which add common sense.

Oh, and I've seen crooked teeth on some of the most urbane and polished people I've ever known.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:29 PM on July 25, 2008

Ruby Payne has written a book called A Framework for Understanding Poverty, and some other books that discuss class and its effect on thinking and life skills. Some of the points she brings up in her work are very interesting, but there are other thoughts that she is pathologizing poverty. I recommend looking at her work for ideas - but don't treat it as gospel.
posted by marlys27 at 5:29 PM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

dental care varies throughout the world.

All kidding aside regarding UK dental practices, I saw an editorial there ridiculing a national politician for having his teeth fixed, saying he had "gone Hollywood."

Sometimes "defects" can be a sign of upper class fuck you.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:38 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Koko mentioned: sullen attitude towards perceived authority.

This is true. Complaining about your boss, your professors, your parents can definitely out you as one who has not been brought up carefully.
posted by amtho at 5:39 PM on July 25, 2008 [12 favorites]

I kinda wish you had a photo posted--I usually get an impression of someone's class based on how they look, more than on their behavior. But anyway, if you smoke (or chew tobacco) you would might want to think about quitting. Tobacco products are pretty much one of the only consumer spending categories where spending is negatively correlated with income (at some income levels, and in the US, anyway; I don't know about Australia specifically).
posted by phoenixy at 5:41 PM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Complaining about your boss...

Having a boss.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:46 PM on July 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Some more pointers concerning your appearance:

- Take care of your nails, but aim for a natural, finished look. Don't use Lee Press-Ons or put little decals on your nails.

- Aim for a cared-for yet natural hairstyle too. If you're not naturally blond, but want to go blonde, have it done professionally. If you dye your hair yourself, make sure you know what you're doing and that it looks natural. Obviously bleached-out or dyed hair is a bad, cheap look.

- Avoid bright, clownish colours when wearing makeup. A bright lipstick in pink or peach or red is fine, but stick to natural eyeshadows and eyeliners, at least for work.

- Know when to dress up and when not to. If you're going to an afternoon concert, don't wear evening clothes. Don't wear low cut or skimpy clothing to work.

- You're better off wearing good quality clothes from thrift shops than poor quality new clothes.

- Don't buy cheap shoes (except for sandals). They look terrible in no time. Keep your shoes clean and polished and don't let them get run down at the heels.

- It's funny, but when I try to picture a "low class" look, I keep picturing the kind of things women wore in the eighties. Big hair, loud colours, plastic jewelry, exaggerated details in clothes like shoulder pads and puffed sleeves and so on. It was such a tacky decade. Ever seen Working Girl? Melanie Griffith gives herself the best movie makeover ever, transforming herself from a working class secretary no one will take seriously into a much more polished, professional-looking woman. And she gets what she wants thereby. See the movie and you'll see what I mean.

- Avoid "rough" humour — jokes at someone else's expense, insults, pointing out other's mistakes, and so forth, and being a loudmouth. It's bad manners and will make you sound like you grew up in a garage.

- In terms of manners, you can never go wrong by being simple, honest and kind. Don't try to impress. Just be low-key and observant of what others do. And read some etiquette books. Miss Manners' books are wonderfully witty and enjoyable in their own right.
posted by orange swan at 6:06 PM on July 25, 2008 [17 favorites]

Response by poster: I've updated my profile for people who don't wish to answer the less narrow question- what behaviours identify someone as belonging to the lower class, and resources (books/websites) for improving them? but prefer to address my specific situation.

Thank you all. You've identified a number of areas I can work on which will not make me pretentious but at least, less obviously a bogan.
posted by b33j at 6:06 PM on July 25, 2008

Re. authority, also acceptance of authority. There is a marked tendency lower-class towards unquestioning obeisance of stuff like "doctor's orders." As though it was not possible to question the opinion of any professionals. Even if the doctor's orders are to eat better and are ignored in practice, it's still ridiculous to think that Doctor doesn't know best, even if Doctor is espousing on marital relations or something else he's not really qualified to advise on. He's the doctor!

And acceptance of fate. Analyses of class differences in parenting always point out that the lower class tends to take bad news from the school with a sigh; classes above assume or insist something must be done.

You would probably find Paul Fussell's Class: A Guide Through the American Status System an entertaining read and, though it's not intended to be one, a useful guidebook.
posted by kmennie at 6:18 PM on July 25, 2008 [9 favorites]

you can never go wrong by being simple, honest and kind.

According to the Buddha, one should only speak what it is kind, helpful, and true. The Buddha was a classy dude.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:19 PM on July 25, 2008 [14 favorites]

If my daily subway ride is any indication, excessive use of foul language should be right at the top of the list.
posted by JaredSeth at 6:41 PM on July 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm particularly conscious of this one since I grew up lower class and ended up working it: Food.

Markers of lower class?
1. Eating at "bad" chains like McDonalds or Olive Garden (others that are upmarket are OK such as Panera which has upscale sandwiches and Chipotle which is expensive and uses natural ingredients).
2. Eating "bad" things like white bread and hot pockets (a staple of my childhood).
3. Not knowing about things or being willing to try them. AKA blanching at the thought of sushi or not knowing about wines.
4. Table manners.

Some markers of higher class include buying "artisan" products like fresh baked bread and frequenting farmer's markets.

For me the transition was all too apparent when I dated someone from my hometown one year. He wanted to take me to Olive Garden, didn't want to try Thai curry, and lived off of Kraft Mac & Cheese. I'd been through years of grooming to not be like that I realized. All the business etiquette classes I took, the subscription to Gourmet magazine, wine tasting seminars, reading the food section of the NYT, trying new restaurants, and looking up anything I didn't know on the internet (I learned how to use chopsticks on Youtube) had made a huge difference.

Some books I'd recommend are: The Omnivore's Dilemma (or In Defense of Food) by Micheal Pollan (an upper class foodie darling), Micheal Ruhlman's Elements of Cooking, Emily Post's Ettiquette, and Larousse Gastronomique.
posted by melissam at 6:54 PM on July 25, 2008 [9 favorites]

can you spend time with someone in the class you aspire to? i was at a meal with a couple of people from a higher class than me some weeks ago and it was amazing how different they were - how they looked, dressed, talked. i'm sure there would be more to notice if you cared.

the flip side of that is that i was also shocked at how homogeneous the people from "my class" were (ie differences i had previously thought significant paled in comparison with the difference between "us" and "them"). i mention that because if you're already living/working with these people and don't notice much difference, then perhaps there really isn't that much (or you're worrying about relatively fine distinctions compared to the range of classes that are out there - we do tend to spend most time with people similar to ourselves).
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 7:05 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Figure out how to act and dress appropriately in all situations. (Easier said than done, of course.)

In short, be a grown up. A lot of people get so stuck in their ego and personality that they can't give up who they think they are and defer to the status quo of a situation. "I'm too important to wear a suit to your wedding! Me me me me!" For example.

When it's someone else's game (socially), play by their rules.
posted by gjc at 7:06 PM on July 25, 2008 [5 favorites]

Oh, and eschew all the faux-class things like only eating at the right restaurants and faking knowledge of wine. That's not class, that's being materialistic.

It's not what you eat, it's how you act while eating it.
posted by gjc at 7:11 PM on July 25, 2008 [10 favorites]

I would say that in general, a heightened 'paranoia' about the impact of one's behaviour on others is a marker of middle-class WASPiness; e.g. not driving a 'boom' car; not playing personal music at high volume on the subway or in shared environments; not carrying out hygiene practices in public (nail clipping etc.); asking permission before lighting up a cigarette...
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:15 PM on July 25, 2008 [6 favorites]

I would say the thing that's helped me most has been to cultivate very good manners and use them with nearly everyone, so that they become a firm habit. Ditto for phone manners!
posted by bunji at 7:39 PM on July 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

I don't know if it's a regional thing, but every time I hear someone in my neck of the woods say "yous," (I.E., "How are yous doing?"), I cringe.

You're cringing at perfectly correct grammar.
posted by oaf at 7:45 PM on July 25, 2008

For a start, read the Fussell book.
posted by chinston at 8:18 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

good grammar, some nice, well-fitting clothes (simple is fine, avoid the trends unless they look good on you), good posture, confidence, an up-to-date haircut and shoes, good teeth, good diction, clean nails. beyond that, someone who has grown up in a more privileged life will tend to advocate for themselves more--in other words, if your boss tells you to do something, but you know a better way, you'd want to say, "that's a good idea. i've been thinking about this problem myself, and thought i might try it this different way, because of x,y, and z benefit. do you mind if i give it a try and see if it works?"

but i have to say, i work in the south with some very rednecky people. they get by just fine, because they are confident in their right to be there and they are good at their jobs. so confidence and exuding capability are, i think, key.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:33 PM on July 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

There's two little handwriting habits that set off alarms for me:

1. Mixing upper and lower case letters in words. For example, writing in all caps but throwing in a lowercase "a" or "e" in the middle.


That looks obviously wrong when typed, but I'm talking about handwriting. If I see that in a professional/business environment, I think "undereducated poser".

2. Slanting letters to the left. Well, this applies only to right-handers, but somewhere I picked up that slanting to the left correlates to something negative. It could just be cultural bias against lefties! I'm sure you all will jump on me for this one :)

I'm not actually serious about judging people on the latter, it's just fun to notice. But the former ... big time.
posted by intermod at 9:05 PM on July 25, 2008

Don't touch yourself in public.


I take the bus a lot and i see a wide variety of people. I've seen a lot of lower class people sit there, on the bus, in public, picking their nose, scratching their balls, picking at scabs, etc. They are also usually slouching, often wearing either very worn, ratty clothes or over the top white leather jackets with dollar symbols all over it.

that being said, a lot of it is in how you hold yourself.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 9:33 PM on July 25, 2008 [5 favorites]

not that you seem like some one who would.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 9:37 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

In Australia? Hmm. This is regional advice, of couse, but you probably want to at least get a passing familiarity with Rugby Union. It's not as elitist as it used to be, but League and Aussie Rules are definitely blue-collar by comparison.
posted by rodgerd at 10:03 PM on July 25, 2008

Please, for goodness's sake, make sure you spell words correctly and completely. I cannot stress how idiotic and even slightly lower-class people who misspell words seem to be and usually are.
posted by kldickson at 10:17 PM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Golly, this really resonated with me, I could have written this question myself a few (many) years ago.

Be as articulate in person (speaking-wise) as you appear to be in written form, because from reading your previous comments - you appear to be able to express yourself particularly well. That is definitely not the mark of The Bogan.

As kmennie mentioned, don't be deferential to authority. Treat everyone as though they are your equal (from CEO down) - because 1. they totally are, and 2. it shows that you are one of them. This has been particularly useful for me.

In addition, as pretty much everyone has mentioned, watch your diction. This is hugely important! And if you come from the country, try to speed things up a wee bit (having lived in the snobbish bits of the city for 20 years, the difference between myself and my country-living Bogan siblings is astounding).

Pretty much the only television you should talk about is something you've seen on the ABC or SBS. Read your state's broadsheet, not the news ltd tabloid garbage. Be able to discuss interesting, topical subjects. Even a passing familiarity with The Arts will stand you in good stead.

Embrace your inner snob - just a teeny smidge.

On preview, as rodgerd says, cultivate an interest in Union. If you are in NSW or QLD keep your rugby league supporting to yourself, unsure how this flies in other states. If, like me, you cannot abide Union, in Sydney at least, AFL seen as rather wanky indeed (go Swannies!) and thus quite acceptable to follow.

it really did resonate, I felt compelled to respond after I'd resolved to permanently lurk
posted by the.carol.baxter.experience at 10:37 PM on July 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I can offer some answers that are more specific to the Australia. Class isn't as strictly defined in Australia as it seems to be in the UK or in some parts of the US, but there are still plenty of behaviours and traits that serve as markers. Upper/middle class/educated people don't necessarily learn these things as class traits, but they may think you impolite/uncouth/stupid if you do them. There's nothing wrong with wanting to avoid these things and give a more neutral impression - I've had to learn most of these things from scratch myself. Of course lower-class is a fraught term that's not always accurate, but I'll use it, since you do.

- Don't attempt to adopt a completely new accent, but do make sure you pronounce every part of the words you speak. Say the 'l' in 'vulnerable', for example, and both 'n's in 'government'. When you say 'duty', it should sound more like 'dyoo-tee' than 'Judy'. Good diction makes you sound articulate, which (sometimes unfairly) makes people assume you know what you're talking about.

- There are a few language quirks that signify an Australian working class accent. One is exaggerating the '-er' at the end of words. In a middle class Australian accent, the 'er' in 'doctor' is a short, neutral 'uhr sound - 'dock-tuhr'. Lower class speakers tend to stretch it out - 'dock-taaah'. Another habit you might want to avoid is saying 'Yep' and 'Nup' when you mean Yes or No (In less formal situations, it's fine to say Yeah, Sure or Nah).

- Many lower-class Australian women put makeup on quite badly. One habit that's really common is wearing a dark, unsmudged eyeliner without much other makeup, during the day. Heavy eyeliner is fine in the evening, but it needs to be well blended into your eyeshadow and it goes with other makeup like foundation and lipstick/gloss. During the day, if you wear any makeup at all, it's best to keep it to a minimum and wear natural colours - like shades of brown eyeshadow and a neutral soft pink lip gloss. A makeup store counter can help you here. Unless your fashion concept is very avant-garde, salmon, orange, hot pink or tomato-red lipstick will almost always make you look trashy.

- Another obvious thing lower-class Australian women do is to slick their hair back, without a parting, and tie it into a high ponytail or messy bun. Unless you're a ballerina, this can look a bit tacky. Middle class Australian women are more likely to wear their tied loosely back, with a parting, and they tend to avoid the really hard, clear gels that make hair look plasticky. In general, high ponytails look lower-class on adults.

- Something I notice a lot around where I live (where there's a lot of public housing and people I'd broadly define as working class), is women who wear strange combinations of clothing. I don't mean that they aren't perfectly co-ordinating their outfits (I'm certainly not!), but that the style and level of formality of their clothes is bizzarely mixed. For example, a woman might wear: new white sports shoes (the kind you'd actually run in), a pair of tight jeans, a baggy hoodie top with a brand name across the back, a knock-off leather handbag and a pair of fake designer shades on their head. The shoes are for exercising, the jeans could be smart casual, the hoodie is very casual, and the bag and sunnies could be quite formal in the right context. The overall impression, though, is that the person has bought a few 'special' items when there was money to spare, and they're wearing them all at once to make them look, well, 'special. It's actually quite an expensive outfit, but it looks tacky because it doesn't clearly fit into casual, smart casual or formal styles of dressing. Part of looking middle class is that you know how formal a situation is, and you dress/behave accordingly. You might need a helpful friend to give you advice on this in situations you haven't been in before. In general, sportswear looks tacky outside of your house or the gym.

- I agree with the comments made above about your attitude to authority - middle class people tend not to automatically see it as being against them (or as being impossible to disobey). I generally obey my doctor because I believe she knows more about medicine than me, not because I 'have' to. And I generally do what my boss says, because I believe he has good judgement and knowledge I can learn from, *and* because it would harm my career to be obstructive and unhelpful towards him. But I wouldn't automatically obey a TV 'expert', or a truly incompetent shop assistant, or a boss who was asking me to do something illegal. I guess this is more a mark of education than of class - you evaluate the validity of a person's authority before deciding how to react to them.

- A related trait is that middle-class, educated people tend not to jump into 'problem mode' too quickly. For example, a lower class person might say "Yeah, but I can't do it until Thursday 'cause I have to help my sister do...blah blah". I middle class person might say "Sure, I can do it for you on Thursday. Same answer, but they're not presenting it negatively as a 'problem'. If you haven't already learnt how to negotiate situations politely and assertively, try to learn before you finish uni.

- Middle class people use more euphemisms and language that could be described as politically correct - that might be why some posters got worked up about you using the term 'lower class'. Some euphemisms are polite and respectful, some can be a bit petty and long-winded, but it's still worth learning them. 'Person with a disability' is better than 'spastic', 'Indigenous man/woman' is better than 'Abbo', and it's probably better to talk about 'people of Vietnamese background' or 'Vietnamese Australians' rather than "Them Asians" (or other, more offensive epiphets). Learn the terms that are considered polite in whatever field you expect to work in, and respect people's right to identify themselves however they want.

One of the good things about Australia is that although there are still markers of class, there's no stigma of being a 'social climber' if you aspire to something that's a bit different from your early background. So although I've learnt to speak clearly, dress better and stand up straight, I don't feel at all uncomfortable about people knowing I grew up in a rough area or used to work in a factory. I think there's an egalitarian element to our culture that makes it almost admirable to come from a rough background and end up doing great things. If adopting a few middle-class habits will help you do that, go right ahead. Good luck!
posted by [ixia] at 11:29 PM on July 25, 2008 [17 favorites]

...Specific to Australia, not uh, The Australia. Did I mention how useful good grammar and competent typing can be? ;-)
posted by [ixia] at 11:35 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it's a regional thing, but every time I hear someone in my neck of the woods say "yous," (I.E., "How are yous doing?"), I cringe.

You're cringing at perfectly correct grammar.

Explain, please.
posted by decathecting at 11:53 PM on July 25, 2008

There are a few things I agree with here,.. and a few I dont:

The good stuff:
1.) definitely invest a little time each day (even if its only a few minutes) to your hygiene and general appearance. Everything should be clean and simple, possibly a little personal style if genuinely reflects who you are. Personally, I feel I've accomplished something in this category when people find it difficult to decide what class I come from :) (course, i also dont want to be part of any "class".. so thats my goal in the first place)

2.) I like the quote about Buddha. "speak only what is kind, helpful and true." Pay attention to good posture. Be a good listener (listen BEFORE speaking - this is not only polite, but allows you to learn more info before responding). Generally I try to guide my interactions with other people by reminding myself to "think of others first". (also keep in mind: "How will my actions affect those around me, before me and after me)

3.) Be informed. About something. ANYTHING. Whether that is reading a quality newspaper, or starting a book reading habit, or being especially knowledgeable about your favorite hobby. Point I'm trying to make here is to rise above the trashy superficial shallow "scene" gossip (news about Brittney, the latest diet fad, etc) and actually be knowledgeable about real quality cultural things. Make an effort to learn new things.

The advice I dont like:
1.) Eating at certain restaurants or being seen at certain high-class social venues.
As another comment said - its not what you eat, or where you are that makes you classy. Its how you hold yourself and how you act. I've seen classy people eating at McDonalds, and I've seen rich people at clubs act like total idiot redneck slobs. Dont be "that guy".

2.) unquestionably respecting authority.
Personally, I dont understand this at all. I'm not some super-rebellious anti-establishment type, its just that I think we as humans over-accentuate positions of authority. Valuing one human over another just because they hold a position of authority is a messy jump of conclusions. (People of any position should have to earn your respect by their actions, not by the size of their cushy corner office.) The point I'm trying to make here, is that everyone deserves a baseline of respect and politeness. In my opinion, it shows much more class to respect everyone (rich and poor) equally, than it does to respect some more than others just because of their position. (of course, this outlook on life has gotten me in trouble on occasion because so much of society and business is based on the authority pyramid model - but I still think my way is better :)

In my view, there are two ways you can approach this.
1.) stop caring what people think. (seriously, life is to short to waste your time on judgmental people)

2.) anytime you notice someone making assumptions about what "class" they think you are from - go out of your way to prove them wrong. Be unpredictable. Bring Mcdonalds to lunch one day and the next day bring in hand-made (by you!) dessert truffles to share with coworkers. One weekend go to monster truck racing or BMX and the next weekend go to the Opera or new museum opening. (the above examples are simply that. Dont do random shit just to be fake or superficial. Find things that you are genuinely interested in so that there is some substance behind the stories.)
posted by jmnugent at 2:20 AM on July 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

An extremely successful salesman I worked with once, who was flamboyantly and proudly lower class in his real personality and mannerisms, worked out a good method for relating to the frequently upper-class decision-makers he encountered on the customer side: by cultivating a knowledge of and enthusiasm for "the finer things in life", stuff like yachting, fly fishing, expensive whiskey, knowing his way around a golf course, etc. he seemed to have successfully tuned his small talk to the upper class frequency, as it were.

The guy would never be able to impersonate an upper-class individual and he knew it - he had absolutely horrendous grammar and spelling, a fairly broad accent for the U.S., he misused just about every word in the dictionary, and he had a generally goofy personality. But an amiable nature and his cultivated small-talk skills let him establish a rapport with people that usually got past any class differences.
posted by XMLicious at 2:29 AM on July 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

There's a difference betwen what the upper-class itself thinks is important, and what the lower-class thinks is important for the upper-class.

Lower-class focuses on facts/rules.
Upper-class focuses on style.

This often makes lower-class thinks the upper-class is all about rules such as etiquette, and doesn't see the importance of language and visual style (e.g. dress/makeup).

Education-wise: lower-class parents thinks their children have learned something in school when the childs have learned a lot of facts. Upper-class people thinks their children have learned something when they've got an understanding of the system, how everything fits together and interacts, and how to game the system, and made important friends.

Food: lower-class thinks upper-class has very complicated meals, but upper-class deems the quality of the produce to be most important, and the complexity of the menu to be slightly irrelevant.

Upper-class doesn't have to be afraid of becoming lower-class just be doing a few things that stick out. Be relaxed. Being afraid of being perceived as lower-class is very middle-class.

Upper-class people often survive mentally by not taking things too personal but being very casual about them. Lower-class often explodes in anger. Middle-class by being political correct and thereby avoiding the subject altogether.

"Crossing the Tracks for Love" is good, as is Russell's book although it's a bit dated.
posted by flif at 3:09 AM on July 26, 2008 [12 favorites]

I don't know how it is in Australia, but I'd bet money it's similar to what I've noticed as an American Southerner -- people who are securely upper class have a keen understanding of behaviors that mark you out as "new money" or, worse, fake money. Someone with "more money than sense," someone with "no idea how to handle it." This is considered laughable and far worse than simply being poor, which everyone at least will say they respect. It would be cruel and distinctly low class to make fun of someone for poverty, but it's open season on somebody who's got new money. Observe the loophole.

Such behaviors:
Ostentation -- great big new fancy anything, especially if it's artificially brightly colored or shiny. Some people spend a great deal of time and money on clothes, hair and nails, and look far lower-class than when they started.
Publicly being nasty or snobbish to retail workers, waiters, and help. This makes people look as if their experience with wealth is limited to fairy-tale wicked stepmothers.
Talking about one's personal financial life. "We don't talk about money." This is not true all over -- New Yorkers of all kinds openly discuss what they pay for rent.
Watching TV too slavishly. Liking TV is fine, but spending a lot of time in front of it suggests you never heard of better ideas for your time.

There is more, much more. I don't know if Fussell's book addresses these things. I've read his book BAD, which makes him sound like a bad-tempered expat American, trying desperately to be Mencken all his life, so I suspect that his book is probably not the last word on anything.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:27 AM on July 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Know how to eat an artichoke.

There's an anecdote about a big business consultancy (McKinsey). Apparently they take prospective hires fresh out of B-school to lunch and order artichoke as a way of weeding out people who are "not our kind." It's strange that something so trivial would be taken as a litmus test, and alarming that it would be taken as a hiring consideration, but there you are.
posted by adamrice at 5:53 AM on July 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think I know exactly where you're coming from, b33j. There are people out there, usually in positions of power, who will judge you by the car you drive and the clothes you wear and the movies you see and the hobbies you have.

In order to be high class in Ipswich you need to be employed as something higher than admin level, with a degree to back you up. You need to belong to a professional women's group such as Zonta and be able to talk with those kinds of people.

You need to have well groomed hair and manicured nails and well tailored clothes that are dry-cleanable only. You need to throw dinner parties and go to the Festival of Theatre at the Civic Centre and volunteer for the Art Gallery and go to charity nights at the local theatre (where I may be appearing!).

Golf is acceptable, Rugby Union also, this is Ipswich so League is also right up there although drunken nights at the Jets or Brothers would possibly be frowned upon if too rowdy. If you play netball you may be in with the in-crowd, depending on the circles that you're hanging in.

You could become a member of the Ipswich Club (Grey Street) and attend wine tastings and gastronomic evenings. Networking is important.

Saying cunt is verboten. Drinking to the point of vomiting should never be done.

Dressing well (including shoes) is extremely important if you want to be taken seriously by those people. Always iron your clothes. Make sure everything fits properly.

If you talk like a bevan, people will think you're a bevan. Enunciate.

Having said all that, please just be yourself and bugger those who would judge you for things like your car, your clothes, your job and your speech. Still, I know where you're coming from.
posted by h00py at 7:00 AM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Countess Elena on how you treat retail workers, subordinates, and people in the service industry. I'm now a professional but have had my fair share of wretched retail/food service positions. Class was always VERY clear to me based on how I was treated. Frankly, the upper class (old money, as we say in Dallas) know how to treat the help. The lower class, or worse still, "new money," would treat you as though your sole reason for existence was to cater to their every need. It's degrading--and I still remember it, 17-odd years later.

Be careful how you treat people that can't fight back. It says a lot about your class, but even more about your character.
posted by orrnyereg at 8:23 AM on July 26, 2008 [7 favorites]

Maybe it's just that I spend a lot of time with geeks, but I don't think complaining about your boss's incompetence is a class marker.

And here's an infuriating class marker story from the US.....A professor was teased by her colleagues for quite a while because she didn't know to pass the canape tray to another person rather than putting it on a table. The kicker is that that they were anthropologists.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:12 AM on July 26, 2008

Oh, and eschew all the faux-class things like only eating at the right restaurants and faking knowledge of wine. That's not class, that's being materialistic.

It's not what you eat, it's how you act while eating it.

Well if you fake knowledge of wine. That is pretty lame. Materialistic smaterialistic. Knowing good wine is a. enjoyable, since's good wine for a reason b. about how to act.
posted by melissam at 9:25 AM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do not talk at all about money. No one who is not related to you should know how much you make, and how much is in your bank account. I went to a quite expensive school, and it was a personal point of pride for me that all of my friends who were on financial aid assumed that I was on financial aid as well, and all of my friends who paid in full assumed that I was not on financial aid.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 11:08 AM on July 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

*Priorities: Smart = Good. Education comes first, and nobody needs TV. Read. It helps if you were raised this way, even if you were poor, but valuing obscure knowledge for its own sake is very upper class.

*Assume the money will be there: One of the things that blocks class mobility is that you believe you don't deserve the highest salary, you're not smart enough for the scholarships that are offered, and student loans are crazy. While knowing yourself is healthy, I know plenty of people who sold themselves short, when they were clearly as gifted as me.

*Extra talents and activities: Upper class child rearing usually includes a bevy of advantages, from musical instruments to science summer camps and language learning. This is compounding by having exciting hobbies later in life: rock climbing, weird faiths, travel, odd hand crafts.

*Weird diets: If you're a picky eater, it's because you are a vegan, or on a 'raw' diet, or fast one day a week, or any of the other fancy ideas of people who enjoy being different. Otherwise you'd rather eat tofu, frogs legs, lentils and pho than kraft dinner and wonderbread. Ethnic dishes from your past will now impress your friends instead of being shameful things you hide to conform, or boring comfort foods. You also eat smaller portions, and aren't impressed by huge plates full of food.

*Social activism: It seems like the higher your class, the more free time you have to worry about the plight of others. This is not to say that lower classes are uncaring, but you probably have more free hours to participate in the Friends Of Starving Nations Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters or the Urban Organic Co-op.

*Equal participation of both partners in child care, though upper class mothers breast feed. Late-in-life reproduction. Private school.

*Knowing you look fantastic enough not to care. A lot has been said here about perfect grooming, but this excludes the grad student look, where the person is clean, but there's a casualness caused by not having to prove anything to anybody. These are the people who can wear perma crushed loose cotton, ethnic jewelry, ugly glasses, shop second hand, or backpack through Europe with two outfits and their hair in artful dreadlocks. It's also easier to go goth/punk/whatever if you're at least middle class.
posted by Phalene at 11:34 AM on July 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

*compounded, ooops.
posted by Phalene at 11:35 AM on July 26, 2008

From a US perspective, attitude toward money.. I guess most everyone worries about money.. but talking a lot about those who have more money in kind of a resentful way, feels like a class identifier to me, as does something like going to a restaurant and remarking how much things cost on the menu and fretting out loud about getting a good value for your money there. Seems like it is bad form to do that, so even if you mentally calculate and think you'd better get a cheap drink and one of the least expensive entrees, no need to talk about it, and no need to quibble over an extra dollar or two for the tip. I try and save the worrying about how to save a few bucks for when I go to the supermarket and have to decide between name brand and store brand items. Oh and grandly making a show of the fact that you make more money than someone else.. not classy.

I do notice if I'm in a pricey shopping district the girls who have money.. mostly slim, always well groomed, and they do not overdress for the occasion, are just wearing simple shorts or jeans and a polo shirt and sandals, for example, but are perfectly comfortable walking into a boutique when dressed very casual, and trying on extremely expensive items if that's what they're looking for. they don't seem to think twice about it. There was a girl in my class in a study abroad group.. she was from $$$$$ and a well known family.. she never wore makeup, hair wasn't styled any special way, wore simple clothes and would pick up random items at flea markets (which always looked fantastic on her), cared mostly about traveling and enjoying life and was never one upping or judging anyone, didn't name drop ever, honestly one of the nicest, least pretentious people I've ever met. It struck me and I found myself wanting to try and emulate her because theoretically everything I admired had zero connection to money, and yet I also kept thinking I wish I could afford to live that way.. :)
posted by citron at 12:15 PM on July 26, 2008 [8 favorites]

Most of what you are asking is about being classier, if you are interested in an actual upper class, then the operative ingredient is money and lots of it.

How to fit in with that crowd? I saw an interview with very rich girl asking why she only dated rich boys. "My one hobby," she says, "is collecting expensive purses. I have a whole room full of them on shelves. When I dated a non-rich boy he kept haranguing me about did I know all the things I could have done with that money? My rich friends don't bother me like that."
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:46 PM on July 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Explain, please.

Languagehat's better at it, but the proposition that "yous" or "y'all" or "yinz" is incorrect or bad grammar is absurd on its face.

Socially frowned upon, perhaps. But incorrect? No.
posted by oaf at 1:42 PM on July 26, 2008

[ixia] is spot on, particularly about language in Australia. The fastest indicatior of class is how a person speaks and the words she chooses to use.

I've a few additional thoughts regarding clothing.

:: Middle class women buy clothes based on style, not on fads -- or they buy the fads and donate them to charity before next season. This year's maxi dress is last year's Asian-inspired wrap top is the year before's military jacket. If you're shopping on a budget, it's best to avoid fads entirely and buy classic pieces that won't date. Target sells a lot of polyester crap, for example, but they also have great Australia-made 100% cotton t-shirts for under twenty bucks a pop. Vinnies and Salvos stores in middle/upper class areas can also have great finds.

:: Anything with a brand name splashed across it looks tacky. The more expensive an item is, the less it should have to shout its brand name at you -- the cut, the fit, the materials should tell the observer that it's quality.

:: One good leather handbag > many cheap bags, especially for business. Ebay is a great place to buy gently used handbags, and nobody will care that you're carrying the same bag to work each day. Or hit up David Jones and Myer during the sales.

:: Lower class women often pile on the tacky jewellery: think five shiny gold bracelets on each wrist and rings on every finger. 90% of the stuff sold by Goldmark, Michael Hill, etc is instantly recognisable as such due to the cheap nature of the stones. (A quality sapphire is not dark opaque blue.) Everday gold jewellery should be subtle; silver jewellery can be more substantial without looking overdone.

:: My mother would tell you that a woman over thirty shouldn't have long hair. I feel attitudes are changing, but if you'll be working in a conservative industry it could be something to keep in mind. A great hairdresser, one who'll take the time to talk to you about your lifestyle and give you a cut that'll look good every day, is a godsend, but unfortunately service is not always related to price. Ask your friends or co-workers if they have a hairdresser that they love. (If you live in Sydney, I can recommend a lovely woman.)

:: I'd disagree with some of the posters who say to cultivate an interest in Union or fine wine or yachting; if it doesn't interest you, don't do it. All you really need to know is enough to know that you don't need to know it. For example, dining etiquette -- yes. Fine wine -- no. If you're unsure what wine to order with a meal, the wait staff will be happy to assist you.

Good luck with your future.
posted by Georgina at 1:50 PM on July 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Anything with a brand name splashed across it looks tacky.

Unless it's Prada.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:53 PM on July 26, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks again for the replies - there's a lot of good advice there. I want to explain that I have no intent whatsoever of not being myself. I have no plan to suddenly take up wine tasting, or yachting or watching the right code of football (but this has been a fascinating insight). All I want to do, is not appear quite so yobbish in my new work environment, because I suspect that held me back from promotion in an earlier career. Perhaps it is more about being classy, than about class differences - who can tell?
posted by b33j at 5:07 PM on July 26, 2008

Agh, I was replying and then somehow closed the window. Here goes again.

When someone says `Thank you', say `you're welcome' as opposed to `no worries' or `that's okay'. It's not something you hear all that often in day to day life in my experience and it can make an impression.

Avoid swearing or shouting.

You don't need to be a wine snob or culinary expert, but knowing a little bit about food can help. Case in point, I took a national sales manager from a competing company to lunch, his company - huge. Mine - tiny. He was very well dressed and groomed, and put presented a very good image.

However, when the menu came at the Chinese restaurant, he studied for a while it and then asked if they had `chicken stir fry'. If he had asked for the `Chicken and vegetables in rice' from the menu, I wouldn't remember it. If he had ordered something a bit unusual I would have been impressed. But he only liked `chicken stir fry', whatever that might be. Sort of like going to an italian restaurant and asking if they have spaghetti in tomato sauce.

Languagehat's better at it, but the proposition that "yous" or "y'all" or "yinz" is incorrect or bad grammar is absurd on its face.

I was under the impression that `you' is a plural already. You spot three friends heading somewhere and ask `Where are you going?'.

`What are youse guys doing?'
`Wees are going to the movies'.
posted by tomble at 6:25 PM on July 26, 2008

`Thank you', say `you're welcome' .

"May I ... (point something out, borrow your pencil, have a glass of water)?" is even more rare, and is always welcome.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:52 PM on July 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I was under the impression that `you' is a plural already.

What dost thou say to just one of thy friends?
posted by oaf at 6:55 PM on July 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

the proposition that "yous" or "y'all" or "yinz" is incorrect or bad grammar is absurd on its face.

It's poor diction. Anyone who wishes to sound educated should not use those "words".
posted by orange swan at 9:32 PM on July 26, 2008

Courtesy and grace.

Courtesy is classy.

You don't need to be rich, beautiful or well educated to be courteous. But you do need to be confident, self-aware and generous of spirit.

Along the same lines is grace. Be gracious and graceful. To be graceful one needs to be aware of their posture, movements, and presentation.

Walk with your shoulders back, your head high, and your smile open. Treat others as equals because they are, even though they may hold a 'higher' position than you.

Real class can't be bought or hired or even genetically inherited. It must be learned and practised.

As for accents, look to our red-head deputy prime minister. Man, her accent is directly from Bogan Gate (by the way, who left it open?) But who is going to knock her. She's classy because she's smart, direct and pleasant.

The other advice about hygiene, diction and presentation are important too but don't go overboard (not too much of anything - perfume, make-up, fashion - less is more - just be natural).

Taste is also a part of class. I don't mean the 'taste' that has one going only to expensive restaurants, or refusing to buy that op-shop shirt you love so much because it's ya-know used, I mean taste that is defined by enjoying something for its quality, not its popularity or social standing.

Class is in the detail. A classy person in Australia can still enjoy the odd swear word with friends, a 4x beer, AFL over rugby (AFL is far more classy than rugby - they are finer athletes running a half marathon in every game and wearing those lovely tight short shorts over their wonderful legs.... sigh). But really, no sport is more classy than another - some are just more expensive to participate in.

Real class is an internal state, not an external one. It can't be bought in a store. If you are courteous, graceful, self aware, and have good self-esteem (not the I'm-better-than-you-because-I'm-more-classy type) then you will have class.
posted by Kerasia at 1:01 AM on July 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've been thinking some more about this issue. I'd never thought much about my own class before. I've always been so secure in my definition of myself as middle-class that it never even occurred to me to question it, or to realize that this confidence or my middle-class mannerisms were any kind of an advantage. Recently a friend of mine told me he considers himself to be blue-collar and feels he's among the "working poor".

I was startled to hear this. He makes the same amount of money as I do and has an equivalent number of years of post-secondary education (i.e., a university degree and a college diploma each), though our areas of study were quite different. We both came from low-income families and went to the same grade and high schools. He's probably better mannered than I am, and I know his interpersonal skills are better. And I certainly don't consider myself poor or working class. But when I thought about what was different about our situations, it made sense he would feel this way.

I own my own home and am debt-free aside from my mortgage; he has credit card debt and rents a little apartment. I work in an office with well-educated, articulate people; he works in a factory (though in a skilled capacity rather than as a line worker) with people who have at most a high school diploma. We both grew up in very low-income homes, but while he lived in a shabby rented house I lived on my family's farm in a house my parents planned and built and that their skills and considerable ingenuity kept looking good for not much money. He received no encouragement in terms of going on to higher education; my driven, ambitious mother was a teacher who was adamant that all her children would go on to some sort of post-secondary education. (And we all did. It never occurred to me that I would not do so.)

So I would say one's class-specific mannerisms and state of mind are the result of environment and circumstances, and that does not only mean one's childhood environment. Personal development can be a lifelong process. Even when two people have had an identical upbringing, they can wind up as completely different people. Out of the five children in my family, I would say that two of my brothers come across as blue collar — as a matter of fact, they proudly describe themselves as rednecks. They went to community colleges rather than to university. One brother is a farmer and has had part-time jobs truck driving, the other is a mechanic and truck driver. Their co-workers are a lunch bucket crowd. They've never mingled with educated, professional people as I have done every day of my adult life.

So just make an effort to surround yourself with the right influences. Educate yourself, not only by going to school but by reading, attending events, travelling and pursuing your interests. Make friends with intelligent, educated, refined people. Ideally, work with professional people as well. You'll absorb a lot from them very naturally. And then one day, when you come across an old diary or meet up with a childhood friend who's taken a different path in life, you'll suddenly realize how far you've come.
posted by orange swan at 7:21 AM on July 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

It's poor diction.


Anyone who wishes to sound educated should not use those "words".

posted by oaf at 10:18 AM on July 27, 2008

oaf's position, viz. that there is no such thing as poor diction or grammar since language is defined by its own usage and nobody has the authority to judge the matter, is a mark of a mind that has been educated.

This sort of idea typically comes from the middle class.
posted by magic curl at 6:28 PM on July 27, 2008

Best answer: This is a fascinating question. I would like to propose a distinction that is being neglected in some answers: the distinction between being upper-class, and being well-bred. These two domains intersect, but as we might illustrate with a Venn diagram, each domain includes some people that the other domain does not include. There are upper-class people who are not well-bred, and there are well-bred people who are not upper-class. I am going to break down behaviors that fall into each domain:

Upper-class behaviors

-- Having a sense of entitlement with regard to prestigious careers; i.e., not being intimidated when one confronts the various tests and obstacles that are required to break into rarefied careers in business, law, investment banking, etc. Upper-class people tend to believe these fields are their birthright, and move into these fields with a fair amount of ease and assurance.
-- Comfort and familiarity with the trappings of wealth; familiar with finer brands of everything from clothes, to liquors, to cars. Familiar with vacation spots of the rich (skiing, beaches, etc.).
-- Decent, but not outstanding educational pedigree. Often the rich were not brilliant students, but did well enough to get through good private secondary schools and decent colleges. The most upper-class people often do not do well enough to get into Ivy League colleges, but attend state universities where their families have a multi-generational history, or decent second-tier colleges.
-- A more worldly perspective due to more travel and educational opportunities at a young age.
-- An attitude that is generally favors well-roundedness over in-depth mastery of a field. Upper-class people often look down on people who are obsessive over anything.
-- An approach to romance and mating that tends to pair them off with people of similar social standing.
-- As generations get further removed from the generation that actually earned the money, the family gets more and more shallow and irresponsible.

Well-bred behaviors

-- Being a good, attentive conversationalist. When you are conversing with someone, and that person is speaking to you, you are not distracted by background noise or other people, but your eyes remain riveted on the other person as if you cannot be distracted.
-- Never speaking negatively about people behind their backs, unless you are speaking with your significant other or your closest intimate friends. Speaking negatively about people behind their backs tends to be a sign of very bad manners.
-- Not being a know-it-all. Know-it-alls generally signal that they are insecure about their status in a social group, eager to "trump" others, which is rude, and therefore they come across as not very well-bred.
-- Being fairly frugal, not showy and self-indulgent with your wealth; the converse of people who live a life revolving around "expensive toys" such as jet-skis, four-wheelers, etc. A person with "expensive toys" outs themselves as either (1) a foolish middle-class idiot incurring massive debt pursuing infantile pastimes, or (2) a trashy person with money ... I can't stand such people.
-- Not being ostentatious about things like cigars, liquors, etc., which are often very tacky affectations of people who are trying to social climb.
-- Being unfailingly considerate of others, in every way, but without being a doormat. In a well-bred person, "being considerate" comes in very subtle ways. It can mean always being someone who shows up at friends' parties, even when those parties don't promise to be very exciting. It means always showing up for a hospital visit. It means being the person who can be counted on to help a friend or family member move, under difficult circumstances. It means being a real "trooper" whenever your friends need help.
-- A not-very-well-bred person will fawn over how rich, successful, or great some other friend (who is not present) is, leaving those present feeling "so what does that mean you think about me?"
-- A person who is constantly musing aloud about status, prestige, and pecking order, generally reveals themselves as not well-bred, because they inspire feelings of inadequacy in their companions (because the speaker is showing that they value only those people who "measure up"). Otherwise nice, decent people reveal themselves as not fully mature, because they place too much importance on pecking order and thus alienate people around them.
-- A well-bred person will do their best to make everyone they encounter feel that they are welcomed and valued without regard to their achievements, their social status, their wealth, or their intelligence.
-- A tacky, pompous fool will talk down to a humble, uneducated laborer; a well-bred person will make that laborer feel valued, respected and taken seriously.
-- Not taking things too seriously; having a sense of equanimity and humor about life's struggles, and not holding ridiculous grudges.


I think there are a number of books that are invaluable in showing what "good breeding" is:

Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son
Balthasar Gracian's The Art of Worldly Wisdom
The Analects of Confucius
posted by jayder at 7:25 PM on July 27, 2008 [31 favorites]

To me, the most essential, all-embracing element of good breeding --- and yet the most difficult to define --- is tact.

A person can be well-educated, competent, familiar with the finer things in life, well-dressed and well-groomed, and yet lack tact.

A person may go far in her career, but the lack of tact will ultimately limit her in life, both in personal relations and in her career.

Tact, to me, is as much about what you don't say, as what you do. It's the feelings you have the good sense not to express, more than the feelings you do. It is a discipline that reflects your constant alertness to other people's feelings, your alertness to matters of detail and nuance, and your awareness of how important things may depend upon seemingly trivial details.

Having tact requires, in conversation and in general dealings with others, having an ability (almost like that in chess) of seeing several moves ahead, and knowing what not to say based on this very subtle understanding of human relations.

I constantly meet attorneys who are excellent in most ways, but they lack tact. And because they lack tact, I realize that I would not be able to entrust them with matters of the highest importance. I really think that education, professional training, and the trappings of success are easy to acquire --- what is more difficult to acquire, and thus distinguishes the well-bred from those not so well-bred, is their tact.
posted by jayder at 7:42 PM on July 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

This sort of idea typically comes from the middle class.

As opposed to…?
posted by oaf at 4:37 AM on July 28, 2008

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
This thread was enormously helpful to me (and continues to be), and with many other experiences and advice from metafilter on other topics, helped me to develop behaviours that gave me much more confidence. I went from low-level admin to being a research assistant / consultant, with double my previous hourly rate, an office of my own and completely flexible hours and clients from all sorts of backgrounds. However, if I were to rewrite the question now, it would be "As an autistic woman, what are common neurotypical social cues that I might be missing, that detract from my colleagues' perception of me as a competent "normal" person?"

Yous (wink) answered the unasked question anyway, because y'all are smart like that. Thank you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:27 PM on March 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

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