There have been a few recent articles in the BBC magazine about class, this was the latest one and this was last month’s version. I just finished re-reading Kate Fox’s “Watching the English” (an excellent book) and so I was probably more sensitive to the whole class thing than I would have been had I not just re-read it…
One who has read the Kate Fox book is supposed to be able to identify class differences by word choice, accent, clothes, choice of flower in the garden, the method by which one eats peas, and any number of other things. So far it’s completely escaped me. I have to confess, I don’t really get it. I’ve never been at a dinner where peas were served to see if I could identify clear differences, usually people are only eating mange tout. I never hear words like “serviette” and it seems like everyone I’ve met says “lounge” for living room.
I don’t know that you could make these sorts of “class” distinctions in the US. Or at least I never noticed them. I went to high school with people from a wide range of socio-economic groups, but I never thought of people as being from different classes. Unless you meant the Algebra versus Calculus type of class. My wealthy relatives live in the south and love Nascar. They sound southern because they live in the south, and that sounds different from, say, Boston but it indicates geography, not class. I drove a clunker because my white-collar family was thrifty; my best friend whose father was a butcher had a brand new sports car because she had an inheritance. We went to junior high and high school together and then went off to the same University and same graduate school. There is a wonderful neutralizing effect of state schools and universities in the US; perhaps there’s a bigger difference on the East Coast, but in the midwest (where there is no Ivy League) it all seemed about the same.
At the end of the day, does any of this distinction claimed for the difference between upper-working and lower-middle class in the UK mean anything? Where is the boundary? Kate Fox claims that current monetary status and class in the UK do not go together, and that unlike the US there is no real upward mobility within class. I find the whole concept confusing. And really, unnecessary. Does it not just reinforce these unimportant boundaries to detail them in modern books? Isn’t it time to drop the artificial distinctions and stop worrying about “class”?