Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How to Be Classy

Pretty Lady never ceases to be amazed by the prudery, squirrelishness, and embarrassed silence surrounding issues of Class in America. In a society where we freely discuss our sexual habits with total strangers, Class remains the ultimate taboo. Moreover, as far as Pretty Lady knows, this is an aberration unique to our fair land; in nearly every other country in the world, people know their own social station, and have reliable methods for gauging the social station of others. But here in the land of the Free, where class is not supposed to exist, it nevertheless remains one of the single most intractable barriers to social communication and advancement.

Therefore it falls to Pretty Lady to clue you in, even at the risk of being ostracized for doing so.

Clue #1: Class has nothing to do with how much money one has, and everything to do with what one does with it.

To put it baldly: Conspicuous consumption is vulgar. Discussing one's conspicuous consumption, even more so. Pretty Lady has actually known persons who declare, to guests in their own home, "My husband, the corporate attorney, is out putting the Mercedes in the five-car garage." This is a damning and indelible sign of Nouveau Riche social climbing. One's husband is out parking the car, and how ARE you, dear? Gracious.

Clue #2: Thrift is classy. Illiberality is trashy.

Classy persons tip their servers, their bartenders, their cab drivers, their maids, their hairdressers, their porters, and their massage therapists, even if they are down to their last three dollars and are getting their hair cut in a desperate bid to land a job as a sales clerk in the store that Daddy used to own. They pay their vendors before their campaign advisors or their personal accounts. No matter how straitened one's own resources, one does not cut corners on another person's livelihood, particularly if that other person's social connections are an echelon or two lower than one's own. One cuts corners on nonessentials such as flashy cars, tony neighborhoods, dinners out, designer clothing at retail prices, glittering parties, and repairing the roof in the east wing.

Clue #3: Manners are one-size-fits-all.

A classy person treats a smelly beggar and the President of the United States with precisely the same degree and quality of courtesy. Note that this does not require allowing one's boundaries to be violated; the proper response to being nonconsensually groped by either of these individuals is, "Get your hands off me, you creep."

Clue #4: Classy people do not lay territorial claims to other's relationships.

One does not sleep with another person's husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend, or initiate an attempt to do so. If one has had a brief affair, years earlier, with a person who subsequently becomes one's friend's partner, it is crass beyond belief to continue bringing it up, particularly when the current relationship is under stress. If one sincerely believes that a couple is mismatched, and that you would be a far superior candidate to the current partner, one keeps one's opinion to oneself until six months after the divorce is final.

Clue #5: Classy people do not proselytize, evangelize, or grandstand.

Fanatics are charming, as long as they do not expect everyone around them to share their obsessions. It is in terrible taste to attempt to impose one's religious beliefs, political views, or sexual lifestyle upon all and sundry. One may have as many rousing arguments about these issues as one likes, as long as the argument remains in the realm of abstraction, and does not extend to wholesale and unwelcome attempts at conversion, let alone personal pejorations.

Clue #6: Classy people attend to their responsibilities.

This means performing the job one is hired to do, to the best of one's ability, whatever one may think of it; providing for any offspring one has happened to produce, under whatever circumstances these offspring came about; and discharging one's debts, to the greatest extent possible.

In sum, it ought to be clear by now that Class in America is anything but a caste system; it is wholly about choosing one's values, and adhering to them. As such, it is not bigoted, racist, elitist or condescending to call trashy people out on their behavior. On the contrary, it is a hallmark of egalitarianism to assume that anyone is capable of behaving with class, under any circumstances.


Anonymous said...

"My husband, the corporate attorney, is out putting the Mercedes in the five-car garage."

My family has a treasured favourite among screen viewables: the old English sitcom Keeping Up Appearances. The main character talks EXACTLY like this, more or less constantly. Meanwhile, obsessed as she is with coming off well, she is constantly rude and mean to everyone around her.

I'll take a considerate, kind person over a rich one any day. People can be treasures or forces of ruin in one's life, and their net worth has nothing to do with it.

Nevertheless, if someone wants to buy me a yacht, I will consider it.

Desert Cat said...

"My husband, the corporate attorney, is out putting the Mercedes in the five-car garage."

The correct response to that is, "Oh dear, I'm so sorry! We usually have the butler take care of that when our valet is indisposed."

Anonymous said...

A description of a subset of this I like is 'the $30,000 Millionaire'. Have they heard of 'The Millionaire Next Door'? Much better company!


Pretty Lady said...

DC, valets never park cars. Butlers may potentially do in a pinch, when the chauffeur's wife has just gone into labor.

Pretty Lady said...

You see, this is what happens when Americans take their social cues from the lexicography of five-star restaurants.

Spatula said...

I guess the Russian equivalent is "Oh dear, my serfs are all recovering from flogging."

Desert Cat said...

But if one wished to actually *drive* one's own cars, would it not make sense to have the valet do the parking?

Oh wait...I'm outed. The true upper crust *do not drive themselves*, period! AGh. I hang my head in shame.

I suppose there goes my invite to the Spring Gala...

Pretty Lady said...

Take heart, DC. Pretty Lady's second cousin became a billionaire on purpose to support his racecar-driving habit. As far as she knows, he still drives all twelve of his cars.

(Let it be known that Pretty Lady's second cousin has been the bane of her existence. "Well, why don't you just go start a billion-dollar corporation to support your art habit...")

David said...

It's so good to get away from the servants sometimes isn't it?