Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Snobbery

I know all about snobbish-ness. I've experi-enced plenty of it in my time. Sometimes I think my birth-country of England is snobbery capital of the world. Most of the English are obsessed with their position in the social hierarchy, looking down on anyone supposedly below them and feeling inferior to anyone seen as above them.

Being lower middle class myself (he says, reluctantly categorising himself), I've been given the cold shoulder regularly by those who regard themselves as financially, culturally, educationally or occupationally superior.

I especially remember the time Jenny and I lived in a posh block of flats in Islington, London. Some of the other residents, mostly high-end professionals like lawyers and doctors, were always slightly sniffy towards us, seeing us as "not quite one of them", suspecting us of dubious tastes and opinions, and generally on the lookout for unpredictable and embarrassing behaviour.

They seldom invited us in for a drink or a meal, did their best to avoid us and seemed to regard us as temporary interlopers who had somehow tricked our way into their prestigious block of flats*.

During our time in London, I can recall many social occasions where those present would form into cliques of perceived similar-status guests, each clique keeping themselves firmly separate from those seen as lower status, and taking care not to mix with them or in any way recognise their presence. Such recognition could irredeemably damage their own social standing.

I wonder why it is that people are so insecure and self-doubting that they find mere contact with someone from a different background so threatening. They must be terrified that their own lifestyle will be found wanting.

As an ex-journalist and ex-bookseller who has mixed with people from all sorts of backgrounds and with every possible viewpoint, and having learnt a great deal on the way, I find such aloofness baffling and pointless. How can we possibly begin to understand the rest of the world if we try to permanently seal ourselves off from it?

It was extremely refreshing to move to Northern Ireland, where people are much less status-conscious and plumbers and chief executives mingle quite happily without regarding each other as an alien species. Shock horror, they may even live next door to each other.

* PS: Not that this bothered us particularly. We were perfectly happy without their company. We had some good friends there who didn't have an ounce of snobbery. And we had plenty of other friends. We found the snobs more amusing than upsetting. 

Thanks to Cheerful Monk for the inspiration. 

12 comments:

Jenny Woolf said...

It is strange isn't it Nick. I put it down to the human propensity for finding a group. I went to a lecture recently which contained quite a lot of stats about the real life social networks of medical students. The races stick so closely together. What are they afraid of?

Nick said...

Jenny: Finding a group is fair enough, but why the need for one that deliberately shuts out the socially "unworthy"?

Grannymar said...

Nick, it is not just in London, it happens here in Northern Ireland right under my nose and it is not a snobby nose!

Nick said...

Grannymar: Really? I stand corrected. Perhaps I've just been lucky with the people I meet!

Scarlet Blue said...

I say give them what they want with some unpredictable and embarrassing behaviour
Who's having the most fun?
Sx

Wisewebwoman said...

Oh
*cringe*. I stand accused of snobbery.

I have fought and fought it, Nick but I'm an intellectual snob.

I haven't a class bone in my body but I have such trouble with people who are not critical thinkers.

I want to run. I just usually shut up and smile politely but can hardly wait to leave them.

Awful. I know.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

Scarlet: I do sometimes resort to unpredictable and embarrassing behaviour, but on the whole I don't have the nerve. I don't like to be too conspicuous.

www: That's a tricky one. I also run away from people who simply don't THINK but parrot whatever is the current fashionable opinion. I guess I don't see that as snobbery but just wanting to use my brain and not let it ossify.

Nick said...

Scarlet: Thanks for your heads-up on the post that got mentioned on the English Wedding Blog!

Leah said...

I think that Wise Woman has a good case, as you said too, for her disapproval of those who lack capacity or will for critical thought...if that is intellectual snobbery I'm guilty of it too...but that characteristic can be found all across the social spectrum, and good and engaged minds too can be found, as you put it, in both plumbers and chief executives!

Nick said...

Leah: I just think, what's the point of spending half an hour chatting to someone who simply doesn't engage my brain but spouts a string of trivial platitudes? It's just frustrating and annoying. I'm not going to bore myself rigid for the sake of politeness.

And you're right, active brains can be found in all walks of life. Some chief executives are complete dingbats!

Rummuser said...

Snobbery as practiced in India is of many hues; Old money vs new wealth, the IIMs vs the hoi polloi institutes of management, the IITs vs other engineering colleges / institutions, Caste, religion, language, geography, and so on so forth. The highest form of course is that practiced by those who speak English at home vs all the rest! I enjoy teasing the last quite a bit by pretending not to be able to till the end when I floor them with some fancy linguistic foot work.

You will enjoy bursting the bubbles of snobs if you can learn how to!

Nick said...

Ramana: You're right that snobbery can take many different forms. And of course there are the very local snobberies such as knowing the "right" restaurants or the "right" fashion shops. I like the idea of pretending not to speak English. That must cause some hilarious confusion.