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TTG and I had a major discussion the night before last, about class. (or was it the night before that?) The reason we even started debating this topic was because of a programme that happened to be on the telly at the time.

Basically, the programme was about our (Brits) obsession with class distinction, and what the main differences were between, the working class, the middle class, and the upper class.

I’ve always proudly considered myself working class, but then TTG reminded me that although we might see ourselves as working class, other people probably don’t. We argued this point for a while, then I had to concede that possibly we were more middle-class than working class, which is apparently the worst class to belong to, because you’re sneered at by the working class, and labelled as over-achievers, and yet you’re not quite good enough for the upper class.

According to TTG, we guys over here are the only people in the world who have a class system. I of course told him that he was talking out of his arse.

He cited the US as an example of a nation with no inherent class system, so I told him to take off his US-coloured glasses, and see the sun.

Heated debate ensued.

Anyway, basically I do think that every nation has a class system, it’s just that not every country has a name for the different classes, like we do over here.

There’ll always be The Haves, and the Have-Nots, and I’d say that the majority of The Haves will always consider themselves superior to The Have-Nots.

The one thing that I will concede is that in the US, it is more likely for a Normo (erm, AKA Poor Average Joe) to become president, whereas over here, if you didn’t cut your teeth on the blackboards at Eton, you’ve got about as much chance of becoming a PM, as Britney Spears has of keeping her knickers on.

What say you?

30 Comments »


  • Wendy
    October 4
    5:54 pm

    Personally? I think there is most definitely a class system in the US – we just don’t openly acknowledge it like the Brits do. It’s there, but it’s like the elephant in the living room. Everyone sees it, but doesn’t want to be the one to point it out….

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  • bettie
    October 4
    6:16 pm

    I’ve read that 62% of Americans think they are middle class. I’ve also read that, 19% of Americans think they are in the top 1% income bracket. Please tell TTG, it’s not that we don’t have a class system, we just can’t do math.

    America loves, worships–deifies!–the middle class. Our core values are “middle class values” and the politicians are always talking about how the other side wants to squeeze the middle class (good strategy, given that 80% statistic).

    If anything, we have a stigma against being “Upper Class.” Why the hell else do you think Andover-prepped GW spends so much time clearing brush for the cameras in Nowhere, TX?.

    I know people who’ve never set foot in a public (state-funded) school and who live in multi-million $ homes in the Hollywood hills and think they are middle class. Likewise, I know people who eat beans and rice the week before payday cause they can’t afford anything else, and they, also, consider themselves middle class.

    You & TTG visited Los Angeles and OC–the difference between southern LA county and coastal Orange County is a pretty clear example that the US class system is alive and kicking. If TTG still doubts, bring up some Katrina footage on Youtube.

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  • sallahdog
    October 4
    6:44 pm

    I think the US actually has a few more types of class than your basic 3..

    there is the uber rich socialite class(money from dear ole grandpa oil baron or some such), the self made rich (nuevo riche), the upper middle class (doctors, lawyers, professionals), your middle class, your lower middle class, the working poor and then Poverty level…..

    I am sure there are more, but one of the differences in the US, is that you can move from class to class. A kid born in poverty can get an education and move out. But I do notice that its hard to jump more than a few classes in a generation.

    Obviously I think way too much about this stuff..

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  • M.
    October 4
    6:50 pm

    There is very much a class system in the US and the majority of the population in the US considers itself as being middle class.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_middle_class

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  • Anonymous
    October 4
    7:08 pm

    Hey,I’m a doctor in the States and I consider myself “middle class.” What’s this “upper middle class” stuff? Maybe a cardiologist, but the average family doc? Not.

    However, my family was working poor, so I did jump at least one class by going to school for a billion years. And therein lies the difference. We distinguish by income/education and not ancestors.

    –Jackie L.

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  • Bonnie
    October 4
    8:10 pm

    I think that the class definitions are way more fluid than it seems the UK’s are. I think that people have more ability to move up or down the totem pole with the exception of joining the uber-elite (you’re born there or not). In many ways, how you present yourself is how you’ll be classified. If you try to get a job at a high class firm, you’ll be able to get it if you dance their dance, so to speak.

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  • byrdloves2read
    October 4
    9:10 pm

    As I was reading your comments, I thought that of course there’s a class system in America. But I have seen it more in terms of white collar, blue collar and no collar. Obviously that’s simplistic in the extreme and there are divisions within each category and one CAN move between them. Just a thought.

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  • raspberry swyrl
    October 4
    9:26 pm

    I recently was serving a couple who had just moved here from London. Since I had lived in London we had a bit of a chat. The guy was a carpenter who had lived out in zone six (in Kingston I think) and he had basically come here less then a year ago with nothing. Within a year he was able to bring over his wife and daughter and buy a house and car and get ahead a bit, something he was not able to do when living in England. I agree financially it can be harder to ‘get ahead’ then the States. But such things are a trade off. The government ‘takes care’ of people more in the U.K then in the States. (and yes not everyone likes the nanny state-and yes the system is not perfect) But when you’re sick free health care is a great relief to your family who are already worried to death about you and suddenly have to worry how much each bandage is going to cost. (and yes there is insurance but not everybody can afford it and many people are uninsured in the States)

    I come from a fairly blue collar family so I would actually consider anyone with a profession like a doctor, lawyer, ect to be upper middle class. It is not just about the money but the status you are given with such a profession. My doctor is a regular family doctor in the Canadian medical profession (they do not get paid as much as American doctors) and she can still afford to send her son to an American university in New York, pay for not only his tuition (American universities are more then Canadian universities) but room and board and despite the fact that he has graduated, is still being fully supported by his mom and she still lives in one of the more expensive areas in the city. So, that to me constitutes upper middle class.

    Also most people consider themselves middle class not only because of the ‘idealizaton’ of the middle class but because of our consumerist society. If we don’t have as much of Joe next door we must not be rich enough.

    Anyways, the point is, there are class systems anywhere you go.

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  • Jennifer McKenzie
    October 4
    10:02 pm

    Oh, we have class distinctions here. They’re just harder to see and even more difficult to define. Do you do it by income? By Genetics? By location?
    If your last name is Kennedy but you only make 2K a year, does that STILL make you “middle class”?
    The U.S. seems more enamored with the “famous” (which may or may not be “upper class”) and money does talk. We just don’t always like what it says.
    Politicians with “too much” money are frowned upon in our country.
    I point to the kerfuffle around the $900 John Edwards haircut.
    There might be more blurred lines but we definitely have class distinctions.

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  • raspberry swyrl
    October 4
    10:22 pm

    But those are just the politicians who get ‘caught’ having money. I would say many do have a lot of money, they just do not flaunt it when running for office. Especcially not democrats who are supposed to be aiming for the ‘poor’

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  • Emily Veinglory
    October 4
    11:01 pm

    So which American President in the last 100 years was actually not from a family of privilege? (rather than just having a ‘aw shucks’ image)?

    Having worked in both places I think the UK is more about ‘class’ (accent, type of school, family, neighborhood) per se but the US is equally obsessed by status–absolutely obsessed with your salary/car/designer labels/employment type and dare I say it, race, age and gender to an extent even greater than I felt in Britain.

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  • Dee Tenorio
    October 5
    12:02 am

    Oh, I’m with Sallahdog. I’m not remotely middle class. I’m upper lower class. It’s very much about how much money you have, and also where you live. Lower Middle class in Orange County, CA is Lower Upper Class just about anywhere else because if you own a house, even a crappy little one bedroom, you have a 400k+ mortgage (which is why yours truly does not have one). If you could afford a 400k mortgage in say, Pennsylvania, you’re a rich person. So, class is a sliding scale.

    It also slides according to race, but only in how people first percieve you. Also, if you’re a race typically seen in the lower classes and you move up the property scale, then the perception is that you’ve jumped all kinds of class levels. Thus the surprised look when people see an educated black man. It’s wrong, but it’s there.

    I get it all the time. I’m a native american who isn’t drunk and a mexican who keeps leaving her leafblower at home. Oh, and I don’t leave Orange County at 5 with the rest of the yard crew. LOL.

    Dee

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  • Shelia
    October 5
    12:53 am

    We definately have different classes here. Sallahdog summed it up nicely. I’ve also heard the rich class broken down as old money or new money…

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  • sallahdog
    October 5
    1:47 am

    I hadn’t thought of it quite that way, but class distinctions do tend to follow money lines.

    Education though is often a class distinction also… Not so much here in the center of the US, but my sister lives in Princeton NJ, and there is a very strong bias in her workplace of where someone went to school and got their Masters or Doctorates. There is also a lot of pressure to get your kids into the right preschools or private or college prep schools also…
    Its also your outward appearance of wealth or “toys”.
    I am not terribly well educated (some college), my hubby is(he earns a solid middle class income though, but I earn an upper middle class income. We live in a chi chi neighborhood (that I hate and the hubby loves) and I find that I don’t quite “fit in” with the neighbors. I come home with dusty clothes or leave my work truck out and get all those askance glances that tell me how gauche I am…

    Maybe I am projecting, but I feel the class differences. I may have the money to buy into the neighborhood, but I don’t have the “class”.(which is ok, but the next time I paint my truck I am painting it purple just to freak out the neigbors…since they gave me a hard time about the paint color on my house)

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  • sallahdog
    October 5
    1:52 am

    Hey,I’m a doctor in the States and I consider myself “middle class.” What’s this “upper middle class” stuff? Maybe a cardiologist, but the average family doc? Not.

    But you would be “percieved” as upper middle class… If nothing else because of your college loans that are probably in the 6 figure range… lol…

    So much of class, based on money is perception, not reality. I am probably better off financially than most of my neighbors who drive Mercedes and Audis, but I am not percieved as higher, because I wear a uniform of sorts to my day job, or crappy work clothes when working on my own projects and drive a beat up work truck.

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  • kirsten saell
    October 5
    4:09 am

    Hey sallahdog, you really wanna freak out the neighbors? Don’t have your truck painted purple. Paint it yourself, in your driveway, with a painbrush and a few cans of tremclad barbeque paint. Flat black truck with visible brush strokes=uber shabby without the chic.

    We did that one year to harmonize our frankenstein truck that was several different colors, and you should have seen the looks we got. The people across the street must have thought we were aliens. And we live in a town where upper class means you wear caulk boots and cut down trees for a living.

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  • Desiree Erotique
    October 5
    4:58 am

    Karen, I definitely feel there is a class system in the US. The reality is just not one politicians and our leaders like revealed to the rest of the world. As for any perception that an Average Joe (or Average Jolene for that matter) can possibly run for president? LOL Takes big bucks to run a campaign, so I’ll believe it when I see it -which would be dang nice, btw :)The Average Citizen, I feel, knows what the country really needs more than any pampered socialite or oilman.

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  • Dawn
    October 5
    7:50 am

    There’s definitely a class system in the UK. I consider myself & hubby working class, but we live in a nice area and have a big house, so we’re probably considered middle class.

    I do agree that there is a class distinction in the US also, but I think that it is based more on money than anything else.

    JMHO.

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  • Marianne McA
    October 5
    9:17 am

    So is your class what you think you are yourself, or what others perceive you to be? Is it just an attitude of mind?

    My dh insisted for years that he was working class – came from a mining background – all his family are electricians, plumbers, builders etc. But, by any sensible measure – he’s university educated, upper management – he must be middle class.
    (Not money – the builders and plumbers do much, much, much better than us.)
    Or going the other way, I’d a friend at college who’d been to Roedean, shared a relative with Princess Di and had danced at hunt balls with Prince Charles – and someone asked her once, and she absolutely didn’t consider herself upper class.

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  • sallahdog
    October 5
    1:22 pm

    Lower Middle class in Orange County, CA is Lower Upper Class just about anywhere else because if you own a house, even a crappy little one bedroom, you have a 400k+ mortgage (which is why yours truly does not have one).

    Wow! I can never get over the price difference, here in Kansas for 400k you would get at least a 4 bedroom with 5 bathrooms, and close to 4000 square feet with a 3 car garage.. Of course you have to live in Kansas which isn’t the most interesting place on earth..

    Good idea on the flat black, my hubby last night, said that maybe I should paint it safety yellow since I work in a construction trade. He pointed out that pee yellow goes with NOTHING, so it would really stand out. heh, he has his subversive moments, even if he did stick me in suburbia hell.

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  • Dionne Galace
    October 5
    4:52 pm

    Stupid blogger ate my comment…

    Anyway, what I was saying was: my sister told me the other day that when it comes to the guy I’m currently seeing, I am “slumming”. The word has never occurred to me.

    And my mother keeps saying, “Oh, he’s wonderful… too bad he’s poor.”

    And I said, “oh, like we’re any better off.

    And my sister contributed, “You live in a 900k house in an upper middle class neighborhood in San Diego. Trust me, you’re slumming.”

    and then I really thought about it. My sisters and I all received brand-new cars for our sixteenth birthdays— sure, they weren’t BMWs or something, but whenever I tell this to people, they look at me and say, “Umm… whatever, rich girl.”

    And that’s what the boyfriend calls me. “Rich Girl.”

    which is stupid.

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  • Anonymous
    October 5
    5:00 pm

    Sallahdog, it sounds like we’re neighbors. But I consider myself exurb not suburban(as well as middle class). When we bought our house 15 years ago, the lender was suspicious because most doctors spend 4-5 times as much money on their home. Tried to explain, “I’m just a little family doc, we make a quarter of the money the specialists make!” They had trouble believing it. Class distinctions in the US are blurred and overlap, but by God, we are almost all of us middle class.

    OBTW, Sallah, we got a letter that our grass wasn’t green enough in the middle of the worst Colorado drought in I think 60 years. So we spray painted the grass green. Needless to say, the neighbors were not amused.

    –Jackie L.

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  • Bonnie Dee
    October 5
    5:08 pm

    Hey, Dionne, anyone who receives a brand new car for his/her birthday can not be called middle class. What I consider middle class is the group that works to pay for part of the car while mom and dad chip in a little–and it’s a used car.

    Yes the US certainly does have a class system. Every country does! Some are just more obvious about it than others–like the Indian caste system. But in the US it’s more economic-based rather than by lineage (unless you’re a Boston Brahmin).

    There’s also a whole bizarre class system here based around show-biz celebrities, who, for some reason, we worship the way Brits (I’m exaggerating, of course) worship the monarchy.

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  • Karen Scott
    October 5
    5:11 pm

    So is your class what you think you are yourself, or what others perceive you to be? Is it just an attitude of mind?

    Good question Marianne.

    I think it’s more to do with status. There are some people who make the class distinctions based on the jobs that people hold. Other people make the distinction based on how educated a person is, and others just base everything on how much money and toys one has. So regardless of where you think you personally fit in the scale, the truth is, it’s probably going to be based on your actual circumstances.

    My question is, if you were poor as a church mouse, but your parents came from ‘old’ money, and they lived in a castle, could you still be considered upper class?

    Dammit, this could go on forever!

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  • Anonymous
    October 5
    6:52 pm

    wouldn’t you agree, karen, it only matters what marketing thinks?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_affluent

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  • Rocio R
    October 5
    8:25 pm

    I guess that before hand we should give a definition to the word “class” and what you mean with it.
    Because poor and rich people you will find in all countries.
    I think what makes the difference is how hard is the line draw between groups. How hard it is to go from one group to a “better” one (because the other way is kind of always possible)
    I guess here, in America at least we have the hope that if you manage to succeed, you will be on top no matter your background.
    But I guess for you guys no matter how much you fight you will not become a royalty. As you stated you can have the money or the knowledge but if you don’t have the appropriate back ground you will only get up to certain level.
    Every country in this world has classes, the thing is how hard it is to go up that ladder?

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  • Rocio R
    October 5
    8:28 pm

    Karen:
    “My question is, if you were poor as a church mouse, but your parents came from ‘old’ money, and they lived in a castle, could you still be considered upper class?”

    Of course not darling that means you went down the ladder, but it will only takes money to get you up!

    But a poor person from a poor background it would takes money and then a lot more to maybe be considered as upper class!

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  • December/Stacia
    October 6
    11:22 pm

    So which American President in the last 100 years was actually not from a family of privilege? (rather than just having a ‘aw shucks’ image)?

    Richard Nixon. Worked his way through college and lived in a shack. Literally a shack, with no heating.

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  • sallahdog
    October 7
    3:49 pm

    Bill Clinton wasnt from a rich background either… but he had a lot of very rich friends. I think with the way the money has gone in politics, it has become almost impossible for someone of limited means to get very far these days.

    Funny on the spray painting of the yard. A friend of mine put down some astroturf in her front yard and she was told she had to remove it. She told them it was a special “putting green” and got it past the HOA because they hadn’t specifically prohibited it.. I understand the need for HOAs, but they are a huge PITA at times.

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