Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Am I allowed to laugh at the Barclay’s guys wearing top hats?

September 14th, 2010 · 4 Comments

Last night at Barclays Wealth was the first time I have ever been to an event where I was expected to mingle with rich, important people with one of my intention being to network for possible jobs (the other being to represent my school and my program, but I’ll get to that). I felt I was supposed to get dressed in formal clothing (painful shoes, scary make-up processes, scary hair frying devises) so I wouldn’t stick out as someone that didn’t care about the program, and it was kind of stressful. I recognize that a lot of people like dressing up, and that is great (they were super helpful and made it way less stressful). But I don’t like dressing up. I rarely dress up, and when I do, I’m really uncomfortable. I also have no idea how to network. I’m perfectly happy talking to strangers, but I don’t know what any of the social customs are for that particular type of event. The fact that I was wearing fancy, uncomfortable clothing leads me to believe that I am not expected to act like myself even though that is what I expect a person’s advice would be if I asked them directly. Otherwise I would being wearing normal clothes, the clothes I wear when I am expected to be myself. There are unwritten codes of conduct and a change in clothing and appearance denotes that those codes need to be enacted. I don’t think anyone could overtly tell me what those codes are because they are codes that you only learn through practice, and people that know them are unconscious of them because they seem natural.

This brings me to class. We’ve been spending all this time talking about how class in England is so weird because it’s based on habits and lifestyle choices when in America it’s mostly just a tax bracket thing. I really think we’ve been exaggerating this difference quite a bit. Class in America might be about tax brackets once you get there, but if you want to get rich, you probably need a sweet job, and if you want a sweet job, you probably need to be good at mingling with rich, important people. People from lower classes in the United States and in England alike do not get the same opportunities as the upper classes to practice mingling and all the social customs that go along with it (being comfortable in fancy clothes, which hand to hold your drink in, the best hand shake, how to politely find important people, what subjects are taboo, what jokes are okay, how coarse to get with language, how to gracefully enter and leave a conversation, how much criticism of society is acceptable and what part are off limits, how to show off without seeming like a jerk, etc.).

As a disclaimer, I’m not trying to paint myself as a victim and say that class limited me here. The fact that I’ve never had to look for a real job and that I just don’t like wearing fancy clothes limited me, but that is expected because I am young. But that experience of being really uncomfortable brings to my attention that there is a huge difference in social customs. Dickinson gave me this opportunity, and I’ll be better at it next time. What about people who just don’t get this opportunity in the first place?

For America, it’s the same thing we hear over and over again. The American Dream is a myth that propels itself by a handful of people who actually make it. People from lower classes have the deck stacked against them in more ways than one and the rich have just hte opposite. For England I think it’s a little more complicated, and I invite anyone to put their two cents in because I’m still trying to work it out myself. If England has a more rigid class system in which people take pride in their working class characteristics, how do they learn the social customs necessary to network and make more money? How can we even say that England has a rigid class system if Kate Fox says that middle classes have so much class insecurity that the use of bizarre upper class sounding, French terms are now characteristic of middle classness? If class in England is really not about money and success, is it the ends to some English equivalent to the American Dream?

Tags: 2010 Jesse