Do you dry your washing in your living room? Have you ever worn sunglasses or a cap inside? Is your house full of little trinkets? Do you park your car on the grass? HAVE YOU EVER LEFT DOG POO IN YOUR GARDEN? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then, sorry to say this, but you are letting everyone in on a shameful secret – you’re “poor”. Or so say Anna Musson and Susie Wilson, a pair of Australian etiquette experts who have kindly bestowed their superior knowledge on “how to look rich” to the commoners.
In almost identical articles in both The Sun and the Daily Mail, Musson and Wilson have provided exhaustive lists on how to stop looking poor and how to start tricking your friends into thinking you own an eight-bedroom yacht and a private island in the Bahamas. According to the experts, we give away our wealth status and class in all sorts of ways – with our clothes, food and even our letterboxes. That’s right – those in the upper echelons of society collect their post every day!
Rich people also keep their hair cut and colour up to date on a meticulously regular basis, they keep up to date on current affairs and take a keen interest in art. They play polo, ride horses and go on skiing holidays. A rich person might bring up lots of different topics in conversation without sounding like they have an attention disorder – they’ve just read a lot. They don’t wear obviously branded clothes and, when it comes to food, it’s quality, not quantity, that matters – “A middle-class or working-class person might look for how much food they can get for X amount of money; an upper-class person is more concerned with the quality, not the amount or portion size,” Wilson helpfully explains.
The catch? You have to actually be rich to do these things.
What the experts are actually doing, along with augmenting and perpetuating the culture of shame that surrounds poverty, is avoiding the very thing that separates the rich from the poor: money
“Every social class has its characteristic habits, mannerisms and mode of behaviour,” explains Wilson. “These are learned from infancy and cumulatively form the mannerisms and attitudes that define social class. Because they are acquired during formative years they are strongly embedded and very difficult to change. This makes it difficult to change class.” There is likely some truth in this – being poor or rich defines your entire existence; it puts a certain lens on the way you see the world, how you interact with people and your chances at success. What the experts are actually doing, along with augmenting and perpetuating the culture of shame that surrounds poverty, is avoiding the very thing that separates the rich from the poor: money.
Very few people are poor by choice. Clothes are dried inside because there is no outside space at home, sofa rips or stains are covered with a blanket because there’s no money to buy a new one, buying large quantities of food for a cheaper price offers ease and value to people who have to work every single day. Poor people say words like “youse” and “nah” because they have a regional background – in the UK, at least, children from the north are hit by a “double whammy” of poverty and bad schools, with their London peers being three times as likely to go to university. That’s probably why, according to Musson and Wilson, the children of “rich” people are taught creativity, confidence and how to control their emotions – like money, these are privileges the “poor” aren’t privy to.
Not only are the suggestions on how to look rich – or, as The Sun frames it, not poor – relying on lazy, sitcom stereotypes of the upper and lower classes, they’re also entirely offensive. According to Musson and Wilson, only rich people are kind to waiting staff and shop assistants; only rich people keep the front of their houses tidy; simply, only rich people care. It’s this pigeonholing that allows others to use class as a barbed stick with which to beat the poor, blaming their situation on their own attitudes and behaviours, rather than their birth circumstances, life events and individual characters.
And, besides, there is nothing inherently wrong with being “poor”. Let’s stop teaching that being rich is the be all and end all of life, and that if you do not “have”, you must “want”. Of course, riding a horse through the countryside is joyous, but so is riding your sister’s old bike around the estate.