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Old 12-12-2007, 03:35 PM
 
284 posts, read 1,125,153 times
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Default Can someone explain the British class system?

I'm curious about the different "classes" within British society and haven't been able to find much detail from online searches.

I've always wondered since I was told by an American friend (I'm American, too) dating a British man that when we all attended a wedding in the UK that he felt out of place due to the difference in his class. I guess he's higher class, but I couldn't tell.

Here in the US, any perceived class differences are usually more obvious and I also don't think the same class differences exist here. It's more monetary- based than birth-based and usually those who *think* they are higher class due to more money will make efforts to show it. This is not the case among the birth-based class system.

BTW - I don't condone this at any level, I'm just curious about it and Brits seem loathe to discuss it.

 
Old 12-12-2007, 05:11 PM
 
Location: Oxford, England
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Even nowadays the British class system pervades every aspect of society in ways which can be very subtle.
The class you belong to is never based on your wealth but your background, upbringing and bizarely to me as a foreigner your accent.

Historically land ownership ( large chunks of it) is what made you upper class and it has remained so until this day.
There are still vast estates scattered throughout the land and the landed gentry still is at the top of the tree so to speak socially.

A British person will categorise you instantly depending on the way you speak.
The middle classes have grown in the last few decades in the UK in terms of social aspirations and other cultural aspects but the upper classes and working classes are still very distinct.
Basically it comes down to which sort of education you had, what hobbies, recreational pursuits you enjoy, and many other things.

I have lived in the UK for 19 years now and it still amazes me how quickly someone will dismiss you as worthy of knowing because of your accent or your interests ( that goes for all classes by the way , the snobbism isn't a monopoly of the upper classes).

I sound "posh" , have been to private and finishing schools, enjoy the Opera and the Theatre and am a member my local Polo Club ( for the amazing sum of 60 $ for my partner and I so hardly an exclusive place) . This means in England that I am considered upper class, despite the fact that I live a very middle class, middle income sort of life. I find it laughable but can be exasperated by being called a snob simply because of the above mentioned despite the fact that I live in a small cottage, drive a small car and am perfectly happy with members of all classes.

I have also been invited to "hunt balls" ( Fox hunting) a very upper class pursuit because of the way I speak and because of my background . People assume I support Fox hunting when actually I am strongly against it.

One in Britain is not supposed to deviate from the hierarchical system too much or it confuses people.

The true upper classes ( Aristocracy and landed gentry) are characterised by having a Romantic vision of the past and believe in the rural Idyll , so beautifully described by Romantic poets. They also believe the countryside is for their pleasure alone and not to be built over by the middle and working classes as it would ruin it for them.

The working classes are dismissive of both the middle and upper classes as snobby and elitist and pride themselves on being "salt of the earth" types who just like a drink down the boozer, watch soaps on TV and enjoy a holiday in Sunny Spain or Greece as long as there is little left of the Natives and the food has been made "palatable" by making it British...
The Middle classes are just as narrow minded in their own way being distrustful of the upper classes and dismissive of the working classes.
And the upper classes don't give a thought about either.

To put it in a simplistic manner a working class person will go on Holiday to a resort in Spain , A middle class person will go to France or the "undiscovered Spanish Spain" and the upper classes will love a month in the Scottish Highlands on one of their shooting lodges.
Newspapers are also a good indication : Working class tends to read "The Daily Mail", "The Sun", "News of the world" , middle classes will read "The Guardian " or "The independent" and upper classes "The Times" or "The Telegraph".

Britain is the least socially mobile system I know though it is slowly changing and one could argue that the pendulum has swung a little bit too far , with brain dead, ill educated celebrities taking the place of brain dead royalty.
Money is now becoming a mark of success but one certainly is not upper class because one has a few millions in the bank !


Make of it what you will, it's pretty confusing.
 
Old 12-13-2007, 06:09 AM
 
Location: Fort Mill, SC
1,105 posts, read 2,963,276 times
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Gosh, I was going to write that I didn't think there was a "class" system anymore in England. I am actually shocked by reading the post above. I haven't actually lived there but I am British/American and have visited there often staying months at a time. My family is pretty ecleptic and I have never felt out of place with any of them or their friends. I have family from all walks of life, some living in project type housing to my grandparents who are self-made millionaires.

I personally have never noticed any divide. Everyone seems to get along great and everyone seems generally happy.
 
Old 12-13-2007, 06:28 AM
 
Location: The Silver State (from the UK)
3,468 posts, read 3,856,231 times
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There is no "official" class system, but Mooseketeer's post above is fairly accurate.

People will almost certainly decide on wether you are worth knowing or not, your background, education etc on your accent and appearance.. pretty pathetic really. My wife is American and Brits will kind of talk down to her, as they 'obviously' are more educated, socially graceful etc etc etc

It is fading, and its not obvoius to the outsider, but many Brits (even though evidence would point otherwise!) consider themeselves to be the height of sophistication, intelligence, and part of the most powerful country in the world.
 
Old 12-13-2007, 06:45 AM
 
Location: on an island
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One of the best books I ever read about this sort of thing was Snobs, (http://www.metacritic.com/books/authors/fellowesjulian/snobs - broken link) a novel by Julian Fellowes.
 
Old 12-13-2007, 07:49 AM
 
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Thanks, this is interesting.

Are there other distinctions between middle and upper class? For example, do upper class people generally have jobs?

Based on Mooseketeer's descriptions, it appears my friend's now-husband to whom I referred in my OP, may be middle class.

Not that it matters, again, just interested.

Regarding Jen02674's comments, I wonder if class distinctions are less noticeable among the working class and moderate middle class. That is certainly the case here in the US and it would make sense that these distinctions are less important to those who have nothing at stake should said distinctions fall away.
 
Old 12-13-2007, 07:59 AM
 
Location: Oxford, England
13,040 posts, read 14,209,812 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sugarbeet View Post
Thanks, this is interesting.

Are there other distinctions between middle and upper class? For example, do upper class people generally have jobs?

Based on Mooseketeer's descriptions, it appears my friend's now-husband to whom I referred in my OP, may be middle class.

Not that it matters, again, just interested.

Regarding Jen02674's comments, I wonder if class distinctions are less noticeable among the working class and moderate middle class. That is certainly the case here in the US and it would make sense that these distinctions are less important to those who have nothing at stake should said distinctions fall away.
It's hard to say as some will have jobs such as working in the City ( London's financial centre), landowners, "gentleman-farmers" so to speak, others will be in Academia. A lot will have jobs like owning Antique shops or Art Galleries, some will be in the army ( officers of course) and some just normal businessmen. Others will just live off the wealth previously accumulated by their families.

Being upper class basically means coming from "old money" and "new money" is very distasteful to many upper class people. They find conspicuous consumption and displays of wealth vulgar ( and I have to say I agree) and I was once told that anyone who has had to buy their own furniture is basically not upper class ! Sounds silly but I think it does describe it fairly well !

Actually I find most upper class people rather harmless in a parasitic sort of way and most of them are no way near as snobby as people think. It would be nice to make things a bit more equitable nonetheless and getting rid of the monarchy and associated parasites might be a start.

There is no place in a modern democracy for a system based on inherited privilege. It's just anachronistic, archaic and plain patronising to the rest of the population.

Sadly though there is a kind of deference shown to the nobility still and I guess that's why the class system is still very much alive...
 
Old 12-13-2007, 09:30 AM
 
Location: NJ
2,192 posts, read 4,025,745 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jenn02674 View Post
Gosh, I was going to write that I didn't think there was a "class" system anymore in England. I am actually shocked by reading the post above. I haven't actually lived there but I am British/American and have visited there often staying months at a time. My family is pretty ecleptic and I have never felt out of place with any of them or their friends. I have family from all walks of life, some living in project type housing to my grandparents who are self-made millionaires.

I personally have never noticed any divide. Everyone seems to get along great and everyone seems generally happy.
That's because you are a foreigner and so are relegated to your own class, which gets to cross divides in a specific way.

Moose, is pretty accurate.
I grew up in the UK (in Scotland) as middle class in a working class town and was absolutely amazed when I went to university at some of the people there and their attitudes. I'd add that upper class go to private (there called Public, don't ask) schools which also have their own heirarchy. And the more family members you have in Who's Who the better.

I'll throw in that "New Money" can be recognized by their newer clothes, whereas the truly Upper Upper class "Old Money" can be distinguished by the wearing of a worn wax Barbor jacket inherited from their grandmothers. Old Money buys quality and keeps it forever.
Actually as a lowly middle classer, I can attest to the fact that I've found Old Money to be more polite and pleasant to be around in a slighly dismissive way than New Money, which tends towards arrogant. And yes, I have been snubbed by the working class for having an education and caring about it.
 
Old 12-13-2007, 10:13 AM
 
284 posts, read 1,125,153 times
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I guess based on all these insights my friend's husband is upper class - again, not that it matters. He is incredibly polite in all situations. In fact, he is so well mannered that when I only used my fork to eat my salad (gasp!) at my wedding, he put down his knife and only used his fork too!
 
Old 12-13-2007, 04:13 PM
 
Location: Dallas, Texas
3,589 posts, read 31,236 times
Reputation: 533
Quote:
Originally Posted by jenn02674 View Post
Gosh, I was going to write that I didn't think there was a "class" system anymore in England. I am actually shocked by reading the post above. I haven't actually lived there but I am British/American and have visited there often staying months at a time. My family is pretty ecleptic and I have never felt out of place with any of them or their friends. I have family from all walks of life, some living in project type housing to my grandparents who are self-made millionaires.

I personally have never noticed any divide. Everyone seems to get along great and everyone seems generally happy.
Live there sometime; it still exists.

My English ex-mother-in-law was working class and I am middle class by American AND British standards. She didn't have much use for middle class toffs and I was treated like garbage by her.
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