Wednesday, November 2, 2011

MidWeek Mention - The Middle Class Handbook

Came across a great new web site/blog the other day - The Middle Class Handbook - (An illustrated field guide to the changing behaviour and tastes of Britain's new middle class tribes".) It's also a book which is available on Amazon.

How to describe the British middle class eh? It's not about money, since many of them have quite a lot and would certainly be Upper Class in the US. It's not even about what they do for a living - more about what they do in their spare time, really.

Anyway, this web site is a hoot, and hits the nail on the head. There's a Middle Class Periodic table, and a short description of each of the emerging MC tribes here. Which one do you identify with, if any?

There's also a hilarious piece about Middle Class holiday destinations, with a map showing where the Middle Class goes, and how many points the place scores for "Implied Wealth" and "Eco Feel Good". Here's the one about Northumberland, which seems to score rather well. Not sure if that's a good or bad thing though.

Being called "Middle Class" in the UK, is generally slightly derogatory these days, but it's difficult to explain why to non-Brits. Any offers?


  1. Yes, I'm anxious to read an explanation and hope someone will take up the challenge. Toni, do you think Americans talk about class very often or make derogatory comments about class? Or do we talk about it in other more cryptic ways that aren't so in your face? Wondering what you think about class conversation in the States.

  2. I think the American class system is alive and well, although not always called "class". It's more about the money and the size of your house. Americans are obsessed with wealth - look at all the reality shows where celebs parade around in huge houses, spending ridiculous amounts of money.
    On the East coast and many other places, there is also a huge distinction between "old Money" and the rest of us. In many towns and cities, everyone knows who has the clout and it's usually because of money.
    And don't forget that the word "Class" is being thrown around a lot at the moment in politics; each side professing that the other side's tax proposal add up to a class war.

  3. Hmmm. According to the types listed on the site I think I might be lower class not middle. We only have one house.

    However, as you know we do love our Northumberland holidays!

  4. Toni,

    Oh yes, the class warfare thing is alive and well right now and definitely in our face.

    However, I'm definitely on a different plane. When I meet someone I couldn't give a toss how much money they have or what they do for a living. Doesn't cross my mind. If I ask about their job it's out of interest, a way to make conversation, not to judge them. What matters to me is how kind they are - if they appear to be a good person. Beyond that, I choose to spend time with them if we have things in common and get on. Sense of humour very important. Other than that, it doesn't matter.

  5. (continued) Because I steer clear of people who are judgmental about wealth or lack of it, it makes me a bit naive I suspect.

    I do think Americans tend to be more accepting of self-made wealth than the British. In fact, I think it's revered. By contrast, in the UK, anyone who aims to rise "above their station" are accused of trying to be something they're not.

  6. I have only met a few very famous/rich/posh people in terms of old money/class here and they were just barking mad eccentrics and did not go on about their status. Does that make English people more insecure than Americans because Brits always need to place the other person's status and make themselves seem more important by labelling themselves as something 'above the common herd' at the very least?

    Yes that is wierd practically everyone in US themselves middle class whereas in UK is is a bit derogatory!

  7. Confused American here! Why is middle class considered derogatory? Would it not be better to be considered "in the middle" versus poor? I, personally, could care less what class others consider my family. I agree with Smitten by Britain that it is more important a person's character than their wealth. I just was confused by the derogatory nature of being called middle class in the UK. Thanks!

  8. It's considered derogatory for the most part now because it's used to described "jumped up" people, or people who have done well for themselves and lifted themselves slightly above their station, as in Kate Middleton's parents. Her mother was a flight attendant and came from very working class stock. An upward trajectory in the social strata in the UK is never something that's praised. Envied perhaps but usually sneered at.
    The middle class also implies a comfortable, but slightly boring lifestyle with certain cars being driven, the same type of hobbies, holidays and clothes. They are said to be more conscious of their status than the classes above and below them and sometimes it's painfully obvious.

  9. I enjoyed the site, and recognise a few of the types in it - of course I don't recognise myself though! We British are obsessed with these social stereotypes - Americans much less so. It's quite refreshing not to have to worry about such things here.

  10. I understand! Thanks Expat Mum for the explaination!

  11. I found the descriptions quite amusing but tbh I don't recognise myself or my friends in any of the stereotypes, yet I suppose we're mostly kind of middle class. At least, we're not upper class, and mostly not working class either, so by default we must be somewhere in the middle.

    Of course there are people who fit the stereotypes, but I think most people are just getting on with their lives and not especially worrying about this stuff.

    I think a lot of it is exacerbated by the media - like the criticism of the Middletons. They're probably really nice people who've made money and tried to do their best for their children. I'm sure they have their faults but getting your knickers in a twist because Carol Middleton once said "toilet" (it should be 'lavatory' in upper class circles) is a bit OTT and people should just get over themselves and judge people on more important criteria.

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  13. "Would it not be better to be considered "in the middle" versus poor?"

    Adding to the existing answer, it doesn't automatically go (working class) poorer than (middle class) who are poorer than (upper class). It's entirely possible that e.g. a working class electrician could earn more than a middle class teacher and not all aristocrats are very wealthy.

    (Of course whether electricians are all working class and teachers middle class is another question...)

  14. Yes, there are about a squillion different reasons for being in one class or the other (job, income, family background, speech, area you come from, goodness knows what else), and then there's lower middle, middle middle and upper middle. Kate Fox describes it in her book "Watching the English" but I can't really remember what she says. It's all a bit complicated though.

    I think only the upper and working class actually know what class they are; the rest of us just figure we're somewhere in the middle and aren't as bothered as we're made out to be. Or maybe that's just me.


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