Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Matter of Class

Somehow I always imagined when the charming yet militant Frenchwomen stalked down the cobbled streets of Paris screaming vive la revolution, the seemingly insuperable barriers between social class and status would have started to fall like the poor bloodied heads of the aristocracy. That however doesn't seem to be the case nowadays.

There's a friend of mine... let's call him Laksa Lim. Let's not get all melodramatic with wailing violins but he's this sweet, intelligent scion of enterprising hawker parents who's currently contemplating seeing a wealthy mogul's son. Simple enough, you'd think.

Lim : I don't know if it's gonna be a problem.
Paul : You have got to be kidding, right? It's the 21st Century, not the 18th.
Lim : He's a rich man's son and I'm ...
Paul : A great guy?
Lim : Hawker's son lah.
Paul : Seriously? You're not pulling my leg? Does that really matter?
Lim : It might!
Paul : If it does, dump him.

Honestly I swear I didn't take this sadly cliched plot from a Hindi-Tamil tearjerker.

Jamie Dornan!
Hot peon

In ancient times, a strict distinction between the social classes kept the disreputable riff-raff and rabble away from the hallowed doors of their social betters. For example my wicked aristo alter-ego of my past ( possibly murdered out of hand for his/her iniquities ) certainly wouldn't have deigned to spare a glance at some lowly menial of the working class, much less speak to them. Of course if they be comely, sordid, base dalliances would be quite acceptable behind closed doors but by morning, the unfortunate peon should have been summarily dismissed and swept out the backdoors.

Is it any wonder that more than a few lost their pretty little powdered heads at the hands of the bloodthirsty Madame Guillotine? Not only the haughty Europeans but even the practical Chinese had their own hierarchies once upon a time before the impetuous Red Guards marched in to dismantle the rapidly crumbling social structure, erect distasteful monuments on demolished temples and summarily adopt the most hideously bland mono-toned uniforms.

But in the current liberal, free-wheeling, laissez-faire world of today, does social status and class really matter? How would you actually place someone and how do we define class? Who actually gets into the upper rungs of society nowadays? The ubiquitous Paris Hilton, her pampered lap dog and the like?

Should we dump Mr Right ( come on, Mr Perfect would just drive me insane with his perfection! ) just because he doesn't 'belong' in our social milieu? Like, if he eats with the wrong fork, we toss him out of the dining room without further ado? If he wears cheap denim and a tanktop on black tie night, we strip him... okay, that's not what I was going to say... we turn our backs and utterly refuse to acknowledge him? If his parents are honest working class folks, we hastily transfer to another state, change our names and vociferously deny parentage?

Or from the other side of the looking glass, even if he was the son of some sinfully wealthy Arabian oil sheikh, so what?

Certainly not descended from a distinguished line of kings myself and honestly it doesn't really matter - apart from the sadly materialistic fact that I'd love to have castles, crown jewels and comely courtiers. Come from what I assume is strong, hardy peasant stock on my dad's side ( really, all of them are strapping dudes who look as if they could carry a buffalo with one paw and rake the fields with the other ) and possibly scheming, wicked misadventurers on my mom's side ( the whole deal... pirates, opium dealers and such ), and hell, I'm proud of it. :P

Always found it odd that we maintain such pointless pomp and circumstance for folks fortunate enough to have ancestors bloodthirsty and ruthless enough to hang on to a throne or to those lucky enough to fall into the lap of luxury. Class and protocol be damned, I'd stare down the Queen of Sheba herself ( though I'd ask her where to get the cheapest Eastern carpets! ) so does it matter what family my boyfriend comes from?

Seriously. Does class matter that much?


Mr.Brian/Mr.Fletcher said...

Though social class is often seemingly still separated by wealth, it seems moreso that the classes have developed into sub-classes. For example: The wealthy with perceived manners and the wealthy who are visibly without (The latter group seems to be the larger class here); the upper middle, middle middle, and lower middle are still pretty much the same. Then there the two new sub-classes of the lower class. Those who strive to rise in class (well-mannered and manner-challenged), and those who are content where they are (well-mannered and non-mannered). And, as has always been tradition, hygiene and manners are the inexplicable social barrier-breakers. Tell your friend he has a better shot than anyone he may consider to be his suitor's contemporaries!

Mr.Brian/Mr.Fletcher said...

(I think the above post by myself sounds nearly like a dialogue from Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility!)

Anonymous said...

To some people - class does matter, whether we like to believe it or not - and although it's the 21st Century, we can't help deny that there are some people who look at the middle and the lower class with a wary eye.

But for all it's worth - classes mean NOTHING to me, and definitely if someone isn't going to date your friend because of his "class" - that guy isn't worth it.

Anonymous said...

It matters if to the beholder's eye it matters. You are correct that these days it should not matter at all. But, to some people it still does. There are people that I have known to whom it would matter not only that you were rich, but that you were noveau riche. They would sneer at you then. Unfortunately, traditions like class die hard. For myself, I would not want to mix with those for whom these issues mattered at all.

Anonymous said...

duhz.. it doesn't matter lar.. as long as u have the great sex eh ahah!

thompsonboy said...

Honey, one will be deluded if they think it doesn't matter. Imagine one with a million bucks while the other 2 cents. How many times can the millionaire have economy rice before he gets sick of it? Once you go up, you can't go down.

Anonymous said...

"Beneath the dingy uniformity of international fashion, MEN indeed remain a savage, blodd thirst human being.

Sad but its true!

there are still those people who perceived themselves more superior and powerful because of their so called social class, by that they are more brute are than those whom they inferior!

Well to hell with these creatures of the night! lolz!

Hush and Listen.

matrianklw said...

I really don't think that class matters so much. I mean, it is true we all want that hunky CEO in our lives so that we can be perpetual boyfriends (or househusbands) living off his wealth the rest of our lives. But that's just the materialistic side of us who probably couldn't resist another McSteamy.

For one thing, as guys, most of would probably want to be independant and it wouldn't feel right for us to just feed on the money of our spouse (although the thought is tempting). Another thing is, if it was true love (I'm a strong believer), we'd be probably blinded by love to even bother about his social status in life.

All that matters is honesty. "Love each other or perish".

Still, I'd prefer my guy to eat with the right fork. Manners are important! LOL.

East-West said...

Hmm, our hearts will say that this sort of divide does not matter but the truth is that the disparity in their earning (thus spending) power can cause friction and problems and it takes a hell of a lot more effort / work / understanding to keep it viable!!

William said...

No man is an island. As much as we say we can ignore social and familial pressures, it will undoubtedly cause friction and tension. Do we actually live for ourselves or other's?

R*Y A N said...

i agree with william. as easy as it is to say that class doesn't and shouldn't matter, reality is somewhat different.

there will be challenges being with someone of a different class but it can work. as long as both couples persist and ignore these silly draconian social rules.

cinderella, anyone?

pluboy@takashi said...

to me, it didnt matter a bit at all.. because love is blind.. everything else just doesnt matter..


class exists when a silly bunch of people think that they're far greater than others. i belong to a particular aristocracy but chilling out at the mamak stall does nothing in tarninshing my background.

Ryan said...

Wow, it seems like the kind of thing that I wanted to write about in my blog.

The thing about class, for me, is not how I view myself but the difference in our fortunes. I'm middle class whose father bought a car and lives in a semi-D. Willsn's a bit lower rung - he only owns a bike and lives in a semi-dilapidated flat.

Like thompsonboy said, it's about the money. And it's not like I don't want to bend down to his level. But I'm concerned that Willsn will one day not be able to step up to my level. I'm talking in terms of finances, not status.

I certainly like the boy too much to care about such unfabulous issues - but they do exist, and money matters have destroyed more relationships than you care to count.

snowdrop said...

even when it DOESN'T matter, it's still good for a laugh sometimes:

we're walking about in tesco and see some toys.
spot: ooo... that looks just like the masak-masak fish we had when young!! remember?
me: eer... i think only rich kids got "real" toy food leh, i just used grass.

:) this theory was subsequently confirmed by asking a few more friends.

Anonymous said...

"People who matter, don't care. People who don't matter, do care".

Really, kiddos. Only women and particularly, lower middle class women, worry about these kind of things nowadays.

the (dis)hon. can

Bruce said...

There's no getting around it. Social class is a reality and differences in social class is a factor in a relationship. But it is not necessarily a negative or an insurmountable factor.

I am a university professor with a PhD and with enough money to live comfortably, and had a wonderful relationship with the son of Sicilian peasants who had a fruit and vegetable stand. We were together, happily, for almost a decade, until he passed away from cancer.

The relationship worked not because we ignored the differences in our backgrounds, but rather because we were able to learn from each other and each approached the other's world with interest and respect. It was clear to both of us and to our friends that i learned as much, perhaps more, from him as he learned from me.

We lived together and fully shared each other's lives. My friends we his, and his mine. His family was a problem, but they would have been a problem had they been the lords of the manner. The form of the problem was class related; the content had nothing to do with class.

In short, it's not the class differences that are the problem, but rather one's attitude toward those differences.

(I did, however, let him go to football matches alone.)

Laksa Lim said...

thanks, paul, for your kind comments. thanks also for the nice ppl who have responded.
Not sure whether this relationship will work out, but paul will surely update you all on that.
My beau have been a kind person all this while, not bothered by class differences, it's just the assimilation into a totally different society and lifestyle that worries me, actually.
Well, thanks for the well wishers.

Spot said...

As someone said shouldnt matter but it does.

I know someone who positively cringed when her boyfriend asked a girl wearing a dior t-shirt if her name was Dior. Her sister totally disapproved of this roughhouse cowboy boyfriend and said "surely you can do better".

She dumped him not long after.

I think it's worse when the person who thinks it matters is the one from the "lower" class. An inferiority complex is emotionally harder to deal with, for the couple, than Born With Spoon In Mouth complex.