We are all snobs, in some way. We all have preferences, that is only nature. But living in a supposedly civilised society we should learn to draw the line between preferences and prejudices. Most notably in this country prejudices have been based on class (and gender). That however is a problem of old and as we moved into the 21st century we should have lowered our noses and removed any chips off our shoulders. So far I have seen that this has not happened and, typical Brits, we are stuck in a place where we can conveniently and effectively (falsely) blame others for any of our misfortune or dissatisfaction. It is a twisted way of making us feel better about ourselves. It is not constructive and restricts the social freedom we are so desperate to embrace.
Class has always been an issue for me. It has always confused me that people would wish to create a them and us separation and in doing so create conflict; a bit like the alliance system pre-WW1. In the past year, even though I am the only woman in the kitchen at work, I have found that any illusion of a class division has caused me more grief than the quite clear gender division.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to be born into a family that has acted a springboard for potential success in whatever field I chose. However my family has somewhat been stuck in a higher class that my ancestors belonged to, one which we do not. One which is associated with more affluence and therefore a greater capacity to do nothing (even an obligation to). Furthermore it has surrounded me with snobbery directed at others who follow different paths, considered to be of a lower class.
When I decided to leave university after one term my Mum’s face resembled a ghost and she began a mission to get me to stay. I had already disappointed her enough by not applying to Cambridge, but this – at first – was too much for her to swallow.
Eventually she gave in (I’m more stubborn than a mule) and I got a job as a chef. One thing remained the same – the “them and us” culture. However I was no longer considered part of the “us camp” and I would now become victim to inverse snobbery. I have been sarcastically named “Princess Sophie”, repeatedly asked whether I have horses and told to “ask Daddy” if I need something. One of the first things one of the chefs said to me was “at least you’ll be able to throw delicious dinners for friends when you’re a city lawyer”. A comment that didn’t exactly make me feel welcome on my first day. Moreover it turns out that that chef lives in Belgravia, which suggests he isn’t exactly struggling to get by. It is his East London accent and evident working class upbringing that saves him from abuse. Thus this prejudice is all a product of my colleagues’ assumptions that my “proper” accent and not having had a full time job by the age of 20 makes me a spoilt rich kid who deserves to take the brunt of any chip they have on their shoulders. The truth is I am neither rich nor a spoilt brat.
And don’t think my parents’ friends have been 100% supportive either. I have had looks at shock at the fact I’m not at university. I make sure I mention the fact I was at a top 4 university, which I chose to leave, to ensure they know I’m not stupid and that my original intention had been to follow the path they deem suitable. To both groups of people I say that I’m not sure working in a kitchen is what I want to do for the rest of my life as I know they all think it’s not the place for a woman like me to build their career.
To say the truth: no I’m not 100% I want to work in a kitchen all my life. But I do want to stick with the food industry. I love cooking; and the teamwork, adrenaline rush and active nature of chef life really appeals to me. Yes there is the well known problem of women struggling to make it in the kitchen environment. However it is also the snobbery from all angles of society that has made it at times a hostile place. I cannot pretend I have been mistreated at work, or constantly bullied for my accent or lifestyle. My employers and collegues have been very good to me and are training me well. I am even beginning to feel like one of them. However I do not feel wholly like one of the team due to their consistent insistence to remind me that (in their minds) I am in some way different to them.
It’s a modern problem, a child of the age old British class system, born through the age of class movement. Of course I advocate movement within society, but why is it only acceptable to celebrate people of the working class gaining success in an area associated with another class: from someone being the first in their family to go to university to Kate Middleton marrying royalty. In fact why is that celebrated at all? Celebration makes such events a big deal, which in turn deepens class distinction and segregated individuals.
As we saw with the Civil Rights Movement in America “separate but equal” does not break boundaries, but entrenches them. The same applies to class. I am not putting class issues in the UK and race issues in America on a par, but simply using this extreme example to show that the idea of crearing cultural isotopes does not make for a united or free society.
To add to this, class no longer correlates with affluence in this country and that needs to be recognised. It correlates with nothing of substance and has instead become a facade of the bitter and the proud; to falsely legitimise blaming others for any dissatisfactions they may have with their own life. Another example of such a defence mechanism would be when an atheist has an argument with a Christian about religion and the Christian were to defend themselves by saying they “have faith”. It is impossible for the atheist to dispute them. It is the ultimate conversation stopper and a builds a brick wall between the two sides. Yet the Christian has not acted rationally and has defended their position with only superficial legitimacy. In doing so they have also made the Atheist feel vulnerable and unequal. This is similar to the use of class in an argument; they are both blanket terms used by the ignorant to defend themselves.
If I was really a spoilt rich kid I wouldn’t have gone out and got myself a job. Yes I’ve had many an opportunity, a great education (both academic and culinary), and have met some great people who have given me advice for success. But that does not make me lazy or less worth my colleagues time. Moreover these opportunities are no replacement for real skill and experience. Money is not needed and indeed cannot buy: grit, determination, or natural talent.
We should stop dwelling on a problem two or three generations out of date. In the meantime we it should be recognised that we are all snobs – and inverse snobbery is just as destructive. I am proud of where I come from and will never disrespect my upbringing. That’s not where the problem lies (if it is not overdone). The problem lies with judging, disrespecting and excluding others because they grew up with different priorities, expectations and opportunities. And it should be stopped. Now.