The English are class obsessed. I went to hear an “inspirational” Englishman speak about his experiences. He announced to the audience that he was “working class” that his grandfather had been a barman and that it was through the transformational power of education that he was able to enter the venue as a speaker rather than “a servant”.
While Ireland may not be a classless society, it’s a lot closer to that than England is. I think I can confidently say that no Irish person considers that it is embarassing to have relatives engaged in pretty much any job (ok, nobody wants a cat burglar in the family, but you know what I mean). It doesn’t matter what your grandfather did for a living. It doesn’t matter what anyone’s grandfather did for a living.
I thought his use of the word “servant” was interesting too. I wouldn’t consider the waiters or those doing the cloakrooms to be servants. I wouldn’t regard it as their destiny to stay in the same position for ever either. Servants has the whiff of indentured and servility about it. I don’t like it. Maybe it’s just the difference between the colonising and the colonised. All that said, education can be transformative; for everyone.
Interestingly the Americans are obsessed with whether or not the British are class-obsessed – this makes them sound a lot more class-obsessed than I think most British people are!
I wouldn’t particularly talk about class in the way that this speaker did and if someone does, I think they have a chip on their shoulder to be honest – I wouldn’t use the word “servant” not even for the people who worked in my house in Africa (at least, not if I wasn’t imitating colonialists). Though I do have a firm grasp on what class (or, to be accurate) classES I myself come from, it’s not something I ever really think about.
Both America and Ireland are very *unequal* societies whether or not they consider themselves to be class-obsessed. Unfortunately this post expresses a negative prejudice against 50 million people in a neighbouring country on the basis of one irritating public speaker. I heard a lot of this kind of thing when I lived in Ireland, though admittedly mostly from the older generation. At first it’s kind of funny, but in the end it just makes you look small.
town mouse says
My impression is that we’ve got less class obsessed in past few years, or rather a lot more embarrassed about talking about it. I’m surprised at your speaker, he sounds like he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder (typical working class lad made good *mutter mutter*)
Ouch Anne. I feel bad now. Though, of course, you realise I AM old which is why I am prey to these feelings.