Having ‘class’ is about how you act, not what you own
Unlike the character of Daisy Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby,” my voice is not full of money. My voice is full of traffic.
But it’s also full of laughter, wisecracks and emotion.
I have no class. Everybody who knows me would agree, the only difference being that some apologize, sotto voce, on my behalf, while others yell it from the rooftops in delight.
Class is like sexual modesty: Only somebody without it can talk about it in public. That’s why I’m your girl.
I learned how class was traditionally defined by watching old movies and reading books. I went to an Ivy League school on a scholarship and went to Cambridge University on a fellowship. All of this means I can do a terrific imitation of a mid-Atlantic accent and speak fluently in what used to be referred to as Received Standard English. But I can only do it for a couple of minutes, because after that I expect Henry Higgins to announce, “By George, I think she’s got it!”
The voice and accent are important indicators of class, I discovered when I got to college, because nobody is supposed to recognize where you came from.
You aren’t meant to have come from anywhere once you’ve arrived. You must give the impression that you have always been. Everything about you must appear “comme il faut,” which translates from French, more or less, into “this is how it’s done.” Your family members and their status must appear to have been awarded by destiny and not to have wrested or stolen from the sweat of others or from the earth itself.
It would be a mistake to confuse class with cash. Those who inherited influence, power and money appear to have been awarded their position in life. The rest of us are still striving to make it.
Apparently, the only thing worse than not being born with class is trying to get some. That’s because trying to do anything is frowned upon by those in positions of real privilege, since it involves expending effort, displaying ambition and accepting the possibility of failure.
So let’s think about it: How do you define “class,” then? The ground rules are that we’re not simply talking about where you’ve been plopped down economically. Those who come with property, gold and stock options trailing behind them do not necessarily have class. One of my favorite writers, Dorothy Parker, pointed out,
“If you want to know what God thinks about money, just look at the people he gave it to.” She did not mean that as a compliment.
If your primary accomplishment is being able to trace your lineage back to the Norman Conquest, you should be reminded that every human being comes from a long line of ancestors. The fact that a person’s family came to America in 1620 makes her no more impressive than somebody whose family came to America at 2:15 p.m. yesterday, and it almost certainly makes her stories less interesting.
If class isn’t being surrounded by trappings of privilege secured by membership to American — or any other — aristocracy, what behaviors bestow a person with class?
Class is accepting responsibility — because your decisions have been thoughtful, careful and considerate. Class is integrity — because the various parts of your life fit together in a pattern that you’ve designed, and there’s no need to pretend you’re something you’re not.
You don’t switch out personalities, affects or manners depending on the circumstances. You make the ease, the dignity and the self-respect of those around you your first concern. You clean up after yourself, literally and metaphorically, understanding that if you don’t do it, somebody else will be left with your mess.
Class doesn’t whine, doesn’t gossip, doesn’t sneer and never looks down. Class looks you in the eye and sees you and acknowledges you.
In a house of true class, you are always welcome. Even if your voice sounds like traffic.