Author Topic: For the Brits - opinions solicited!  (Read 4513 times)

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GSNW

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For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« on: July 23, 2013, 08:38:14 PM »
To preface, I am a middle school teacher, and I am licensed to teach science.  This year, I was asked to take on an "Advanced Explorations" class.  This is essentially an elective class for kids who don't have an elective - they are not in performing/fine arts and do not want to be a student aide.  It will be a mix of 7th and 8th graders, and they are  generally average (or meeting expectations) to advanced (exceeding) students, as any student showing deficiencies in ELA or math will be in a different elective class.  Repeaters are not going to be put in my class.  So I'll have a group of 20-25 solid students.

I have a long-winded plan for the class that isn't 100% relevant to my question - what I'd love to hear from those willing here are opinions on the current monarchy and the peerage/hereditary privilege systems that are in place.  Do you find this affects the average citizen?  Many people in the US have a notion that British society is very stratified and that there is little mixing between "levels," but with the majority being "regular" people, does this really make a huge difference?  Or is this an outdated notion?  OUR press made a huge deal of the new duchess being a "commoner," was it as big of a deal on your end? 

I would like to give my students a very realistic view of a culture that is in many ways different than our own, but I want it to be a real look, not just a lesson based on stereotypes and blanket statements.  Any suggestions of books that I can read (that are more informational than gossipy) to increase my own knowledge would be welcome, too.  I have *one* close friend that is British and I know her opinions and thoughts, so I definitely want to get a wider view in any way I can!

veryfluffy

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2013, 01:23:41 AM »
I would say that hereditary peerages and the aristocracy are virtually irrelevant to the average person in the UK -- for at least 95% of the population. You don't encounter any of them, and nothing about their existence has any bearing on any part of your life, positive or negative. There is the occasional TV programme about someone with a title, a crumbling castle and no money trying to keep from selling the family silver to make ends meet, or you might live near some grand pile and wonder what goes on there (eg I live 3 miles from Althorp, ie where Princess Diana brother lives, and she is buried, and I walk my dog on some of their land which is accessible to the public, so that's fine.)

Even if you happen to go to certain universities or end up in certain jobs where you might encounter the even tinier minority of the population from these categories, it isn't relevant for most people. To some extent it's because they will tend to stick together, because they move in the same social circles usually involving more money than most of us have -- but if you are interesting enough and/or have enough money to play with them then they will happily let you in too. It's probably a bit like movie stars in America, but not as good-looking.

I would say the notion of stratified society is, in that sense, pretty well out-dated. Of course there are social classes and regional groupings where people have different interests and tastes, speak differently, and have more or less money, but I can't see it is any more rigid or noticeable than in American society. No one defers to their "betters" or believes themselves to be social inferiors, other than not having as much money.

The monarchy is a funny one. Aside from a some elderly people and extreme royalist types, in my experience most people are pretty well indifferent to the monarchy. They don't mind the Queen, but generally think the Royal Family are a major waste of taxpayers' money -- over-indulged benefit claimants. The only reason not to be ******* is because all politicians are crooks, and it would be even more expensive to have a president.

What's also amusing is that I have yet to speak to a single person who has even a modicum of interest in Kate and Will's kid. If you read the comments on the BBC news website, they are pretty well representative. While the newspapers and TV can talk about nothing else, no one I know actually cares.
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Edit to add: just noticed that the filter took out a word beginning with "r" that means not wanting to be ruled by a monarch and to have an elected president instead!
« Last Edit: July 24, 2013, 07:15:17 AM by veryfluffy »
   

DaisyG

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2013, 05:46:55 AM »
I agree with Veryfluffy that these things are generally irrelevant.

I saw some of the American coverage of Kate and William's wedding, making a lot of her being a commoner, but in Britain this was mentioned but wasn't made such a big deal of. Kate attended an expensive boarding school which meant she would have associated with people with family titles and lots of money and would have given her a similar (although coeducational) schooling experience to William. I believe the biggest difference in British society is between the superrich (and their families and alumni of some of these "public" schools) and the rest of us normal folk.

It might be interesting for your class to contrast the British "public" schools (i.e. expensive exclusive boarding schools where many politicians go) and state education. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_school_(United_Kingdom)

Honeypickle

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2013, 07:19:37 AM »
The US comedian Reginald D Hunter did a very funny monologue on class in the UK - how we use it to distinguish ourselves from, and look down on, those who look just like us, i.e. rather than white v black as is more common in the US. Try and find it on you-tube, would be worth a look as he got it spot on.

I would say the class system is well and truly alive in the UK no matter how much we might pretend otherwise (see huge popularity of TV programmes like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding or the UK version of Four Weddings where the brides are endlessly horrible about how tacky (i.e. "common") the other brides' choices are). However, as the other posters have said, the real aristocracy is so small over here and not part of people's day to day lives.

With regards Kate Middleton being a commoner, the real vitriol was reserved for her so called "pushy" mother Carole Middleton. The upper classes looked down on her because she used to be an air hostess (before the engagement, apparently William's friends used to call her "Doors to Manual") and the rest of the UK despised her for being a social climber who kept making errors, like chewing gum during William's passing out parade. Kate was not looked down on for being a commoner probably because she is young and pretty, but she did get a slating in the press before the engagement for never having a proper job and just waiting for William to propose - "Waitey Katey" and so on.

Sharnita

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2013, 09:10:33 AM »
Out of curiosity, what is a "proper job"? I think most people in the US would see a flight attendant as a proper job but it sounds like her mom got disdain for that.

perpetua

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #5 on: July 24, 2013, 09:14:10 AM »
Out of curiosity, what is a "proper job"? I think most people in the US would see a flight attendant as a proper job but it sounds like her mom got disdain for that.

I think the PP was referring to Kate, rather than her mum. Kate worked for the family party business and also had a part time job of some kind in fashion buying, I think.

NestHolder

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #6 on: July 24, 2013, 04:44:29 PM »
GSNW, I recommend you get hold of a book called 'Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour', by Kate Fox.  It gives a pretty good look at our society, and it's quite entertaining.

There are all sorts of classifications within English society—people will judge one another on how they speak, where they live, where they went to school, what job they do, what hobbies they have, and so forth.  (Thinks: I wonder how they do it in the USA?) 

I mean, I judge my DH for saying 'serviette' as a default instead of 'napkin'.  Then again, his great-grandparents were factory owners, and one of my great grandmothers was a tart in the East End of London (don't know who the corresponding great grandfather was!).  Class is a lot more fluid than Americans tend to think it is.  And it's also a lot less relevant. 

As for royalty and the aristocracy, they don't feature in my life at all unless a) there is a Public Holiday in celebration of some grand event like a wedding or a jubilee, or b) I go to visit a stately home.  (I did spot the Duchess of Devonshire zipping about in a golf cart last time I went to Chatsworth, and was greatly amused by the flunky in morning dress who held an umbrella for her when she went into the house...)  Of course, people who live in the vicinity of Chatsworth are likely to notice the aristocracy more, as they may well be employed by the estate in some capacity, but that's like saying that people who live in Sunderland are more likely to notice Nissan than other people in England are, because there is a Nissan factory in the North East so magnificent it has its own motorway exit.

Incidentally, class and income are only tenuously related here.  A vicar is middle class, but poor (except that he's usually provided with somewhere to live, usually oversized and hard to heat), a plumber is working class but almost certainly far better off than the vicar!

Also, I don't think we notice the slightest practical difference between being a 'subject' and being a 'citizen'.  I very much doubt that I am any less free than your average US citizen (thanks to the NHS, I'm probably a lot more free, but that's an argument for a different venue!), and it wouldn't occur to us that it matters.

That said, it's all too easy to pick on a class-based reason for despising someone, if that's what you (ie the tabloid press) want to do.  See conversation above re Carole Middleton.  People like Richard Branson will be despised as under-educated nouveau riche, at the same time as a scion of the royal family will be despised because he earns his own living making furniture.  Ridiculous, really.

Barney girl

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #7 on: July 24, 2013, 06:02:50 PM »
While class itself may be fairly irrelevant, money and the schools/universities people go to seem to be quite relevant. Our senior politicians on both sides of the political spectrum largely come from a monied public school and Oxbridge background.
I would say that the vast majority of the population is quite fluid as to how people mix but there's a relatively small group from whom those with most influence is drawn. That's not unique to the UK though. I was reading an article the other day about the narrow group that runs French politics, mainly drawn from the high flying Grandes Ecoles. I would guess other countries are the same in influence depending on who you know and coming from the 'right' background.

Snowy Owl

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #8 on: July 24, 2013, 07:27:22 PM »
Out of curiosity, what is a "proper job"? I think most people in the US would see a flight attendant as a proper job but it sounds like her mom got disdain for that.

I think the PP was referring to Kate, rather than her mum. Kate worked for the family party business and also had a part time job of some kind in fashion buying, I think.

Agreed.  The disdain was due to the perception that Kate wasn't really getting a proper job or doing anything much, just killing time until William proposed.  There's nothing wrong with being a flight attendant.  It's respectable, fairly well paid (in some airlines more than others) and has a fair number of benefits.

In terms of which jobs have the most status I'd say the high status jobs are the legal and medical professions, the church, the business and financial sector (in some capacities), acadaemia and being an officer in one of the armed forces. This doesn't accord with the best paid jobs.  A premiership footballer or a major businessman like Richard Branson will earn significantly more than any of the above usually but would usually have a lot less status. 

There's also a degree of amusement at people who acquire a lot of money and spend it on really ostentatious things.  The example that springs to mind is a topless model called Jordan or Katie Price who has managed to build a pretty impressive fortune of £45 million through her marketing of her image, her reality tv show, her perfume line, her clothing lines etc.  She's known for getting married in very ostentatious ceremonies featuring thrones, cinderella coaches and a lot of pink. She's probably better off than most of the aristocracy but she's absolutely working class. 

I'd pretty much agree with everything VeryFluffy said about the hereditary peers and aristocrats.  They're a complete irrelevance to the vast majority of people.  I'd think the number of them with actual power is pretty low as most of them appear too busy trying to make ends meet.  When I lived in the North of England I was aware of the local baronet as I worked for him for a time.  He was a frightfully nice chap and a pretty considerate employer but very much preoccupied with his estate.  He was one of those with a large house and not enough money to maintain it.  He did not, I should say, get very much deference from anyone on account of the title. 

I'd agree most people (bar a few ardent monarchists) are fairly uninterested in the new baby despite the efforts of the media to drum up interest.  I've been listening at work to the conversation and the general view was "woman has baby, big deal, now about the football..." 

The general view on the monarchy that I know is "well it's probably better than the alternative, could you imagine President Blair or President Cameron?"  Followed by something derogatory about either or both of the previously mentioned and grumbling about politicians in general.  Me I'd tend to prefer a republic along the German model with a President who is a figurehead (and not paid very much) and a Prime Minister who has the political power, but I'm in the minority.

I think some of the way the UK is depicted in the media (including films and novels) leads to an erroneous perception that royalty and aristocracy has a lot more power and influence than they actually do.    In terms of who does have the power, I'd say not so much the hereditary peers but more a group of people from a fairly well off untitled background who went to the "right" schools and universities which accords with what Barney Girl said.  I'd agree it's the same in most other countries.






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Lynn2000

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #9 on: July 24, 2013, 07:55:37 PM »
Fascinating thread! OP, can I ask, what is your class going to be about? Sort of a British culture thing? You started off talking about science so I was thrown when you jumped into British culture/politics. :)

As an American, I do think the media is very much slanted to play up the aristocracy and class differences in Britain. I think, being a relatively young country with many citizens whose ancestors were poor immigrants, we find it fascinating to realize some families can trace their ancestries and even property back 1000 years or more, because their families were among the few important enough to keep track of. At least, that's one reason *I* find it so fascinating.

Personally, I like Will and Kate (well, the idea of them, obviously I don't really know them!) and have been interested in the baby news. But, I'm utterly bored with all the hoopla over the Kardashians here in the US, and their pregnancies and love lives and so forth. It's completely irrelevant to my life, except for being bombarded with pictures of them on the front covers of every magazine and tabloid at the grocery checkout counter. So maybe that's somewhat of a comparison to the royal family?
~Lynn2000

Honeypickle

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #10 on: July 25, 2013, 06:14:51 AM »
Yes, as other posters have clarified for me, the "proper job" referred to Kate not her mother.

RingTailedLemur

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #11 on: July 25, 2013, 06:23:47 AM »
While class itself may be fairly irrelevant, money and the schools/universities people go to seem to be quite relevant. Our senior politicians on both sides of the political spectrum largely come from a monied public school and Oxbridge background.

I think this is a problem in Britain.  The people in political control have lived in a class and "old boys network" that, in my opinion, encourages them to look down on regular voters - calling (legitimate) benefits recipients "scroungers" etc.  Many voters believe such politicians (eg Gove, Cameron, Johnson) cannot and will not understand their struggles.  Twitter and blogs are useful places to look at people's views on this.

There is also the House of Lords which has some power (voting on laws etc) and has been criticised for being based on heredity rather than democratic voting.

I think the class system is alive and well in Britain.

Margo

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #12 on: July 25, 2013, 08:57:10 AM »

 what I'd love to hear from those willing here are opinions on the current monarchy and the peerage/hereditary privilege systems that are in place.  Do you find this affects the average citizen?  Many people in the US have a notion that British society is very stratified and that there is little mixing between "levels," but with the majority being "regular" people, does this really make a huge difference?  Or is this an outdated notion?  OUR press made a huge deal of the new duchess being a "commoner," was it as big of a deal on your end? 


I'd agree with PPs that the aristocracy as a class is pretty well irrelevant - movement between classes has always been fairly fluid, but generally movement of one class at a time (e.g. if you look at the Industrial Revolution, you see wealthy factory owners' daughters marrying aristocrats, same again in the 1920s.

I would say that in terms of who people tend to know/ socialise with, money is a bigger division - the rich tend to gather together regardless of whether they have titles.

If you attend university at Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews or Bristol you're more likely to have encountered people from that class, and the same if you attend certain fee-paying schools. If you happen to know them, they're just people.


The press made a big deal of Kate being a commoner but I don;t think that most real people cared (if it matters, it's a bit of 'spin' anyway - they focussed on her mother's family, which isn't aristocratic - on her father's side she's apparently descended from Henry VIII!)

Among normal people, there is some stratification between working class and middle class, but it is very flexible -I would say most people, whether they identify as working class or as middle class would have friends and colleagues of both classes, and people may well identify as different classes in different situations or at different times in their lives.

So far as the monarchy generally is concerned, I think that there is a small but very vocal minority of people who are very Royalist, a slightly larger and slightly less vocal minority who are strongly r*publican (I heard a recent new items identifying that group as around 18% of people in the UK) and a lot of people who don't have any real interest in the royals but are happy for them to continue as heads of state and to do all that foundation-stone laying, and hand-shaking.

As an illustration, I haven't heard a single one of my coworkers or clients mention the new baby - most are simply not that interested.  The most mention I saw of it on my facebook and twitter feeds were people praising the Guardian newspaper's '*******' button (which allowed you to remove all the royal baby nonsense from the screen when reading the online version of the paper)

I recall a few years back the Queen visited my (then) home town - none of us other than my dad (who was specifically asked to go to form part of the band ringing the cathedral bells to celebrate her visit) went, or wanted to go into to to see her, and I when she & Prince Philip visited my brother's place of work recently he didn't consider it interesting enough to bother mentioning it , and said that of the staff who weren't actively being introduced to her, most just grumbled about the extra security, so I don;t think we're unusual in being basically not very interested. I think there are a lot of people who see them as  a waste of money and would like to see the monarchy slimmed down, so that fewer members get subsidised by the state, and they all pay their fair share of tax.

I think that RingtailedLemur is right in that financial division, and the return to a government full of people who are from the very wealthy sections of society is a much more serious issue, and one which people generally are far more concerned about.

faithlessone

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #13 on: July 25, 2013, 09:51:19 AM »
I did go to a fancy fee-paying boarding school - the kind that's been going since the Middle Ages and only started letting girls in about 30 years ago, which made a lot of the Old Boys very grumpy. I knew a couple of members of the aristocracy went there at the same time as me (not in my year, but there was a "Lady" in the year above me, and the younger son of a Viscount a couple of years below). I also heard recently that one of my former classmates is engaged to an "Honourable". The year I started, the Queen Mother came to open one of the school buildings, and later, the Queen visited with Prince Philip for one of the school's big anniversaries. Both were pretty amazing occasions.

It was a specialist music school, so we had a good mix of people, some very rich and very upper class, some just reasonably rich, some whose fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers had gone to the school (I think the record was 11 generations?), and a few kids who were literally only there because of exceptional talent and hefty scholarships. About 95% of my classmates went on to good universities - about a third to Oxford, Cambridge or the Royal Academy of Music - and the few remaining others went straight into family businesses.

I love the Royal Family. They get some bad press sometimes, and there are a few members that make trouble sometimes, but I think the Queen is marvellous, and the majority of the family are wonderful, strong, intelligent people. I was very excited to watch the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge get married, and I've followed the news of Prince George's birth quite closely. I think that they are a very good "face" for the new generation of Royals, along with my personal favourite Royal, Zara Philips, and that the others of that generation are beginning to follow their good example.

The wonderful thing about any society, the British included, is that there is such amazing variety of thought. You can't clarify the "British Opinion" because everyone is different. It can be something to do with your background or upbringing, but even that doesn't have to make much of a difference. My best friend was raised very similarly to me - good, solid middle-class family, nice fee-paying private school, good university - and she couldn't give a hoot about the Royal Family. She doesn't think they're a "drain on public resources" (as some might put it), but she says that they don't affect her directly, so why should she care?

So yeah, I'm probably on the upper side of middle-class, and I do think there is still a flourishing class system in the UK, but it's not a static system - there's plenty of movement, particularly in the middle, and a lot of mixing. There are obviously pockets of people - the very upper class have their circles, and there are plenty of places in the country where the vast majority of people are lower/working class, but I don't think it's anywhere near as strictly layered as the stereotypes would have you believe.

perpetua

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Re: For the Brits - opinions solicited!
« Reply #14 on: July 25, 2013, 10:27:59 AM »
The wonderful thing about any society, the British included, is that there is such amazing variety of thought. You can't clarify the "British Opinion" because everyone is different. It can be something to do with your background or upbringing, but even that doesn't have to make much of a difference. My best friend was raised very similarly to me - good, solid middle-class family, nice fee-paying private school, good university - and she couldn't give a hoot about the Royal Family. She doesn't think they're a "drain on public resources" (as some might put it), but she says that they don't affect her directly, so why should she care?

That's very true. I place myself firmly in the working class bracket and I think the Queen is great. My opinion is kind of that whatever feelings you have about the "drain on public resources" debate, you simply can't knock an 87-year-old lady who's given her entire life to the service of the country and still works full time, every day, in heels.   ;D I mean, crikey. What an incredible work ethic.