Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: The C Word

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  • Megan Wegan,

    If she were still alive, my Nanna would be so viscerally disgusted by the amount of money my new dress cost, and its fundamental impracticality, that I'd feel compelled to go out smoking and drinking expensive cocktails and slutting it up with chicks in posh hotels just to rub it in.

    I'm in.

    My shoe purchases work on a sliding scale to my parents. (even as an adult, which I understand is ridiculous.) If a pair of shoes was under $100 I tell them the true price. If they were over $100, I take off about 50. If they were over $200, I just whack off half the price, and pretend my gorgeous $600 boots were from Hannahs.

    Of course, when my mother was here this weekend, she bought a pair of shoes which she told my Dad were cast-offs from me, so I learned from the best.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1268 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Yeah, I get that. I grew up poor. Not poor by world standards, but pretty much by NZ ones. I've found myself not looking at prices on supermarket shelves in the last year, and wondering about it.

    Class is an extremely uncomfortable subject in NZ, and the easiest way to place yourself back in the comfort zone is to accuse the person of envy. Or, at the other end, of snobbery - but this is less common, since NZ's rich have until recently tried to deny the existence of serious class divides.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2079 posts Report Reply

  • Joanna,

    My shoe purchases work on a sliding scale to my parents. (even as an adult, which I understand is ridiculous.)

    Yup, my new dress, which I will wear to this hotel and cocktail shenigans event, cost a whole day's worth of wages. Which used to be what I earned in a week. And I refuse to tell my mother how much money I'm making right now, because I suspect it is more than my father makes, and he's got a good 30+ years of experience on me. But as a public servant, we were upper middle class in terms of books and travel and art, if not in terms of pay packet anyway.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 718 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    By income, anyone earning over $40,000 in New Zealand is in the top 20%. Decile 6 starts at just $23,000.

    NoRightTurn has helpfully laid out the figures. They're revealing. (it's always easier to find these things on NRT or TheStandard than on StatsNZ!).

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2079 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I've never understood being ashamed of being middle class. I guess my working class Dad trained me out of that by pointing out that he'd actually worked hard to get us into that state, and we'd bloody better well enjoy it. I always have, it's the class in which class doesn't matter. It's the easy class, where the work you do is usually something you're good at, and the people you deal with probably aren't just out to exploit you or suck up to you.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8040 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    FD H8R

    What the hell kind of libertarian asshole hates the Fire Department? Oh. Answered my own question there.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1408 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    I hail from an "upper-middle class" Karori background, and somehow I went down the path of the intellectual rogue. My father had wanted me to be a bean-counter like him, but to put it mildly it was more interesting to watch paint dry.

    I don't keep up with the Joneses by choice - and when I do spend money, I prefer to pay for experiences rather than stuff. Warcraft seems to be an ideal example. ;)

    As for fashion, for me black is the new black, fancy label or not.

    It seems while sophistication has democratised somewhat, so too has its polar opposite, yobbishness. Class these days isn't just about income - Mockneys and Chavs in Britain come to mind.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3912 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan,

    I guess my working class Dad trained me out of that by pointing out that he'd actually worked hard to get us into that state

    Quite. I went from Linwood to a girls boarding school where people wore their collars up. It was quite the shock. And I never really fit in in either place.

    I do have moments of thinking "Good God, I am horribly middle class." But mum and dad worked really hard to get me there, so I should be thankful for that.

    I think for my parents, it came down to wanting to give their children better than they had. And no matter how much I tell them to sell their house and live off the money and _enjoy_ their retirement, they won't, so I am thankful for that, too.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1268 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    What the hell kind of libertarian asshole hates the Fire Department? Oh. Answered my own question there.

    Whoever he is, he'd rather push A Holden than drive a Ford.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3912 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Warcraft seems to be an ideal example. ;)

    No dude, in WoW you pay with your life.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8040 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Individual income is not a great indicator of class / socio-economic group. So NRT's figures are valuable, but the more interesting one is household income after tax.

    However, that's by-the-by. I think we often forget about the "socio" bit of socio-economic / class. John Key may well have grown up in a state house, but he has never been anything other than middle class. There were times when my parents really struggled for money, but we were thoroughly middle-class, with all the aspirations that come with it. And when we shifted over here, we were very cash poor for a few months, but I budgeted carefully, but we always knew it would be temporary, and I still afforded all those nice middle class things for the kids, like music lessons, and drama lessons.

    Spending a lot of money on a dress may well be an indicator of increased age as much as anything. I got myself a nice frock for my last concert, and while I didn't just casually put it on the card and not think about the expenditure, my thinking amounted to working out what I could defer buying, and how it would fit with the rest of my wardrobe, and would I want to get new shoes to go with it (no), rather than whether or not I could afford it at all.

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1276 posts Report Reply

  • Josh Addison,

    I remember my first Tom Landry's hat moment ("Why, I couldn't buy that expensive Swamp Thing Comic With the First Appearance of John Constantine -- I'd need some sort of disposable income -- oh, wait...")

    These days, though, I'm going the opposite way -- not necessarily in terms of class, but definitely in income and spending. Going from paying rent to having a big-ass mortgage, then going from two incomes to one with the birth of the Young Man has meant belt-tightening after belt-tightening. I had to sell my old PS2 games on Trademe so I could buy new PS3 ones ...

    Onehunga, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 296 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    I do have to say, that while class is a very real issue in NZ, it is possible to transcend its cultural dimensions if you're the right kind of person. Join the university students association and a political party, and a few years later you can be spending time with cabinet ministers. You might always feel out of place in certain Auckland suburbs, and lack the connections to make it in business, but in a lot of domains the ability to transcend is real.

    Of course, the caveats here are large. You have to be able to present yourself in the right ways, and understand or adopt the cultural language of those you interact with. Having extended families that 'educate' you in these, or rubbing off on people entrenched particular mores and ideas in them is a huge boost up.

    And needless to say, these avenues are indeed closed to many, and as income stratifies in NZ, I would guess they're becoming more so. Compared to a base of 30 years ago, anyway.

    Edit: which is to say that I agree with what Deborah said, in part however rather than in whole.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2079 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    It is a weird and heady feeling, to be able to vanquish inconvenience or manifest a glamorous treat merely by waving a wallet around. Hey presto! Instead of automatically choosing the cheapest version of a thing, or simply not buying it at all, because it's not even a choice.

    Our car broke down this week. Cost to fix it: same as my entire net worth when I first moved to the US 15 years ago.

    I blinked, but I paid. Because, pricey as it was, it was lower than the psychic and logistical cost of losing the freedom of movement I've since become accustomed to. Especially in a week where I'm in sole charge, with deadlines and appointments hither and yon.

    Time is money, yes, but crucially, money buys you time. (Well, and helps put the nice mechanic's kids through college.)

    [Tries hard to feel bad about using money magic; fails]

    It was instructive to walk smack-bang into the plate-glass window of my current relative privilege, though. At the moment I have more money than time, so I can afford the trade-off. But this city is full of people who can't, and who Get Stuff Done regardless. I miss my harden-up skills, and hope they'll still be there when I am once again rich in time and poor in money.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1408 posts Report Reply

  • Sarah Wedde,

    I went the other way--from comfortable middle class to dirt poor middle class. I have yet to develop any strong feelings about car breeds.

    Lower Hutt • Since Nov 2006 • 66 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Our car broke down this week. Cost to fix it: same as my entire net worth when I first moved to the US 15 years ago.

    My $50 bike broke down irreparably two weeks ago. I needed transport, so I walked into a store and bought a new $800 one. I also bought wonderful warm gloves for $50. It's been the only time in my life I've had that kind of freedom so far. Had it been a year previous, I would have been walking and paying bus fares until I could find another cheap and reliable bicycle. I still feel kind of guilty, even as I enjoy the pleasure of something smooth, shiny, and fast.

    I think any discussion about social class has to recognise that most people in NZ live near enough to this state of affairs that their lives are materially affected by it. A state of poverty and not-poverty, as it were. Cutting taxes for the rich, while entrenching this state of affairs for the 75% is to make lives harder and more painful.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2079 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    And no matter how much I tell them to sell their house and live off the money and _enjoy_ their retirement, they won't, so I am thankful for that, too.

    I stopped telling mine that at least 10 years ago. I realized that they're extremely comfortable and happy with their lives because they both do work they find fulfilling (lecturing and working with special needs kids). Also they love their house, it's where we all grew up and they were happy times, happy memories. Also, I'm actually not an investment adviser and realized that it's not something you should do without qualification.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8040 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    A state of poverty and not-poverty, as it were. Cutting taxes for the rich, while entrenching this state of affairs for the 75% is to make lives harder and more painful.

    And left long enough, angry, violent, and even revolutionist.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3912 posts Report Reply

  • John Fouhy,

    My partner and I have been thinking about buying a house recently. We're currently in the window-shopping stage of looking at pictures on trademe and daydreaming, but we haven't made a mental commitment to start looking seriously.

    Anyway. My ideal house would be in a nice suburb, sunny, with a view, and well insulated and heated. But houses like that are all, well, posh. I look at the pictures on trademe of the tasteful furniture, and well-landscaped gardens, and I try to overlay images of our second-hand couch and $50 dining table/chair set, and feeling inadequate. If we bought one I'd be afraid of not living up to the standards of my own home :-)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    The other thing about NZ is because of the population size compared to disparity in income, you can run up against class divisions hard and unexpectedly. I had to go to a function at the Beehive a few weeks ago, so I decided to take my husband, on the grounds that he'd never been and it would be fun.

    What actually happened is that he spent a great deal of time being tense and I spent a great deal of time telling him to relax, because it turns out that functions at the Beehive are a big deal if you grew up in borderline poverty in a small South Island town, whereas to me, growing up in upper-middle-class Wellington, they were just something that occasionally (not *often*, but, you know, occasionally) happened.

    By income, anyone earning over $40,000 in New Zealand is in the top 20%. Decile 6 starts at just $23,000.

    I remember working out that the job I've just finished was in the top 25 or 30%, income-wise, and thinking "That can't be right, I just finished university." But it was; and by "just finishing university", I started on an income that was more than my mother-in-law had earned for the vast majority of her working life. That was a bit scary.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2087 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey,

    I grew up in a upper-middle class household. My father came from a very working class background, studied hard and became a surgeon. He met my mother who grew up in very old rich money in Remuera. My father moved up to my mother's standards - he certainly didn't complain, and got on famously with his very monied in-laws.

    Growing up I was very aware of class differences, and often voiced it - my parents, deep in the myth of a classless society, but completely aware of the knowledge that our family was richer than many others made noises that I shouldn't probably talk about it. At any rate, our lives were very comfortable middle class, but crucially without the need to "keep up with the Jones's" by going o'seas, having flash cars, the latest telly etc. My mother was from old money and old money doesn't flaunt but the fabrics on our sofas probably cost about several months wages for some middle class families.

    I agree with Deborah when she says

    I think we often forget about the "socio" bit of socio-economic / class. John Key may well have grown up in a state house, but he has never been anything other than middle class.

    .

    I think class is a state of mind more than anything else, but that state has to be supported by money. Consequently I know plenty of rich people, but they are lower middle class - they simply never learnt skills associated with my class because they didn't grow up in my class - all they learnt was how to make money (something that I sadly never learnt).

    I think we do need to be aware of class, if only for the political reason that the middle class is

    ...the easy class, where the work you do is usually something you're good at, and the people you deal with probably aren't just out to exploit you or suck up to you.

    and have some time / money / energy to safeguard democratic values, and the intellectual values of the enlightenment (even though the rationalism bequeathed to us has really fcuked things up). To that end I'll support the middle class. National's attack on the middle class is as much about grabbing some money as making it harder for the middle class to safeguard democratic values - but I don't think they realize this - to everyone's disadvantage.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 635 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Social class was a bit ambiguous when I was growing up (*age alert warning!* None of the forgoing will apply to practically anyone else here...)
    My mother's parents were respected, but they were both considered working class - except when it came to Maori occaisions, when my Grand-dad's whakapapa meant he was rakatira. My father's parents -English people, lower middle-class- were lifted by my Grand-father's status as Clerk to the CCC.

    My parents - and consequently us - were reguarded as definitely upper middle-class, not least because my father was an esteemed local business-man, the youngest JP ever (at that time); when he died, he was president of the local Buisnessmen's Association - but also president of the NB Workingmen's Club. He was active in the Labour party, and we were brought up, by all sides of the family, to be respectful of people who worked.

    And we went to State schools, and were indoctrinated (at home) to loathe any form of skiting or ostentation.

    And we were expected to work.

    We did. My sisters all became nurses; my brothers went separate paths, one becoming middle-level management, but currently self-employed, and the other being self-employed pretty soon after he left high school, as a fencing - and soon after - building contractor.
    I worked shit jobs -mainly- until I was in my late 30s, when I became self-employed. And have been for the past 27 years. Becoming steadily poorer - but hey! Them's the breaks-

    I'm not sure of my class these days - one-off oddball seems to fit - but I just dont have any empathy whatsoever with the sort of people who reguard themselves as being way superior to - and uncaring of- any worker.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    I'm not sure of my class these days - one-off oddball seems to fit - but I just dont have any empathy whatsoever with the sort of people who reguard themselves as being way superior to - and uncaring of- any worker.

    In the words of Warren Buffett, not one to keep up with the Joneses:

    "There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning."

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3912 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    John

    Surely the fun of the first house is going to be in taking something that's not flash and poshing it up? No harm in looking at the posh, it gives you ideas for what you can do with something more in the budget. I was looking through some old pictures of my house just yesterday thinking "Hmmm, it did look pretty shit to start with". That way, also, you get to make it your kind of posh.


    Lucy

    The other thing about NZ is because of the population size compared to disparity in income, you can run up against class divisions hard and unexpectedly.

    I don't think population size has much to do with your chances of encountering the disparities. It's the income distribution. If anything, a small country makes it less likely you'll see the extremes. I met people in Australia who lived in houses that made the most fancy homes in Auckland look decidedly modest. And there were lots of bums too. How often do people beg you for money walking around NZ?

    Islander

    You're world class. Surely you've got another novel in you to fund retirement? Race you.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8040 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Sniff. Sniffly sniff. Ben Wilson - that makes me really happy on a dark cold day (it's snowing over on the hills.)

    The race is on!

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

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