Getting to know your British 21st century class system as an American (you have learned it, right?)

yahooavatar15Hey, don’t think that I am ‘rising above my station‘, but I want to share with you a little something that mystifies my American self (and is starting to scare me) about after living in Britain for 5 years. Wait, ‘mystifies’ is a polite word. I should say that my own self is starting to annoy the hell out of me. I am getting my own goat. I am ticking. my.own. self. off.  Help! As a member of the ‘upper-to middle-middle-class bordering on spiralist-meritocracy’ echelon, I am starting to become class-conscious. Has it happened to you yet? Be warned!

I am becoming a person that like other Brits, can “identify” class ranking like a stinky fish in a garbage can. I wanna say that I don’t care about class and all that hoopla but yet here I am thinking about it more frequently then I ever did living in America. Its infilatrating my brain! Got a Cath Kidston diaper bag and Molton Brown in your bathroom ? Oh, I detect a Yummy Mummy! Got a gold earring, have shaved stripes in your eyebrows and are wearing white Ted Perry trainers? Oh, that could be bordering on chav territory. Got a posh neutral accent and wear a cravat? Mon dieu, he MUST be a public school boy! Drive a white va…. ok you get the idea… and I can’t help myself. Have I been subliminally trained ? How in the world did I learn all this??

Something I just cant get used to here in Britain is the class-system ruckus. Words like working class, middle working class, the underclass, the middle middle class, the working blue collar, the noveau riche, the Old Boy’s network, wag, public school,  state-schooler, Mondeo men, Chavs, Neds, scallies, the rah, the essex man… ahhhh… god there are a lot to learn! Enough to make my head spin trying to keep it all straight. God save me before its too late!!

Descaling your tea kettle as a feisty American in the UK:the why and how

yahooavatar15Let’s remind ourselves of The Mysterious Things you might discover upon moving to the UK as a feisty and intelligent American lady. Oh darling,  will there be plenty. No one tells you (well besides us, I mean)  that you might notice your British partner doesn’t rinse the suds off dishesduvet covers might wean you from your beloved sheets for good, that in this country Asbestos is no biggie despite what you thought, and that you will need to be able to make tea for 10 Brits and get them all right. Don’t say we didn’t warn you! But– amongst those initial discoveries is the reality that you might need to descale the tea kettle at some point to get rid of rust and limescale buildup. Descaling the tea kettle is a frequent joke amongst us 3 American women and a frequent laughing point when we have one of our Betty’s tea parties (wait, I hope Betty’s descales their kettle?!).

Us three American ladies on this blog are very different, and it is highlighted by our approach to the tea kettle descaling. Do you fall into any of these categories?

yankeebeanYankee bean: She doesn’t bother with descaling and actually didn’t know what the heck I was talking about at our first mention of descaling. She said something along the lines of  “Descaling? You mean cutting fish open?” Needless, to say she happily drinks her tea regardless of the mineral buildup– she won’t mind me telling you that the bottom of her tea kettle looks like a dandruff  storm that has settled for life.  I admire her relaxed nature to this and wish I could be so chilled about it.

avt_kapyork_large115Pacificbird: She only uses natural ingredients to descale to coincide with her uber-healthy lifestyle. She has tried numerous natural recipes and the most popular ones include using citric acid, lemon, vinegar, water… this goes along perfectly with her decision to give up caffeine and drink herbal cuppas instead.

Well, then there is me here–I can’t stand drinking tea from a nasty scaled tea kettle, with weird white things floating in the water. It just grosses me out. For example, I teach at a very posh college, but do those Old Boys bother to descale their very schmancy fancy silver coated kettle? No! So, I decline tea very politely. But in my home I descale my Tesco 5 quid bargain kettle every four months with those little descaling packets you can buy. By descaling I have had my cheapo kettle for years! Click here for a great little article on how and why to complete this important task. Gosh it’s so satisfying.

An American expat in Britain learns about the Old Boys Network (and works it to her advantage)

yahooavatar15Its not really spoken about, but its definitely there lurking among Britain’s social and business circles–The Old Boys Network. And there is not a lot on the subject to “research” … Wikipedia has an entry on it, but I think that it lacks real understanding about what it really is.  Here is how I see the definition:

You are an English male born into a white upper-middle class (or higher) family, both parents of which are considered part of the existing Old Boys through breeding. Then, you leave home, aged 4, to go to school at a posh public boarding school with a very expensive fee (around £20-25k a year). Then you make your way to an elite university with more than the academic entry requirements because you have the right background. Your friends are all of the same situation as you.  When you graduate from all your schooling, you become part of the Old Boys Network. This affiliation is like a club that puts you “ahead” of others in jobs, social status, etc. It not only limited to England. But I am writing about it as an American woman because its part of my life in Britain!

I teach harp at one of Yorkshire’s most elite colleges. It is a world of class ranking and old traditions I don’t understand well, because I am an outsider looking in. I have observed the Old Boys Networking in action with the annoying parents I deal with, the snooty events that are part of the college. Heck! I have even used it for my own advantage as in I’ve said :

“Oh you know so and so at (Old Boys School)! I am a teacher in the Old Boys School, could we make a deal on this house I want to rent… etc..” I tell you what, its one benefit of working in that type of elitist environment, because it really works!

I went straight to the source for you and interviewed a 30-year-old man about the situation to give you a clearer image of how it affects those of us that are not in the Old Boys game ie: me and the rest of the world.

Tell us about yourself.

What is this for again? When are we going to get coffee? Do only American women read your blog? um. I am a 30-year-old Male, British University Lecturer, single. I teach GPS. Can you write that I also own my own flat in Edinburgh because I can settle down in 5 years – who knows if I will still have a house or job though in this economy.

Are you an Old Boy?

No. I went to the wrong school. I was born in the wrong place and was born to the wrong people to be considered an Old Boy.

Do you like Old Boys when you meet them?

Um. In small doses they can be fine, however I spent most of my life resenting age-old barriers that were put in my way.

How do you know if a person is an Old Boy?

The first signs are his non-localised accent, (which he is encouraged to leave around age 4). Second, his varied and deep education, particularly to subjects that are off the national curriculum: Latin, choral singing and so on. From there, a quick couple of questions about where he is from and what he does generally confirms suspicions. Look out for the phrase “He’s one of us!” Whenever you hear it,  it tends to mean there is an Old Boy lurking about.

Have you felt a barrier in your career because you are not a member of the Old Boys Network?

Particularly when dealing with blue chip and large cooperate organisations.

Anything else you would like to add?

The important thing to know about the Old Boys Network is that it isn’t to do with money. More to do with breeding. For example. Wayne Rooney earns more then any of those Old Boys out there–but he will never become one of them. Despite the fact he owns more money and houses and so forth. These days I’ve comes to terms with the Old Boys network. It is there and its an important part of its history. It wouldn’t be the same country without them. I have found my own way to circumnavigate it as have many other successful business men. The real key is to make it work for you, not against you.

What about females, where do they fit in in all this?

Females are encouraged to marry off one of the Old Boys, although these days it might be changing I don’t know.

Right. Maybe that will clear up some of the confusion for anyone who is curious about the Old Boys Network, thanks!

Dear Mr. British Music Director at Posh British Academic Institution….

yahooavatar15Dear Music Director of a Posh Academic Institution in Yorkshire,

My name is Ms. Peaceful Yorkshire, and I write to see if you have any availability to teach harp in your music department. I hold a Masters Degree in harp performance from a Royal School and have numerous experiences in teaching at higher institutions worldwide.  As well as a dedicated teacher, I am an experienced harp performer as you can see by the numerous recitals and masterclasses listed on my CV, which I have attached for your perusal.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Kindest Regards,

Ms. Peaceful Yorkshire, Mmus



So. I. called. The new American gal freshly moved to Yorkshire needs to work, you know?

3 weeks after letter was sent.

ring ring

HIM: (In posh Queen’s English) Hello?

Me: (With American Accent) Hi, I am just calling to follow up on a letter I sent 3 weeks ago. You see, I am a harpist that has just moved to your area and have heard such great things about your music department. Would you needing any harp teaching this year?

Him: No. We are not interested. Then SLAMS DOWN PHONE.

Yes, readers, that was the conversation.

Me: Big sad Crying ensued… how dare he be so rude and hang up on me like I am some sort of annoyance! I am not some bum looking to clean the loos! Not even a chance to have a decent conversation!

Note to self… don’t ever deal with him or his music department again!


Fast forward to last week, which is 2 and a half years later:

Dear Ms. Peaceful Yorkshire,

We have never spoken before which is why I wanted to be in touch and introduce myself. My name is the posh music director at the poshest school in town. As you can see from our website, we are leaders in music education and are a progressive institution. Would you be interested in doing some teaching at my posh academic institution in Yorkshire? If so, please let me know, we will work around your schedule. We have heard so much about you, and your reputation is well-known. I do hope you would consider working with us, and can’t wait to meet you.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Warmest Regards,

The Music director at posh, Academic institution


Dear Music School Director at  posh Academic institution,
Thank you for your email.
I must say I was most surprised to receive it, as we had spoken briefly on the phone when I arrived in Yorkshire 2 and a half years ago– you do remember that we have spoke before? I sent you my CV and then phoned you as well. At that time you made it very clear you were not interested in my services. You actually hung up on me.

Since our last conversation I have taken up the post as principal instructor at another posh academic school (a rival) and I cannot help you at this moment.

With Regards,
Ms. Peaceful Yorkshire,  Mmus


SILENCE (possibly forever from him!)

This incident just happened last week, fellow readers… and writing and then sending that letter never felt better.The rule of karma is active and alive in England… do share with us your British karmic experiences  too!