Oliver and Maggie are young, very much in love, and planning their honeymoon. What should be an exciting series of conversations becomes surprisingly unpleasant. Maggie resents Oliver’s nonchalance about where the trip should be; he’s seemingly happy with almost any destination. Oliver finds the normally easy-going Maggie strangely rigid and demanding about where to take the trip, and doesn’t understand her anxious, almost obsessive research into the possible details of each honeymoon location.MrsDarwin and I have very nearly identical class backgrounds, so I don't think there's ever been a time when we've found ourselves working from different assumptions like this. There have been a number of times at work, however, when I've found myself suddenly conscious of my background assumptions as compared to those of other people. American class distinctions seem fairly soft, as compared to the extreme class consciousness one runs into in any modern British TV or literature, but there are still basic assumptions about spending that will either make me aware of the fact that we're a single income family, while most of my coworkers have two incomes roughly the size of mine, or else that my family had less ready cash when I was growing up than those of a lot of my coworkers.
Finally, it occurs to Oliver to ask a question: “Do you imagine that this is the only trip we are going to take together?”.
Maggie bursts out “Of course it is!” and starts to cry.
What is going on? Oliver grew up middle class and therefore anticipates a lifetime of travel with his future spouse, of which the honeymoon is only one journey. Maggie grew up in a community where virtually everyone was flat on their uppers. For her, a honeymoon is the only trip a couple would take, the sole travel memory they would share between themselves and with their children and grandchildren for 50 years to come. For her the choice was thus fraught with fear that she and Oliver’s one and only venture into the wider world would be less than perfect.
Another couple, Alphonse and Pat, generally get along well until something in their household breaks and a long-running feud comes to the surface. When the dishwasher floods the floor, for example, Alphonse digs out the service manual and his tool kit and commences to tinker with it over a few days until its function is restored. Pat simmers with anger at the days without a dishwasher and the grimy tools and grease stains on the kitchen floor. Alphonse is bitter that Pat doesn’t seem to admire how handy he is at fixing things around the house.
What is going on? Alphonse grew up in a blue collar home in which calling a repairman was considered an extravagance and in which men were supposed to know how to fix things with their own two hands. Pat grew up in an upper middle class home in which the only thing in the tool box was a cell phone. When Pat’s high-powered professional parents needed something to be repaired, they hired someone and it was done immediately, no muss no fuss.
Vacations is one area that springs readily to mind. My family took one big trip that I remember as a kid, out to see the solar eclipse in Hawaii in 1991. (My dad was a planetarium lecturer, so the interest was semi-professional.) In general, however, we simply didn't go places on vacation. Thus, it always throws me when people at work talk about trips to Florida in the spring, skiing trips to Colorado in the winter, etc. as if it was pretty normal to take one or two big trips each year in which the whole family stays in a hotel and participates in some sort of fun activity. (In our case, we basically only travel to weddings and baptisms. This gets us one to two big family road trips a year. If that ever slows down, maybe we'll take a vacation.)
There are also certain kinds of work around the house we've realized that we define ourselves as being "normal people" because we do them ourselves. We've never had a yard service: I mow the lawn, cut trees, etc. myself, and while I'm sure it makes sense ot free up that time, the fact is I just wouldn't feel right about hiring someone to do that work for me. Similarly, most of the families we know on our street have a cleaning service come in to clean the house a couple times a month, but MrsDarwin feels much the same about having a cleaning service in as I would feel about having a yard service.
That one can invest a fair amount of identity in some of these thins despite the fact that they are quite trivial is, I think, part of what makes them class issues. Sure, there's some money involved, but the amount of money isn't necessarily all that much, and I'm sure there are other areas in which we spend more money that other people would feel comfortable with. Yet somehow or other I find myself with a deep feeling that "people like us don't have vacation cottages" or "people like us do our own yard work".