Watching the English
读书笔记 Class and Shopping Rules
As might be expected, where you shop is a key class indicator. But it is not a simple matter of the higher social ranks shopping in the more expensive shops, while the lower echelons use the cheaper ones. The uppermiddle classes, for example, will hunt for bargains in second-hand and charity shops, which the lower-middle and working classes ‘would not be seen dead in’. Yet the upper-middles and middle-middles would be reluctant to buy their groceries in the cheap supermarkets, with names that emphasize their price-consciousness such as Kwiksave and Poundstretcher, favoured by the working classes. Instead, they shop in middle-class supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco, or the slightly more upper-middle Waitrose. Not that anyone will admit to choosing a supermarket for its class status, of course. No, we shop in middleclass supermarkets because of the superior quality of the food and the wider range of organic and exotic vegetables, even when we are just buying exactly the same ubiquitous brand-name basics as the working-class shoppers in Kwiksave. We may have no idea what to do with pak choi or or how to eat organic celeriac, but we like to know they are there, as we walk past with our Kellogg’s corn flakes and Andrex loo paper.
The M&S Test
If you want to get an idea of the convoluted intricacy of shopping class-indicators, spend some time observing and interviewing the shoppers in Marks & Spencer. In this very English high-street chain, you trip over invisible class barriers in every aisle. M&S is a sort of department-store, selling clothes, shoes, furniture, linen, soap, make-up, etc. – as well as food and drink – all under its own brand name. The upper-middle classes buy food in the very expensive but high-quality M&S food halls, and will also happily buy M&S underwear and perhaps the occasional plain, basic item such as a t-shirt, but will not often buy any other clothes there, except perhaps for children – and certainly not anything with a pattern, as this would identify it as being from M&S. They would never buy a party dress from M&S, and are squeamish about wearing M&S shoes, however comfortable or well made they may be. They will buy M&S towels and bed-linen, but not M&S sofas, curtains or cushions. The middle-middles also buy M&S food, although those on a lower budget would not do their entire weekly shop here. They complain a bit (to each other, not to M&S) about the high prices of M&S food, but tell themselves it is worth it for the quality, and buy their cornflakes and loo paper at Sainsbury’s. They will buy a much wider range of clothes from M&S than the upper-middles, including things with prints and patterns, and they are happy to buy M&S sofas, cushions and curtains. Their teenage children, however, may turn up their noses at M&S clothes, not for class reasons but because they prefer the more youthful, fashionable high-street chains. Lower-middles and some upwardly mobile upper-workings buy M&S food, but usually only as a special treat – for some, particularly those with young children, an M&S ‘ready-meal’ is an alternative to eating out at a restaurant, something they might have as an indulgence, maybe once a week. They cannot afford to foodshop here regularly, and regard anyone who does as extravagant and quite possibly ‘stuck-up’. ‘My sisterin-law buys all her veg and washing-up liquid and everything from Marks, stupid cow,’ a middle-aged woman told me, with a disdainful, disapproving sniff. ‘It’s just showing off – thinks she’s better than us.’ M&S clothes, on the other hand, are generally regarded as ‘good value’ by the thrifty, respectable, genteel sort of lower-middles: ‘Not cheap, mind you, but good quality’. Some lower-middles feel the same about the cushions and duvets and towels, while others regard them as ‘very nice, but a bit too pricey’. If you need to make a quick assessment of an English shopper’s social class, don’t ask about her family background, income, occupation or the value of her house (all of which would in any case be rude): ask her what she does and does not buy at Marks & Spencer. I say ‘she’ because this test only works reliably on women: men are often blissfully unaware of the yawning social gulf between M&S knickers and an M&S patterned dress.
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