Miss Manners: Etiquette has nothing to do with cozying up to the rich

March 31, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I wish to climb the social ladder.

Right now, I am a preschool teacher, but I plan on making a complete career change, and would like to already have connections with the “right” people to help ensure my success. I plan on becoming a certified aesthetic laser technician, and then going to a prestigious skin-care school in New York to become a licensed aesthetician.

I do not want to “claw” my way to the top, leaving behind a bloody trail of ruined relationships and drama. Instead, I simply want to make good, meaningful relationships and acquaintances with sincere, decent upper-class people, and hopefully meet someone to marry from this group. In other words, I wish to do it politely, which is why I seek your help.

I do not want or need fame, power or prestige, but I would definitely not complain about living in a Fifth Avenue penthouse with a loving husband, beautiful children and an exciting career. Joining the Junior League seems to be a great idea; I also volunteer at galas, and will be volunteering at a city hospital soon.

What else should I be doing, or is this all a bad idea?

GENTLE READER: A bad idea? It is an etiquetteer’s nightmare.

Here we try to encourage such civilized behavior as compassion, respect and consideration for others, and we get socked with a reputation for teaching how to cozy up to the rich.

Partly this is the fault of advice offered during the 19th-century Industrial Revolution to those whose fortunes had improved dramatically. Different subgroups of society have different surface ways of doing things, and the etiquette books of the time offered instruction on the habits of people they were now likely to encounter. Whether you are entering a new tax bracket or a new junior high school, it is helpful to know the expected behavior.

But somehow that got translated into such foolish ideas as that etiquette leads to riches, and that the rich are well-behaved. Well, some of them are and some of them are not, just as at all other income levels.

Your method of classifying people is not the one Miss Manners uses. When you speak of the “right” people, you obviously mean rich people, and your definition of the “upper class” is those in the upper financial brackets.

So there is one finely tuned sense characteristic of the rich of which you should be aware. That is the ability to sniff out those who are after their money. So many are that they need to protect themselves.

Society is fortunate that hordes of social climbers strive through philanthropy. If not for the hope of whatever they consider upward mobility, there would be far less charity. However, this is done at the committee and board level by people who already have money but are nevertheless in pursuit of those who have had money longer. This lets you out.

As for the galas, rich gentlemen do not attend them in search of eligible ladies. They attend them because their wives are on the committee and have put together tables where they can socialize with their own friends.

The long and short of it is that Miss Manners cannot get you a Fifth Avenue penthouse. And she is afraid that she would have no interest in doing so if she could.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS

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