Q: Of all types of discrimination, the one seldom mentioned is class distinction.
We are foreign-born blue-collar workers; our neighbors are American-born white-collar workers and professionals. We believe in courtesy and acceptance of our fellow human beings and have always thought that being an honest, pleasant, well-read and well-intentioned individual would suffice to gain acceptance in society.
Oh, but how wrong we were. Upon introducing ourselves to our neighbors, some answered as follows: "Professionals cannot engage in any sort of friendship with non-professionals." "We don't bother with neighbors."
These disappointing experiences were felt by us at parties we were invited to. We managed to enrich many a stagnant conversation by lending some of our international savoir-faire to it (no boasting intended), until the usual fatal blow strikes, and that is when the inquiries begin.
"Are you a lawyer?"
"No, I'm a welder."
The long, chilling, uncomfortable silence is the answer; the perhaps unwilling, condescending follow-up can hurt deeply. We have been observing how so many struggle with loneliness and jeopardize their mental health and ultimately resort to professional counseling, rather than simply break the arrogance barrier. Our question is, isn't arrogance a form of ignorance? And what does it say for etiquette?
We sincerely hope you, Miss Manners, have been able to rise above this uncivilized attitude.
A: You are not hanging out with very chic people. Miss Manners' reaction, if you told her at a party that you were a welder, would be to assume that you were an overeducated person of ample means who had gotten bored to death with all the stuffy and self-important professionals in your class and had decided, with tremendous originality and flair, to do something useful in the world.
You might notice that this does not really put Miss Manners above the uncivilized attitude of making hasty judgments based on occupation. She would also be likely to murmur, "Excuse me, I think I hear my mother calling me," when she found that she had met yet another lawyer. So what we have here, although it might operate in your favor, is just another form of occupational prejudice.
Yes, it is unfortunate, and the comments you have heard are both rude and stupid. Take comfort in the fact that you have been spared the necessity of associating with such people.
But a certain amount of this is inevitable. One has to find out something about a stranger in order to start a conversation, and occupation is generally some indication of one's interests. It is the question of a meritocracy; other societies begin with questions designed to discover who your ancestors were or how much money you have.
If you do not wish to discuss your occupation when you meet people who are normally polite and interested in others (such people would reply to your statement by asking you questions about welding, or about how you happened to become a welder), then simply brush aside the question of occupation (one answer to "Are you a lawyer?" is "Good heavens, no, are you?") and volunteer, instead, information on some topic you would like to discuss. "Actually, I'm a welder, but I spend most of my time playing the tuba," for example, or "I'm an honest welder--I weld useful things; I don't just make a mess and call myself a sculptor."