It’s a bit embarrassing to know that I’ve sneered at other people and called them, “yokels” and “rubes.” As in, “What, you don’t like risotto?” It’s a silly characterization, I know.
For me, classiness exists on a continuum, as other characteristics do – like greed, love, and open-mindedness. At one end of the classy spectrum sits the individual who believes a good time is attending dog-fighting matches. At the other end you’ll find people who love the opera and understand the foreign languages being sung. And they arrived at the opera in a taxi or limousine, rather than in an exhaust-spewing beater car.
A few things in life keep me from being truly cultivated and classy – and they’re hurdles I can’t easily leap over.
For one, I hate opera. And, no, I wouldn’t enjoy the Anna Nicole opera, either, no matter how much I try to pry my mind open. Operas seem so unnatural, so cartoony. I’m Bugs Bunny digging the banjo, while the Pavarotti character is trying to practice Figaro.
You can’t force a person to be classy. And people simply can’t go against their natures. As soon as I think I have a lot of class, something happens to remind me that I’m a few hundred feet further away from the silver spoon end of the continuum. Like showing up at work with a six-inch tear in the seat of my pants. Like wearing wrinkled clothing because I despise ironing. Like not having a dainty laugh.
If I visited the Queen Mum at her palace, she’d make me use the entrance to the servants’ entrance.
And I wouldn’t blame the royal family for thinking of me as a rube. I guffaw when I think things are funny. When something’s funny, I throw my head back, expose my uvula and laugh loudly. Most of the time I even slap my knee while guffawing. This particular laughing technique is one breath away from eating fried pork rinds and scratching my backside in public.
I’m not sure I’d be laughing much at the royal dinner table, however. Which one of the royal family members is the funny one? It would be a good idea to not seat me next to him or her.
Being fancy at the dinner table would also pose problems. I do love to mix my peas with the mashed potatoes. I think I could hold back from licking the chocolate sauce off the dessert plate, but at the end of the royal dinner I’d be left with all of the silverware gone unused save for one fork. And once or twice, my elbow would rest on the linen tablecloth. My head gets tired and heavy during a rich meal.
Narrow culinary tastes don’t necessarily signal low class, in my opinion. But adults who criticize foods that they’ve never tried, seems to – at least to me. I recall a time in Minneapolis when I was invited to a fancy dinner for my ex’s coworkers. At that time, I considered many of his coworkers to be at the lower end of the classy continuum, primarily because of their narrow culinary experiences and their enthusiastic exclamations of distaste when confronted with unknown foods. Dinner out at the local mall’s fast food Chinese buffet was as adventurous as it got for them.
I’d been out to eat with my ex’s coworkers before, so I was well aware of how picky they were when it came to trying new foods. Anyway, the dinner that evening included calves pancreas. My Dad had introduced me to this food because he liked them sautéed in butter. They weren’t bad. I wouldn’t seek them out or make them a regular part of my diet, but I could eat them without gagging. However, that evening at the restaurant, no one told my ex’s coworkers this particular food item was on the menu.
The pancreas arrived, bathed in a delectable sauce. I watched the group devour them, smacking their lips with delight. Smacking your lips at the dinner table isn’t classy, either. That evening, I discovered this: What you don’t know can move you along the continuum towards classy.
My home isn’t classy and every time I walk in the door it reminds me. It goes beyond an absence of feng shui. Feng shui came to visit once, saw the shelf I made where I’ve assembled various Boston Terrier figurines, collectibles and photos, and ran away. On the way out the door, it tripped over the rug I bought at WalMart. I’ve tried to make my home look classy but I fail every time. It seems as possible as turning Jed Clampitt into Grace Kelly.
The Boston Terrier Shelf
Classy women wear very expensive shoes. I used to have a rule that I’d never buy a pair of shoes that cost under $70-$80 bucks. See, I used the word, bucks. People with class never say bucks. They don’t even talk about their money. In those days of expensive shoe-buying, I believed that the more expensive the shoe, the better it would feel and wear. Perhaps this is so, but the free pair of dressy-casual Keds I recently picked up at a thrift store has made my feet very happy. I realize that “sensible shoes” tend to dance with lower class style, but they don’t pinch and chafe.
Apparently, classy people don’t chew gum. This pronouncement was made by a first date one evening at dinner after he discovered I chew gum. I’m not sure I stand firmly behind that opinion, considering the exchange of dialogue that surrounded it. Pompous Man: “Chewing gum is gross. NO ONE in Europe chews gum.” Me: “No, but they ALL smoke.” Pompous Man: “Yeah? Well, that’s not as bad.” (Lots of hyperbole. Swift end to relationship.)
From what I’ve observed, what most people consider “classy” has more to do with appearance and appearances—the things one can purchase. And that would necessarily mean that people with little discretionary income have as much chance at being classy as a Chia pet. Of course, the corollary to this might be, “You can buy class.” I’m sure we could all come up with more than a few instances where this didn’t turn out to be the case.
It’s time for a new definition of classy. Achieving what most people consider to be classy is too expensive and limiting. The attributes of this new classy won’t include a preference for rich foods, expensive shoes and clothing, fine wines, or a love of the opera. It will have everything to do with living true to your word, walking the talk, examining one’s life and recognizing the shortcomings, and acknowledging that what you do and what you demand others to do should be in harmony.
What does this new classy look like? I’m working on developing it. And I’m going to work on practicing it, too. For a start, it sort of looks like this: If you disagree with a political opponent, you don’t exhort your followers to hate him or her. If you disagree with anyone, your disagreement is civil and respectful, no matter how uncivil or disrespectful that individual happens to be. You can always walk away if the interaction is beyond unpleasant. You apologize when you’ve spoken badly of someone – and not in a tepid way that manages to underline and boldface the initial insult and lie.
And more: If you’ve betrayed your spouse even once, much less three times, you don’t purport to embody a family values lifestyle and also condemn others for their failures in this area. If you’ve lied and deceived others, you don’t denounce others as “liars.” If you’ve lived a lush life, you don’t turn away from those with less and claim that it’s their fault. Or, worse yet, that they don’t exist among us. If you have strong religious beliefs, you don’t sentence unbelievers to a place of flames and misery and claim that God has turned his or her back on them.
This is the new classy. It looks great with a touch of humility, too.
Fashion in Portrait