General Question

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

How do I deal with classism in NYC?

Asked by LeavesNoTrace (5663points) May 25th, 2017

I love living here. But one of the things that irk me about this place is the prevailing belief that someone’s salary/social prestige = their worth as a human being.

My partner is an attorney and with a small, family practice who grew up middle class in Queens. I grew up middle class in a small, kind of depressed part of NY. He makes decent money and I make ends meet with my salary. We have a nice, rent-stabilized one bedroom and enjoy some of the finer things in life, but keep a budget and don’t go overboard. We both have student debt that we’re working on paying down. Because we both work jobs that are partially commission based, we’re kind of frugal to account for some “lean months” when we don’t earn as much.

Even though we have our struggles sometimes, we’re thankful for the life we have and feel very fortunate and hopeful for our futures.

Unfortunately, we come into contact with a lot of class-conscious and competitive people. A few examples:

- Friends trying not-so-subtly to figure out how much we earn/acting competitively about salaries, consumption, and material wealth.

- That same person implying that we’re insolvent because we live in a rent-stabilized, moderately priced apartment in a less expensive neighborhood instead of owning a condo.

- Going out with people and being asked to play “credit card roulette”, which is just a douchebag move.

- People comparing credit cards to ascertain status/wealth

- Someone implying that I grew up in a low-income household because I’m from a rural part of the state and my late mother was “just an RN”.

I’m growing really weary of this. Unfortunately, I cannot avoid all of these people so I need to learn how to deal with them. Have any of you ever been annoyed/affected by classism? How should I respond to this behavior?

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13 Answers

Zaku's avatar

My secret is to only visit the East Coast occasionally, and not live there. ;-)

I have lived with East Coasters though, and had them as friends etc., and I would say that the thing is to ground oneself in one’s own reality, use the clashes as opportunities to examine one’s own reactions and heal one’s own upsets, etc., which is always a good thing.

canidmajor's avatar

If people are trying to figure out your net worth, or are implying you are insolvent, ignore it and change the subject, unless they need to know because you are purchasing a high-ticket item from them.
Credit card roulette? Just say no. Plan to pay your own way. If someone objects, just tell them you prefer to do it that way. No explanation. If people imply stuff you don’t like, just ignore them. It is a rare situation where you are required to defend your childhood.
Keep your own council. People will judge you, so what? If these are not people with whom you must have a relationship, find new people.

BTW, it’s not just NYC, there are class strata in every city.

JLeslie's avatar

NYC can be a tough crowd. Talking about money can sometimes be people just a discussion trying to figure out best practices, but at other times it can be classism. It’s tough when people in the discussion are at very different economic situations, and especially if some of the people struggle with finances. They often feel judged or that the other people are bragging.

My advice is seek friends whom you are comfortable with. I know you said some of the people you can’t avoid.

Second, have topics at the ready to change subjects.

Additionally, feel confident about how you have chosen to spend your money, if indeed you are being responsible. It sounds like you are. My guess is your peers don’t have student loans, and come from more money, even if still middle class. Or, maybe parents who just made sure they paid for their kids education. NYC is full of cultures that pay for their kids education, I was surprised when I went to college in the Midwest how that is often not the case.

I actually have my doubts that they are trying to figure out how much money you make, especially if they are middle class, I think some people just don’t have money talk as a taboo subject.

People don’t need to know earnings to figure out if other people are in their same socio-economic class. There is so much more that goes into it. How people spend money does often create reasons for bonding and building rapport. It’s not so much the money matters, but the interests and experiences. But, there are plenty of interests that aren’t dependent on income.

America hates talking about socioeconomics as something that separates and unites people, we are supposed to not care about that, but it does exist even in America to some extent.

tinyfaery's avatar

Los Angeles is just the same. I get through it by not giving a fuck. Just be you. If people put you down or make you feel put down then don’t hang out with those people.

CWOTUS's avatar

Are you certain that you’re not projecting, just a little?

I don’t doubt that there’s a lot of competitiveness – everywhere! – in nearly any aspect of human life. (And you won’t escape it if you leave NYC; it’ll just take a different form in a new area, one that you’re not at first familiar with.) But, so what? Nothing in your description / details indicates the equivalence of income = human worth that you decry. I’m wondering if that’s mostly in your own mind.

Sure, people are inquisitive, and that’s normal and common, too – everywhere. (In some parts of the country people don’t even have to ask you for your details, because they can get that from your neighbors, from the postman, from the store clerks in town, etc. You actually have a lot more anonymity in a large city than you do in smaller towns.)

If you’re not embarrassed by your living situation, occupation, income and familial antecedents, then what’s the worry? Of course you can choose to keep things private, even if you’re not embarrassed (and I can’t imagine why you would be embarrassed), so if you want responses to sometimes rude and pointed questions that will help to deflect people’s interest, we can do that, but let’s get clear on your own attitude and motivation first.

As for suggestions that you play credit card roulette, I wouldn’t make the blanket statement that “it’s a douchebag move” – unless it’s only suggested after dining (when you will have presumably limited your menu selections to the affordable choices you’re comfortable paying for). That gives a lot more advantage to someone who has splurged – and would now like to take a chance that someone else might pay – so in that case it’s a somewhat dishonorable suggestion. (Especially because, if they lose and pay your straitened bill and their inflated one, next time they’ll suggest that “you pay; I paid last time” – and they’ll order high on the hog again, this time at your expense.)

People are dicks all over, but not all of the time. If you don’t want to play those games, then… just don’t play them. But don’t be a dick about it, either.

I know for a certainty that most of the people I hang with earn more than I do, and I also know with no doubt at all that I’m in far better financial straits than they are. But we don’t talk about either of those things.

josie's avatar

There is no living thing that isn’t engaged in some sort of competition. In a lot of cases it is pretty basic-like lions competing for a zebra.

In the case of human beings it can get complicated. It might be wealth and status, it might be business, it might be a baseball game.

But it is always there.

Attempts to do away with it simply create varying levels of sociopathy, and attempts to escape can only frustrate.

Plus, it’s NYC. It doesn’t get tougher than that. Like the guy said – If I can make it there (NYC) I can make it anywhere.

It’s not a matter of “dealing with it” unless you equate “dealing with it” as the same as accepting it as true and moving forward.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

Sounds like you need new friends. If the people you hang out with behave in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you either need to learn to brush off or deal with their less desirable traits or find different friends.

If all your friends are so shallow (what you described sounds shallow to me) think about where and how you meet friends. Try something different to meet a broader range of people.

JLeslie's avatar

Oh, yeah, I forgot to comment on the credit card roulette—fuck that. I’d just say no, I won’t participate, I’ll pay for my meal, and if others want to gamble on the rest of the check they can go right ahead. I wish when I was eleven I had so no to the spin the bottle, I don’t go along with things that make so uncomfortable anymore just because my friends are doing it.

My sister used to complain about NYC being such a big drinking culture, and feeling peer pressure to drink. Not in that high school get drunk way, but like in that if you’re an adult and want to fit in way. Screw that too.

Just say no. Nancy Reagan was right about that. Do the Wonder Woman stance! Feel confident in your choices! Speak up for yourself! Take hold! Come on now! You have been through some really crazy shit, you’re strong, I know you are, don’t let this get to you.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Thank you all for your feedback. All great answers.

I think some of the reason it irks me is that I grew up in an area where money wasn’t that important because most people didn’t have much of it to speak of. The most important things about someone was integrity, work ethic, and a humble attitude not what you bank statements say or if you have a fancy credit card. (Which both my BF and I have but don’t flaunt or run up balances on.) We live for ourselves and think it’s crass to try to impress others.

To me, talking about money with people I’m not close with is like talking about sex—private and not something I want to discuss. That’s how I was raised and so I’m always taken aback when people ask me how much rent I pay, how much I made last year if my BF has equity or gets bonuses at his law firm. What does it matter? Money comes and goes. People have good years, bad years, and everything in between. Does that fundamentally change who they are?

I think most major metropolitan areas around the world have a streak of elitism and people get really sucked into it. They size people up to determine if they “belong” and if you don’t go along with it, you are considered kind of strange. It’s as if projecting the image of success is just as important as success itself and they want to make sure they’re associating with the right people. I appreciate that my partner shares my attitude on this. He laughed off the credit card roulette and was like “Yeah no, we’ll pay for ourselves, thanks.”

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Everything said above about humans being competitive is true. We don’t like to admit it, and like other ugliness from our primitive past, Social Darwinism exists in one degree or another. There is an instinct in us which dictates that the stronger are meant to succeed and therefore rise to the top of the pile of failures. And the race goes on with the strongest genes surviving. In a highly competitive environment, this instinct can be barely concealed, just under the surface, whereas in a less competitive one it is buried deeply in those places we bury all the other base urges of primal humanity.

I won’t add to that, except that the denser the population, the more competitive and rawer it gets. People, often good people, get left behind in a heartbeat. You live in a capitalist economy under a democratic republic that often sacrifices social justice in the name of capitalism. So, the measurement for success is naturally based on earnings and what one can buy. That simplifies things for busy people.

Because you live on Manhattan, a 1.4 mi. by 10 mi. island with 1.6 million people crammed onto it, a place where the average sq. block (1/10 of a sq. mile) has 22,000 residents living on top of each other on the most expensive piece of real estate in the world at an average of $3,000/sq. ft., the competition is world class. You’re up against the best of a gene pool of at least 325 million Americans. Then there is the foreign competition. That’s pretty goddamned elite, kid.

In an environment as densely populated as yours, Social Darwinism is extremely intense. It’s a rough game, but perfectly natural under the circumstances. That’s what humans do. Those who can deal with it, succeed. Those who can’t die trying, or leave before they do. Of course people want to know how much you make. They want to know who they’re up against, or how they themselves are doing while on your particular level of social strata, or whether or not you belong there with them.

LOL. What did you expect, a day at the beach? It is definitely stressful. And you’re feeling it right now. The rewards are high, but so is the risk—the humiliation of failure in front of everybody in your social circle within a highly populated environment—and therefore the stress. Few people outside of Manhattan would even suit up for it. That’s why they live outside of Manhattan, in less competitive environments, say, in an average town of 100 families per suburban square block where the competition is more laid back, friendlier. Where they have the time to enter other human qualities into their equation of success. But you chose not to. You chose to go up against the A team, and I must say, you’ve done rather well.

You remember that old Liza Minnelli song? It goes something like, “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere”? Well, it’s true. Oh, yeah, I remember now. The title is New York, New York.

You and your partner have certainly made it, maybe not by Manhattan standards, but surely by most everyone else’s. Most of us wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes in that place. But you got a good taste of the highly competitive modeling profession in the modeling capital of the world, and your SO is in the legal profession in one of the most competitive markets in the world. To the rest of us, the other 700 billion, your resumes are quite spectacular, even if we don’t admit it.

There might be a day, maybe a decade from now, when you two hit a plateau, start really feeling the burn, and you begin thinking that you might want to spend your energy differently in a less competitive environment. When and if it that day comes, you’ll start looking into less competitive communities. The farther away from NYC, the more impressive your resumes will be.

You will have the tickets to do that in pretty much any community you choose. Something by the sea might be nice. LOL. Just be nice when you get there. Be a generous winner and share the glory a little with the locals. It costs nothing. And you always need friends.

JLeslie's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace A lot of people with money talk about money and that’s how they get more money.

The taboo of talking about money keeps the poor poor in some ways. That’s an exaggerated statement, but when people talk, then people find out if their neighbor got a better price on paying the guy to mow their lawn, if they invested in a good mutual fund, if they figured out a good system for saving money for their children’s college, if they have a checking account with zero fees, if they make money on their rental property. They learn that FSA accounts are horrible, and HSA accounts are better than IRAs! Often it is the sharing of information, and some of the sharing can be good “tips.”

See, discussing money helps learn how you can take advantage of the money. Who is talking about the money? The people doing well with money.

I don’t think it’s always appropriate to discuss money, and it can be done in bad taste, but it can be helpful too.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Thank you all for your great answers. It’s just something I’ll need to learn to accept and brush off. A sense of humor also helps.

If my mother were alive, she would be surprised I made it this far, but I’ve got miles to go before I sleep.

Gabby101's avatar

Yes, I have felt exactly the same way. I live in San Francisco, but came from a smaller town in the Midwest where the majority of people were lower middle class. At some point, I realized that the reason the type of people you describe got to me was because of my own insecurities about myself and how much I made. On some level, I did believe that the girl with the Louis Vuitton was superior to me. You might want to spend some more time examining your own thoughts/feelings and see if there is a part of you that is buying into money = personal value.

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