Thursday 29 September 2016

How to Spend and Still Stay Classy

Pat Fitzpatrick

Published 04/05/2015 | 02:30

Walking into a travel agent's now is a sign that you are a well-off person.
Walking into a travel agent's now is a sign that you are a well-off person.
Ireland is the spiritual home of using your car to show off. Photo: Getty
'Time to take the Birkenstocks back from the hippies'. Photo: getty
For showing off, craft gin is in!
Foraging is in vogue, as long as people don't think you have no money to pay for food.

Can you feel it? The money and the good times are starting to flow around the country once again. There is just one problem. We are still officially embarrassed by the way we carried on during the Celtic Tiger. You really don't want to splash your cash in a way that makes you look more vulgar than a busload of Russian oligarchs. Here's a look at the many ways you can stay classy while subtly shoving your wealth down other people's throats

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THE CAR

Ireland is the spiritual home of using your new car to show off. First, we put the year on the number plate. Then we broke that down into six-month chunks of snobbery. It's only a matter of time before the Irish number plate is a digital display, showing your current bank balance and the number of apartments you own in Marbella.

A common mistake people make is to go for the new Asian kids on the block. The Hyundai is bad enough with its five-year warranty. But a Kia is even worse, with seven. Think about it. You are driving around in something that says, "I plan to keep my car for seven years". How embarrassing is that? Very.

The truly tasteful will change their cars within the next few years. Why? Because you want to get your hands on a snazzy new driverless model. Forget about Google Glass and Apple Watches. Those are just distractions. Big Tech had to make sure we didn't get out of the habit of buying things we don't need. Bloody good job they did of it too. But the new self-drive cars being tested across the States are expected to hit the roads here in the next few years. If they don't hit each other, they will be the single best way of all time to show you're not short of a few bob.

This new technology is going to unleash massive waves of envy. Why? Because a self-drive car means you can drink and drive. Think about it. While everyone else is queuing in the rain for a taxi, you glide by in the back seat of your car roaring out "Her eyes, they shone like diamonds" at the top of your voice. Everyone will want to be you. Particularly if you also snap up a few country pubs. They are coming right back if we can all suddenly revert to the old drink-driving.

INLAND SPAIN

There is only one law that governs holidaying for the tasteful classes. The quality of a resort is inversely proportional to the number of Irish people who go there. Or, for short - avoid Paddy. This has proven to be incredibly tricky up to now. We have reports of one tasteful Irish person who went to a Belgian beach resort, only to meet a gas family altogether from Ballinasloe who kept asking if he had a brother Larry in the guards.

Research shows that even if there is only one Irish family in your resort, you will still bump into them everywhere, all day, every day. Worse still, because you are Irish, you will feel the need to stop and chat every single time. That's not a holiday. Well, finally it looks like the solution might be at hand. Inland Spain. Extremadura, to be precise. It's shit hot at the moment. Or maybe that should read shit and hot, but who cares? It's on trend, expensive and massive, so there is every chance you could spend a fortnight without seeing a freckle (except when you look in the mirror).

Head for the city of Caceres. It's a three-hour drive from Madrid airport, which will keep the Fields of Athenry crowd away. Caceres is the Spanish Capital of Gastronomy this year, which means everything will cost a fortune. Excellent. Remember that modern Spanish cuisine is all about presenting traditional ingredients in a new way. So be prepared for some surprises. Like being asked to pay 15 quid for a toasted special in disguise.

There is a slight chance you will bump into Irish people in Caceres. But they have driven three hours to pay a fortune for some ham and cheese in 40-degree heat. So they are your kind of Irish people.

UMAMI

What do you mean, you haven't heard of it? Umami is a Japanese word to describe a meaty, savoury taste. It causes some confusion in Ireland, because it sounds very like the way we try to big up our mothers. (Ooh, Mammy, you look fantastic in that frock. Ooh, Mammy, and there was I thinking that a fascinator could never possibly work on anyone. Who is getting married?)

Translated into English, umami means "a word that chefs use on their menus to jack up the price of a steak". It is a great way to spend loads of money and show you have your finger on the pulse. Japan has always been a byword for cool in Ireland. All we really know about the place is that we can't afford to go there for more than an hour. It's a bit like the dentist that way.

Serving food that's high in umami is a great way to make your guests feel inadequate. (As if there's any other reason to host a dinner party.) You could expand on the Japanese theme with a karaoke machine after dessert. However, if you have recently started buying used underwear on the internet, we recommend you keep that to yourself. Just because it's Japanese doesn't make it right.

So, what are the foods? Umami is considered by the foodies to be the fifth flavour, after sour, sweet, salty and bitter. Never ask a foodie what's the difference between sour and bitter, you'll be there all day.

The good news is, despite being Japanese in origin, umami doesn't necessarily involve seafood. This is a relief for Irish people, who essentially hate fish. The great news is that you will find umami in things such as ketchup and bacon. Ooh, Mammy, all that food you gave us growing up was trendy after all. Fair play.

FORAGING

You're not seriously still buying mushrooms in the supermarket. That's the very essence of vulgar these days. In fact, it's classified by Food Nazis as a Taste Crime. You need to be seen out roaming the countryside, looking for your wild mushrooms.

There are two problems with this, though. The first is that you could end up picking magic mushrooms by mistake, and end up enjoying yourself. That is definitely not the point of foraging. The second danger is that people will think you need free food because you have no money. The mortification.

Both of these problems are solved by the same thing. Expensive foraging courses, where an expert will show you the difference between good and bad nettles. These courses usually have a social side, which attracts those hoping to meet a hot stranger for a bit of indoor foraging after a night in the pub. But you're not that kind of person. Until pint number three, and then all bets are off.

You will need to let people know that you went on one of these courses. If you think this doesn't happen, you have never been approached by a lady in a field who is screaming: "Don't pick that, you eejit. I learned that's a poisonous mushroom on a course that cost €700. I didn't use a discount voucher for the course either, that was the full price. Happy foraging!"

Foraging is obviously a rural pursuit. If you can't stand culchies, there is an urban equivalent that is popular among eco-conscious middle-class types. It's called rummaging. This is defined as the art of going through your neighbour's rubbish so you can rat her out to the council for not using the compost bin. That will show the bitch for objecting to your extension. Nobody comes between you and your eco-dream of filling your back garden with a glass box. Nobody.

CRAFT GIN

Sorry, but you have to stop using wine to show off. That means an end to the ferry trips. You know, the ones where you return with a case of wine from a French village so traditional that people actually smoke in their sleep. Try it now, and you'll arrive home to find Aldi has your wine by the shelf load for €9.99 a pop. Damn you, German discount supermarkets with your posh wines for under a tenner. You are making life impossible.

You need a shot of something more expensive to rise above the mob. The boat has already sailed on the craft-Irish-whiskey front. It seems like half the country has a micro-distillery out the back.

There is only one thing for it. Gin. There are, suddenly, a few small distilleries cropping up. That makes sense, when you think about it. The people who decide what should be in fashion have had a quick scratch of their funny hairdos and declared we should all head back to the 1970s. That's why otherwise sensible women look like they have been attacked by their mother's wardrobe. It would also explain the return to gin. Nothing says 1974 more than pouring a G&T for a lovely lady in a pair of culottes.

Irish people like a gin. Right up to the mid-1990s, the definition of an alcoholic in this country was a person who hid a bottle of gin in the cistern of their toilet. Everyone else was defined as "he likes his pint" or "he comes alive after midnight". So as long as you didn't have a bottle of Gordon's in the jacks, you could drink with impunity. We haven't forgotten gin for that.

There is no time to waste. It's only a matter of time before the Germans start stocking craft gin. So get pouring. And don't forget to say "chin-chin" in your best eejit voice. Classy.

SUNGLASSES

It's back to the 1970s too, when it comes to sunglasses. So small frames are out. That's got to be good news, unless you actually enjoyed looking like a mid-ranking officer in the Gestapo. Our fashion overlords have declared that it's all big and plastic when it comes to shades this year, and who are we to argue? There are a number of pitfalls. The most obvious one can be summed up in one word. Penneys. A tasteful person like yourself doesn't mind people knowing you buy a lot of stuff in Penneys. That, however, does not apply to sunglasses, and maybe knickers. ('Maybe knickers' is not the name given to your underwear of choice on a third date. Although we can see why you might think that.)

You'll need a way to let people know that your plastic shades cost almost as much as the car. If you think it's a good idea to carry around a Chanel case for the glasses, then you haven't been paying attention. That's all a bit 2005, and we're officially ashamed of the way we carried on during the Celtic Tiger. It's all about subtlety now. Here's what you need to do on the staying-classy front. Tell people you bought your sunglasses at the airport. Penneys don't have shops there, at least not yet. And air travel has a bit of cachet again, particularly since Ryanair figured out the best way to improve its image was to get rid of 99-cent flights. (We're still not sure if we like that or not.)

Now it's time to turn the screw. Say, "I got them in Dubai Duty Free, because there was no way I could afford to pay high-street prices for expensive shades like these." Boasting dressed up as fake poverty. Look at you, showing signs of real sophistication.

TRAVEL AGENT

There is a change in the wind around travel. Walking into a travel agency five years ago was a clear sign that you didn't know how to use a laptop. Doing it now is a very public sign that you are a well-off person with your finger on the pulse. That's why we recommend doing it at lunchtime, when there are a lot of people around. It would be a shame to do it and not get noticed.

Tell me again why travel agents are back in vogue, says you, reading the TripAdvisor entry for a hotel in Bilbao with 37 five-star reviews that all seem suspiciously alike. And there's the rub. There is a growing backlash against using internet reviews for your hols. It's not just that half of them are possibly fake. It's also that fact that you have to read loads of overly positive Yanks banging on about their holidays. There's only so much of that you can take. Seriously, who cares that the guy at the cafe by the corner knew your name by the end of the week. How could he forget it, Wally Whipshaw Junior III?

Now, the savvy traveller is looking for someone who is attuned to Irish sensibilities. They will understand the need to go somewhere "not roasting". They won't sneer at a request for a hotel where they serve something other than funny bits of sheep. And most importantly of all, they can direct you towards a place with a proper Irish-style toilet. For too long now, Donal and Nuala have suffered terrible embarrassment on those weird toilets with a continental shelf.

Once you have visited a travel agent, you should then refer to him or her as "my travel agent." This has a nice aristocratic ring to it, implying you have an army of professionals at your beck and call. Make sure to include others here, like my doctor, my accountant and my personal trainer. Don't extend the list as far as my solicitor. That sounds dodgy.

THE TELLY

We'll let you in on a little secret. Size matters when it comes to watching TV in 2015. But not in the way you think. Cast your mind back to the last time we had a bit of cash. Back around 2007, it wasn't unusual for a man to tell his friends that he recently bought a 70-inch flat-screen TV. If you suspect this was a sign of a certain inadequacy in the underpants region, we suspect you might be right. But there was still no denying that bigger was better.

These days, it is considered the height of bad taste to spend any money at all on your telly watching. Telling people that you have all the sports packages on Sky is like wearing white socks to a wedding. Why? Because wasting money is the new vulgar. And why would you spend a hundred quid a month when you can get it for free? The reason for this is a smartphone app called Show Box. You won't have heard this discussed openly in public, despite the fact that loads of people sit around watching it every night. It's a lot like porn that way.

Show Box allows you to watch pretty much any TV show or live sporting event you want, on your mobile phone, for free. It's all the rage on the dinner-party scene. It's like the new cocaine. You are nobody these days if you don't produce your phone once the plates are cleared away and show everyone how you watch Game of Thrones for free. There is always one smartarse who will ask, "how does it make you feel to steal other people's work?" The reply to this is simple. "Slightly better off."

BIRKENSTOCKS

It's finally time to take the Birkenstocks back from the hippies. (Make sure to give them a good wash first.) The pricey sandals never took off during the Celtic Tiger years because they still had a tendency to say "does anyone know where I can get some lentils?" But they are ideal this time out, because we want to remain on the Gwyneth Paltrow side of Kim Kardashian. There are two reasons for this. The first, as always, is price. These sandals have always been a good way to show proximity to money. Even as the footwear of choice for lefty anarchists who looked like they lived in a skip, Birkenstocks were always a great way of saying, "keep it to yourself, but my old man is a barrister". They have been spruced up to appeal to the new generation of loaded pseudo-lefties. On the internet, you can even get them custom-made with Swarovski crystals. Some say this is the end of civilisation. We say, where can we get our hands on them? Why? Grooming. Chiropody is going to be the new classy wealth signifier. (In fact, we reckon you should pile into it on the investment front. Until they start building blocks of chiropody clinics just outside Mullingar. That would be the time to get out.) You'll be lord of all you survey with a limited-edition pair of Birkenstocks, showing off your set of beautifully groomed toenails. This will set you apart, given that half the men in this country could carve their name in a tree with their big toe. One note of caution, guys. Don't be the first man in work to wear a pair of Birkenstocks to an important meeting. There is a thin line between fashion pioneer and "we think that Seamus is losing the run of himself". Wait for a well-known figure to pave the way on this one. Our money is on Johnny Ronan or Jamie Heaslip.

SCRUFFY KIDS

Top tip. You don't have to be the classiest person in the world. You only have to be the classiest person in your circle of family and friends. Like everything else in this world, taste is a zero-sum game. Nothing boosts your place on the social spectrum more than a friend acting like he just won the lottery.

We're not suggesting that you deliberately guide a friend into acts of vulgarity. We're insisting. And nothing is more vulgar these days than Fake Posh Kids. It's not unusual to see a couple wearing action gear they bought in Lidl, walking around with children who look like they stepped off the Downton Abbey set. Somebody obviously told them this was classy. Maybe it was you.

Remember that, when it comes to kids and matters of taste, we like to follow the English model. They've been shoving their wealth in each other's faces for centuries, and there is a lot we can learn from them. The top lesson is this: a set of well-heeled parents, with scruffy kids who look like they were raised by wolves, probably live in a house the size of Liverpool. The opposite means they probably live in Liverpool.

Don't forget this the next time you feel tempted to buy diamond-encrusted Hunter wellingtons for your kids. The far better option is to buy a pair for your friend's kids. If you can get a deal, grab two pairs without diamonds for yourself and the missus. You're just so classy.

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