Tuesday 20 February 2018

Mary Kenny: Class divides... Can people be friends when there's a gap in their social status?

Can people be friends when there's a gap in their social status?

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

We are greatly concerned with equality these days, but many inequalities remain, and I wonder if some of them will always prevail? For example, can two people be friends if their status, rank and, especially, income are noticeably different?

I have an old friend to whom I remain close, but our social lives are worlds apart. We started out flat-sharing back in the day, like the "girls of slender means" in Murial Spark's evocation. But different choices, talents and inclinations have led us to different social destinations. We've joked about driving a campervan across America as a larky adventure ("Grannies take a trip"), only she'd need to stay in five-star hotels and I'd find it more interesting to lodge in a trailer-trash park with the Trumpistas. Her social and economic ranking are so different from mine that taste and status naturally divide habits.

As between individuals, that need not matter. If two people are friends, though the worlds they mingle in are disparate, they can still remain friends on a one-to-one basis. It's where the social context gets wider that a kind of unease can arise. I try to be polite and mannerly when I'm mixing in her world, but maybe I'm not entirely comfortable because I know that, deep down, human beings do assess one another on an economic ranking scale, and richer people are very aware of "keeping score". They know I don't have a property in the Auvergne, and I know they know. A self-consciousness arises.

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