…”Those Sort” of Neighbors

Yesterday when I wrote about my new neighborhood I used the phrase, “those sort of neighbors”. I didn’t mean that in a derogatory way so I think I need to clarify.

What I meant was that there are two sorts of people. There are the people who were born into a “background” and those who were not. And by “background” I obviously mean a family that has an at least higher social status than (middle) middle class. And, if you’re just upper middle class you should be extremely solidly so – in 2019, in the US, as a rough snapshot, that’s a middle-aged adult with a house worth (at least) a million (or the financial equivalent) and, at least, fairly elegant social connections.

Now, the people born into a “background” don’t necessarily have an immediate family (but better if they do) with more status than others, but at least their grandparents generally have more status. Or, they come from a family in general that has a significant place in society (their last name). Look up the term “impoverished aristocrat” to see more of what I mean. The rules are complex, I suppose, but that’s a sloppy, quick jab at my impression of the standards that I’ve garnered over the years.

When I said I wasn’t expecting it in the neighborhood I am living in I meant that where I’m living has not traditionally been the very wealthiest part of the city (the wealthiest being on or near Summit Avenue). For example, the nicer old social clubs I know of aren’t generally in this specific neighborhood.

It’s an area that I know intellectual, well-bred sorts sometimes dwell in (my family knew a family that was like that who lived around here – the husband was a fairly accomplished professor) but I didn’t know of or anticipate the existence of the family living next door to us. Again, we are near a well respected university though so I guess it sort of makes sense… And, the previous owners were indeed very culturally aware folks. They loved traveling, especially to Oaxaca Mexico, and the husband was a poetry lover and writer who had been published a few times.

But…I wasn’t expecting this sort of social climate. And it is very different than the other.

Let’s say you live in a neighborhood with homes worth at least $700,000.00 in Madison, Wisconsin: “Those sort of neighbors” in that neighborhood likely have ties to other people with “money” from the past and the present. Their Great Uncle Anders was a US Ambassador to Mozambique in the 1980’s and their mom is well-known in the local gardening club federation and at certain “posh” locations around the city. She also has a coterie of friends who are often quite loyal and extremely hard to “break in with” unless they let you. (for the perfume folks, let me guarantee you she has at least one bottle of an exquisite classic in her cozy, extremely lovely and spacious bathroom). Then, in the same neighborhood, there might also be a young couple in their late 20’s or early 30’s with perhaps a background in the military who both currently work in finance and make a couple hundred thousand a year but are not “those sort of people”. They both grew up in lower middle class families. They’re very smart, driven and generally quite “busy”. And, well, they’ll likely (not always) shrug and look at you like you’re vaguely idiotic if you talk about “old money”. Maybe, they might give a genial smile if they feel friendly, but their general attitude will be one of some sort of sense of true moral superiority mixed with possible insecurity and indifference. Their thinking is, “If I can “conquer the world” and make my millions before age 35 why the heck does any of that other “stuff” matter that much?” (A lot of less fortunate people also have a similar attitude in the US but unlike this example-couple they don’t think it’s so easy to “make a million”.)

I’m sure you can imagine, if you have empathy and common-sense, what sorts of things you would have to consider in each case. For “those sort” you don’t want to lie. You simply do not make crap up. And, you especially do not do so about your current status or that of your family. And, you also don’t want to assume anything… For those affluent young folks: You don’t want to get in their way. They might not be outright rude to you if you do delay them somehow (think accidentally blocking their driveway) but they will look slightly menacingly in your direction, although not right at you, in a way that’s a little scary. Also, the latter couple often makes the “new” choice. They tend to shop at the most “up and coming” stores and be aware of whatever is the latest thing. So, if you want your kids to be taken care of in a vegan, Montessori-like, culturally sensitive pre-school (and even that’s outdated) ask where the young couple plans to send their kids. They know. Also, from my experience, they’re more likely to give hugs and be “laid back”.

I won’t get into politics… But it is obviously intriguing.

Now, on the other hand, if you want to drink really, genuinely good beer or if you want to make an “Old Country” dish the young couple are more likely to not know. They often don’t know the “old ways” of their ancestors. Often, their people’s food culture was lost… They know how to imitate the food culture of people who are not them (they make potato latkes because they had an impressive English Professor who was Jewish and hosted house parties for students) but they know nothing from their (great) grandparents about the traditional dishes of their actual heritage. For example, my grandfather with his old southern family heritage, used to ask my grandmother to make traditional southern dishes (he even opened a restaurant for a short while). My grandmother could make a delicious plate of collard greens and her duck (he frequently hunted) was very good.

It’s all about subtleties. And of course, there are many people with either no real wealth or no actual “background” but with a desire to appear impressive or at least publicly improve their lot in life who try to impersonate both of those type of neighbors. But, anyhow, while both neighbors can be lovely if they’re good people there are two different social terrains with each of them. …Again, I need to be careful with my lawns and my gardens.

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