When I was 19 I hadn’t been out of England much, in fact I’d hardly been out of east London.
East London was around 2 million working class people, the size of a small country.
So I’d never been exposed to middle class people or their ways.
When I got to art school in New York, everyone was not only American they were all middle class.
So I was struggling on two levels.
And what made it worse was when they found out I was English.
To Americans, there is only one kind of English person: upper class.
So I was treated as a stereotype.
To them we all love the Queen, we all drink tea every day at 4 o’clock, we all live in stately homes, and we behave like Jane Austen all the time.
In fact, to them we are all a cross between Hugh Grant and Prince Charles.
Whereas I was actually more of a cross between Ray Winstone and Harry Redknapp.
But the Americans who were middle class, and very rich by comparison, decided I must be richer and posher than they were because I was English.
So they expected me to know things I didn’t know.
For a start, I found dinner didn’t happen in the middle of the day, it happened in the evening.
A girl I was going out with (they call it dating) invited me to dinner at her parent’s house.
Because I was English they made a real effort to be polite and formal.
We all sat down with empty plates in front of us.
And lots of food in the middle of the table.
I didn’t know what to do because I’d never had an empty plate before.
I’d never been to a restaurant, just pubs and cafes, where the food was already on the plate
So I waited to see what everyone else would do and, because they thought I was posh, they waited to see what I would do.
I noticed we all had glasses of water in front of us.
I didn’t know what that was for either.
Normally I had a cup of tea with my meal, I’d never drunk water on its own.
So I waited, to see what it was for.
And they waited top see what I’d do.
I was in two foreign countries at once: America, and the middle class.
And I didn’t know which was which.
Was the glass of water an American thing or a middle class thing?
Why didn’t they have a cup of tea?
They could afford it, they didn’t have to drink just plain water.
And why didn’t they put the food on the plates in the kitchen?
It would cut down on the washing up.
Plus it would be fairer because everyone would get an even share.
And why were we each given little white handkerchiefs to put on our laps?
I didn’t know anyone who spilled food in their lap while eating.
A lot of what I interpreted as American was actually middle class.
And a lot of what they interpreted, as British reserve was just working class confusion.
But the mind defaults to the obvious solution.
Differences of nationality seemed more obvious than a difference of class.
So every difference of class was attributed to something else.
Today, we don’t even believe in differences of class: that’s so old-fashioned.
Well, carry on with that blinkered thinking.
Because that’s how Brexit happened and that’s how Trump happened.
Especially in marketing, all we experience is middle class people so we think that’s all there is.
There’s a refusal to believe that the entire country isn’t middle class.
When in fact there is another country, just as big, inside this country.