January 25, 2020

Fluid Class

Finding identity and navigating through different social classes.

Class is an odd concept. For many years, I thought that it is all about money. But the older I am, the more I think it is not. It is like a game.

Sure, money helps, but it is more about acting than anything else. Unlike professional actors, who pretend to be someone else, the class is about authentic acting. That, however, doesn't mean that one can't change that and become genuine in whatever. There are just no academies for such thing; one has to figure it themselves.

I went on this path by accident. It was because I actually didn't have a lot of money. When I used to travel by car, I often slept in it because I couldn't afford a hotel. Once I figured out that it's not that bad, I moved to live in a car to save on rent. Now, I think it was cool. Parking next to a local swimming pool where I had a membership, I had access to hygiene; and for the money I didn't pay for accommodation, I could eat out every day. But back then, I was ashamed of this, and I didn't like to admit it. I acted like someone who lives "like the others." And people took me like that. I just never invited someone to see that apartment of mine.

I saw the potential in communication and tried it here and there. So, maintaining the topics of apartments and being cheap, when I visited Denver for the first time, I wanted to see some pretty views of the city. I didn't have money for some observation deck or a heli journey, so I found out about some skyscraper condos and went to chat with them. I asked about their options, and, by the way, checked how's the view from the roof.

Then I moved to the Netherlands, things went awry, and I actually ended being homeless.

Selfie in Utrecht. Before I went to sleep into a park.

Yet, the local homeless population wouldn't talk to me. Clearly, I wasn't one of them. Again, it made me think, what makes me, me?

Many jobs and places later, I realized that the insight of living in multiple cultures I had, is something that can't be bought on the spot - it is a proper value. And so it happened that I ended having a talk about the impacts of cities at a conference in central London.

Selfie in London. Before I went to talk to important people from around the world.

I gave it my best, and people liked it. This felt really good, as I was myself there. I didn't pretend to be someone else.

I realized that it was all about the wording. I didn't share that the weekend before the conference, I slept in a borrowed tent in Scotland. I said that the easy access to outdoor adventures around Scottish cities boosts their attractiveness for people with an active lifestyle.

This was the real boom. I can be someone else, yet staying myself. A person in a tent on one day, a person in an expensive hotel the other day. None of which was fake. It was a similar eye-opener like when I stopped being purist in my music taste and realized that there are cool songs in pretty much any genre. I can legitimately be myself, as long as I am somehow proficient in it. That's fair!

From here, I was on a spiral of events where I enjoyed these little different roles. A big reinforcement of this came when I went to China in 2017. I dressed smart casual and went to talk with people in some of the most prominent places.

Reflection selfie from one of the high-class venues in Shanghai.

About four years before the Shanghai visit, I was in Oklahoma City, and I went to the restaurant on the top of their tallest building to see the outlooks. But I felt uncomfortable overhearing discussion covering astronomical sums of money. I know now that the discomfort wasn't the money part, but the fact I had no idea about the market forces they spoke about. Not that I become an expert in investments since then, but I am trying to relate and to appreciate as many industries as possible. And it makes all the difference.

In that Shanghai place pictured above, I spoke with people about the oil business. Everyone had a good time, and it didn't matter that they arrived in Rolls Royce and me by subway. I was surprised how far can basic knowledge of a topic, authenticity, respect, and self-confidence can take you.

It isn't always the case, though. I encountered communities that would categorize others like trash, only because of their accent, and that they don't have a clue what is the purpose of the fifteenth fork on the table setting. Being fair, it goes the same on the other side of the spectrum too. There are people who would say how miserable being others are, just for using words like "quintessential." When someone insists on using one way or another and is unable to explain their message in a simple language, it's a pain. But it shows the importance of language skills.

The language role is immense. I see the playfulness in it, and I enjoy using it. Big words are fun, just as some slang terms are. I like learning these and using them within appropriate situations. But it is also something I find challenging. I didn't grow up in an environment where would be used any fancy terms. In fact, I didn't grow up using English at all. Thankfully, in many cases, it matters what has one to say, rather than how they are saying it. The way of saying things, however, does matter. The more extensive vocabulary, the bigger the range of fields, and social classes one can relate to. It is like with fashion: you dress differently for a mountaineering adventure than you dress for a theatre visit.

Speaking of clothing, it is also a skill to learn. I had a learning experience earlier this week, as I once again attended a properly formal event. An event where a polo shirt is a big no-no.

I like to keep things minimalistic, I don't have stuff I don't use. And so, I didn't have any formal shirt. In the past, I always borrowed or rented one, but I have a problem when borrowing stuff: I am 6'6," but I've just around 200 lbs. So, when the shirt is good around my chest, the sleeves end by my elbows. And when the sleeves are right, I could fit another person to share the chest compartment.

So I felt that the time has come to get me a shirt that fits me well. I am a quick shopper; I like to go only for the stuff I need, no distractions. Last time I was buying shoes, it was a task of five minutes. Enter the store, find the shelf with the type I needed, find one that I liked, try out, pay,  leave — a piece of cake when you know your stuff.  But when you don't? That was my case with the shirt. But, it is just a shirt, how hard it can be? Classic fit, tailored fit, and slim fit, easy. But then, there's the collar. Cutaway, bottom down, point, semi-cutaway... And, did you know that there are five major types of shirt cuff styles? Add the length issue, and it is a flipping rocket science! So it was clear, normal shops in malls won't do. I had to go to a dedicated shop with suits. They did my measurements and found a shirt that would "suit perfectly." Apparently, when you know the dimensions, you don't need to try stuff before you buy.

The next day was the big day. I woke up with a smile and started getting into the shirt. The smile, however, went away quickly: "That damn assistant sold me a size too small," was my first impression. A train of swears followed as I was trying to fit into the long but narrow sleeves. Then, the tie was business as usual, youtube with hours of "tight a tie for dummies" is a lifesaver. Little I knew that the biggest challenge is still ahead of me - fastening that top button. Dear me, I nearly chocked myself. And it took ages. Previously, I'd have a wider size, which might not be as sleek, but putting it on was a matter of seconds. Thankfully, I set plenty of time aside just for this task, so I handled it within schedule. What a laugh.

As I set off to the event, I played a list of my favorite punk songs - stuff you'll never hear at a banquet. One of the songs there is "Too Much Class For The Neighbourhood" by Dogs. Nodding to the tunes, that's when I thought about making this article.

So yeah. Class is a skill. Class is acting. Class requires practice - a struggle for an introvert like me. At least, everyone is taking part in this performance. And there's no better set than the world we already have around ourselves. But class is also a concept, and I wish people would see this concept as more fluid. Same like nations, races, languages, and beliefs.

Ending with another punk lyrics, "Quels que soient ton pays, ta couleur,
On a partout sur terre droit au bonheur..." Let's. Please.

Thanks for reading.

If you have a thought on this, get in touch. I love to hear others' standpoints. If you'd like to stay for a little longer, I'd suggest these posts:

Where on Earth?After being on the road for years, I am a stranger everywhere

About the struggles of finding "home."

Midnight WorldNight explorations

How night times help to escape personal darkness.

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Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories

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