Along with ball-sports, the telephone and concentration camps, we Brits invented the middle class. Many of the country's most enduring stereotypes and traditions are based on the middle class, and although they might seem the most boring strata of society, we could not do without them. They are our doctors, bank managers and teachers, but cushy as some may have it, middle-class life is riddled with often unique problems. If you think it's easy being middle class, think again.
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Middle class brits know that getting Junior into a decent school is perhaps the most important thing in ensuring they get good grades and go on to a good university, good job and good life etc. Should paying for an education be either unaffordable (see slide 10) or ethically distasteful, there are different ways of getting the job done. Amid the “postcode lottery” of the distribution of places at more desirable schools, parents have been known to register their children at addresses of grandparents or other relatives. They have even posed as pious Christians in order to secure places at higher-achieving faith schools, even though this means attending church and other parish-based events.
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Reports of how bad television is for developing children have been common for years, but should you allow your little darlings to watch even limited amounts of the stuff then you are then faced with the challenge of finding something suitable. Not so long ago it was Teletubbies that were blamed for poor linguistic development in children, but now others have come into the firing line, including children's favourite Peppa Pig. Peppa is accused of various crimes, including making it seem reasonable to demand cake for breakfast.
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Smacking a recalcitrant child in public used to be a reasonable form of chastisement. Then again, the stocks used to be fairly popular too. No middle-class parent would bring themselves to smack their child – in public anyway – but now there is fear and guilt around shouting at your child too. With limited options available to the middle-class parent, a public tantrum can be a drawn-out and painfully awkward affair. The M&S food hall is no place for such a showdown, but try explaining that to little Emily.
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“Foodies” are rife in middle-class Britain, so knowledge of the best ingredients is fundamental. Knowing your taro from your yucca can mean the difference between shame and pride at your dinner party, so when an unknown vegetable comes along, it's time to panic. You have to be one step ahead with the next culinary discovery, so you can look down on your peers and condescend appropriately.
Getting an ethical but trendy food
Trends in food come and go at an alarming rate in the middle-class world. The great quinoa invasion of a few years ago is well reported, but questions over its sustainability, and impact on areas of South America where it is farmed, have left the middle-class reeling with guilt and confusion. Food trend booms can have unexpected repercussions in the lands where they are farmed, so you have to get in on the ground floor but leave before it becomes an ethical nightmare.
Filter coffee: yes or no?
If you had offered filter coffee to a member of the middle class a few years ago they would have looked at you like you had just crawled out of the primordial swamp with a Betamax under your arm. Espresso was the only way to drink the beany soup, and in a realm of utmost snobbery, filter coffee was a big no-no. But apparently this could be changing. Sales of filter coffee machines seem to be on the rise, and the uptight hisses of the stove-top espresso could soon be replaced by the chugging and gurgling of the filter machines in middle-class kitchens across Britain. But is it too soon to take the plunge?
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BUPA or NHS?
Once – and for some, still – the pride of Britain, the NHS aims to deliver universal health care, free at the point of delivery. Many in the middle-class love a bit of egalitarianism, but when it's your colon on the line, you won't think twice before employing some of your fiscal muscle to skip the queue.
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Foreign holidays and new cars or school fees?
According to some reports, some families are choosing to go without the middle-class staples of foreign holidays and new cars in order to pay for public school fees. Apparently an indication of the squeeze that the middle-class is under at the moment, going to a good (i.e. public) school is seen as infinitely more important in securing a bright future for little Johnny and Sarah than anything else. It's not what you know, after all.
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Saving means losing
The middle class used to save their way to financial comfort over years of steadfast austerity. Now, with interest rates well under inflation, savers are getting worse off by the day, depriving families of that saving incentive. With their traditional means taken away from them, it means the middle class are now feeling the pinch.
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Television has always been the poor, illiterate relation of the other arts such as literature, music and “film.” The middle-class would applaud those brave enough to not have a television and promote scant viewing if there was one in the house. This may now be changing with the creation of so many quality series coming from around the world. Scandinavian political thrillers and moody French dramas have been heralded as novel-like in their approach to story-telling.
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The quickest way to reduce a room full of middle-class office types into a classroom of awkward children is to bring out the ice-breakers routine. Everybody hates them, but they persist in the professional environment like the post-apocalyptic cockroach. Maybe it's because people hate them that they keep being used – perhaps the best way to garner unity and break down barriers is to give people a common enemy. How Orwellian.
Craft market sweep
British markets used to be working-class affairs, with large, bellicose men shouting endlessly in brash regional accents about various items for “two pahnd a pahnd.” Now, many have been overtaken by the middle-class, selling artisanal bread and iberico ham that you need a small mortgage to buy. For the middle-class foodie, these craft markets are heaven itself, but it's essential to know when to stop. The month's food budget can be swallowed up in a matter of minutes.
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Bad service, queue-jumpers, low-level assaults – if there's an situation that requires complaint, most middle-class Brits will ignore it in silence, but seethe on the inside. Making a scene is definitely not something most are skilled at or comfortable with, so repressed rage takes its place. The “stiff upper lip” probably evolved from this cornerstone of British middle-class life.
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If all the other problems weren't enough to deal with, many are claiming that the middle class is dying out. They observers point to things like middle managers and the like being replaced by software, and emigration being now more appealing for young middle-class adults than in recent generations. It might be time to cash in those Waitrose shares now.
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