What’s your class? (or Do you know what a stool is?)

Image courtesy of patpitchaya / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This morning Twitter has been chattering about class, thanks to the BBC’s Great British Class Survey. I wasn’t that interested until I saw this tweet, RT’d by @Louiestowell: @saramegan: Someone once told me that the marker of the middle class is the ramekin.

Well. That took me right back. We were definitely working class growing up. I don’t think I even knew what “middle class” was. I certainly didn’t know what a ramekin was. But then, when I was 18, I moved to London – or rather, Kew – to work as a Mother’s Help.

The mother I was helping used ramekins to make what I thought she called “Strawberry cranberry lay” but turned out to be strawberry crème brûlée, of course. I’d never tasted it before, but it was delicious. I rang my aunt, who was a school cook, and described it to her. She had no idea what it was.

Later, my sister came to stay and the woman I worked for served smoked salmon sandwiches. My sister grabbed one, her only experience of salmon being tinned salmon (and that rarely) and, horrified by the texture, spat it straight out into the bin.

I remember the man of the house (this was a v traditional house) eating something and describing it as “more-ish”. I’d never heard that before, in fact, I thought he was saying “Moorish” (we mostly used to go on holiday to Spain) and thought it was the most pretentious thing I’d ever heard.

The little girl I looked after one day mentioned going to the “toilet” and the mum was horrified. “We say ‘loo,’ darling, not ‘toilet.'” I was baffled. I remember talking to my mum and saying, “Surely ‘toilet’ is more polite than ‘loo’?” She thought so too.

I was even more baffled when Charlie, the little boy I looked after, had what looked like blood in his poo. The mum got out a medical encyclopaedia thing and told me to look up ‘stool.’ I had absolutely no idea what a three legged wooden chair thing had to do with bloody poo, but I soon found out. (It wasn’t blood. He’d had beetroot.)

I’ve since heard that there are certain words you should be careful of if you don’t want to show yourself up. Napkin v serviette. Sofa v settee. I can never remember which is which and I couldn’t care less. I’ve always remembered ‘stool’ though. And, thankfully, crème brûlée.

14 thoughts on “What’s your class? (or Do you know what a stool is?)

  1. And where does the word ‘lavatory’ come in all this?! 🙂 I remember being asked when I was little if I ‘wanted to spend a penny’ once. I was obviously not in her class because I replied ‘no thanks, I’ve got sixpence’. I wondered for ages why she laughed! Funny post… x

  2. I took the test to find I’m in the most deprived class – Precariat. I find it quite depressing – I tried to find the class most people my age (26) are in – but the average age of most of the classes is nowhere near my age – confusing!
    On a similar note, I’m rubbish at saying words properly, I can’t say ‘better’ or ‘film’ properly and most people assume I’m going to call my lunch my dinner ‘cos I’m from the North East – I don’t!

    1. I don’t think it should be taken seriously, to be honest, it’s extremely simplistic. I used to call lunch dinner, but I think that got drummed out of me when I moved down south (I’m from the Wirral originally and live in Lancashire now). It’s funny, when I moved down there, people used to take the piss out of certain words I used (I said I’d taken my shoes to the cobblers once and people howled with laughter) and I thought it was a north/south thing more than a class thing. Now I realise it’s all mixed up together.

      1. Yeah I did get a bit carried away there. I don’t think the BBC should have done the survey – I don’t think it’s going to help the general feeling of depression and no hope – they didn’t even have an option of ‘so broke, you have to live with your parents in a 2 bed flat’. Never mind, I guess we’re always going to look to the South to tell us what’s right, never mind how many Ant & Decs and Chery Coles there are, we’re our always going to be their poor relatives.

        1. You’re right, it does seem like an odd time to do it. Like we need more class division right now? I honestly thought the north/south thing was a bit of a joke, a bit of fun until recently. Can’t believe people really buy into it, it’s just so ridiculous. But then I was at Salford uni with a boy who’d started off at Manchester and left because of the snobbery. They called him “Northern Matt.” In Manchester.

  3. I had the loo conversation very recently with a family friend who has an Eton / Oxbridge background. Apparently ‘toilet’ shows you up as being affected because of its French root (which doesn’t, in any case, mean lavatory).

    I think of those things as Mrs Whitlow words after the Unseen University housekeeper in the Discworld books, who tries to sound posh by adding the letter h to the beginning of everything. I guess less privileged classes started saying ‘toilet’ to sound more genteel and over time the upper class word ‘loo’ eventually sounded impolite. Loo still sounds wrong to me, though I’m the kind of classy bird who says things ike “excuse me, I need a wee…”, so what do I know?

    Think I might start using ‘crapper’. What? It’s a brand name, like hoover or sellotape…

  4. Ha! Done the test – I’m established middle class. Not bad for the girl who grew up in a Northern council house and was so poor that when we had the gas cut off we used a twin tub washer to heat tins of food and whose dad hand painted his Vauxhall Viva with some sky blue paint left over from doing the boys’ bedroom! 😉

  5. Established middle class, thank God… Keris, you know me well enough to imagine how horrified I would have been had it said anything else… Sad, but terribly awfully true.

    I was always taught that you can say ‘bog, shitter, crapper, dunny’ – basically anything at all except the dreadful faux pas of ‘toilet’.

    Another one is ‘What?’. I heard a guy say to his kid the other day ‘Don’t say “what”, say “pardon”.’ I was brought up with the adage that the Queen says ‘pardon’ if she ‘farts’ and what if she doesn’t hear you… Again, pardon is a bastardisation of a french word (like toilet) and so not admissable in ‘proper’ english along with mirror (looking glass) and mantelpiece (overmantel). Words like cafe, duvet and restaurant are fine because they are still in their proper form.

    1. My dad used to say ‘Don’t say “what” say “pardon”.’ I still say it sometimes to the boys cos it makes me smile. The posh people I worked for didn’t say either. They said, “Sorry?” If I said “Sorry?” to Dad, he’d say, “Why? What’ve you done?”

  6. ‘napkin vs serviette’?
    it’s a piece of kitchen towel in our house (“we were that poo-er…” etc. etc. etc.)

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