Don’t mention the private school – any toff worth the family pile is now downplaying their privilege
I noticed it when the builders started to work on my apartment. “Fancy a cup of coffee?” I would ask instead of offering a “cup of tea.” When we talked about the renovation plans, I used “living room” or “anteroom” instead of “living room”. When the plumber came by, I stood in the dust with him, squinting at the corner of the new bathroom and discussing where the “toilet” versus the “loo” would lead to.
I didn’t want to come across as a blustering, honking, demented Sloane, the kind of dimwitted woman who deserves to be ripped off, so I tried to calm myself. Hide my noble roots. Cover up my privilege.
Whenever my gap year comes up, I make feeble attempts to cover it up. You can’t relate to taking one of those without sounding unbearable (and thinking of that comedy character talking about his “gap yah”), so I’m now vaguely referencing the time when I was “travelling ” went. This will fool her, I tell myself.
The how chic is too chic debate has raged all summer since KPMG bosses advised employees not to talk about private schools or ski trips
Trouble is, nowadays, posh is bad and posh people are the enemy. Call it Poshism if you like. And on a level, fair enough. Look at Jacob Rees-Mogg, a grown man who still talks about his nanny. Look at Old Etonian Latin-speaking Boris Johnson. Watch Kirstie Allsopp telling millennials in her Marie Antoinett way that they could afford a house if they canceled their Netflix subscription.
The how chic is too chic debate has raged all summer since KPMG bosses advised employees not to talk about private schools or ski trips. Some praised the move, saying it has paved the way for other workplaces to become more inclusive. Others thought it had gone insane.
The solution for many of us, meanwhile, has been to dumb it down. For some time, distinguished people have adjusted their accents and adopted “mocking” or “muzzle” tones. In 2019, Barnaby Lenon, the former headmaster of Harrow, stated that “most Etonians and Harrovians these days will do anything to use a muzzle accent” because being upper class “isn’t good”. Certain Old Etonians have also long suggested going to school near Slough to downplay their education.
Certain ancient Etonians have long referred to going to school “near Slough”.
But since 2019, the dangerous situation has worsened, as a government of posh boys reels from scandal to scandal, and actors, musicians, writers, and even the odd banker pretend they’re nothing like them. (“All the fancy bashing that goes on… I wasn’t born into country or title,” Benedict Cumberbatch once complained in an interview.) A friend who works in finance isn’t just referring to his “missus,” he is it also removed Eton from its CV in order to dupe potential employers.
“I always tell cleaners and hairdressers that I’m a teacher,” says another on Jobs. “I think it makes me sound like one of them.” What she leaves out is that she teaches classics at a boarding school in Home Counties. I always remember a brilliant Vice article that contained the anecdote that a well-heeled college student once tried to claim he was a miner “because his family owned a mine.”
Dealing with craftsmen seems to be a real problem for many. “My husband calls them all ‘boss,'” says an embarrassed wife. “Like ‘thanks, boss’ or ‘It’s okay, boss.’ And he literally doesn’t address anyone that way.” Recently, after a ride across London in a black cab, my friend Tom said “Cheers, Boss” to the driver, only to get his young daughters to frown at him. ‘Daddy, he’s not your boss, is he?’ one asked confused.
Others have discarded their signet rings and instead wear Adidas suits. Tracksuits are in, especially for men, complains etiquette expert William Hanson. “It’s grunge dressing to look more urban,” he explains. He also doesn’t like “bro handshakes” or “fist bumps” instead of the traditional handshake. “You tease me.” The Return of the Mullet is an added help for 20-year-olds trying to appear less stingy. “When Henry came home for Christmas he had one of those haircuts that was long in the back and short in the front,” sighs one abandoned mother. “It was a shock for us, but even more so for the pastor.”
Another giveaway is your location, so some try to disguise that. “Not long ago I called Magic FM to request a song,” says someone who has to remain anonymous for their own protection, “and when they asked where I was from I was too embarrassed to say Dulwich , so I said Brixton. Shudder.’ Another friend who lives in Fulham’s heartland only says she lives in “West London” when asked. My friend Emily set her dating profile to say she lives in Acton to sound less posh than Chiswick. I admit I am pleased to be able to tell people I live in Crystal Palace as I expect many to assume I would be hanging around Battersea. Reverse snobbery in action.
These are dangerous times when you can always be called out and canceled for gentility, so Toffs have devised survival tactics worthy of an Attenborough documentary. Take my pal Rupert, a lifelong Chelsea fan who occasionally takes his young nephews to games but always warns them beforehand: ‘Call me D**khead, call me W**ker, but never call me Rupert.’ You can never be too careful.
POSH’S GUIDE TO EMPOWERING
never say “Terrible” – as in “The ski trip in Aspen was terribly boring”.
muzzle equivalent A swear word of your choice. Except for “bloody”.
never say “Exciting” – as in “He followed me to Monte Carlo, it was too exciting!”
muzzle equivalent Anything with the prefix “well-“.
never say “Scream” (when describing laughter). Just the genteel squeal.
muzzle equivalent ‘Died.’
never say ‘Pullover’. Or “sweater”. Or “jersey” (upper body clothing is a linguistic minefield).
muzzle equivalent ‘Above.’
never say ‘Hello’ or ‘what?’ Clear language (verging on the rude) is a posh giveaway.
muzzle equivalent ‘Hey’ or ‘Excuse me?’
never say ‘Invitation.’
muzzle equivalent ‘Invite.’
never say ‘Do you understand me?’
muzzle equivalent ‘Do you understand me?’ Replace “get” with “feel” if needed.
never say ‘Cooked Breakfast’ (You don’t see that on a chalkboard in Tenerife.)
muzzle equivalent “Full English.”