Prejudice is always wrong. Unless you’re prejudiced against Nazis. I think that would be okay. Or against people who wear way too much perfume. Surely we can all agree on that.
Prejudice is almost always wrong, and recently I came to realize that, as enlightened as I think I am, I have a prejudice of my own – against the wealthy.
I used to think I was just uncomfortable around rich people but now realize I’m actually biased against them. I can see it in the negative terms I use to describe people of wealth: “filthy rich” “stinking rich,” “my snooty cousin Darren who thinks he’s too good for us now.” But it’s wrong to use these judgmental phrases because oftentimes people are wealthy through no fault of their own. Like hair colour or country club memberships, sometimes wealth is an inherited condition.
In an attempt to overcome my ignorance, I’ve been trying to spend more time with wealthy people. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, because people of wealth tend to shy away from non-wealthy people like me – probably because of all the prejudice.
Recently, though, I attended a cocktail party where the combined value of the footwear was more than my annual salary. Normally, such an event would not be my cup of fois gras, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to face my own preconceptions while simultaneously standing uncomfortably by myself in a corner.
What I learned is that people of wealth have really good hair.
I also learned that they have doubts and worries just like you and me – not about money, obviously. But a worry is a worry. The wealthy worry about their multi-million corporations making sales targets; you and I worry about making that big sale at Target. Same thing.
From what I observed at this cocktail party, however, the big worry for the wealthy is getting food in your teeth.
I discovered this when I managed to grab a canapé off a passing tray – which wasn’t easy since the servers thought I was an art installation. In the dim light, it looked like salsa on a cracker. But as I popped it in my mouth, I thought, “Hey, this salsa is chewy.” And that’s when I realized that my salsa was in fact raw meat. I think. If it wasn’t raw meat, I don’t really want to know.
As I gnawed away at the maybe-meat, I thought, “What if I was actually having a conversation?” which, of course, I wasn’t because I was so focused on the observing and the anti-social cowering. But what if I was? Imagine, chewing raw meat while attempting to say, “Yesterday I yawed my yacht around Yucatan.”
There were also fresh oysters. The only thing more slippery than an oyster is my cousin Darren. What stress people of wealth must undergo eating oysters! Luckily, the glasses of Chateau de la Pompadour Mouffette help cut the anxiety.
Later, I reached from behind a load-bearing support beam to snag a meatball off a passing tray. No toothpicks here. Instead, each meatball was lovingly deposited on one of those wide, flat-bottomed ceramic spoons, which are probably the most uncomfortable things you can put in your mouth, in public. As I chewed, I thought, “Look at the dignity and courage with which these people of wealth undergo this hardship.” That and, “What the hell kind of meat am I eating now?”
Overall, I came away from the experience a little bit more open-minded… and pretty hungry. Did I gain a full understanding of people of wealth? Not really, mostly because I was too scared to make eye contact. But I did learn to respect them and come to understand that you can’t really appreciate people of wealth until you rock a smile in their chews.
A version of this post originally aired on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway.” If you would like to listen to the audio version, you can’t; they’re having linkage problems.