I was at the pub the other night and my friend was looking gorgeous. We were drinking cold, amber pints outside, the evening calm and balmy like it gets after a hot day, and I mentioned that I loved her jumper. It was a loose, knitted thing that looked like she just threw it on casually before going out. She leaned over, freckles gleaming. "That's because it's really, really expensive," she said and I snorted laughing because people so rarely say things as they are.
Later on in the night we were reminiscing about when we were teenagers. Her parents paid for me to join them in Italy once and we had a blissful time, swimming beneath moonlight and dunking bread in olive oil. I said that, looking back, it was really kind of them. They didn't have to do that. "It's because they're rich," she said, shrugging. "And generous." We clinked glasses and I thought to myself: I hope if I become rich my generosity flows out of me like wine, too. I hope I take my future kids' friends to Italy.
This interaction stuck with me because it was so refreshing and funny. So often, people who come from money are weird and shady about it. They tell you that they're broke when they have thousands in savings. They don't mention that the house they are living in actually belongs to their parents. They speak about money (or purposefully don't) as if you're going to stand up and point at them, shouting: "Your parents paid your university fees? Get out of my sight!" And you're left navigating this strange world of smoke and mirrors, where nothing is as it seems and everything's a secret.
Obviously there's no obligation for everyone to disclose their financial background to each other or rub their wealth in your face. But in the same way it can help when people are open about their salary, it can help when people are simply chill about the situation from which they come. Being born into money is not some value judgement or a moral failing on your part – it just means you had a bit of a leg up, because society sucks and is built that way. Hearing rich people downplay their richness feels a bit like when skinny people complain about feeling 'fat' after a big lunch – as if it's the same as being unable to access healthcare as a fat person. There's a big difference between the way something makes you feel and how it concretely impacts other people's lives.
This idea that money shouldn't be acknowledged or 'visible' is actually built into the way many rich people communicate. For example, you've probably heard the term 'nouveau riche'. It means 'new money' and is used to describe those who haven't inherited wealth but freshly acquired it. It's often thrown at people who are gauche with their richness, buying things that are openly expensive rather than low-key and understated. This is because nothing says 'money' like pretending you don't have money, whether through secrecy or minimalism. Which is weird when you think about it. People spend so much time protecting and acquiring something that must not be spoken about and only ever alluded to, like a subtle wink between friends.
I sometimes wonder whether people who come from money are weird about it because they feel guilty or ashamed to be privileged. They think being open about their wealth will make others feel awkward or 'less than' when actually, the opposite is true. It's a bit like how straight people downplay their straightness, saying things like: "I wish I was a lesbian haha, it would be so much easier." Just say that you love men! Admit that you think they're sexy and delicious and you are a raging heterosexual!
I was not born into money but now that I am nearly 30, I have a proper adult salary and can afford sourdough and tomatoes on the vine and Aesop hand soap which smells like oranges and lavender. I like to fantasise about what I could possibly save up for. In the future I'd like to get my lips done, which costs hundreds of dollars. And when people inevitably compliment me on my stunning yet subtle new lips, I will say: "Thank you, they cost me $449." Because why lie? Why is everyone walking around pretending things aren't as they are? Who does this benefit exactly?
And in the future, when I am on six figures after multiple book deals (haha), I will take people to Italy with me and we will swim beneath the moonlight and dunk our bread in olive oil and people will say that was nice of me.
"It's because she's rich," others will reply. "And generous."