5 Things That Piss Me Off About People Who've Never Known What It's Like to be Poor
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We probably seem painfully ordinary or even invisible. We are middle-class-looking people (or "better") who drive unremarkable but reliable cars, usually conjugate verbs correctly and probably went to college. We might even have jobs and successes that make us seem like we sailed through the flaming hoops of the privilege circus to land there. We look and talk and act like people who have all the hallmarks of a middle-class upbringing, so we are treated that way.
But underneath our passable exteriors, we know that every step forged ahead, every job secured, every bit of debt reduced, every entree into "better society" is another million light years away from what we lived like before, when were grateful for SPAM, food stamps, and a dental program. But what the outside can recast, the inside may never fully erase — what surprises me most about achieving so-called middle-class status is that you never forget the mentality of what lies just beneath. And you most realize this when any number of conversations, assumptions, questions, or comments about money, class, upbringing and etiquette trigger your class rage like some kind of recurring rash, and remind you all too well that you were once and in some ways forever from the wrong side of the tracks.
Poor, is, of course, a relative thing. There's a popular saying about work in exceptionally impoverished countries: the only thing worse than being exploited is not being exploited. If that doesn't make sense to you, you've probably never gone without for long enough to have to think about it all that much. Consider yourself lucky.
But poverty isn't a "Yo mama's so poor" competition, although as a once-destitute person I find those jokes to be wonderfully cathartic, and have the added perspective of seeing how they are both hilarious and politically incorrect. Anyone who has suffered through the aching nothingness of having nothing, no matter the scale, can relate. But for me, it's these five topics that tend to stick in my class-rage craw the most.
Or rather, when people talk about it like everyone's gone to Europe, and everyone is going to Europe this year, because going to Europe annually is what people do. If you grew up poor, you likely missed the 9th grade trip to France, or the year abroad in Japan, or the post-college year of travel and wild times backpacking through India. So when you have to endure another conversation about how everyone is getting over to St. Maarten this year, your class rage might heat to a nice, sunny simmer.
Your Problem: Traveling regularly — even in the form of family vacations growing up — is about as familiar to you as a reliable car. It's extremely difficult to explain to people that the very concept of a luxury such as travel is, to some people — even in this day and age — so distant as to not even be a real goal. And even as an autonomous adult, whether you worked your way through college and spent your twenties paying down that debt or never went to college at all because you had to work, getting to another country is probably so far off your list of actual real things you might be able to do that you it still seems literally exotic to you.
What to Do: Take a deep breath. Realize they are merely talking about their own experience, and relish the free education. Ask about their trips, and listen. Curiosity always serves lack of experience well — it's part of what helped you out of the cycle of poverty in the first place. Find out what you can about the places they've gone, where the best deals are, what was a waste of time, what unique viewpoint travel has given them. This comes in handy if you ever find yourself in a position to drop everything and go one day, and if anyone bothers to ask you where you've been or whether you're going to St. Maarten, tell them they can stick St. Maarten up their bougie ass. Kidding, tell them the truth. If you have to listen to them droning on about luxury travel, tell them about how much you love Vienna — the sausages. The Billy Joel song. You get the idea.