Old Money: In Their Own Words

I think there are a lot of misconceptions about being wealthy in America. Obviously, the media contributes substantially to these with the way that wealthy people are portrayed on television.

Money is not a license to behave badly. It’s not a toy. Being born into a rich family with a certain amount of education–college educated parents and grandparents–sets you up to conduct yourself in a certain manner. You’ve seen much more, in terms of travel and exposure, than most people. You’ve never seen your parents intoxicated with silliness because they made a lot of money on a business deal. You’ve never seen them worried about paying the mortgage, either. So there’s this equilibrium that’s established, emotionally, about money and what place it has in your life.

You’ve been educated in private schools, or very good public schools, with every resource available to you. The assumption, which is sometimes subtle and sometimes not, is that you’re going to find something you’re passionate about and excel at it. That’s just a given: you’ve had every advantage.

So there is pressure, but you sound like a spoiled brat if you complain about it. The purpose of the pressure is to make sure you don’t get a fat head and become a blazing asshole. Or even worse, lazy.

There is a standard of behavior. Other people can be rude. We must be polite. This is not to say we can’t speak our mind. If you want to hear some unvarnished opinions peppered succinct and colorful language, ask an Old Money person over the age of 60 about something. They’ve read a lot, seen a lot, and will call something exactly what it is in no uncertain terms. And most of the time, they’re right.

The upper class, or whatever you want to call it, can appear to be an insular world, but I have friends who are rich and friends who aren’t. The ones who aren’t rich are smart enough to pick up social clues regarding what is and is not done. That’s a courtesy they extend to me. “Yeah, you better dress a little nicer when you have dinner over there,” or whatever.

What I do for them is that I don’t judge the way they entertain or socialize when I’m with them. If they bring out chips in a Tupperware bowl with some dip they bought at the convenience store and a soft drink in a can, so what. They’re being hospitable. The least I can do is be gracious and have a good time.

I go to private clubs and I go to baseball games. If you can’t hang out with the whole spectrum of society, you’re not really Old Money,  or upper class. I’m  very aware that my position in life is due to an accident of birth. So I do my best and keep low profile about a lot of things.

The final thing that isn’t really acknowledged much is chivalry. It seems like a corny, archaic term, but it’s very real in our circle. In the most pedestrian sense, it’s opening a door for someone or offering your seat to an old lady on the train. In a more serious sense it’s taking a stand for what’s right or defending someone who’s vulnerable. The rich men who could have taken a seat on a lifeboat on the Titanic didn’t. It’s just not something you do, taking advantage of your position. If you risk your life to save someone else, so what? You’ve had a good ride. You’ve had privilege. You can’t be selfish. You can’t be a coward.

We’re here for a short period of time. You can’t get too attached to this life or the things in it. Do your best. Be passionate about life. Set a good example. Leave something for the next generation. That’s about it.



15 thoughts on “Old Money: In Their Own Words

  1. Agreed, the best post yet. I will be printing it out and sharing it with my daughters. Thank you, as always…

  2. A lot of gems in this one….too numerous to mention all of them. Thank you, RGP, III. Well done, indeed!

  3. One of the things I like about your blog is that you sometimes call my attention to things I had stopped noticing. (Speaking of not noticing, I didn’t realize until the end that this whole post is a quote from somebody else!) As RGP III points out, old money people tend to have an emotional equilibrium regarding money and they can socialize easily and comfortably with poor people, rich people and everyone in between. I sometimes take these things too much for granted and it’s nice to be reminded of them. Thank you.

  4. “There is a standard of behavior. Other people can be rude. We must be polite.”

    This reminds me of my days in retail banking. I could spot “new money” a mile away. Rude, crude and self-important was the attitude displayed. If only they could learn the principle noted above they would automatically receive the respect that they try to force from others with their bad behavior. 🙁

  5. All true, as others here have said. But so sad that some very rich, very public people are celebrating rudeness and doing quite well as a result. I could name more than one. Let’s all keep trying to spread civilized behavior regardless of net worth.

  6. That was very interesting, thank you.
    For the movies and media the spoiled rich kid or snobby, stuffy society matron is good drama, but it has contributed to a profound lack of understanding of old money folks. More dangerously, envy and lack of human sympathy is is encouraged.
    Reminds me of the Gospel truth; to whom much is given, much is expected. After having been blessed with an advantage it would be a sin to give nothing back. The leisure not to worry about making a living traditionally allows one to truly dedicate themselves advancing good causes and furthering the arts and humanities and other research in a manner and with depth that the majority of the population cannot.
    As for manners, I once read that one of the French kings shocked onlookers when he lost it and hit a servant. For anyone else his behavior would almost be justified considering the emotional pressure he was under , but the price for his position included always setting an example of emotional control. He did not have the luxury of losing it…ever. And no one would have sympathized with him anyway since he had everything.
    Fortunately, manners are available for free. I’ve noticed that most of the down-and-out folks in my area who ride the bus may wear clothes that have seen better days, but their manners and humility are fit for a king and confers anrealndignity to them.
    Forgive the overlong email. Time to practice self-control!

  7. I remember my aunt talking about the months leading up to the divorce of Princess Diana & Prince Charles. She was offended at the public interviews they gave the media “airing their dirty laundry in public”. She said that these people are supposedly supposed to be the cream of the old-money upper class, yet they were acting uncouth, to put it nicely, and setting a bad example to follow. “Here again”, she would say, “money does not guarantee class. Plus, they are making middle-class people think that upper-class people act undignified, which is not the truth for the majority of upper-class folks”. She remains disappointed in them to this day.

    If they only had your book, “The Old Money Guide to Marriage”, maybe they could have avoided that fiasco…

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