We’re Not All Nice

I received an email the other day. The person suggested that I painted a little too rosy of a picture in regards to Old Money Guys and Gals. They pointed out that plenty of born-rich trust fund babies are obnoxious and incorrigible, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and anti-Semitic.

To which I replied, Oh, most certainly. And let me add arrogant, cheap, fascist, greedy, condescending, and just plain mean.

To clarify, I don’t like any of the above characteristics or their incumbent behaviors. But I focus more on the Core Values of Old Money, the Smart and the Good of America’s Upper Class, the Wise and the Noble Aspects of the Privileged.

Anyone can be a critic. Frank Sinatra famously said that being a critic was like being a sniper in a schoolyard: easy pickings. But to articulate and promote the good…I think this is more helpful to more people over the long haul.

But let me offer an example of an all too common (and I mean that in every sense of the word) Old Money Guy I know who is not that nice. Not to worry. He won’t bother to read this blog, our mutual acquaintances would completely agree with my assessment, and there’ll be no love lost in any event.

He was born into a family with some money, but not a lot of money. He attended a good prep school and a small college in the northeast. He graduated, just barely, and fancied himself a writer. He parked himself in Boston, rented a cheap studio apartment, and began to slap out the odd article and essay for this and that every now and again.

Proceeds from his trust fund kept him in tweeds and khakis. Proceeds from his writing barely bought beans and rice. Nonetheless, he was able to regularly hold forth at Beacon Hill social events on subjects grand and small, an inexperienced expert, an amateur arbiter. His one true talent became the subtle putdown, what some today call the micro-aggression: the insult or criticism so slight and nuanced that it’s difficult to recognize at first and tricky to call out or contradict.

Nothing was every quite good enough. No one was ever up to snuff. Accomplishment by others was suspect. Accomplishment on his part, truth be told, was nonexistent. Potential dating partners were initially impressed with his pedigree-adjacent family tree. Authentic Old Money Gals knew the score before the game began and wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole. Aspirational candidates sometimes fell under his spell, but soon got wise. There was nothing there.

As inflation kicked in, the proceeds from the trust and the bar tab at the tavern came to blows. An actual paying job was required to referee. A few desk positions came and went quickly when the numbers behind the name and the alumni connections didn’t cut the mustard when there was actual work to be done. A marriage hit the rocks shortly after having set sail. Thankfully, no children were involved when the divorce ran its course.

Luckily, a relative died and replenished the coffers. He had the funds to join a club, but no one would have him. As a consolation prize, he and his circle of wanna-bees and like-minded sloths formed a social/emotional life raft in the corner booth of a neighborhood watering hole. One friend of mine likened the scene to a wildlife documentary in which endangered species congregate for protection. My guess that the predators in this scenario would be real life and people who actually have a life. Not that the latter would have any interest in this group.

Self-preservation, indeed. As another friend complained, ‘This is guy’s giving us all a bad name.’ When I asked for clarification, he simply looked at me and replied, ‘Us.’

Ah, yes, us. Old Money. WASPs. The Establishment who actually behave properly and contribute to society. That ‘us’.

So, yes, there’s a demographic of Not Very Nice People in Old Money culture, but take heart: we’ll al most always focus on the positive here.

And we’ll take a lesson from my fellow Parisians who, when encountering something unpleasant, simply ignore it. Tres elegant. 

  • BGT



8 thoughts on “We’re Not All Nice

  1. This guy sounds more like second generation rich. A lot of old money values come down to how to live a good life. As a result, good manners, social graces and the ability to get along with people are usually bone deep in true OMGs. Or maybe sometimes it takes more than old money to be Old Money.

  2. Good evening Amy,

    You are correct. It takes more than money to be Old Money. Often though, it does not take money at all.

    It reminds me of two old nobles who were talking and one said to the other that he’d been asked what a certain Earl ‘did’. He was astonished at the question and proclaimed: “Earls don’t (do). Earls just ARE ! “ In other words, a state of being. So it is with Old Money. One does not need to ‘do’ anything. Those who know, will recognise you.


  3. Very good point, David. I hadn’t thought of that, but I think you’re right. Which raises an interesting question. What role does the money itself play in the old money ethos? Definitely food for thought. Perhaps Byron will expound on this.

  4. Amy,

    Your question might lead to an examination of the subtitle of the Old Money Book itself: “Secrets of America’s Upper Class”.

    Will I, by spending less and living better, be able to to claim that I too am upper class ? Is there a threshold to the ‘amount’ of money – some line I have to cross ? Will I drop down a peg if I lose all my money ?

    That brings me to something I’ve been meaning to ask Byron to write about: Values should remain constant. The old nobility cherish and guard their values from generation to generation, notwithstanding some renegades in their ranks and fortunes that rise and fall like hemlines. Their core is as strong as it ever was. Perhaps more so as they see the threats modern life poses. How are OM tribesmen and women going to propagate their values going forward ? When I see some of the ‘depravity’ passing me in the street I begin to think it is me who is the freak show and certainly the odd man out.

    But what do you and other readers think. Perhaps Byron could propose a ‘think-tank’ where those who really care can pool their ideas against the backdrop that nothing in this life stands still. It either goes forward or it goes backward.

    What sayeth thou ?


  5. David, another way to put it might be to ask whether the values are the cause of, or the result of, the money. Maybe the money provides opportunities to be enjoyed and allows old money guys and gals to live the values that have stood the test of time for centuries. Or maybe old money guys and gals face a different set of dangers than other people and the values and lifestyle are a response to those potential problems. In other words, does the money enable that way of living, or does it require it? It seems to me a good argument could be made either way.

  6. Amy,

    I’m going to stick my neck out and say the money came first. Or put another way, it was the enabler. I am basing my argument on a look back at hunter-gatherers.

    They, to a large extent, lived from day to day on what they could obviously hunt and gather. When man started to ‘store’ food stuffs in what we might call mini-silos it meant that they (had) food for tomorrow or perhaps a week. This in turn allowed more time for ‘thinking’ and the exploration of ideas that they might have been entertaining in their minds but could never explore due to their immediate necessity – food gathering for the day. Once they had a small stock of grain ( read money ) it gave them the relative luxury of exploring other avenues. When certain implemented thoughts showed themselves to be ‘profitable’ they were of course passed on to the next generation to improve upon. Isn’t this what is done with any knowledge (?) It is when the student becomes better than the teacher that one gets progress.

    It seems to me that currently we are struggling with a great societal ‘re-set’. If those who follow, and at least partially subscribe to, the underlying values Byron promulgates then those values need to survive this ‘re-set’ and be passed on.

    In my view it starts with ‘me’. And it is ‘me’ who needs to firstly live those values and then secondly, ensure that I have also a small ‘grain silo’ that allows me the luxury of some ‘lateral thinking’. Just like early man all those years ago. Money, like education, will not prevent the next drought. It will simply give one more options when the rain does not arrive.

  7. As the ancient Greek historian Thucydides said, “the people of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learned to cultivate the olive and the vine.”

  8. Hi David,

    I happened on your site while doing some personal research on old money style and its contemporary applications, like the trendy of the concept of sprezzatura, or nonchalant elegance, which some people seem to so naturally possess. My wife recently read the memoirs of her great, great grandmother who, it turns out, was a Prussian baroness from a very old aristocratic family. Sadly, none of the perks of such a connection have passed down (to us, anyway) but it has piqued an interest in this subject. I’m seeking to answer questions of application, while making no pretentions about who I am or where I live (in a fashion-less midwestern city), but because it means something to me, how and where do I begin? I don’t even work in an office anymore; I’m at home, feeling a bit like a clipped bird. What are the intrinsic meaningful old money qualities one might cultivate when no one is around to see the exterior manifestations?

    Relating this for a moment to the above fellow, I’ve always believed what truly makes an individual part of the “club” is an air of graceful decency and generosity combined with an implacable sense of self and an easy, individualistic, timeless style. It seems to me if a person has to try so hard, they are immediately disqualified. The ticket to entry is never to need a ticket. One just belongs – or does not. He almost should be pitied were the scent of desperation not so overwhelming. But no, he should be pitied. He is only scratching the surface – aimlessly wandering in the vacuous periphery. There is something of duty and service in old money. Queen Elizabeth is the quintessential example. If you’re focused solely on yourself, you miss everything. Just a note of personal conviction there.

    Anyway, it’s this sense of natural, intrinsic being as it applies to old money that might be a topic for you (forgive me if you’ve already written about it – as I said, I am a newbie to your work). It is deeper than money. It includes fashion but is more than fashion. When someone has it, it’s both immediately recognizable and defies grasp or quantification. Any thoughts on the matter?

    PS I also read this article and thought it interesting… but like most notions of modern day sprezzatura, it focuses mostly on the exterior. https://www.parisiangentleman.com/blog/of-aristocratic-blue-blood-and-old-money-style

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