Snobs: Part one

This is the first of a two-part post.

Driving with Anne, I suggested we stop at a simple neighbourhood place for lunch. "Oh, she said, I would never eat there, let's go to to that cute café in the Beach. I'm a such a snob!"

I became interested in this word.

Snob: the term, beyond its sparse dictionary definition, is explored here.

It's often used lightly, as Anne did. But I don't think she's a snob, just picky.

Faux snobs like Anne abound, trying when you just want a quick bite, but not the real deal. I would like women to reconsider, before merrily adopting the label, whether the shoe really fits. It is, in its accurate use, not an admirable quality.

For snobbery is not simply a matter of taste or discernment. To be a true snob, you will be concerned with status and your elevation. Snobs are invested in the social confirmation that differentiates them from the masses– or from a group which threatens them. (Stalin has been called the world's greatest snob.)

You can be a snob about anything: book snob, eco snob, school snob, religion snob, bike snob– or go whole-hog snob, which must be exhausting. Snob is a job– and when you think you're at the top of your game, someone hisses, parvenu.

Not necessarily snobs

The connoisseur, having honed his eye, can't stand substandard goods.
Snob friends might applaud his taste and hold out the golden apple of social approval. The connoisseur appreciates the quality of his Gieves and Hawkes suit, the snob is quite comforted by the firm's possession of all three main Royal Warrants.

The bon vivant loves the good life, revels in pleasure; she is only a snob if she thinks her talent for enjoyment confers superiority. The bon vivant likes the idea of meeting for a glass after work, the snob will be sure to meet at the right bar.

The proud person is just plain happy to be–and declare herself– whatever: Canadian, Parent of an Honour Student, gay, owner of a Shih Tzu– the list is endless, go ahead and Google it. The snob believes that membership confers superiority, and the more exclusive or restrictive the membership, the better.

"Bons": reverse snobs

The reverse snob eschews anything "too fine" "intellectual" or "snooty". Reverse snobs are common among adolescents, who usually grow out of it after trying the patience of their capitalist running-dog parents. (True snobs rarely change.) "Bons" behaviour includes the return of gifts they deem too nice, the deliberate choice of grotty restaurants, and acute embarrassment or boredom if dragged to highbrow cultural events.

Sharply critical of anyone for "forgetting their roots", the reverse snob's theme is a lusty rendition of this:

Snobs' secret longings

If you pull back the plush velvet curtain of snobbery, you often find insecurity.

Joanna dressed her children in exquisite clothes from a luxury boutique. She compensated for her destitute childhood– and said so. But Jo wasn't a snob: she didn't care whether others noticed or what they thought of her choice.

Dianne patronized the boutique because the label telegraphed her
social connection to the élite: "I just picked up the cutest sweater for Elodie at Bonpoint, where I saw Madame X buying the same one!" Name-dropping is the snob's oxygen.

Calling oneself a snob is a backhanded boast: I have arrived, or I have more (as in, for example, intellectual snobbery). It also pre-empts being chastised by others. Like calling yourself a ditz, the snob excuses the attribute by being the first to name it.

Snobbery reveals what one needs to feel welcome and safe in the world. The urge to establish superior status may be a coping mechanism developed over many thousands of years as a means for survival. That is, until the concept of revolution caught on.

We all reassure ourselves with some kind of security blanket. The snob's will be Scottish cashmere, but it's a blankie nonetheless.

How to treat a snob

First, most people who call themselves snobs aren't.
But a real snob might respond to being told that we love him just the way he is, before you even think of reformation. He has so much of his identity invested in his status. And your snob probably has other, more admirable qualities.

A snob might benefit from a little gently-rendered ribbing. If so, you could respond the way my brother did when a colleague offered to drive him home in his new Rolls Royce.

Dr X: Have you ever been in a Rolls before, Denny?
Bro: Well... not in front.

Tomorrow: Snobs: Part two


Mardel said…
Great ending, and good for your bro' for being on his toes.

I seem to be able to ignore most snobs as insecure, but am having greater difficulty with the bons, or particularly my own little reverse-snob who seems not to be outgrowing the phase, rather moving further in that direction. Since she is now in her late 30's and her husband is even worse I see no help on the horizon.
~Tessa~Scoffs said…
Wonderful insight, Duchesse - can't wait for part 2.
Belle de Ville said…
I don't think that I have read a better definition of the word snob.
I dated a snob a couple of years ago...I used to laugh at the fact that he was always having various buttons light up in his brand new Bentley and he would get flustered had no idea what they were for. Then he would talk about how he was going to buy the new ferrari or whatever Italian sports car and I would just smile and think to myself "Dude, you can barely drive the Bentley, now you want to endanger all of our lives with high performace car??"
I do not think I know any snobs...but it sounds like great fun!
Name dropping is so crass...that does reek of insecurity in my book.
waiting for part 2...
This is lovely, Duchesse. You write such witty prose.

Of course I get called an intellectual snob, but I'm not at all "se faire voir"... Just not interested in most popular culture.

Mardel, what on earth do you mean? In late 30s nobody is "little". Do you mean your grown daughter isn't interested in material things? There is something to be admired in that, after all. Or do you mean she is preachy to others?
aaonce said…
Thank you for taking the time to write this post and for noting the difference between being a snob and just being picky. I look forward to tomorrow's post as well.
LPC said…
Oh I am so clear that I say out loud I'm a snob because I worry that I am even though I try not to be so I say it myself first to avoid others saying it to me. These identity questions are tough. One is always trying to both accept oneself and grow oneself at the same time.

The level of the complexity and insecurity is clear in that I wondered if I was the one who prompted you to write this post;).
Duchesse said…
Mardel: Someone in her late 30s may, I'm guessing, be dealing with deeper issues rather than superficial rejection of status.
Belle: Very funny! I will be sexist and say men love toys.

lagatta: Reverse snob sometimes use distain as a screen for jealousy. Someone I know is very cutting about certain universities but I know for a fact he tried to get in to every one of them.

aaonce: Thanks! Maybe there will even be Part 3 eventually.

LPC: Rest easy,the impetus was the woman who wanted to go to that café. Yes, snobs derive a great deal of their identity from status and manage to inject their markers into conversations even if not relevant.
Darla said…
For some reason I hadn't associated the name droppers with the title of snob. It makes sense tho. I just thought they were insecure and trying to boost what they saw as their own worth.

Mardel said…
Lagatta, it goes well beyond not wanting material things, which she actually used to want. And it extends to long lists of instruction on what we are allowed and not allowed to give or do where they are concerned. No she is not little and you are right to call me on that. I suppose I see the behavior as childish, which is a form of snobbery as well. Shame on me.

Duchesse, I am sure there are other, deeper issues here, especially as this behavior has developed primarily after she met and married her husband, who is adamant that pretty much everything beyond the most elemental available is pretentious, and insists on not having it. I am sure that too stems from some issues arising from her parent's relationship (she is my step-daughter, although the only daughter I have, love, and worry about).

Love your post, and look forward to more. Until fairly recently I thought of "bons" as the rich kids I knew in college who stole the scholarship kids' clothes from the laundry room rather than wear their own (expensive) duds. I see now that reverse-snobbism is its own type of snobbish mind-set and can be a life-style choice.
Susan B said…
What a fabulous post!

I've often referred to myself as a coffee snob, so I stand corrected as my discriminating choices come from finicky tastes and not a desire to impress. I'm a connoisseur!

I find "bons" to be often more trying than true snobs, as there's usually such an accompanying attitude of self-righteousness.

Lots to ponder here, am very much looking forward to Part 2!
Duchesse said…
mardel: I can certainly see how this SIL could try your good will. I'd probably have a very strained relationship with him; just thinking about it raises my blood pressure.

Pseu: Snob is such a short, sharp word, maybe that's why we default to it.
mette said…
I admit having used the word snob myself, without knowledge, what the word really means. I don´t think I´m the only one though. I can well relate to Joanna in your post and for the same reasons. Carrying a sack on my back would interest the people around here as little as a croc. Birkin. You have written an interesting post again. Thank you!
materfamilias said…
An interesting probing of a social discomfort around . . . what? tastes? education? privilege? salary level? class? . . . I see that adoption of the term "snob" quite often in those of us who are defensive about recognizing quality and committing ourselves to its pursuit in one area or another. As you suggest, we use it to forestall potential criticism. While I haven't caught myself doing this too often, I am aware that I will quickly make sure people see that my academic interests (my role as lit. prof. seems to conjure certain expectations) is balanced by my viewing of popular shows and my monthly perusal of various newstand fashion mags. . . clearly, so they won't call me a "snob."
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: Snobbery is historically concerned with status and class, with income, possessions, education (among others) as markers. Enjoyed your example! Sometimes when I reveal we've never had a TV, a woman then says something that indicates she thinks I'm only interested in highbrow culture- but I I can get completely into Say Yes to the Dress.
Very interesting definition. I've been told on occasion that I seem like a snob - think I'm better than others, when in fact that's just to do with my natural introversion and not feeling comfortable to speak up in larger groups.

Maybe it's just the Australian way and definition.
Duchesse said…
Imogen: I'm not aware that the definition of the word varies by culture; however, both verbal and non-verbal cues can be (and often are)interpreted differently.
Tish Jett said…
Chere Duchesse,

This is a true and perfect bijou.

Your brother's remark was priceless.

Can't wait for the second installment. Now I'm starting to wonder, is she really a duchesse?

More thoughts on Snobs vs Connoisseurs - to me, a connoisseur likes the finest things, but does not expect everyone else to, or look down on others for liking what they consider to be inferior.

A snob will be disdainful of others who do not share their standards.

Wine snobs are a great example of this - there are many who dismiss people who enjoy a bottle of wine that they think is inferior. As wine writer Jancis Robinson once said to me on a book tour, "If you like a wine, then it's a good wine" she was definitely not a wine snob.
s. said…
So, how do you handle a snob who has been rude, dismissive or merely cold to you until you can see her latch on to a piece of information that suddenly elevates you in her brain - suddenly, you are no longer a useless individual but a person who can help her affirm or *gasp* even improve her social standing? I am always horrified when I see those wheels turning and wish to run away at that moment. I prefer being seen as a nothing to a snob than being viewed as a bridge to a better position for her...
Duchesse said…
s.: You have stated your own solution: "wish to run away at that moment". If someone were "rude, cold, dimissive", I'd avoid engaging in any but the most perfunctory way, regardless of their overture. Why would I seek this sort of relationship?

Can't help but wonder if that was the same person who demanded you buy lamb from a particular butcher.
tippchic said…
I have to respond to this as I HATE snobbery and you have defined it so well.
Insecurity makes the world go round really doesn't it. Either your own driving one to be something you're not or that of others tramping on your rights and feelings as they try to assuage the fears of their own inner child.
Will have to think some more on this.Maureen
s. said…
Smile to you, Duchesse.

No, in fact the woman who demanded lamb from a specific butcher is not the person of whom I think. I would like to run away from snobs, but sometimes - say, a dinner party - I'm stuck seated for hours next to someone who clearly dismisses me based on my modest clothes and relaxed demeanour. Sometimes, however, as I'm trapped beside him or her, my dinner mate will decide that I am, in fact, worthy in some way and that makes me wish to run away even more than the initial dismissiveness.

I never pursue relationships with these people, but I often find myself stuck with them during a meal or in a professional relationship and I just grit my teeth and try to remain polite.
Duchesse said…
s: There was a time, seated next to someone like that, when I would say something outrageous... Now like you I just endure it and flee as soon as possible.
Mardel, I'm wondering if your DIL and SIL are involved in some kind of control issue; most of the countercultural types I know who refuse material snobbery are open and relaxed, just not "into" that stuff. It almost gives me echoes of a late aunt whose husband was a miser, with emotions as well as money. I never could think of him as an "uncle" unlike all the other uncles and aunts "par alliance". Although he was an MD, he was incredibly stingy with his wife and children. They eventually divorced, and aunt moved kids far away. Eventually the old doc died alone in a house that was little more than a hovel. Grown son found over $1M in stocks and other securities...
Duchesse said…
lagatta, your story reminds me of a man who criticized me sharply for buying my children's clothing from Land's End. His wife leaned over and flipped over his shirt and read "Made in Sri Lanka". The look on his face was quite satisfying to us, as he bought his own clothes.
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