The class system in England has some very historical roots, as I expect most class systems do. Before I go any further, let’s have a look at some basics.
What do you mean by ‘Class’. Is it like school?
Erm, no. The word has a couple of other meanings, and here I mean it in the sociological sense. You can also refer to the idea as a ‘Social Class’ as it refers to a grouping of a part of a society.
In the more academic sense, the social term ‘class’ refers to groups that contain members of a certain occupational background. In this system, people with jobs that are more highly respected are given greater status than others.
The English class system consists of three main units, or ‘classes': The Upper Class, the Middle Class and the Lower Class (sometimes ‘The Working Class’)
Now, there will be no prizes for guessing which class determined the names for each group. It certainly wasn’t those in the lower third!
This system is commonly referred to as, simply, ‘The Class System’. When English people refer to someone as being of a particular social class in this way it is always a way of labelling someone in a kind of estimate and never a definite thing.
The Middle Classes are the largest group and in modern society tend to be the most fashionable class to sit oneself in.
By declaring a middle class, you are simultaneously stating that you are comfortable but not rich, yet educated enough so as to avoid the word ‘Lower’ or ‘Working’ labelling your life. The Middle Class consists often of professionals in business and other areas, successful shop owners, industrialists and so on.
The Working Class are typically agricultural and industrial workers such as manual labourers who might work in a factory or some similar such job. Some refer to this kind of job as ‘unskilled’, meaning simply that no specific or long term training is required for its execution. Nowadays with the job market as diverse as it is, the lines between lower and middle classes are blurred.
It has become fashionable (as with anything that casts a negative angle on anyone) to not outrightly acknowledge the existence, or rather, the importance of an individuals class. Employers of even ten years ago might have actively discriminated against someone from ‘the wrong type of class’. Today we are encouraged to look beyond social class and examine only the individual and his or her specific abilities.
Regardless, it might be useful for any visitor to be able to tell the difference. Most English people certainly can. Learn to look out for differences in the way people speak (their accents and accentuation), the way they dress (are they wearing the same type of clothes as other people in the same situations?), the way they choose to educate their children (what schools are they being sent to?), what activities they enjoy and even what type of food they eat on a regular basis!