Rock’n’roll stars, rap artists, rednecks, tycoons, politicians, lobbyists, aliens… North America has it all. But there’s one category that have never traveled across the ocean from its beloved old continent : the nobility.
To be rich in North America, you either have to be : a) incredibly smart (cf. Bill Gates) b) incredibly stupid (cf. Paris Hilton). To be rich in France you can try the two methods above but frankly, few people will bother. Money, you have it or you don’t. And most of time, if you do, you inherited it.
Snapshot. It’s 4:00 in front of a private school. A group of middle age women, dressed in navy blue and bottle green from head to toes : padded headbands, plaid skirts, tweed jackets and deck shoes. And the infamous Bordeaux coat. No point in being flashy, right ? Money talks for itself. They are Bon Chic Bon Genre (B.C.B.G. for short) : elegant and well mannered. They live in Neuilly, Auteuil and Passy and hang out there, between Churches (a member of the family have to be in the Roman Catholic priesthood) , scouting for the kids, interminable tennis games played in indoor court downtown Paris and military parades. The husband works in finance or for the government – where else ? The whole family has been attending elite school since Napoléon.
They get impatient. It’s already 4:01 and if the kids don’t come out now, they will be late for the little trip they take every weekend. The whole family will travel to the château, the castle – has been in the family for a very long time. They don’t go there for fun. Mostly because the cousins are here, themselves coming from Normandy. They pretty much have to get out of the city for weekends, what would the kids do otherwise ? Play with the neighborhood kids ? They are Arabic for God’s sake ! Talking about God, they have to go to Church early this Sunday anyway. The Father announced a very moving preach last Sunday, against homosexuals who abort all the time, desecrating cemeteries. They don’t understand everything because the Mass is in Latin, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Yep. In France, there sill are counts (cf. the Count of Paris, Louis XVI’s direct descendant), barons (cf. Ernest-Antoine Seillière de Laborde, the head of the MEDEF – “Movement of the French Enterprises”, the largest union of employers in France), viscounts… a bunch of titles that don’t seem to mean much. France is now a Republic, isn’t it ? Well, yes, but a lot of people are still living in enclaves – like Neuilly Sur Seine.
French social classes are well-defined : working class, middle class and upper class. After the French revolution, the bourgeoisie (traditionally, upper-class merchants whose power comes from employment and wealth) and the aristocracy merged. They were old enemies but needed to survive under the new Republic. Big fortunes were made during France’s glory days, and they stayed within the family : private mansions, lands and a name, often with a “de”, the particle usually belonging to a noble family. It opens door, mostly golden ones. Family background, education, manners, money. You don’t get it : you’re born with it. They even have an association : the “Association for the mutual assistance of French nobility” !
The North American dream goes like that : start at the rung of the ladder, add a lot of work, a stroke of luck, life tragedies and hardship and you could make it to the top. On paper, everybody gets a chance… even though deep down people know the American Dream is in a bad way. It’s worth having a go. Anyway.
In case you’re wondering, I’m a no-one. I do have a very long name but it’s only because my parents have been happily living in sin for over 25 years now, so I ended up with both names. I’m not even a bourgeois. I’m afraid I’m just a basic working class/ artists/ loving family brat. Sorry.
I’m glad I’m in North America. I feel like I escaped the fetter of tradition. I feel like the world is mine. I feel like it doesn’t matter where I’m from. I feel like I can make it if I want to.