Sunday, May 12, 2013

Are the Rich Really That Different From the Rest of Us?

I was reading from a list of  so-called obnoxious statements made by Gwyneth Paltrow, who was voted “Most Hated Celebrity” a few weeks ago. (She was also voted "World's Most Beautiful Woman" in the same period. Go figure.)

Most of the quotes on the list didn’t strike me as truly obnoxious; they weren’t even that interesting. (Really Paltrow? You’d rather smoke crack than eat cheese from a tin? Sure you would.)

And this one?

"I don't really have drunk friends. My friends are kind of adult; they have a drink. But they hold their liquor. I think it's incredibly embarrassing when people are drunk. It just looks so ridiculous. I find it very degrading."

What the heck’s wrong with this statement? I can’t stand to be around drunk people either and for all the same reasons. Ick.

But this quote was interesting, I thought—

"I am who I am. I can't pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year."

I’m guessing Paltrow made this statement after receiving flak for saying something like—

"We've got a wood-burning pizza oven in the garden—a luxury, I know, but it's one of the best investments I've ever made."

So I got to wondering, is she right? Is it impossible for a rich person to act like someone of far fewer means?

I won’t conjecture about Paltrow specifically. I assume she knows herself, and even if some other celebrity could pull this off, she’s saying she can’t. Or won’t. Whatever.

What I’m interested in knowing is, could anyone in her position? Because Paltrow is not a first-generation celebrity from modest means. Her father was a famous director and producer, and her mother, Blythe Danner, is a well-known and respected actor. In other words, I presume (not having been given access to anyone’s bank statements) that she’s been wealthy her entire life. And there are those who say that the rich are definitely different from the rest of us.

I remember a friend confiding in me her outrage when the owner of the company where we worked spilled wine on her dress at a business function.

“He laughed like it was funny,” she fumed.

“You mean he didn’t apologize?” I asked, somewhat surprised. (This was the same guy who’d once invited me to sit on his lap—and I’m sure he was joking, but hey dude, I don’t know you like that, okay?—so I wouldn’t have been completely shocked if she’d said, “No.”)

But she didn’t. Instead she told me, “Oh, he said ‘Sorry,’ but it was real casual. Like ‘Sorry, ha ha.’ Maybe to him it’s no big deal to spend money on dry cleaning, but to me it’s a big deal. I just got this dress out of the cleaner’s!”

“Oh.” I said. “He didn’t offer to pay?”

“Heck no.” she said.

This story has stuck with me for I don’t know how many years. Was my friend, right? Did this (rich) man dismiss the impact of red wine on her light-colored dress because of his socioeconomic status? Does Paltrow have no idea that when she talks about pizza ovens and trips to Paris that she sounds entitled and a little obnoxious? Of course she is entitled, that’s a fact. Should she pretend to eat at Joe’s Crab Shack and stay at Motel 6 while vacationing at Disneyland to hide that fact?

What do you think? Do those with money owe the rest of us a little humility about it?


  1. Yes, they are WAY different from the rest of us.... Check out the proof here.....
    The richer you are, the less stressed your are and in general, the long you will live.... Just watch this National Geographic Documentary....and you will see the research....

    1. Hello Anon! I checked out the video, and it was pretty interesting (if a bit long). However, I didn't see anywhere that there's a direct link between being rich and having less stress. The scientists did mention the correlation between more autonomy and less stress, though, so perhaps there's an indirect link.

  2. I have friends I grew up with who are wealthy (and come from wealthy families) and for the most grew up thinking everyone has holidays abroad, everyone gets new iphones and ipads models when they come out and everyone eats at nice restaurants regularly etc. They have also been brought up to think that eating non-organic/fast food is as bad as doing drugs ( this is Los Angeles) . And comments like "I got a wood burning oven in the garden" to them seem normal conversational topics. But like Paltrow - they admit that it is a luxury. It just happens that they can afford it. They are not being obnoxious , they just live in a different reality. The ones that emphatize best with "those less fortunate" are usually those who has been exposed regularly/have friends who come from less privileged backgrounds.

    To the friend whose boss did not offer to pay for the wine spilled dress - he either IS obnoxious, or he truly did not get that it was a big deal. To him it's just a wine stain you can wash off at the cleaner's.

    Just my 2 cents : )

    1. Thanks for the two cents Heidi. I can't disagree that perception is generally a matter of exposure. My son, who went to school with some wealthy people, once relayed a conversation he'd been privy to while visiting during which the household members were coordinating travel and one said something like "Okay I'll take the Benz and YOU take the Mercedes," just as natural as can be, because it WAS natural. I don't begrudge rich people their riches, but I do wish that there wasn't such a stigma to being NOT rich. I don't know if we do it to ourselves or others do it to us, but it's definitely there.