Thoughts about respectability

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Thoughts about respectability

Post by conwy » Wed Jan 31, 2018 8:15 am

I've been having some thoughts lately about respectability. These are partly inspired by a lecture given by a sociologist that I found on YouTube (I'll try and find it and post the link).

In the lecture, she breaks down her concept of respectability, to do with social standing and social pressures. How people in society judge each-other, based on the externally perceivable.

One example might be how neighbours judge a low-income single mother, ascribing certain characteristics to her such as laziness or neglect of her children, just because of the clothes she wears, how she talks, the kind of car they own, etc.

I believe low-income, women and non-white people get particularly bad treatment from society in this regard.

This got me thinking of some of the ways in which respectability plays out in relation to early retirement. How living cheaply and frugally can be noticed by onlookers. For example, eating simple, plain, cheap, home-made food for lunch at work, rather than eating out at the expensive cafes. Or when out and about, how people might notice and judge you for wearing cheap, plain, practical clothing.

This seems to go very deep into aesthetics. Our culture seems to be set up, aesthetically, in a way that tries to lock you into expensive consumerism. Food that's cheap and nutritious can be aesthetically unpopular. For example, eating canned food, or steaming some vegetables, or cooking oatmeal. The above simply aren't socially appropriate in professional settings, or anywhere really, outside of the privacy of one's home. According to social decency or respectability, you're supposed to eat a nice, polite, non-offensive sandwich, preferably wrapped in a heavily branded packet.

I think these aesthetic and social aspects form part of the pressure that lock people into a consumption-heavy, employment-dependent, professional "world" for lack of a better word.

Conversely, the more I notice these pressures (which I dislike) for what they are, and separate them from actual people I encounter (who I largely like), the more "at peace" and comfortable I feel about my somewhat frugal lifestyle, and the easier it is to sustain it.

Keen to hear anyone else's thoughts.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by ffj » Wed Jan 31, 2018 9:52 am

There are so many work-arounds to petty judgements it actually becomes fun to be a little different.

Plain and practical clothing? Have a healthy and fit body underneath, properly cleaned and groomed.

Plain food? Learn to cook really tasty meals that puts the $15 lunch everybody else is spending to shame. Take some of those savings and every once and a while eat at a nice restaurant that is worth the money.

Old car? Learn to maintain it and keep it clean and waxed. Remember a lot of people don't even own their vehicles, but are leasing them to look more prosperous than they are.

Lack of toys, gizmo's, latest fad have-to-have-its? You own your freedom. Think about that. What is more important, fighting crowds at DisneyWorld or having the power to dictate the course of your life with minimal fuss?

I would also say people will judge you more by what you do that what you look like for the ones that actually know you. Nobody cares what kind of clothes you wear if you are likable and interesting, as well as dependable and trust-worthy. And you have to be all of those things if you want to pull this ERE thing off.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by jacob » Wed Jan 31, 2018 10:09 am

I think you're very right about the aesthetics, but that also means there's a way around it. This is something I've learned the hard way, because frankly I'm not naturally inclined to give a flying fart about aesthetics. Function over form.

Specific lessons learned:
Tiny house --- Not RV.
Deliciously home made dahl on instagram--- Not pressure cooked lentil soup in a blog post
Minimalism --- Not "living out of a suitcase".
Millionaire --- Not "financially independent"
Experiences --- Not learning how to X
Travel --- Not relocation
Apple --- Not linux
iPhone - Not flip phone

This of course only applies to how other people superficially perceive you because functionally they're if not similar then at least pretty well aligned with the same functionality. It's easier to explain quirks via some kind of -ism (foodism, minimalism, ...) than to explicitly say what you're doing.

E.g. compare "I live in a tiny house" to "I live in a homebuilt shed that I constructed on top of a trailer. It has kitchen and everything you find in a normal house and I can pull it around", because most people will hear that as "blabla shed blablablabla trailer blabla blablabla homeless"

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by James_0011 » Wed Jan 31, 2018 11:32 am

The way I see it is that you are only forced to care about these things as long as your employed. After you’re financially independent who cares about what other people think?

A strategy I use at work to deal with this is to simply keep my distance from other people. I’m polite but I don’t share very much about my life with them.

But yes, I have learned that when people listen to others speak they aren’t really analyzing the words they are saying like we would. What they are doing is paying attention to the “feeling” that they get.

The best thing to do is just avoid attracting attention to yourself.

I usually leave the office for lunch and go eat my homemade food by myself somewhere and no one says anything. Also I ride my bike to work, but I live so close that most people understand that driving wouldn’t make sense - what they can’t comprehend is that it’s the other way around (I live close intentionally so I don’t have to drive). But I don’t explain that part.

In terms of being at peace with frugality? I think that most people (including myself in the past) are strong suckered into conforming to the norm, with the consequences being a full time job. I see myself as more “advanced” than them finacially speaking and feel sorry that they are trapped.

Also, if you think about death on a daily basis is it puts frugality into perspective. Ask yourself “am I going to think about this incident on my death bed?”.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by luxagraf » Wed Jan 31, 2018 1:42 pm

This is making me realize how long its been since I interacted with anyone "respectable" by western/american cultural definition. But people do care about that stuff don't they.

I think I generally agree with Jacob's language guide above though as a linux using, flip-phone loving, RV dweller I take some offense. :D

By and large I'd call this sort of thing a linguistic backbone to the cultural obsession with consumption. Language reinforces the rest of the cultural conditioning. But these things -- what's valued, what's not -- all move in cycles. I've been fascinated by the transition of "van living" from a SNL punchline in my youth (chris farley yelling 'in a van down by the river') to a coffee table book subject today.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by suomalainen » Wed Jan 31, 2018 2:22 pm

I guess you have to choose what to care about.

I used to eat oatmeal at work. "Why do you eat oatmeal?" "I like it."
I drive a piece of shit honda when everyone else has a new (or leased) SUV or BMW. "Why do you drive that piece of shit?" "It gets me to work." "But you can afford a nicer car." "It won't get me to work any faster. I prefer to spend my money on other things."
I barely even comb my hair. "You need a haircut." "Why? I wasn't hired for my looks."
However, my wardrobe is professional / business casual and I don't wear jeans on casual Fridays which has now become casual workweek (thanks Millenials! Seriously. Baby boomers suck ass. Sorry boomers, but it's true, you and your dumbass conformism. Oh wow. Geez, that came out pretty strong. Sorry about that. I have issues. Moving on...). I wear professional clothes so that the part of my appearance that is a choice (I can't choose to change my ugly face) doesn't distract from my role and so that I will be taken more seriously than if I walked around in jeans and a polo every day.

Great answer to any question about your "quirks", by the way. "Why do you [anything]?" "Because I like/prefer it." and then turn the tables and ask them "What do you like/prefer [about the subject they asked about you]?" It's hard to questions someone's preferences and easy to answer if someone questions yours. "[Shrug.] I dunno. Why do I prefer pizza to hamburgers? Genetics, I guess."

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by EdithKeeler » Wed Jan 31, 2018 2:32 pm

I’m reading this in the lunchroom at work, eating my lunch from home—turkey sloppy joes wrapped in low carb/low fat tortillas. Total cost—about $2. Two people have come in and commented how good it smells. I brought breakfast yesterday—scrambled eggs with zucchini, peppers, onions and turkey sausage. A coworker commmented that it looked good and “smelled like real food.”

I don’t get judged or comments from people I work with. Most everyone packs once in a while, at least.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by Loner » Wed Jan 31, 2018 4:46 pm

Machiavelli said that the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by how things seem rather than by how they are. Still holds.

Personally, I’ve mostly profited from looking like a dirtbag (jeans with holes, t-shirts with grease stains, etc.).

I remember blowing up a spoke on my mountain bike some time ago. A guy came up to me when he saw me “working” on the bike on the side of the street and said he could give me two used mountain bikes that I could use for the parts. I thanked him many times, and said five times that I’d feel uncomfortable to take them given that I could easily pay for a new spoke. He insisted. I said he could fix the bikes in an hour to sell them for good money. He repeated his offer. I left with a bike that’s now worth 250 $.

My guess is that he was a kind guy who thought I was penniless because of the way I dressed (poorly) and because of my careless demeanor (if that’s the right word in english). We chatted a bit while we walked to his house, and he asked me what I did for a living (he had seen me often on my bike). I said I was writing for well know magazines and doing a masters in economics. It’s like I had told him I was the Queen of England. He sort of laughed mockingly. “Oh! And how do you like it, writing for *well-known-magazine*?” He didn’t seem to believe a badly-dressed person could be anything else that a high school dropout.

In that case, I got a free bike out of it, but I can sure feel people’s contempt sometimes because of my clothing or whatever. Heh.

It’s really not what you do but how you do it. Jacob put it nicely in his post. Just learn to frame things in a way that is relatable to people in critical situations.

As for that:
suomalainen wrote:
Wed Jan 31, 2018 2:22 pm
thanks Millenials! Seriously. Baby boomers suck ass. Sorry boomers, but it's true, you and your dumbass conformism.
Millenials are unfortunately just the same, like most humans. Just try to arrive at work in a video games company packed with Millenials dressed with an Armani suit and a tie. See how that works for you :mrgreen:

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by Scott 2 » Wed Jan 31, 2018 9:00 pm

Respect from who? Society is an aggregate of individuals. Each person values different traits. Group them into classes for simplicity, but you still have to pick a target audience.

Or be the person you enjoy, then seek those who respect you. That's what I'm going with.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by Sclass » Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:01 am

I’ve been reading Sapiens tonight. Ya know, sometimes you need to fit in a little if you want to be accepted by the hunter gatherer tribe.

If you want to be yourself, well you can try going it alone. Or you can try disguising yourself as a wolf in sheep’s clothing on the cheap. There are valid excuses I’ve used when dissected by the tribe.

“Why haven’t you bought a house yet?”
“It’s a big commitment and honestly I’ve been kind of lazy and not taken the kind of time it takes to properly do it. Finding a good fit is important you know. ”

“Aren’t you going to get a new car?”
“I have a soft spot for vintage Mercedes cars (I had three).”

“When you get a better job I’ll introduce you to my cousin.”
“I’m not ready to make that kind of commitment yet, knowing how good she is, I’d prolly want to marry her from the get go.”

“Why don’t you vacation in interesting places?”
“Sclass Is scared of planes.” (A total lie)

“What are you saving for?”
“I have debt. I support my mom/dad.”

None of this costs money. Avoid the lunchroom while you’re at it.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by Solvent » Thu Feb 01, 2018 2:19 am

Well lunches seems to be a popular sub-topic in respectability.

When I worked for the government people would often compliment each other on how awesome their homemade dishes looked or smelled coming out of the microwave.

When I worked in big 4 consulting most people would eat out every day, and assume that you were doing so too.

Make of that what you will.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by Farm_or » Thu Feb 01, 2018 8:06 am

This is something that I have struggled with. Not too much from a personal perspective, but how my loved ones are perceived is of concern; especially teen aged daughter.

I knew many frugal, practical people growing up. One particular family was a lot like me: form over function. They were respectable, neat, clean and proud, but lacked anything shiny or new. They had a boy my age and he developed long term self esteem issues.

His whole life has been the pursuit of grandeur. He is always trading up vehicles, homes, career standing. He's been very successful earning, but been bankrupt once, and since, hopelessly buried in debt. He's the perfect example of "it's not what you earn, it's what you keep."

I see it as a difficult balance. Modesty and respectability. You have to be true to yourself. Sometimes that falls short of teenage (and ridiculously important friends) expectations. You can only hope that they grow up with more correct values? Many people never do.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by EdithKeeler » Thu Feb 01, 2018 9:26 am

Well lunches seems to be a popular sub-topic in respectability.
Good point. Lunches may be a different thing. While my peers are sort of impressed by my lunches and the fact that I cook, I occasionally get comments about living in a less than desirable part of town. “When are you going to move?” Especially since my break in.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by Sclass » Thu Feb 01, 2018 10:10 am

Farm_or wrote:
Thu Feb 01, 2018 8:06 am
They were respectable, neat, clean and proud, but lacked anything shiny or new. They had a boy my age and he developed long term self esteem issues.
Wow. I actually know a person like this. My sister. Grew up in the same home. Raised by frugal parents. Now she’s absolutely insane with money. Her husband says it is from the abuse (not having the things her peers had) she received as a kid.

Another one I know is now an MD. A very well paid surgeon. She was raised dirt an apartment in the slums. Her folks were faculty at a university. Bohemian types. She and her siblings grew up with kind of a chip on their shoulder. They’re actually visibly upset about how they were raised. Worse, we all know now that her dad was a multimillionaire in secret because of an inheritance. An old retired professor now he says the money would have killed his kids’ work ethic. The kids are doctors, lawyers and one an MD PhD professor at a major med school. But they are really bitter as adults. They are sensible about money unlike my sister but I sense a universal unhappiness especially when we talk about the past.

I’ve seen some pretty odd cases of rags to riches IRL where a guy builds up a fortune out of nothing and gets a little crazy trying to cancel out his past internally. The poorer the cat the worse he acts when rich.

Ok, well, I thought of the respect thing overnight. I have a perspective of somebody finished up. I did the corporate thing with the lunchrooms and nosy coworkers and neighbors. After sleeping on it I’ll say this.

1). The people critical about my apparent status were competitive types trying to gauge where I was standing. Insecure status conscious types. Always signaling and comparing. They really weren’t my friends and in retrospect they were pretty worthless people I just happened to work alongside. At the end of the day it didn’t matter if they liked me or not.

2). Once I made enough money to retire at age 43 those people went “poof”. I mean I kind of wanted to have the I told you so moment (yeah ima kid at heart) and rub it in a bit but I never got it. They literally fled probably in ego defense mode. I know they still exist because they hit my LinkedIn to see what I’m doing but they’re too cheap to buy private mode. I’ll actually message them and say “wanna talk about it?” To be funny and I never get a response.

So at the end of the day it didn’t matter what kind of rubs I took from these folks. I think the best answer to the status probing questions is “cuz I said so, that’s why.” Those people aren’t your friends now and they certainly won’t be your friends once you attain FI.

Now with a healthy dose of FU resources I’d respond “because you are you and I am me that’s get back to your toil.”

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by George the original one » Thu Feb 01, 2018 11:27 am

Scott 2 wrote:
Wed Jan 31, 2018 9:00 pm
Or be the person you enjoy, then seek those who respect you. That's what I'm going with.
I'm with you there, but there is the aspect of signaling to be reckoned with. Signalling is important, especially for in-person transactions. For instance, I'm retired, so I no longer need to signal that I'm employable and can be the merry smurf that I naturally am. However, if I still needed employment, then I need to signal to my employer (or potential employer) that I care about the concerns of their business which often means that I need to take an interest in coworkers who I otherwise wouldn't care about.

The beach towns I'm nearest are primarily tourist destinations and have been so for the past 120 years, with most of the development happening about 100 years ago after railroads made for swift affordable travel into the area from Portland. Logging, commercial fishing, and cattle/sheep are the foundation that initially drew settlers here and these industries continue to happen in the background with boom/bust cycles.

Consequently, signalling here is pretty much confined to "wealthy", "retired", "drifter", "druggie", "worker", & "tourist". Apart from "druggie" and "wealthy", it can be pretty difficult to figure out where someone fits if they're not actively engaged in their descriptive behavior because the whole atmosphere here is lackadaisical.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by Scott 2 » Thu Feb 01, 2018 7:56 pm

Needing money definitely complicates the problem.

What's the quote? "Learn to live on lentils and you will not have to be subservient to the king."

In my experience, totally worth it.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by suomalainen » Thu Feb 01, 2018 11:10 pm

Huh. I always heard it as "Learn to live on lentils and the kids will suck the lentil juice right out of you until you're just a husk of your former self."

I may have heard it wrong.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by Did » Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:32 am

On signalling. I've been out of the corporate sector for over 4 years. I'm trying to dabble back for a little while, but people interviewing are confused and suspicious (even though I'm fudging the 4 years somewhat). I think they smell the freedom and disdain on me.

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:16 am

conwy wrote:I believe low-income, women and non-white people get particularly bad treatment from society in this regard.
One time I had to accompany a group of very low-income or recently immigrated children to the auditorium to listen to a guest speaker. The older gentleman who lectured to the assembly had grown up poor in the same neighborhood and made a success of himself. Over and over again, he emphasized to the children that even though they were poor, they had control over how clean they kept themselves, and this would make a big difference in how others treated them. I was thinking "Is it 1917 or 2017?"

Modern clothing is so inexpensive and modern sanitation facilities are so omnipresent, women who have to work 12 hour shifts while caring for 12 children are so uncommon, and charitable agencies are so active, only a child who is being completely neglected by caretakers will show up at school feverish, with tangled hair, unwashed smell, and lacking winter clothing. It definitely still happens, but it is by no means the norm even in very low income districts of 1st world country.

My point being that giving the appearance of respectability is a fairly trivial expense these-a-days. Even giving the appearance of some level of status is fairly easy if you are clever. For instance, in the realm of the aspirational class when considering interior decoration, a room that is mostly white-wash bare, but features one work of art, something green, and some sign of interesting creative work in progress will pass muster. Similarly, if you arrange your hair, make-up, jewelry, and bottom layer in a simple style, as if you are ready for yoga or ballet class, and then add something vintage and something pretty to your ensemble, you are good to go.

I will admit that I am often too lazy or don't give a damn to even achieve this level. However, I must admit that it has been my experience that first taking the effort to achieve clean functional classic minimalism and then going just a bit beyond to express individual aesthetic or improve sensual aspects of any aesthetic for which I am responsible has almost always been worth the small expense and effort entailed. I mean, who doesn't generally appreciate clean, interesting and lovely over filthy, dull and ugly?

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Re: Thoughts about respectability

Post by slowtraveler » Fri Feb 02, 2018 8:42 pm

Back in my college days, I'd bring these deli grade sandwiches from home that earned some status. If you got something homemade that's high quality, people won't rag on you much. They'll instead be curious. If it's obviously a diy hack, people will often rag on you for being cheap. But if it's better than you can buy, why would they?

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