Through some convoluted twists and leaps of logic and fate I can only vaguely explain, last April I had lunch at the Harvard Club in Boston.
Okay, not quite this twisted. My aunt is on the board of a non-profit that meets there, but I just had to use this gif.
From the moment I realized I was the only one in line for the security scanner wearing Chuck Taylors to the moment I knocked some red wine over on the nice white tablecloth, it was clear I was out of place. I was obviously not prepared to inhabit a space also inhabited by elderly white men with elegant beards reading the New York Times by the lights of windows opening twenty stories above Boston’s business district in mahogany armchairs while smoking pipes and wearing suits whose elegance was rivaled only by their aforementioned elegant beards.
PHEW. Just reading that sentence was exhausting. Take a break before moving on if need be
That’s not even an exaggeration – I would’ve snapped a pic for this piece, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t allowed and would’ve resulted in, at best, some judgemental sidelong glances over spectacles and one or two huffily cleared throats.
It was basically this, only more mahogany and beards. Is that why I couldn’t snap a pic, Harvard Club? Don’t want me to document your prostitute-y drinking habits?
Anyway, I figure with the ongoing finance and consulting recruitment season, some of you plebian slobs could benefit from my hands-on learning experiences. High society awaits those of us bound for Wall Street, corporate law offices, and marriage to a Kennedy, and you best figure out which is the salad fork and which wine goes with which meat before you wind up sticking your Jimmy Choo-clad foot in your caviar-masticating mouth.
Also, to those of you looking to go that third route, I know there’s a Kennedy descendant somewhere on campus, but I’m pretty sure he’s a senior so you best get moving.
So here it is: a (non)comprehensive instructional guide for navigating the world of high society. I’m pretty sure my various faux pas at the Harvard Club have blacklisted me from joining Boston’s cultural elite, but I don’t think it’s too late for the rest of you, so pay attention.
Unless you’re that person who wears your pastel polo untucked into your Nantucket reds. For shame.
1. Don’t wear chucks
In case that wasn’t clear enough in the intro of this article, do not wear converse sneakers. I had the lame excuse of only having a small proportion of my wardrobe from which to choose, but that didn’t save me from the embarrassment of not making the satisfying clack-clacking sound of walking on marble and wood floors in business shoes/heels. This is a crucial auditory indicator of wealth and status that I lacked, but any of you hoping to break into high society must remember to adorn your feet in shoes that will accurately convey your tenacity of purpose and confidence of belonging.
This applies also to shoes that are meant for working out, shoes that light up, shoes that make sounds, and shoes that in any way resemble the footwear you might see at a rave or music festival.
2. Do come equipped with wine adjectives
It’s not enough anymore to just utilize the 5 S’s of wine tasting (see, swirl, smell, sip, savor – didn’t know that? Why not? Do you even go here?), you also have to talk about the wine like it’s a much-admired eccentric work of art or dead relative.
Saying the wine is “crisp” or “dry” is amateur league. I once worked a wine tasting at the Berkeley Master’s House hosted by Yale’s chief financial officer Dave Swensen, and after every wine he asked for adjectives to describe it. Calling it crisp or dry was the equivalent of referring to a reading as shallow or pedantic in discussion section – lame, cliche, and lacking in substance. Spice up your wine-related vocabulary with attention-grabbers like “austere,” “unctuous,” “earthy,” and 37 other wine adjectives I just found here.
I once read the description “has a hint of grass notes” on a bottle of wine. Unique, sure, but I have no idea what it means, so use at your own risk.
3. Don’t knock things over on the table
Especially if it’s a nice white tablecloth. I have no recovery plan for that. Just don’t do it.
This also applies to tablecloths that are off-white, bone, or any other synonym for “white” that the wealthy like to use.
4. Do read up on old dead white guys
There is an elderly Berkeley fellow named Herb. He wears a nice suit with a bow tie to every fellows’ meeting, and he gathers peoples’ attention by blowing a dog whistle. Every time I offer Herb the cheese platter, he quotes Oscar Wilde – “I can resist everything except temptation” – before loading up on Brie, cheddar, and crackers.
The first time Herb said this, he then asked if I “knew who said that, young lady?” I, embarrassingly, did not, which earned me a disappointed old man “harrumph” and a grumble about “kids these days.”
“Loud music and off my lawn and whatnot!”
The next time I saw Herb – one week later at another fellows’ meeting – he repeated the same quote and again asked if I knew its origin. This time I was prepared, and responded with the correct answer and a conspiratorial wink, which earned an impressed “a-ha” and Herb-granted distinction from the other uncultured youths of my generation. It felt like how I imagine being knighted feels.
The moral of this little tale is that you can never know too much about the lives and works of our intellectual forebears, particularly the white guys. If you took Directed Studies freshman year, you’re set! If not, I recommend enrolling in a major english poets class, stat.
5. Do have a respectable-sounding life plan
Saying “I want to be funny on the internet and I want someone to pay me for it so that I can afford an apartment and food” is awkward and will likely result in blank stares and an uncomfortable transition into a new topic.
“Yeah, so I like to write words and then put these moving-picture things called gifs underneath them…I…I guess you’d have to be there…”
There are many routes you could take here. Mentioning a desire to go to grad school shows your dedication to academia, but not necessarily to the money-making and charity-event-attending pastimes of the highest echelons of society. When in doubt, say you’re considering either consulting or Teach For America (after which, consulting). This shows that you’re both driven and willing to use that drive to help others (for a maximum of two years).
6. Do contribute to the conversation…
Most effectively by referencing the life and works of an old dead white guy. Second-most effectively by describing the wine with snazzy adjectives!
Snazjectives, if you will.
7. …unless most of your conversations begin with “so I found this thing on the internet…”
Unless by “the internet” you mean “the website of the New York Times,” it’s best not to reveal how much time you spend giggling at cat memes/Buzzfeed articles/Boola articles.
It’s on you to have the proper skills and material items necessary to secure a job that will catapult you into this elite world (economics degree, appropriate attire, and willingness to radically readjust your moral compass, etc.), but I hope this guide will come in handy. If nothing else, print it out and use it to mop up the wine you spill on the table.