I have an airport ritual: I always buy and read one magazine that I’ve never read before. As a journalist, I figure it helps me stay abreast of what’s out there, and as a reader, it opens my eyes to articles and stories I might never otherwise know about. A couple of days ago, while waiting to board a flight to Florida, I picked up Town & Country. I’ll admit, being the summer camp junkie that I am, I was intrigued by the cover story “America’s Summer Camp Revival.” And T&C fit the airport bill. I’ve never picked up a copy before, likely because it’s geared toward more socialitey and classy folks than I.
Anyway, I got a kick out of an article in the magazine’s “Social Graces” column, entitled “Rich You, Poor Me.” Here’s the dek: “When friendships span socioeconomic divides, the possible pitfalls are many. And they must be navigated with care.” I’ve written about this topic before. Friend dating, while great for the social life, can be hard on the wallet, and there’s nothing more frustrating than going to a meal with friends and being asked to fork over $100 for the bill when you don’t drink because your friends decided to splurge on bubbly. But it’s also rough when friends know you’re trying to save cash and simply don’t invite you places. It’s not fair to get penalized because you can’t afford another expensive night on the town.
The reason I was so interested in the T&C article is that, given its readership, the column approaches the story from the opposite side of the fence. My blog post was about what to do when you want to hang with friends but can’t necessarily spend spend spend. T&C writer Henry Alford writes what to do when, basically, you’re rich but your friends aren’t. I guess the people reading this magazine aren’t shy about spending on a meal or two.
Here’s his advice: “First, offers of birthday celebrations not withstanding, it’s best if we don’t make an exception of the impecunious person. If your weekend in the country includes a glamorous balloon trip that will set each person back $500, then it’s lovely if you yourself (or some other member of the party) hang back with Mr. Cash-Strapped so that, come sunset, he isn’t the only tiny ant on the landscape. Second, we can reduce most financial awkwardness if we take an ironic or comic approach to the fanciness of the occasion in question. ‘Of course, we all need to go horseback riding and wear the inn’s collection of top hats: We’re practicing for our Currier and Ives portrait.’ ‘I think it’s absolutely imperative that we each rent our own beach cabana–you never know what you might pick up from someone else’s shade.’”
Alford does, actually, make some recommendations if you are the “relatively poor” amongst your friends. “It’s probably valid and useful to speak candidly and tell people you’re on a budget, or that vintage Lamborghini rentals are beyond your reach. But the trick is to do so without sounding like Al Gore a plastics convention. Self-deprecation is a welcome addition here: ‘That sounds lovely, but I think I better say no. I’ve been feeling a little Dorothea Lange recently, and I’m really trying to hone my grimness.’”
Besides that fact that I had to look up 90% of the references in these excerpts, I find the tone of the whole piece sort of hilarious. Clearly I am not the Fabulous that this magazine is catering to.
But it still brings up an important question: If you know you’re in better financial shape than your friends, how do you avoid potential awkwardness?