Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Cross-Class Friends

I wish I had found the above article earlier.

Now and then, I really struggle not to be insensitive to some of my friends here.

The friends in debt or the ones who have to wait for payday before going grocery shopping – they don’t want to hear me complain about the cost of Bailey’s Irish Cream or the price of plane tickets to East London (in case you were curious, no, there’s no West London in ZA).

Furthermore, I don’t want to feel guilty about my life.  I don’t want to feel ashamed when I book last minute train tickets to Durban from my desk at work.  I don’t want to be uncomfortable telling someone about what I did that weekend.

I want to be sensitive and aware, but also unabashed.

The hardest part for me is not to insult someone by offering him or her money.  Most of my friends and I are generous with each other: we buy each other drinks and meals so frequently that we assume it ends up more or less even.  If I’m out $50 by the end of our friendship, that don’t bother me.  I’d rather have years of carefree generosity and lose a bit than count pennies.

But that’s not the reality for people who have to worry about money.  They’re often not comfortable with my statement, “No worries.  You can get the next one.”

Honestly I don’t care if I keep buying little things.  For me, meals and car rides really are little things.  At the same time, however, I completely understand how it feels to be uncomfortable when someone offers to pay.

You don’t want to feel indebted to someone.  I get that.  I’ve told enough men that I’ve dated, “Please do not buy me that” or “Please do not buy me anything else” for the exact same reason.  I understand that these men were nice guys who just wanted to express their affection, but I wasn’t comfortable with it and their arguing with me only made things worse.

So what’s a generous soul to do when all you want to do is give?

I still give.  I buy extra big chocolate bars or bags of fruit and split them with my coworkers.  I give away expensive make-up that “doesn’t fit my skin tone.”  I say things like, “I never wear these earrings anymore.  Do you want them?”  I offer rides, even if the destination is out of my way.

Maybe my friends can see right through me.  Maybe some of them even spend time with me for the free stuff.

Usually, though, I’m able to establish a similar give-and-take repertoire with my friends, regardless of class differences.  I may give a little more often, but when my coworker buys a bag of popcorn, she shares with me as well.

I think that most people like to be relaxed about giving and receiving.  The problem is that we’ve all encountered people who use “gifts” for manipulative purposes: we’re suspicious and sensitive because we’re learned that we have to be.

I sincerely hope that no one takes my carefree attitude as dismissive or flippant.  As I wrote at the above, I worry about appearing insensitive.  I definitely don’t want to be like a girl I know who complains about being “so broke” even though her parents bought her a $million+ flat in one area of Vancouver, then bought her another condo in a different area so she could be closer to school.  Now the flat sits empty.

Anyways, enough of a rant – no, wait… maybe a little more: Go out and get a real job for once in your life!  Don’t try to pretend you’re poor because you think it’s “cool” or “authentic.”  I’m comfortably middle-class, but I think that I have the right to complain about Van’s rental prices because I actually pay rent!  Don’t try to commiserate with me by pretending you’re something you’re not.

Ok, rant over, let’s move on.

I think we all experience “class rage” every now and then – regardless of how well off you are, you probably know someone richer who annoys the hell of you.  I think is great because people recognize how trivial their difficulties are and laugh about it.  I hope that other people don’t find the concept offensive.  Then again, it’s really boring trying to politically correct all the time.  I know – I’ve tried.  Sometimes you just have to laugh about life.

I understand that I’ve never experienced a level of insecurity comparable to poverty.  I will never fully comprehend what it’s like to be poor – or, at least, I hope I don’t ever.  But I’ll continue trying to engage with people from all walks of life and sympathize with them without judging or making assumptions.  I think that it’s important not to be insensitive, but it’s also important not to let class differences get in the way of friendship.


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