This is the first of a series of articles on the social structure that has been a part of the very fabric of life in England and especially London. While many English people might dismiss the idea of the hierarchal social class system, it is still in force to a large degree and follows a complicated set of rules and behaviours. Unlike other countries around the world, the issue of social class is not based on money, and even if one is immensely rich, it does not mean that you are able to migrate into a different class or social standing. In London, the situation is somewhat easier, because it is a cosmopolitan city and has a large population of people who are not English, but it is still wise to have an understanding of how the English social class system works, just in case you are invited to Buckingham Palace to visit a member of the Royal Family.
Lords and Ladies
Having a ‘title’ in England does not mean that you are a nThe Upper classes in England are still a closed society and it is nearly impossible to get into the upper classes unless you have been born into the system. Traditionally, the upper classes were people with titles, or landed gentry. The upper classes have a different way of raising their children and the entire social structure is in a ‘class’ of its own, so to speak. One of the distinctive features of the upper classes is where one is educated. This is more important than the actual level of education that is attained. A Nanny will raise most upper class children at home, before attending one of the prestigious prep schools before moving onto public schools such as Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse, Winchester, and for girl’s the prestigious Cheltenham Ladies College. These schools are the equivalent of the Ivy League prep schools in the United States, such as Trinity School in Manhattan, St. Paul’s in New Hampshire, and Lawrenceville.
Tertiary education is a different matter. Although many children from upper class families do attend universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, it is also common for members of Royalty and the titled to spend a number of years in the Armed Forces, firstly attending the officers training course at Sandhurst Military Academy.
What is important to remember about meeting or dealing with the upper classes and possibly even royalty, is that they have a rigid social structure and do not take kindly to interlopers. Look at what happened to Wallis Simpson! That said, you will find that they will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable in any situation and social event. While the concept of the upper classes may be a slowly dying breed, part of what gives England, and especially London, its charm and quirkiness will make your stay interesting and particularly valuable.
If you do have the honour of meeting the Queen, please wait for her to address you first and address her as “Your Majesty” if it is for the first time. After that, you may call her “Ma’am”. You do not have to curtsey, as you are not a citizen of Great Britain.