Handling Awkward Moments - or How to Deal with The Privileged

  • When your classmates or professors ask you what you did over the summer, they don't actually want to hear what jobs you worked, or your cousin's wedding, or taking care of your kid. They want to hear about a fantastic trip to another country, to a national archive, or some other epicurean or academic pursuit. Spare them embarrassment and do not make the mistake of telling them that you "just worked." They will not know how to respond to the idea that someone they know has to work a real job while going to school. Say that you "did a lot of reading, and took a few short trips." Don't give details.
  • When contributing to potlucks, recall what food you saw at a previous potluck and contribute the same thing. Fruit and vegetable platters from the supermarket or cracker and pepperoni party platters (I'm not entirely sure what the right term is) are a very safe choice in the US.
  • If you're talking to an Oxbridge or Ivy grad (especially if they purport to have left-wing politics), you might think that a friendly remark about their having come from the right social class will get a modest chuckle. It won't. It will instead be very, very awkward and at worst will result in the Oxbridge/Ivy alumn insisting that really it's pure meritocracy and the evening will have been ruined.
  • Remind yourself that you do not take on another person's feelings. Sometimes you might slip up and say something that makes a privileged person uncomfortable. This doesn't actually mean that you were in the wrong. Acknowledge that awkwardness to yourself--then, let it go.
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  • Keep in mind that most of your peers are decent people no matter what their background is. Still, they don't necessarily like to hear a lot about the hardships you went and are going through. This may partly be so because it might make them feel guilty or embarassed because they had it easier or can't help you. Sometimes giving a brief, factual account of where you are at family, money and work wise might elicit a lot of sympathy and appreciation that you are putting in the extra effort. Just don't make it too emotional, and don't go into too much detail. Of course if you have friends who you are on close terms with you can tell them more. Some of my friends were extremely appreciative and told me how much they respected me for having made it through the whole programme with a good outcome despite the difficulties with my family and my very limited resources.