May 4, 2006 in London

Postcode Snobbery

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One of the first questions people ask me when they find out that I moved over from America, is how long do I intend to stay in London? At first I was really put off by this question but I soon grew to understand that it’s only asked because a large percentage of the population here in London is very transient. Expats from America and other parts of the world or even people from other parts of the UK come for a few years and then move on.
The how long question is almost immediately followed up by asking me where I live. Initially, I use to tell people that I live in Wimbledon (which is where I actually live), but after awhile, I started saying Raynes Park. This is one neighborhood away, and slightly less posh. I also started fibbing and told people that I live in a one bedroom when really by British standards; I live in a two bedroom apartment. When I was completely honest, people were making certain assumptions about my lifestyle, how much money I earn, etc that I’d really prefer not to be out there. Heck, some even when so far as to ask how much I pay in rent which I thought was a little too forward.
So the modest person that I am, being a foreigner and all, I try and downplay these matters. Particularly since my apartment is smaller than the one I had in Chicago. Plus, while where I live in a “nice area,” it is not exactly close to many retail stores or restaurants. I need to take a 5/10 minute bus ride to get to Wimbledon High Street. Plus London’s famous West End is a good 45 minute train ride away. I know, such a hardship! But hey, I’m a lot less central than I was in Chicago — in fact, sometimes I feel like I live in surburbia which is not exactly what I had in mind when I moved over here.
In any event, most other Londoners are going in the opposite area — they are lying and saying that they live in a better neighborhood than they apparently do. Apparently, a recent poll conducted found that “address affected people’s sense of self worth.” So where I am trading down in my neighborhood, others are trading up. In fact, people in Raynes Park, say they live in West Wimbledon. Go figure!

Slough or Windsor? How postcode snobs are pushing the boundaries
By Sally Pook, Filed: 03/05/2006, Telegraph
What hideous snobs we British are. So dismal is our sense of self-worth, we lie, lie and lie again about where we live. According to a survey published today, 56 per cent of us are prepared to tell substantial fibs about our address to make ourselves sound more “upmarket”.
As if our worth and that of others could be measured by the location of the bricks that surround us.
Yet everyone knows a London-dweller who has made the ultimately humiliating mistake of telling a friend that they live in leafy Maida Vale (spacious mansions and the Regent’s Canal at Little Venice) when in fact they live in the hideous hinterland of the Harrow Road (take-away shops, traffic, thieves).
Or those who have pretensions to residing in W11 (Notting Hill) when in reality they live in the distinctly less salubrious precinct of W12 (Shepherd’s Bush).
It is akin to saying they own an apartment in the heart of Paris when all they have is a grotty bungalow a few miles outside Calais.
It can only lead to humiliation. When our deceived friend pops round unexpectedly to say “hi”, we have to hide behind the door and hope they don’t hear us breathing.
“We do lie to make ourselves look better,” said Jon Gowlland, a psychologist. “People make assumptions about who we are because of where we live.
“If someone says they live somewhere desirable we automatically infer positive personality traits about that person.”
Postcode shame, as it has become known, does not limit itself to London. It is a nationwide disease.

Take Slough, say. For some, there is no greater indignity than an SL postcode. When one lives in an exclusive slice of the Chilterns, and one has three cars in the drive, one wants to be as far removed from Slough and its association with The Office’s nightmare boss David Brent as possible.
Hence the campaign two years ago by some residents of Gerrards Cross for an HH (Hemel Hempstead) postcode instead. The Royal Mail did not comply.
Slough, strangely, niggled the residents of Windsor too, who recently pushed for their own WM postcode, also to cover Maidenhead, so they could banish their connections with the ridiculed Berkshire town
And who cannot feel for the residents of Suffolk who must suffer the shame of an Essex postcode, with all its hideous white stiletto and handbag connections. “One buyer would not move to East Bergholt, which has an Essex address, even though it is in Suffolk, because he did not want his daughter to be an Essex girl,” said an estate agent, in what may be an apocryphal tale.
If you live in Birmingham, you want to be a B1 (city centre), not a B16 (Ladywood). And so on ad nauseam.
Judgment by postcode is not just confined to social snobbery. It lies at the heart of economic analysis. Try getting car insurance in G33 (Greater Easterhouse in Glasgow) for example.
Yet, bizarrely, there are those who will trade down a postcode in order to make themselves sound “cooler” or more “edgy”.
Take, for example, those who pretend to be salt of the earth types living in the “East End” when in reality they live in a £1 million penthouse on the Thames.
David Cameron’s wife, the daughter of a baronet no less, wastes no time telling people she grew up in Scunthorpe.
“I love Notting Hill but I was brought up near Scunthorpe and in Oxfordshire and they’re great, too,” she said.
“Geography and background don’t matter. It’s where you are going that’s important.”
The national Power of the Postcode survey, by Ipsos Mori, canvassed 2,044 adults aged 15 and over.
Ann Maurice, Channel 5’s House Doctor, said: “The interesting thing about these findings is that we place more emphasis on the location of our home, than on having a dream home. It is almost as if the postcode is the new class system.
“Although the snobbery associated with location status may seem fickle, it could reap rewards when asserting your social standing or adding value to your property.”

One Comment

  1. May 4, 2006 at 5:01 pm


    It reminds me of the habit of Bostonians (guilty!) of asking where you are from or what your last name is. I never noticed it until someone from another state asked what the local population’s fascination was with last names and places. It seems the first thing we do is say “Nice to meet you! Where are you from?”
    I have always started building a picture in my mind of a person’s family, upbringing, schooling, etc. based on neighborhood affiliation. I’ve never really thought about financial terms as everyone I grew up with or met around here was always from the same blue-collar working-class boat, but it’s the same nonetheless. It also doesn’t matter where they currently live, but where they grew up that counts.
    Malden, Somerville, Southie or Hingham can put a person in a different bucket, so to speak. Maybe classist or maybe our desire to classify, or maybe they are ultimately the same thing.

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