If you have to join the cocktail crowd and don’t know enough about finance, politics and other complicated stuff that keeps the brainy types winking significantly at each other, you can always amuse yourself by watching one of the most popular games in town: keeping up with the Joneses.
To get you in the mood, we’ve culled six stories from professional snob watchers. Enjoy!
#1 Table Manners
At the big company do’s, there’s always a table that stands out. It may simply be set a little apart from the rest of the room and boast some extra flowers, or it may be set on a stage, draped with bunting and has a waiter standing behind every chair.
However it’s done, these frills ensure that the favoured few who dine at the top table won’t be mistaken for the simple, run-of-the-mill guests. But as PR manager, a certain David, found out, even if there is no seating plan and everyone is regarded as a VIP, table-territory rules still exist.
“A year or so ago, we invited our best clients together with a sprinkling of celebrities for a celebration gala,” David explains.
“Looking around and checking everyone was happy, I saw one of our best clients standing alone.”
David went over for a chat, then invited the client to sit down for something to eat. As he seated his guest and took a chair himself, a woman tapped David on the arm.
Recognising her as a model, David was about to introduce her when she said, “You can’t sit here! This table is for celebrities only!”
#2 The Working Class
When the social lions got together under one roof, a hostess with social ambitions was keen to have the press present. Not only would pictures in the glossy society magazines announce how exclusive her parties were – but she also wanted to rub salt into the wound of her social-climbing friends who were not invited.
“I got a phone call from the socialite asking me to send a reporter and photographer in to do the red carpet thing,” says Dawn, a PA working in Kuala Lumpur.
“You know, datin such-and-such arriving in her new Gucci, datuk so-and-so looking relaxed . . . the usual stuff.”
“I didn’t like the woman but I was polite and said I would do what I can. Then she floored me completely by saying, ‘Oh and do be sure to tell them that they must do their thing and leave straight away afterwards. You know I can’t have my guests mixing with the working class!’.”
“The funny thing is that her father started his career as a truck driver.”
#3 The Ultimate VIP
“The thing about corporate events that I hate most are the VIPs,” says Milly, a lawyer working for an international media firm. “It’s always 1% of the people who cause 99% of the hassle.”
When Milly’s company decided to run a long weekend consisting of a series of back-to-back presentations, culminating in an awards presentation and dinner on the final day, Milly arranged a simple, egalitarian layout that would allow everyone to meet and mingle easily until the final big ceremony.
Unfortunately, one of the VIPs turned up two days early.
“When I saw her, my heart sank,” Milly says. “She looked all around and said, ‘Where is the VIP seating?’ When I told her there wouldn’t be any for another two days, she threw a fit saying, ‘How could this be? Do you know who I am?’.”
“The suicidal part of me wanted to say, ‘Yes I know who you are. You are a stay-at-home, bitchy wife of a sponsor. You can barely string a sentence together’. But I bit my tongue.”
As the unexpected guest fumed and ranted, Milly persuaded someone to throw some material over a few chairs and put a Reserved notice on one of the tables.
“It’s stupid, but there it is. Once she saw the table, she cooled down. She thinks she’s too important to sit with the rest of us, but everyone knows she was just an ordinary kampung girl until she managed to marry a rich man. Just shows you, doesn’t it?”
#4 The Latest Is Greatest
As every good snob knows, buying the latest trendy gear isn’t enough. To be really snobby, you have to get your hands on goods before they go on sale.
Says Vincent, a jeweller and keen socialite: “All the ladies love to see what’s coming into fashion, so designers and jewellers have these private little parties where they invite their best (or potential) customers to look over new arrivals a week or so before it goes on sale.”
Seated between two ladies at a party hosted by a designer, Vincent admired the watch his neighbour was wearing. “After admiring it, asking the price, and saying all the usual things one says to be polite, she glowed and said proudly, ‘It’s part of Cartier’s latest collection, you know’.”
Before Vincent could draw a breath, the woman on his right broke in with the crushing put-down, “It’s hardly new dear, I saw that model in Hong Kong a month ago.”
#5 The Reverse Snob
If you’re not in the mood to compete by outsnobbing everyone else, you can turn the tables on the in-crowd by making a big point of not joining in.
“My husband has to socialise as part of his job, but some of the Datins really get me down,” confesses Tilly, a Datin herself.
“There’s a silly set who can only talk about their hair, make-up, clothes, nails and cosmetic surgery, all things that bore me to tears.”
Unwilling to jump on the bandwagon, Tilly has found herself on the sharp side of a few comments. “They were looking down on me but I absolutely refuse to win their respect by buying Louis Vitton purses, Dior handbags, manno-what’s-his-name shoes, and other supposedly vital accessories priced at RM1,000 or more an item,” she says, scandalised.
Rather than compete or feel intimidated, Tilly resorted to psychology.
“I buy my handbags at the pasar malam, my shoes in the shop down the road, and I’m really upfront about it,” she laughs.
“I say, yup my bag cost me RM20 and it’s going to last me all year. Isn’t it great? And you know what? They don’t know what to say! Reverse snobbery really works; I think it’s the shock factor.”
#6 Better Than White
People still living in colonial times provide some of best snob stories. But colour snobbery isn’t always what it seems to be.
Says John, a housepainter, “My local pub is run by a Mat Salleh and I must confess that I get this extra pleasure from placing a drinks order from him. There’s something about ordering white people about that makes me feel very successful. Quite superior, actually.”
Interestingly the drinks pourer in question is fully aware of this.
“I hear this all the time and I think it’s a great thing,” he enthuses. “John and his mates spend a ton of money here because of it, so it’s making me rich. Also, they buy me drinks, so I get the profit and a free beer! Frankly, I don’t give a toss about who is better than whom. All I know is it’s working for me.” – By MARIA DANIEL
Note: in order to prevent our sources from being ostracised, all names have been changed.