I do not think the Americans have a class system the same as that which still persists in Britain. There are vestiges of it I suppose with some old aristocracy. But it seemed to me that it all hinged on money.
In Britain if you were working class and was given a billion quid you were rich working class. In America you became aristocracy.
Americans worked themselves into the ground. Most of the teaching staff had a more lucrative second job. They taught in school and then went off after school to do a second job, usually real estate, into the evening. In the summer they took on a third job and worked through the holiday – usually at Disneyland or Knotts Berry Farm.
They left the house to get into school for 7.30 am and did not return home until 8.00 pm.
When did they live?
I remember walking through New York with my good lady, all long hair, colourful tunics and smiles, and this guy stopped us. He was middle-aged and dressed in a suit and tie.
‘You know,’ he said. ‘You kids have got it right. I’ve got a beautiful house, beautiful wife and kids, great car and I never see them. When I’m home at the weekend I’m too tired. I’m getting old and I haven’t got a life.’
But the reverse of all this was the incredible generosity.
In 1979 we were planning on using all the holidays to travel and see the States. We had a great VW van that our exchange teachers had left us. All we lacked was a tent.
I mentioned this to one of my classes in the hope that they might be able to suggest a camping store somewhere.
The next morning I arrived at school to find a number of parents waiting for me with offers of borrowing huge trailer van, tents, trailer tents. I could have had my pick for the year! It was a level of generosity that I was unaccustomed to. They meant it.
When I left at the end of the year all these students of mine descended on me and took me off to the local ice-cream parlour for a ‘zoo’. They all laughed.
The whole ice-cream place was taken over by us. Four guys came out with this huge bowl of ice-cream hung from poles that they carried on their shoulders like a sedan chair. There was a ton of ice-cream – every imaginable flavour and sauce, smothered in cream, with sparklers and fireworks. There was a huge fanfare. We were given great long spoons. This was a spoon. We all tucked in.
Those kids were great. Some of them came from the rough parts and ran with the gangs but they were generous, outgoing and so friendly.
There was a different psychology at work.