Genteel Poverty

Genteel poverty: high thinking, simple living. This is a catchphrase coined by a friend of mine, who embodies this sentiment better than anybody else I know. It strikes me as particularly apt in my present situation, looking for part-time work to pay my extortionate Edinburgh rent and remain solvent. As someone whose attitude tends more toward Sam Smith than Jay-Z when it comes to cash, at the moment I definitely got money – something I generally prefer to pretend doesn’t exist – on my mind. Money’s most distinguishing feature in a student’s life is usually its resounding absence, but apart from bemoaning this fact, we don’t tend to talk about it much at all. At least, that’s been my experience. We have, I suppose, the privilege of putting that thought on hold while we worry about other things.

The above friend of genteel poverty fame leads a Spartan lifestyle of such frugality that I fear it borders on neglect of his own well-being, and which would certainly make me miserable. He once lived in a hostel in Paris for six months while teaching English, and his slender physique betrays how little he eats. All of his resources go toward fuelling the powerhouse that is his brain, an endless cavern of trivia, whose contents ranges from the most obscure South African literature to the crassest reality TV. Much as I admire his disregard for worldy possessions and dedication to the pursuit of knowledge, it’s a little extreme for me. I need to, y’know, get my highlights done, and I like to go to a nice restaurant occasionally, and buy some books…

Money, I realised once I entered the corporate world where it’s thrown around on company credit cards like glow sticks at a rave (do those still even happen??), is not THAT complicated or difficult to come by. For us postgrad students, though, we’ve opted out of the real world for a bit. I do appreciate the irony of talking about being impoverished while I’m living in an ensuite bedroom in newly built luxury halls of residence while attending one of the world’s top universities in the most expensive city of Scotland. Well, I suppose that really is the definition of genteel poverty. If my mind were an olive oil, it would be the refined kind, suitable for frying and baking; and if my bank account were a beverage, it would be a bottle of cider at a fresher’s party: bone dry empty.


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