Is Inverse Snobbery A Problem?

Is there really no bigger snob than a member of the working class? CECILY STEVENSON investigates.

No one likes a snob. That’s a given. But, recently, I’ve noticed that people have started to attack the so-called ‘inverse snob’. That is: those of council estate who look down upon those of country estate. But, is the inverse snob really any better than the normal snob? Rich or poor, is it ever acceptable to criticise someone based on their background?

Journalist Tony Parsons certainly doesn’t think so. In last month’s GQ, he even went so far as to suggest (albeit in jest): “there is no bigger snob than a member of the working class.” What’s more, our very own Cantab, David Mitchell, recently wrote a column for The Guardian entitled: ‘Tory toffs should be criticised for their policies – not their background.’ But, are they right? Is inverse snobbery really abhorrent? Is it even an every day problem?

Snobbery isn’t necessarily about class. In fact, more often that not, it can be about education. As students at Cambridge, we are all victims of inverse snobbery. Imagine the following, all-too-familiar situation: you’re at home, you’ve just met someone new, they ask what university you go to. A sense of dread fills you. You know they won’t take well to the response you have to give.

Just recently, I met a friend of mine for a few drinks in the pub. She told me she was bringing a few friends from her work with her. Fine, I thought. Great, even. And it was great, until one of her friends turned to me with sullen, beady eyes and said, in her slow, drawling, Birmingham accent: “So you go to Cambridge?” I’ve never heard five words contain so much potent condescension towards an institute of education.

Illustration by Amy Jeffs

“Well, yes,” I replied, my eyes desperate, my face contorting into an expression that quite clearly screamed: “Please don’t judge me.”

“Is it full of…” she said, still slowly. “I’m trying to think of a nice word…” I felt my heart pound as my nemesis struggles to find a nice word to describe what she eventually described as: “toffs.”

My initial response, which I manage to suppress, was to ask her whether she comes from the 1970s, when the word ‘toffs’ was last a popular piece of vernacular. Instead, I spluttered something about how most people are very nice and, well, I suppose it depends on who you meet. I then excused myself to make a quick toilet break, and downed my pint at a speed that is probably socially inappropriate outside of ‘Down It Fresher’ situations.

So, what did I take from this experience? Well, one thing is for certain: it certainly wasn’t a one off. My mum always jokes about how any Oxbridge grads who go on quiz shows get made fun of. When someone who has the audacity to study at Oxbridge, go on a quiz show and FAILS to know the answer to an arbitrary quiz question, the host jeers, and the audience laughs along. And, sadly, this sort of behaviour characterises the prejudice from certain sections of society that we will always have to endure.

And maybe being able to jet off to the Maldives in April to spend time with Nigel and Shirley in their villa makes up for the occasional money-related jibe those of a ‘higher’ class encounter. It is no classless society we live in, so let’s stop deluding ourselves, and give the (somewhat anachronistically named) ‘working class’ a break.

  • Felix

    Hey mate, I'm in the library.

  • Reverse snob

    I would really enjoy Lexi Abrams' take on this, preferably with some photographs that she has taken of inverse snobbery.

  • Droggles

    Nigel maybe, but since when has Shirley been a go-to posh name?

    • Cedric

      Also aren't the Maldives underwater now? Bad taste, Cec.

      • jenny schofield

        an english student would perhaps argue that the author was using the maldives as an intertextual reference: just as the maldives are slowly disappearing under water, so should the boundaries of class.

        however, as i personally study geography and education, i'm not sure! hehehehe

  • Yes

    I couldn't agree more. When people try to judge me because of my university it pisses me off. As a theology student, though, I get it double because not only do I get working class warriors telling me what I supposedly believe politically, but I also get militant atheists telling me about my religious beliefs without even stopping to check what they actually are.

    • Esther

      I couldn't agree more.

  • confused

    great article until the " give the (somewhat anachronistically named) ‘working class’ a break." jibe made the whole thing redundant and a little offensive.

    • Not offensive

      Either that, or it's a fairly accurate observation. Most 'working class' people no longer view themselves as working class. The term is a reference to the industrial age when the poor in society took manual jobs in factories, mines and the like. In a primarily service economy, it is no longer that relevant as a term – people in service jobs, even if they are very low paid, still tend to view themselves as 'middle class'.

  • Everard Cock

    Inverse snobbery is as much a problem as accent snobbery, which you seem to have no problem employing.

    • Emma Royds

      Cecily is from Birmingham. She has that accent.

  • Olga

    My?l?, ?e jeste? wyj?tkow?.

    p.s. Czy mog? Ci? poca?owa?/trzyma? Ci? za r?k??

    • Polak

      Dlaczego mówimy po polsku? Akurat si? zgadzam ale i tak chyba troszk? dziwnie…?

  • Sasha Millwood


    Whenever my parents/family/friends introduce me or talk about me to anybody, they NEVER fail to mention the fact that I study at Cambridge. Perhaps they like to think it makes them appear more… successful or important.

    Familiar phenomenon…?

    • Hmmm

      I have the opposite. My parents assume that Cambridge has made me an arrogant prick. Maybe it has, but I haven't noticed…

  • Nick B

    If it is a problem it's nowhere near such a big problem as conventional snobbery. It's with a lot of trepidation that state-educated people, particularly the working-class and northerners come here because they expect to be looked down on. And they are a lot more often than most of you would like to admit.

    • Privileged

      Very true.

      This inverse snobbery business is just privileged people annoyed and being made to feel guilty.

      They should feel guilty: all the time.

      I am privileged and I feel guilty, all the time. It is only with that attitude that we can eradicate privilege.

      So I say long live the inverse snob!

      • Not Privileged

        What? Why should we be made to feel guilty just because we worked our asses off at school and for the most part still do here in order to go to one of the top universities in the country?

        I feel a sense of pride when I say I go to Cambridge because it's the net result of a lot of hard work all my life and a passion for my subject.

        I do not feel guilty ever, my conscience is clear.

    • Teal Seal

      'Trepidation about' is not the same as actually getting persecuted. Widespread snobbery nowadays is pretty much only a myth (as far as I've seen, anyway). However inverse snobbery, especially intellectual, is certainly not a myth.

    • Northerner

      Nick, what you are saying is true.

  • NaCl?

    Fancy some salt with that chip on your shoulder?

    • Chemistry banter

      terrible joke mate.

  • Droggles

    What really pisses me off is the same newspapers publishing stories about 'drunken oxbridge toffs' and then complaining about our state-school intake. Maybe more people would apply here if we didn't all get publicly and repeatedly labelled toffs. That's right, Daily Mail, I'm looking at you.

  • Mark

    Anyone who says "I go to Cambridge; please don't judge me" secretly means "please do judge me because I am better than you."

    I know because I say it all the time.

  • Go Steveo

    That "sense of dread" is something I think a lot of us can identify with. Volunteering the information that you go to Cambridge in social situations outside of this institutional bubble I find stigmatises you from then on. Whether the reaction you get is negative or positive, it often has an isolating effect.

  • Oh hey there!

    Did you know that 1 in 5,000 north Atlantic lobsters are born bright blue? Wow!

    • impressed

      we want more facts.

      • (:-O)

        please say please.

        • Conventional Snob


  • It's not as big a problem as conventional snobbery.
    Which unfortunately does still exist in large parts of the student population.

  • BobbyG

    Love that the author's name is " Cecily".

    • Inverse Snobs Police

      Neeee Naaaaaaww, Neeee Naaaawwww.

    • Voldemort

      I enjoy the irony you've employed here, posing as an inverse snob on the basis of her name in order to highlight the issues raised within the article itself. A clever and thoughtful response to a compelling piece of writing, I salute you.

      • Hermione


  • Juan Sheet

    I don't say I go to Cambridge when meeting people for the first time at home (which isn't in England) unless I have to, partially because of the general opinion that

    i) I must be a nerd of Rain Man proportions (slightly true, though sadly lacking in the intelligence bit
    and ii) I'm a jumped up posh twat (thankfully, not really true).

  • normal

    just say you go to a different university if mild teasing is so unpleasant you over privileged martyr

    • Win

      Yes, because it's completely normal to casually lie about the major events of your life.

    • Droggles

      I resent the suggestion that everyone here is over-privileged. Maybe a lot are, but that kind of cuntish generalisation is pretty unfair on the people who went to shit schools and worked hard for their places here. In my experience, the less privileged people I meet have less of a problem with Cambridge students than the people who had just as good chances and still didn't make it. Those are the ones who are obsessed with calling us all snobby toffy losers, and that they wouldn't have taken a place here even if their interview had gone well.

  • dan bellucci

    I always tell people that I go to Cambridge as assertively and as smugly as I can.

    Sometimes I'll say it when I'm introducing myself just after I've told them my name.

  • maxwell gregorious

    This article creates an impression that 'working class' people are only capable of being narrow minded and are full of prejudice. This perception is 'snobbish' in itself and to be quite frank extremely vain.

  • POlice

    AGREED I don't tell people at home which uni i got to unless they ask

  • Just saying

    I suppose it’s only since coming to Cambridge, I realized that among certain British folks (generally white working or lower middle classes) mentioning Cambridge is akin to saying a rude word.

    Having grown up in an aspirational family, Cambridge Oxford, MIT blah blah are all were looked with great reverence, something to aspire to -that’s how we were brought up. And in my social circles, going to Cambridge et al. is still something people respect.

    However, when I was at Cambridge I didn’t think the people here were much different from elsewhere- you get mediocre folk and really smart people. However there is a difference, it is subtle, and ironic. I sort of think people at Cambridge are a bit more friendlier,- maybe because they are nerdy or something, or at least a bit more open minded. There is less what Americans call ‘”bulshit” and business-speak, fewer strong opinions, and people are definitely not as in love with themselves as in other universities (I was in a redbrick before Cambridge).

    People I found were more tolerant to others, and while far from perfect there was more social inclusion at Cambridge than outside.

    The irony is that people at Cambridge are different because a good number seem to know they aren’t particularly different, which isn’t what you see in the outside world, where a large number of people seem to be engrossed with their own self-importance. It is these people especially that resort to inverse snobbery.

    • Only

      2 years late

  • Just saying

    Was drunk and didn’t notice.

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