Thursday, January 03, 2008

Blue versus White: What tips you off?

I have discussions with a friend about the characters for this recent story I'm crafting. She can see the personality of the two women forming already. The man, however, is more of a non-entity at this time. I'd like to say that my sketchiness regarding his personality is intentional. Sadly, it's not. I know who he is. I know what he wants. Yet . . . I'm treading on shaky ground when it comes to writing about those bits that make his personality.

See. The characters of Ian and Angus from the story I completed recently were based on real men, who left an impression on me despite the short time that I knew them. The women that I write aren't based on one person. Instead, I have collected bits and pieces of those I have known in my life. Easy to write. Easy to think how they think.

This guy, who I've named Connor, is not someone I know. He's blue collar, not a white collar worker like his older brothers. His education has been in the navy (I know a bit about that.) and on the job. No college. Just work. Heavy lifting. Early mornings. How does he think?

This got me thinking about how we label those around us when we, say, see them on the street. Can you tell who holds a blue collar job or a white collar job when they are in their weekend wear? Can you? What is it that tips you off?


CJ said...

Hi, Sarabeth -- I like the new design! (I always read via Bloglines unless I'm inspired to comment, so I haven't been to the actual page in a while.)

It's so easy to wander into stereotypes about class. I read your post and thought, "oooh, I know!" -- except I don't, now that I think about it. Stereotypes say there are differences in leisure activities (blue = NASCAR and bowling; white = chamber music and golf), vocabulary (white = eleemosynary and inspissate; blue = joist and bevel gauge), maybe food preferences (daube vs. Hamburger Helper). But those are kind of obnoxious stereotypes, and I don't know how well they'd even hold up. I have a white-collar job and know nothing about golf.

I'll be interested to see what your other commenters have to say. :-)

Liz Self said...

I remember Oprah doing something about how people perceive someone's class (not blue/white collar, but sometimes loosely connected) based on first impressions. I think the three things were clothes, nails (not only if they're dirty, but also if they're crazy long/fake/etc.), and I think vocabulary/diction. It's an interesting question.

Trixie said...

I'm with Liz on this one mostly.

First, it isn't necessarily the clothing. Face it - these days even the most expensive clothing can look like something from a trash can! True, cashmere is still cashmere but I wouldn't know it if it bit me. This is probably the case with most cuts and fabrics. Unless you were born into it or are an avid fan of it - clothing is just that. Clothing.

I married a blue collar man who is so white collar that he can only be blue-collar-turned-white-collar :)

So how would I have judged if clothing wasn't an issue? And assuming I didn't meet him at work?

I agree with Liz: vocabulary and cleanliness/nails.

I would add that cleanliness can sometimes include facial hair as heavy beards aren't the norm in corporate America.

I would also add: handshakes. Not so much the actual shake itself but the hand. The lack of callousness.

Finally I would add worldliness. Maybe this is part of vocabulary? What I mean is the ability to use words in context, to speak on a variety of subjects.

Ok so not every white collar person can speak knowledgably but they are more apt to have a classical education.

I actually don't classify people by job. So this isn't relevant to me. It can't be after marrying the Wa.

Sarabeth said...

It's not as much clothes or physical appearance. Many times that can be obvious.

I'm wondering what it is about personality that says blue-collar to you. If you don't like the label blue-collar, call it the "working man" archetype.

I'm almost about to use the moving company man (who used the term "mama" when referring to me so respectfully) as my character model. He'd been around a few places, was weathered, knew his beer, loved fried chicken, and had lots of respect for women. I sensed that he knew, had experience from life, who really got things done and took care of nearly everything.

Did I just find my romantic hero?

Dream Mom said...

Physical appearance give-aways are typically shoes (even on weekends), car (sometimes what is considered a "nice" car is different for a blue collar vs. white collar), posture/attitude and for older men, a white collar man will usually have less facial lines, a more current hairstyle, less facial hair and generally look younger than a blue collar man of the same age. (They can also afford more plastic surgery, etc. and access to better quality of food/life that shows up in their skin.)

In terms of personality, a white collar worker will usually have more self confidence and will stand up for themselves when a discrepency occurs. I don't know how to describe it but I can usually tell. I live in a very weathly white collar county so it seems pretty easy to me.

Just off the top of my head, I guess a blue collar worker tends to look a little more "weathered" all the way around-lines around the eyes from too much sun, etc. Little things that don't catch up to you until you get a bit older. Hope that makes sense.

That's not to dismiss the blue collar worker at all. They are the ones that will stop and help you if you need it, are more sensitive, have more time to spend with their families (vs. the corporate man who is at the office 16 hours a day)and can devote time to you. It's different in the gifts they give too-it's easier for a white collar man to buy you more things, whereas a blue collar man gives you his time. There are advantages to each.

dragon knitter said...

i suppose the job my husband works at would be considered blue collar. but he thinks like no man i've ever known. in a different age, he might have been a philosopher. he thinks. a lot. a lot more than a lot of people i know who would be considered "white collar." i have a friend who is a nurse, and since she is single, and lives alone, a lot of her conversation is about work. does she think? yes. she does. does her life revolve around her work? some, more than my husband's does. does she think like myhusband? no.

you can't tell by looking. someone would look at my husband, and think "ah, he's just an overgrown hippy (he's 6'8" and has hair to the middle of his back, and wears work boots all the time (because it's hard to find comfortable shoes for his feet, lol)). but he thinks about why thing happen, and how they happen, and could probably talk circles around socrates and plato. my friend? you'd never know she was a nurse by her street clothes. maybe a cashier at target? a teller, maybe? not a nurse. and she doesn't think like my husband. it's her life, and her work, and her dog, and her church, and her parents, etc.

go figger

wolfbaby said...

well my hubs is what you might call blue colar. When he's gone from work he's gone. but that dosn't stop him from enjoying his life. When he's not workin he is living. his job dosn't consume him. he dosn't live it day in and day out. you are right about what you said about the guy moving your stuff as well. I tend to get alot more respect from men who work blue colar type jobs then from white colar. I think your doing just fine as your getting into it you can't bring him to life right this min. you have already given him a since of what he's about offering to fix her door and such. the marvel at the buildings etc. his respect and kindness jump of the page. his live in the moment attiude i just think you don't give yourself enough credit on this one.

Kell said...

The president of a very famous candy company and I share a hairdresser. Some days, I go into there and see him, in his ripped up sweatshirt - and think - 'he's still a pretty intelligent guy...' but that's how he carries himself. I would imagine I'd think the same of Pete Seeger (who I still consider a blue-collar hippie) - so I guess it's how you stand, how you speak, and how you relate to people...