Recently our downstairs neighbors invited us to a party. We didn't really know them, except to say hello in the elevator. Their invite said they'd be "having a few friends in". Imagine our surprise when we found there were at least fifty guests! The party was catered by a local, very fancy German restaurant. There was a massive buffet. In addition, the caterers brought in kegs of draught beer, which was being served by the restaurant staff (dressed in Bavarian costume, yet!)
I have to admit it. I was intimidated by this show of wealth.
We live in the same building. Their apartment had more or less the same layout as ours. However, they'd obviously spent thousands of dollars renovating their space. Now I love our apartment - it's huge and comfortable, and for its size and location, incredibly cheap. But it's a bit rundown. We don't want to bother the landlords concerning cosmetic improvements - we don't want them to raise the rent!
My family brought me up to feel that being thrifty was a virtue. I was budgeting my allowance from the time I was eight or nine. I worked as a department store salesgirl and a supermarket clerk in high school so I could augment my pocket money. I learned the thrill of bargain hunting from my mom and grandma. Even now, I really can't enjoy a new purchase if I have to pay full price for it.
My husband and I live modestly. Our salaries are low by American standards; our expenses are pretty low as well. We have virtually no debt and even manage to save a bit. We're self-sufficient. Yet experiences like our neighbors party sometimes make me feel as though we're worth less because we're not rich.
These days, it seems, people equate money and value. The wealthy are admired as role models. If you're rich, that must mean you're smart and skillful. If you don't have a lot of money - and the material things to show it - this implies that you're either lazy or incompetent.
Well, I'm not either of those things. It's just that I've chosen comfort and lower stress instead of chasing after the cash. I hate myself for allowing the current adoration of wealth to affect my self-image, but sometimes it does.
I really liked our neighbors. We seemed to have a lot in common with them. So my husband and I left an invitation in their mail box, suggesting that they come up for a glass of wine.
They never replied. And I wonder whether it's because they think we're poor - and thus not worth much. Or am I just being paranoid?
Does anyone else suffer from this sort of delusion - the notion that you're being judged as less worthy because you have less money? I'm really curious.