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Rich people, ugh

Today it occurred to me that of all groups of people, I probably like rich people the least. And that rich people behave similarly all over the world.

For the past decade, I’ve been living among rich people because of Foreign Service housing. I know it’s ironic that one of the biggest perks of the FS—free housing in posh neighborhoods—is something I like to complain about. But the evidence is mounting that having wealthy neighbors is annoying.

The problem with rich folk is that they are terrified of losing their money, their property, and their status. I’ve always been skeptical of the value money adds to your life, but now I’m convinced that there is a big downside to being rich. Like constantly living in fear that someone will come after your stuff.

In my experience rich people make bad neighbors for several reasons: they feel like others should live by their rules; they love to threaten with lawsuits; they are overly protective of their property; they refuse to say “hi” first; and they behave like animals in the supermarket—pushing others aside to get to the counter first, never getting out of the way and never, ever, offering anyone help.

The garage door guy

One of my worst experiences with living in an expensive apartment building was in Uruguay. The richest inhabitants always live upstairs, in the penthouse, and they are also always the chairperson of the “housing board.”

This rich guy worried a thief might sneak into the garage downstairs, where his expensive cars were parked. He hated it when someone left the garage door open, which was silly because our small apartment building had a concierge who was always there, so even if you forgot to close the door it would never stay open for long. Plus the concierge could see everything going on inside and outside through video cameras. Anyway, this guy used his remote to close the garage door whenever he saw that it was open.

As a result, he once closed the garage door just as we drove under it, all but breaking our roof rack in two. He had to pay for it, of course, but I felt we paid for it more by having this guy hate us. In his mind it was our fault—after all, we were the ones who left the garage door open.

The elevator guy

But by far the worst neighbor I've had was in the Netherlands. A pompous hat maker (for the royal family, oh yes), this guy was a little unstable if you ask me. One of the rules he instituted as chairperson of the housing board was that the elevator should always be sent back to the ground floor. Thus, whenever I went to the first floor, where I lived, I had to send it back down to ground level immediately, or risk an admonishment.

His theory was that potential thieves would be unable to tell who was home, and who wasn’t, if the elevator was always on ground zero. This seemed nonsense to me, but I followed the rule as best as I could. Until one day, a bunch of robbers climbed onto his penthouse balcony from the neighboring building, broke in, threw his safe through the window off the roof into the alleyway.

Karma, I figured.

But not according to this guy. In his mind, the break-in was my fault, because I hadn’t sent the elevator back down consistently enough. He hurled his accusations at me as I stood in the door opening, flabbergasted, with my baby in my arms. When he was done yelling at me he simply left, never to apologize (although his wife told my husband later she regretted the episode).

How to deal with rich people

I have never tried to put these people in their place. I don’t think it would make a difference. Besides, I feel a little sorry for them. Because the fears they have and live by about losing what’s theirs are real. They sometimes get robbed and hurt others and their property by trying to protect their own, making few friends in the process.

I saw this play out again today, in our little neighborhood supermarket. A well coiffed lady behind me demanded to go first. She argued that she had just bought her groceries and only returned because she forgot to buy batteries. She pushed past my cart and me, even though the cashier had already scanned my first item. I rolled my eyes but said nothing, waiting for karma to kick in. Sure enough, the confused cashier couldn’t unscan my item or open his cash register, which delayed our line for several minutes. All the while we gave the lady such a nasty stare that she eventually started to apologize and, after paying, practically ran out of the store.


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