Musings on money and the bourgeoisie

036[]bourgeoisie, le corso de neuilly, middle-class, corso de neuillyLast week my 20 years old nephew was in town and spent the night with us. We went for a walk in the neighborhood, to get toiletries he had forgotten at the night shop and stayed a little longer wandering around. It was still warm outside and I showed him the local cafés and restaurants on the way. He’s the one and only baby I ever held before having mines and despite the fact that he’s now taller than me and has a beard, whenever I get the chance to see him (20 years old have amazingly busy lives) I can’t but remember the chubby cherub cruising around the garden in the early 90s.

He has an artistic temperament and is as lost as one can be when he/she leaves eagerly high school, filled with dreams and hopes, only to find out that the following step is way less glamorous and pure and ideal than imagined.

On our way to the night shop, we passed a tiny pizza restaurant which opened 8 years ago and quickly became a typical Italian success story. Marketing the simple roman concept of pizza al taglio (pizza sold at the counter by its lenght) and employing authentic Italian pizza makers, the founder built an icon of Brussels’ weekends, late nights and quick lunches.

“Look, the guy who invented that (shop) is a genius – I told impulsively my nephew – He made so much money out of that shop”. He looked back at me and said: “And the fact that he became rich makes him a genius?”. There was no sarcasm in his voice, just a pinch of sadness. I tried to make it up, saying (what I actually think) that I was referring to his ability to sell a simple good and make it look cool and desirable but there was no way out of there.

I, the 35 years old aunt, told my 20 years old nephew that becoming rich implies some degree of genius. When did this happen?

I am no revolutionary and have a pretty earthy vision of the importance of money in life but I never realized before how practical I had become with time. Has it to do with age? When did we start thinking of money as a measure of success?

Of course, I am aware that this reflexion doesn’t apply to the U.S. where money talking has been legitimized since forever but in old Europe it wasn’t when I was growing up. I have been brought up with the idea that money and success might be a consequence, a side-effect of geniality but not its main constituent.

A year ago I published a small book and was surprised to see that every time people asked me about that, it wasn’t to know what it was about, or how it took form or the work behind it. No, they always asked about how many copies it sold, and if I could live now out of that. Shock ensued, when I candidly admitted that I had no idea, that the editor only wrote me once a year about figures and that I wasn’t that much worried about following sales daily.

In the same way, when I tell someone I started blogging, they always ask: “How do you make money out of it?.”I don’t”. “What’s the point, then? What are you offering your readers? What do you sell them?”

“Hm…I just share thoughts and chat and find likeminded people across the world?”.

At this point, my interlocutor usually fills his glass of wine and changes the subject.

Am I Alice in the Wonderland or there’s an exaggerated interest on money? When did it become a measure of worth in Old Europe? Or is it just that money is what middle-aged people talk about?


  1. I dunno…. I think it’s always been like this. It’s just that in the US, it’s been more socially accepted to talk about it openly, while in Europe, it was considered trashy (still is, to some extent). But underneath, I think the quest to accumulate resources is part of human nature. I’m saying this as someone who’s not terribly money-oriented (I’ve never owned property, for example, and don’t intend to). Also, I’d make far more money if I stopped blogging and wrote paid-for articles instead. (I’m in the lucky position of having customers who will buy anything I write, so (their) demand exceeds (my) supply at the moment)
    But then I’d miss out on all this fun!
    So then, what’s this book???

  2. If you are Alice in Wonderland, you have lots of company!

    Like you, I was raised with the idea that earning money is a ‘side-effect’ of doing a good job – whatever that job may be – and not the reason one works.

    Yet I find that increasingly ‘earning a living’ is more precarious in Asia where most employment relationships have a shelf-life of a few years and there is a strong bias against age and experience (read higher salary). So one can’t help but have money an element in the equation when one knows there are only so many years left to ‘earn.’

    However I’m rather glad that this community of bloggers are doing it for the enjoyment of it and very much enjoy chatting with like-minded folks and a few that provoke different ways of thinking too!

  3. In Italy you say:”I soldi non danno la felicità. Figuriamoci la miseria”, more or less: “Money doesn’t make you happy. Anyd try dire straits…”
    This said, probabily everyone who makes a lot of money is a genius, accepted there are also evil geniuses. The opposite is not true: not every genius makes a lot of money, and many geniuses deliberately choose not to make it, and that’s why we call them so (I’m thinking of Mr. Sabin, who choosed not to copyright his antipolio drug).

  4. Maybe middle-aged people think about money more because we have realised that we won’t be making our fortune and won’t be getting a better life style than we have now?? I’m just hoping for that lottery win…

  5. Americanization of thoughts maybe? Let’s not discount the subtle messages in inculcated by Western culture that equate money with success. You start idealistic, fall in the money trap when you realize how practical we need to be and then comes the understanding that self-fulfillment is more important than money. Some stay pure all the way. Maybe your nephew will.

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