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The term “nouveau riche” is usually used in a pejorative fashion to refer to people who have acquired money recently, usually within one or two generations. The term is used by established members of the upper class who represent dynasties of wealth, some of which have existed for centuries. The nouveau riche are generally associated with tactlessness, lack of taste, and questionable cultural or social practices. Most members of the nouveau riche are unaware of how offensive their behavior appears to others.
The phrase is French for “new rich,” and the term “new money” is sometimes used to refer to the nouveau riche. People who have the benefit of generations of wealth are generally classified as “old money,” and they tend to be leading members of society. Directories of important people in a community usually include old money, sometimes dismissed by the nouveau riche as traditionalists or the “old guard.”
Members of the nouveau riche usually struggle for social acceptance. With old money comes centuries of refined pedigree, exclusive social matches made between people of similar social status. It also comes with responsibility, and most wealthy parents send their children to exclusive private schools for extensive educations which include a discussion of how to handle money. The nouveau riche usually work their way up from the lower classes, and are perceived to be of less social value.
Often, a member of the nouveau riche has not received the benefit of an elaborate private school education and generations of steeping in set cultural and social values. As a result, the nouveau riche attempt to fit in with old money as best they can. Frequently this results in the acquisition of ostentatious homes, furnishings, and vehicles. This practice is frowned upon by old money, and is generally termed “flaunting.”
Especially in highly closed societies, a member of the nouveau riche may never achieve social acceptance among people with similar amounts of money. However, the wealth of a member of the nouveau riche separates him or her from people in the lower classes. As a result, some people find that the sudden acquisition of wealth results in loneliness and unhappiness, rather than a sudden solution to general problems.
Some members of the nouveau riche are well known for generous donations to social causes. The practice of contributing to charity has long been praised as a virtue among members of the old money. However, high society usually calls it flaunting, rather than charity, when a member of the nouveau riche donates a large sum of money to a worthy cause. This unfortunate judgmental attitude has led many members of the nouveau riche to band together, forming their own charities and social circles where they will be accepted.