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Who are the Nouveau Riche?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 July 2014
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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. People who are described in this way are generally considered to be tactless, lacking in taste, and following 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 this group. 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 others as traditionalists or the “old guard.”

Members of the nouveau riche usually struggle for social acceptance. With old money comes centuries of refined pedigree, with 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 that include a discussion of how to handle money. The newly rich usually work their way up from the lower classes and are perceived to be of less social value.

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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, he or she attempts to fit in with old money as best as possible. 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, people with new money may never achieve social acceptance among people who have held wealth for generations. The wealth of a member of the nouveau riche separates him or her from people in the lower classes, however. 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 people who recently acquired their money 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, but some members of high society might call this flaunting rather than charity. This unfortunate judgmental attitude has led many wealthy individuals to band together, forming their own charities and social circles where they will be accepted.

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