A class anecdote

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By JEAN PIERRE CHAUVIN*

The rudeness of the middle class and the stultification of the people

“Dans la langue, donc, servilité et pouvoir se confondent inéluctablement” (Roland Barthes, Lesson)

This Saturday, mid-afternoon. A professor decides to have his second coffee of the day. He puts on the most comfortable clothes, puts on his sneakers and heads to one of the few bookstores left in town. Arriving there, he notices that the initial plan is frustrated: the section reserved for coffee has been taken over by a pocket lecture.

Nothing to do but take advantage of the trip to the enclosure to look at books. The voices continue, interspersing the speaker's report and the auditorium's replies. Fortunately, the walk was not in vain: on one of the shelves, in the third or fourth niche of the store, you find the book by Andrea Cavalletti, Class, translated in 2022: “Maybe it’s on sale.”

The subject goes to the cashier to confirm the amount. Halfway there, noticing that there is a person at the narrow counter, he decides to inspect the Brazilian literature shelf again. Happy decision, which avoids witnessing more closely the scandalous and violent way in which the client addresses the young woman who has been standing there for so many hours in the role of listening, informing and receiving.

At a certain point, the consumer raises her voice even further: “I saw on the internet that this store had the book!”. As a cashier, the attendant tries to argue that the site could be from the main bookstore… It's useless. The person seems to have left home just to exercise the consumption superpower. “This is absurd!”.

The teacher decides to go to the cashier anyway. "Patience. Who knows, maybe I'll hasten the departure of that inconvenient person…”. As expected, the customer had left in a huff, as she had arrived. When it's his turn, the subject observes that it must be difficult to deal with “people so nervous”. The girl and her colleague imply that they are, but contain the occasional protest.

The subject imagines that store employees are used to “dealing” with the rudeness of the São Paulo middle class: a symptom of hysteria? command desire? perverse way of distinguishing oneself socially?

As usual, the professor treats the girl with the cordiality she deserves; she tells him that she is entitled to the discount. He goes to another cashier, where the boy debits the amount due. Both remain silent, which leads him to consider how much it costs to contain the response that certain customers deserve.

Give up coffee. Maybe it's time to return home.

In half a block, he gives way to a person, who does not thank the courtesy; twenty meters ahead, he is almost run over by a passerby in gym clothes, who could appear in the tenth episode of the franchise Fast and furious.

Returning to the fifty square meter castle, the chronicler will ask, once again, what explains the brutalization of the people.

*Jean Pierre Chauvin Professor of Brazilian Culture and Literature at the School of Communication and Arts at USP. Author, among other books by Seven Speeches: essays on discursive typologies.


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