The Princess and the B: A cheat sheet on class

Believe me when I say that people around you are always watching how you treat others

The best way to appear classy is through kindness and by being polite to everyone no matter their social status or background.

Back in 2016, I sat next to a real-life princess at a fashion show. I was there as a journalist, scheduled to interview a famous fashion designer from Britain who just made a gorgeous collection of dresses using luxurious songket, one of my favorite Southeast Asian fabrics. I remember telling my husband how happy I was about that particular invitation. The card had my name and the word journalist right under it.

“Ha! I’m still me. I’m still Carol the journalist! Not just Carol, thediplomat’s wife,” I said the last bit in a mocking tone, almost as if I hated it. But I swear I didn’t. I just wanted to maintain my other identity, the one that I’ve had before marriage. Thankfully, I married a secure man.

I arrived five minutes before the time printed on the invite. It meant I had about 30 minutes more to just sit and people watch—you’ll never know who might waltz in and add color or great detail to the story. I chatted with the usherette on our way to my seat. She was a young woman in a hijab who was studying fashion in one of Kuala Lumpur’s universities. She admitted how excited she was. The designer was someone she truly looked up to.

“Here?” I asked her when she showed me my seat. A dumb question as the chair had my name but in my defense, only editors were given seats in the front row and young writers like me were often banished to the back. I felt like I needed to be at least in my 30s to deserve that seat. So, while I was normally confident, I must admit it left me so pressured. “I’m in the frow of a Zandra Rhodes fashion show!” I texted one of my best friends, who replied with several expletives. Novice move, I know.

My internal panic had to end at some point and it happened when I suddenly heard the same usherette’s voice approaching my direction. With her was a tall, alluring woman, definitely younger than I was. She was dressed in a long, sparkling gown in fuchsia that was. She thanked the usherette ever so graciously, sat practically in slow motion, then turned toward me with a smile.

She gave me her name—no titles or anything—but I assumed she was famous because we suddenly had a gaggle of photographers in front of us and we were at the mercy of flash photography. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry about that,” she said sincerely as she saw me blinking temporary blindness away.

We had a great evening talking about the collection and me noticing how quickly she put everyone around her at ease. At the after-party, we discussed life in Malaysia and I just loved how well-spoken and gracious she was. “The traffic is quite challenging but I hope you love your stay here,” she told me. I admitted it was something I often said about my country too and we bonded over our imperfect cities we had so much love for anyway.

After she left, I—the clueless foreigner—was informed of who she was. It turned out she was an actress who married a prince (the nephew of the King at that time) from one of the nine royal families in Malaysia. If, however, I was told that she was born royal, I would have believed it.

The princess moved with an air of elegance and grace but she didn’t seem haughty. She talked to the servers bringing food at the after-party, smiling at each one of them and sometimes starting a conversation. She was smart and well-spoken and she shared her opinions in a respectful way even when they differed from what others believed.

One of the servers brought her the wrong drink and she called him back, kindly, and whispered the mistake to him. He brought her the correct drink and she thanked him for the great service in front of everyone.

On my way home that night, I decided to drop by a coffee shop to get some take out. I wanted to get started on the article as soon as I got home and I needed coffee while I transcribed. I stepped into an entirely different experience from the one I just had. There, a woman was haranguing one of the staff, yelling about how they got her order wrong.

“Are you blind?”

The noise came from a tall and beautiful woman. Stunning, just like the princess, she had diamonds on her earlobes and was carrying that season’s designer it bag. Her accent was something most of us would find elegant but at that moment, it hurt my ears. As she walked out, she glared at me. Gripped by the whole drama, I didn’t notice I was already staring at them. I couldn’t help but compare the two women.

I saw the princess a few more times after that night and the experience was always similar. She remembered people and everyone gravitated toward her because of how she made everyone feel comfortable around her.

True class is never about money and how you look. The best way to appear classy is through kindness and by being polite to everyone no matter their social status or background. It’s something a lot of people forget during the motions and stress of daily life but it’s something the right kind of people look for. I have more of such stories but for now, believe me when I say that people around you are always watching how you treat others, especially journalists who may just remember and write about you a few years down the road.