At a dinner party last Saturday I was asked by a fellow guest what I did and I said I was an investment banker. I might as well have said I was a paedophile. Suddenly the whole table – all friends of my wife from the art world – turned on me with such venom I was really taken aback. I tried to defend myself by saying that I had nothing to be ashamed of in the work that I do in M&A, but the more I argued the more hostile the other guests became.
Next time this happens – and I fear there will be a next time – should I accept guilt for what isn’t my fault, or should I lie and say I’m a librarian?
Investment banker, male, 42
I cannot work out if your question is a genuine inquiry about dinner party etiquette or a howl of pain at the unfairness of life.
If it is the first, the answer is simple. There is absolutely no point in trying to convince arty people that you are anything other than the devil; any attempt will make things worse. The complaint against investment bankers is that you have dragged the world into recession through your greed, stupidity and arrogance, and any attempt to say otherwise will enrage them still more.
To avoid further ugly scenes, next time say you work for the government. Which, depending on your bank, may be partly true. If there is a follow-up question (although there probably won’t be) say you work on the financial side. That will shut them up.
The good news is that if you go to dinner parties as infrequently as I do, things may be less intense next time. People do not obsess over the same things indefinitely, or else going out would be so dull no one would bother. Next time the topic will probably have shifted to Madonna’s divorce, and you will be returned to the status you probably always had: smug, boring, philistine, too rich for your own good and an eccentric choice of husband for your nice, arty wife.
The bigger question is, who is right: you or the outraged artists? The answer is neither. You weren’t personally responsible for what has happened, yet neither are you in a good position to claim the high moral ground. M&A is not the most honourable of callings: mostly it just added to leverage and job losses, so to show a bit of humility might have been seemly.
One other thing I would love to have known: what did your arty wife say to you in the car on the way home?