It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League degrees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness.
Where do I start? Here are two guys from the same city or town, probably of similar age. Small talk is a simple as how about this hot/cold/winy/rainy/perfect weather we are having? Or since the plumber was wearing a Red Sox cap you could mention the World Series. If sports is not your thing, one could enquire about a local news headline. Mr. arrogant jerk could follow this generic conversation with a simple "Do you need anything else from me, or should I stick around?" If Deresiewicz is concerned the plumber is going to risk his job, his licence, and his reputation by stealing the good silver as soon as he turns his back he can stay and watch. At this point the arrogant prick could further break the ice with a simple "I bet you have seen worse than this". Everyone likes to talk about what they know and funny stuff happens to everyone on the job. Mr. elitist college professor could tell the plumber "I am not very good at this DIY thing, could you explain what you are doing?"
The point is that we are all human beings. If you work with your hands, or you work with your brain, we all are on this big spinning ball of water and land we call Earth. Some may have more money, some may have more education. Others may possess skills and abilities I may lack. The only elitist is the jerk who cannot recognize this. Sadly, he cannot see in the exchange of the plumber and the arrogant, pretentious asshole, the plumber is the superior man.