When I told my friends in Melbourne I was thinking of moving "To Sydney", but somewhere cool, "like the inner-west," they reacted the same way as if I'd tempered the news, "I have cancer," with "but so far it's only in my blood, brain and testicles."
I tried to stay optimistic. My entire experience of the city up to that point was as a guest Sydney Writers' Festival, a luxurious do held annually in Walsh Bay, so I imagined that life in Sydney meant unlimited booze in the shadow of the Opera House. And so it was, for the first night at least.
I moved up on New Year's Eve, and found myself at a very fancy party right underneath the fireworks. It was all very expensive and fancy, and debauched in a sensible kind of way. The whole thing felt a little like a million-dollar hen's night, only instead of the union of two hearts, we were celebrating the marriage of skyrocketing housing prices.
The first question everyone asked me at that party was, "Where do you live?". When I mentioned my new address in the inner-west, the majority of people nodded politely. A few openly scoffed. I didn't get it, until another recent arrival took me aside and explained that these people wanted to know where I lived so they could gauge my status and judge me accordingly.
The idea was baffling to me. Status was not something I had ever really given much thought to. Not consciously, at least. Australia is, ostensibly, an egalitarian society. We were supposed to dispense with the class system around the same time we stopped using the cat o' nine tails in industrial relations disputes.
The first question everyone asked me at that party was, "Where do you live?".
Of course, we still have class, and status, but it's been telegraphed in subtle ways, unique to cultural enclaves and cul-de-sacs. In the working class suburbs where I grew up, status was demarcated by how low you could get the skirts on your Nissan Skyline and have it still be street legal. If it was lower to the ground than a coke can, that rendered you the most eligible bachelor north of the TAFE.
North v south
Conversely, in Melbourne's inner north, your status was signalled by how many years you've subsisted on almonds and Bonsoy. If you had broken veganism and indulged in some kind of animal product, no matter how briefly, you slipped down a few rungs on the ladder of prestige and/or humanity.
It's worth noting that pretty much any metric by which we matter, status comes down to money. The same hard cash that pays for endless roadworthies when your whip gets canaried also pays for a holistic regime of Ashtanga yoga and sneering. The social signifiers of status are very different, but the means of attaining them are the same. In this city, it seems, that whole process is much more streamlined.
"In Sydney, status is about where you live and what you wear and what you do for a living," explained a friend of mine. "We're all too busy to take the time to figure out who our betters are, so it's easier just to announce it when you meet someone: 'Potts Point, Finance'. It's like challenging someone to a wrestling match, only you can do it in loafers."
I can see the appeal of this system, particularly in Sydney, a city where the best, brightest and most ambitious people from around the world converge to compete bitterly for rental properties. In such a melting pot of different cultures and social circles, the only option is to skip all the subtle manoeuvring about class and position, and give someone an idea of your median income by telling them where you live.
It's a neat solution to the endless hustle and competition, that stops just short of standing up on your tiptoes and barking out your net worth when shaking hands.
In any case, I live in inner-west Sydney now, although if anyone asks, it's closer to Surry Hills. Right on the border. Practically the same thing. You can even see the water, if you stand up on your tiptoes.
Have you had the same experience? Let us know in the Comments section.