This ambivalence goes back centuries. Aristocrats were guillotined during the French Revolution, and new taxes were based on how wealthy people appeared — measured in part by the number of doors and windows in their homes. The well-off learned to be discreet.
.. But there are still rules against showing it off. Parisiennes rarely walk around wearing the giant diamonds that are de rigueur in certain New York neighborhoods. “It’s more in a private dinner that you see the wealth,” a French friend explained.
.. And they’re revolted when money seems to trump all. Last summer, locals made a stink when the Saudi king and his entourage were allowed to cordon off a public beach on the Riviera. “The point we wish to make is that not everything can be bought,” a politician leading the protest explained.
.. The typical “French dream” (or at least the one people admit to) isn’t of great wealth, it’s of great security, including a steady income and pension. When you apply for a mortgage here, banks don’t care what stocks you own, because stocks can go down; they want to see a monthly salary and a permanent work contract.
.. Brexit also offers a cautionary tale about what happens when the superrich dominate a city, pricing out practically everyone else. In London recently, I visited friends at the peak of middle-class careers who are living crammed with their children in a one-bedroom rental.