I am the slowest eater you know. I think this is because I use good etiquette; I never speak while I’m chewing, I take small bites and I swallow one bite before I begin another.
“I have mastered etiquette,” I thought. “No you haven’t,” the Senior Etiquette Dinner told me.
The Senior Etiquette Dinner has been a Career Planning fixture for a long time and was, for many years, hosted by Karen Mills, whose attendance at many White House state dinners qualified her for the job. This year it was hosted by Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, who is quite polite.

Our evening of etiquette began with a mock reception and forced mingling. Although I knew most of the people in the room from living, studying and socializing with them for three and a half years, the ordeal felt stilted. Maybe it was because we were wearing business casual. Maybe it was because we were wearing name tags. I borrowed a friend’s blazer hoping that it would make me look assertive, or at least professorial. It did neither, but it did help me blend in with my post-adolescent, pre-professional peers.

After our mock reception, we sat down to learn dinner etiquette. Some of the etiquette rules seemed entirely arbitrary. For example, I learned the proper way to butter a roll. It is not, as I have always done, to saw the roll in half and make a butter sandwich, but rather to pull off bite-sized pieces and butter them individually. The only reason I can imagine for this is that it disguises how much butter you’re eating. I suppose this is meant to help people, who, like me, eat a lot of butter.

Sometimes I push bits of food onto my fork with my finger. I realize it sounds gross, but I bet you do it too. I did this once at the dinner, unthinkingly. I was sure nobody would notice, but one of my housemates saw me from across the room and shamed me later. Touching your food with your fingers (except for rolls I guess?) is bad etiquette. Don’t do it.
Also, turns out you’re supposed to hold a glass of red wine by the “chalice” to warm it and a glass of white wine by the stem to keep it cool (I wonder how this applies to Solo cups and Mason jars).

Dean Foster emphasized that contemporary business etiquette is “genderless,” which I appreciated. It is no longer cool for all the men at the table to stand when a woman excuses herself. I tried to think of other things that are genderless: garbage bags? hand soap? funerals?
To finish our meal, we had Bowdoin Logs (a special dessert composed of a tube of vanilla ice cream encrusted in chocolate cookie crumbs and smothered in hot fudge sauce—it is bliss).
Now I will analyze. Warm up your thumbs, Yakkers.

The Senior Etiquette Dinner is a Career Planning event, and its professed intent is to prepare Bowdoin students for job interviews that involve fancy dinners. We accept this because the sort of job that would require a fancy dinner interview is a good job. It means you have worked hard and are successful.

Notably, there are many of us who are not seeking these types of jobs, including myself. However, despite its lack of immediate usefulness in my job search, the Senior Etiquette Dinner gave me something that will be with me throughout my life. It is also something that is deeply unjust: cultural capital.

“Cultural capital,” is an idea coined by the social theorist Pierre Bourdieu in 1986 and refers to the things besides money that indicate class. Some examples: dialect, posture, speech volume, tastes, types of clothing and forms of education. Etiquette is absolutely a part of this. The rules are all about “not sticking out,” but the question arises: not sticking out among whom? I answer: not sticking out among the upper class. “Good manners,” are not an arbitrary set of rules Emily Post dreamed up; they are class indicative.

So, if I am particular about using “who” and “whom” correctly, sit up straight and know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino, I have more cultural capital than if I slouched, ate fast food often and said, “ain’t.”

Conceivably, I could have either set of cultural traits outlined above and have the same amount of money. But probably not. This is where the play between cultural capital and economic capital comes in; they are not identical, but the accumulation of cultural capital makes it easier to accumulate economic capital.

It is no secret that our country is deeply unequal. If you have had your finger on the pulse of national politics at all, you have heard Bernie Sanders rail against income and wealth inequality. The one percent and 99 percent are old news. Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” was a bestseller.

You get it.

Let’s come back to the etiquette dinner. I am not arguing that by teaching us which fork is for salad and which is for the entrée that Dean Foster is disenfranchising the 99 percent. This is what I am arguing: class exists in America.

A Bowdoin education is elite not just because of our 15 percent acceptance rate. It is elite because it gives us the tools to enter into, or remain in, elite spheres of society. The Senior Etiquette Dinner is the most visible, salient example of how.