This question is specifically about the reaction of people in a class-hierarchical society, one that has never seriously considered egalitarianism, to a modern person with modern ideals. I imagine there's a good treatment of this somewhere, but my searches haven't shown anything.

I'm imagining an articulate modern guy in clean but casual clothes, like jeans and a collared shirt, something like that, who finds himself in 18th century England, or any place and time where class stratification is much more pronounced than it is in 21st century America.

How do the lower classes treat him? How do the upper classes treat him? He really doesn't fit squarely in either group, but would the upper classes look down on him even after they've exchanged a few words with him?

Of course it would be different in different societies. How would pre-Revolution French aristocracy treat him? An earlier India that has never had its caste system challenged or tampered with by imperialist influences (assuming it ever has)?

I leave the treatment of a woman's experience to another discussion, it likely being very different.

Maybe is this just too broad a question?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It may be useful to consider that class is not universally assigned. For example, in the US class is largely determined by ones wealth, while in the UK class is largely determined by how one speaks. A well bred, well spoken, upper class Englishman of modest means may not be considered upper class in the US, while it is hard to imagine any circumstance under which a wealthy (or not) American would be considered upper class in England. In general, I think that notions of class tend to apply to fellow countrymen, while foreigners are usually spared this treatment. $\endgroup$
    – abcdefg
    May 26, 2015 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ Or a 'classless' society; Poul Anderson "The Man Who Came Early" - except who and what you are still matters... A Yankee in King Arthur's court ain't gonna cut it. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Sep 25, 2015 at 21:30

4 Answers 4


It's a very broad question. The reaction would be very different across cultures.

But, perhaps you could get an idea by realizing you're not an example of perfect egalitarianism. Likely, more so than previous civilizations, but it comes in degrees. So, what if you met someone who believed that your level of education didn't matter for what job you should be allowed to have? Or that someone convicted of multiple sex crimes should not be denied from working with children?

To you, it seems obvious why that should matter. The reaction and number of rationalizations from you would be similar for someone who thought that someone born from parents out of wedlock should not be allowed certain positions.

It's impossible to tell how we're going to change the way we think. The topics can range from bell-bottoms to indentured servitude, who knew that decades later neither would be cool with most people? Though there will always be holdouts, maybe the future version of our civilization will look at us with the same horror about our consumption of animals as we did for the slavery in our past.

The point is, people of the time in question see someone outside the system in the same way we do. The out-of-norm-topic can change the level of the reaction. It's not insane to think helium balloons should be banned, but people today will look at you twice if you're suggesting that we should be feeding criminals into artificial meat vats. Maybe both those things will be totally normal in the future.

Big things, like slavery or many class systems, will have always had some people opposed to them. Disagreeing with such systems will not be unheard of and will most likely get you grouped in with whoever is on the losing side of that injustice. So in your particular question, the lower classes might accept him while the upper classes reject him.


I would guess that their reaction to that "modern" person from another time, a stranger with unusual clothes and mannerisms and with a quirky language that's full of loanwords, slang and coined terms that don't make sense in that society, wouldn't be too much different to their reaction towards a foreigner.

I'm not sure how that man found himself in another society from another era. I assume that he simply appeared somewhere. He carries a set of now useless belongings, including electronic gadgets that can't be recharged and future currency that's not legal tender yet. He's essentially penniless and homeless.

Try to find a job as he may. No one understands what he says. He speaks of wonderful machines and stuff that only exists in the realm of insanity. His skills are useless in the world of the past. He must resort to learn everything anew.

Maybe someone will hire him as an apprentice, his job something no man would enjoy to do, for a meager pay.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Luckily for them, Most people I send back in time have portable solar chargers. He has one skill which is extremely useful (and seems simple to us) which is normally ristricted to highly educated people in past societies, the ability to write. $\endgroup$
    – Necessity
    May 26, 2015 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ Only if your time traveller is a foolish person. Otherwise, as soon as he realizes what has happened, he will keep his mouth shut, obtain local clothing, and try to blend in. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    May 27, 2015 at 0:57
  • $\begingroup$ @AdamNicholls: I should have remembered how valued was that skill in the past, particularly before the advent of printing. I don't understand how that slipped away from my mind when I wrote that. Those things we take for granted and either didn't exist or were a luxury back then... $\endgroup$
    – Locoluis
    May 28, 2015 at 21:31

The more dissociated he is with society the society he is placed in the harder it will be for him to assimilate into said society. The longer it takes them to adjust the more likely they will get killed (or worse).

An English person sent into old england would survive reasonably well Id presume. The language has only changed so much over the years, so it wouldn't take too long to get used to and because of your strange clothes people will probably assume he is foreign, so any mistakes that he makes will be excused to some degree. Though this will only cover him so far for so long, any big or repeated mistakes may be inexcusable and get him into serious trouble.

It is likely that both the upper and lower class of society will try to avoid him (unless they are extremely friendly for some reason) as they dont think he is a part of thier society. Due to his modern education, his ability to write, do mathematics, he will probably fit into the lowest tier of the upperclass or the higheest of the lower, atleast aslong as he doesn't say anything absolutely stupid.

Due to having no money of that time, he would have to use all the skills and knowledge he has to get money. The most mundane skills by modern standards like writing would probably be the most lucrative in making money. Any other skills, especially instrumental would be useful.

If he kept with his egalitarianism attitude after setting himself up in society, then if he treated people above him as equals then he would probably be in a fair amount of trouble. If he treated people below him as equal then he would probably get a reputation and both the upper and lower class would probably think he was allittle off, though most of the lower class would probably like him and the upper class would probably reprimand him slightly but not take it far.


There are some obvious things which we would overlook that they would not.

Nutrition. Hygiene. Arithmetic. Teeth.

He is visibly different. The low class would certainly be wary of this stranger, because he does not look like he has been hungry in a long time. He does not smell like the street. He might look like an upper class foreigner who had his clothes stolen, and had to resort to these strange garments. Clearly he is educated, by any standard of the society he now finds himself in. Most of his skills are useless (touchtyping, if keyboards still exist in his future) but his general knowledge of things surpass the locals he now meets.

What other features of this culture does he notice? Do they still bleed patients to "let the bad blood out"? Is this the time period where chamberpots are emptied in the streets and the rich wear stilts to walk through the filth? (Discovery channel show Filthy Cities, London episode).

He could get an immediate job as a clerk or accountant somewhere.

Knowing that excrement burns, all old cities are by rivers or water, boiled water makes steam, and steam engines existed at some time in his past / their future ... draw plans for a dung powered cable ferry across the river and take them to city officials. (I have already been thinking of this idea for an alternate history story of my own) He might be laughed at, but some one would take notice because it solves multiple problems that they have, and finds usefulness in filth. This can get him at least one upper class patron.

Lighting the streets at night was originally done to reduce crime (possibly obvious, but I learned that from James Burke's Connections). It wasn't effective/practical until coal vapours were discovered to be combustible, readily available, and able to be piped through the streets to the street lamps. Coal tar was being explored for the tar coatings on the underside of boats, and this vapour discovery was an accident. I would not expect your time traveller to know those things, but you might want to trace some of these discovery linkages in your world.

Sorry for answering an old question, but too many thoughts for just a comment.


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