Idk if here is the right place to put it so if there is a better place, pls do lmk.

In Fantasy, lots of the stories have some poor person pretending to be a rich person or some rich person pretending to be a poor person. Usually for long periods of time, ie they are undercover or something. If there is any "plot" around it, it normally is very superficial i.e. poor person says "I was poor and I never had all these forks and stuff, which one will I use?" or rich person says "I was rich and I didn't know how poor these poor people are" and then it is completely brushed over.

I was thinking, in our real world (lots of fantasy is set in a medieval like world but let us focus on our present day since we won't have to be historians as well), how hard would it be for an individual to pretend to be in a class in which they are not.

I was thinking that in our modern time period, accents would be a huge thing which would be hard to fake for a long period of time. I am an American but I know what the "pop culture" rich British person's accent sounds like and what the "pop culture" poor British person's accent sounds like but I do not know if it is "really" their accents. Americans do not really have a rich person accent (in pop culture?) but there is a few poor person accents/ speech mannerism.

Anther thing might be jargon. I am a network engineer and there is jargon that people of my profession use that outsiders do not use correctly, that I would be able to somewhat tell by speaking to them. I do not know if this would apply to the different classes, i.e. rich people talking about their polo horses and yachts and poor people talking about whatever they talk about.


  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jan 5, 2022 at 3:51

8 Answers 8


"Rich" and "poor" are not in themselves social classes; there have always been rich commoners and poor noblemen. For example, the main character of Théophile Gautier's Captain Fracasse is a poor nobleman. Conversely, the titular character of Molière's Bourgeois gentilhomme is a rich merchant who fancies himself a nobleman; with immortal lines such as "for more than forty years I have been speaking prose while knowing nothing of it" (upon learning the difference between poetry and prose).

Monsieur Jourdain's bafflement is the key to the question: in order to pass for a member of a class to which one doesn't belong one needs to learn and practice how the members of that class speak and behave. There are people who specialize in such education, a famous example being Professor Higgins in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (better known to modern audiences as My Fair Lady); the plot of the comedy revolving around Higgins's wager that he could teach "a young flower seller woman with a strong Cockney accent, to speak so well he could pass her off as a duchess at an embassy ball" (words from Wikipedia).

In the real world, actors routinely employ professional help to teach them to speak and act like people from different social classes or from other lands. When you see Jenna Coleman playing Queen Victoria in the TV series of that name, you see her putting on mannerisms and a manner of speech which are not in the least natural to her. She had to learn how early 19th centuries English aristocrats spoke and behaved.

The point being that one can study and practice to speak and to behave like a member of a different class. And make no mistake, it is as hard to learn to speak and behave as a member of a lower class than one's own as it is to learn to imitate a member of a higher class.

That leaves the most difficult difficulty, namely that in many cultures the upper classes were a relatively close knit community, and the imposter would immediately stand out as lacking the expected social and family connections. That's why, for example, when Alexandre Dumas's Edmond Dantès arrives upon the Parisian scene with his newly found wealth, he doesn't try to pass for a French aristocrat, but rather uses the foreign title of Count of Monte Cristo, explaining why he behaves like an aristocrat and mingles in aristocratic circles without actually having the social links to the local aristocratic society.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "In the real world, actors routinely employ professional help to teach them to speak and act like people from different social classes or from other lands." True, but (1) they only have to do so for the duration of a film, while the camera is rolling, and more importantly (2) they only have to convince the audience, who (particularly in the case of pretending to be a 19th century aristocrat) are not members of the class and therefore aren't as good at spotting an imitation as someone of that class might be. So this doesn't exactly answer the question. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Jan 3, 2022 at 3:15
  • $\begingroup$ I'm trying to recall the name of a movie from the 1990s where a murder occurs at an English upper class house party: the maid solves the murder, but the police take credit. I read an interview with a woman who was some sort of cousin (2nd or closer) of the Queen. The interviewer suggested that the film couldn't be accurate, because of the number of "f-ck"s and "f-cking"s in the dialog; the Royal cousin (or whatever) said that the film was an accurate portrayal of the way that close spoke when they were amongst themselves, and there were no middle class people present. $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2022 at 7:06
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    $\begingroup$ @kaya3: The answer might not explicitly state "it would be exactly this hard," but it does at least set a lower bound for how difficult such a masquerade might be expected to be. $\endgroup$
    – Trevortni
    Jan 3, 2022 at 20:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Dantès also uses being a "foreigner" as a way to excuse his eccentricities and deathly pale appearance - it being a commonly accepted fact that foreigners are strange. $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2022 at 15:47

It depends how deep you want the deception to go. Are you trying to fool society at large or are you trying to fool a small group of people in a more intimate setting?

For the first one, I'd say its very realistic. Basic acting skill and lessons along with help from an "insider" who is familiar with the culture and class you are attempting to imitate are probably enough. Why? Because usually other people just don't care. The vast majority of people focus most of their attention on themselves or a limited amount of people close to them, and will likely forget your face within 24 hours if you only meet them once, and forget you exist (except for in a vague sense) within a week. If you can influence people's first impression with a proper handshake and a good wardrobe or whatever, half the battle is already won because the thing that will stick in their mind is "fancy suit guy with a monocle" instead of what you actually said or your exact mannerisms and accent.

For the second one--fooling people in a close setting--I'd say the answer is no. Tricking close acquaintances or people you live with is near impossible, because whether people want to or not, they will begin subconsciously (or consciously) analyzing your every move, mannerism, decision, etc. To convincingly pull this type of 'deep cover' off, you need to be extremely talented and have had extensive training and in-the-field experience, and even then, it's often not enough. For example, take a look at how the CIA operates. Instead of training spies and sending them into deep cover, they usually focus on making people who are already in a useful position into spies or informants (willing or unwilling). It is much easier to, say, blackmail or covertly convert someone who already moves in the circles you'd like to infiltrate compared to training someone convincingly enough that they can enter the circles with their own ability.

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    $\begingroup$ There is a third possibility: fooling a small group of people who are willing to help you fool them, as in the Tichborne Case. The Tichborne claimant fooled the mother of the real Tichborne, who desperately wanted to believe that here son was still alive, plus some other who wanted to profit from his being recognized as the heir. $\endgroup$ Jan 2, 2022 at 23:29

Accuracy is not only achievable, it's not even necessary

Making something convincing is not the same thing as making it accurate. People have successfully pulled off outrageously audacious scams in the past, some sporting enough very obvious red flags it's hard to see how they worked.

Sometimes it's a convenient fiction someone powerful uses as a flimsy pretext to cover for something they were planning to do all along. Like this kid tricked out into a prince by the actual brains behind a rebellion. Or this man who appears to have been in the right place at the right time (for a short while, anyway).

Sometimes someone manages to just be very convincing. Karl probably wasn't Louis XVII but managed to convince some folks who actually knew the man that he was. Frédéric managed to convince a family he was their long-lost son, even though he was ten years too old and the wrong color eyes. Frank Abagnale manage to pass himself off as a doctor and an airline pilot despite not having a day of training as either. Vincent Richardson made jaw-dropping headlines as a teenager who was so good at posing as a cop he actually worked a shift as one:

Richardson has a long history of impersonating the police, beginning when he was 14. In that incident, in 2009, he was so convincing that he was assigned a radio and went on patrol with a real officer for more than five hours on the South Side, driving a squad car and even making an arrest before police caught on.

Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley furiously called out police. “Where is the desk sergeant? The field lieutenant? The captain on duty?” he said. In all, 14 officers, including the captain running the watch during Richardson’s shift and seven sergeants, were brought up on departmental charges, according to an Internal Affairs report on the incident obtained by the Tribune under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The report faulted supervising officers for being unaware of Richardson’s presence, while the patrol officers were taken to task for not noticing he was an impostor and not properly notifying their superiors to the presence of an officer from another district.

Having a good story helps. Knowing how to conduct yourself really helps. But it's not necessary. Charles Ponzi, who made the Ponzi scheme famous, has a plausible-sounding explanation for why he needed your money now; that was all it needed to be. The fact that, if he was actually doing what he said he was doing (buying and selling postage stamps) he must have been moving around several times more stamps than actually existed was documented by people looking into him. It didn't matter.

I see nothing implausible about this in the least.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is why in my original comment that was removed for unknown reasons (which also cited Frank Abagnale) I said the question is how long does this person need to maintain the facade? Most examples you cited the con artist didn't have to do it for an extended period of time. If you're only doing it briefly and got out it's fairly acheivable. If you want to live deep undercover something is bound to slip. Of course present day romance scams often times have the victim believe fairly outrageous things for a sustained period of time, an attentive person can still catch red flags. $\endgroup$
    – user93359
    Jan 2, 2022 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ May I add, this fellow who sold the Eiffel Tower twice. $\endgroup$
    – Nuclear241
    Jan 6, 2022 at 3:24

Any aristocracy originates as a sort of Mafia. For example, in 1066 Don William, of the Normandy Family, decided to take over the territory of the Godwinson Family, aka England. Having become Boss, he divided the country between his caporegimes (barons), who in turn allocated territories to made men (knights). William's consigliori, Lanfranc, became Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anyone who belongs to a Mafia needs to know whom to trust: who is one of us? When the Normandy Family took over England, it became customary for a knight to send his sons to the household of a baron, where they would serve as pages and, later, squires, where they would learn the manners expected of a made man. They would only be made (i.e. knighted) if the caporegime thought they were suitable. In many societies, passing as an aristocrat would be as difficult and dangerous as passing as a made man in the Sicilian Mafia.

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    $\begingroup$ I upvoted because this answer makes the point I wanted to make but didn't want to write a whole answer for: in some social classes, particularly aristocrats, people take basically a whole education to be inducted into the class because that way, other people who don't have that lifetime experience can't get away with pretending to. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Jan 3, 2022 at 3:21

I would approach the problem as by treating "class mannerism" as a generic "cultural" thing.

If you're somewhat familiar with the target culture, it will be easier for you to adopt whatever they do. Contrast with a culture you're totally not familiar with: you'll likely be doing trial-and-error to find the correct way to do stuffs. It may also take some time before you look natural doing it.

Immersion and habituation also plays a role: knowing what should be done does not equal doing it automatically and appropriately. Even when you can mimic some quirky habits, you might still struggle to fake a spontaneous reaction.

The same principle works against you. If the people you're trying to fool is very familiar with the target culture you're trying to portray, you're going to get exposed much sooner.


I believe that it is difficult, but just how difficult it is depends on the particular society.

  • You mentioned which fork to use for the appetizer, but how about knowing what is (and what isn't) appropriate small talk at a dinner party?
  • Then there are common cultural references. Most of us know that "Use the force, Luke" is about trusting your instincts, not about using brute force. But if you hear coming out, do you think of sexual orientation or debutantes?
  • Knowing how to deal with staff, except for those who have been staff themselves (and even those might have problems). How do you react when you are in your skivvies when the skivvy comes in?

Much depends on just how much status is inherited in your society (for practical purposes, not legal ones). And also about the size od the upper class. If everybody who matters gets introduced by somebody who has been at Ascot during a previous season, that lack of connections will show.

  • $\begingroup$ Conversely though, getting introduced by somebody who has been at Ascot during a previous season, might be a good way to get started. "Well, they are a little eccentric, but you know, they were introduced to me by Freddie, his long lost cousin or some such..." $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2022 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ @lessthanideal, very much so. Or even if Freddie just knows them, without claiming any relation. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Jan 4, 2022 at 16:43

As an example see George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, and the broadway musical "My Fair Lady"

See also Heinlein's novel "Double Star"

Faking a class requires little more than some acting ability, and training by someone familiar with the class.

The greater the class difference, the harder it is.

I suspect that for a well to do person to "go slumming" would be more difficult than the converse. Depending on how great the difference, accomodating the general increase in dirt, much closer spacing, smells, bad food and much greater contact time.

E.g. you come to an inn and you are expected to share your bed with 3 other individuals as well as sharing their vermin. Food may be bland, very plain (boiled grain). Meat may be bad.

Being in close contact most of the time with others, you cannot let your act slip. This puts on enormous pressure.


One thing that has not been covered is reasoning. Different classes receive different education and have different life experiences. This affects reasoning in many ways, including subconscious decisions. You might be interested in reading this paper. It is a meta-study of literacy and its effects on cognition.

If Luria's data are correct (covered in the linked paper), it may be harder for an educated person to an illiterate with little to no formal schooling. People without formal education base their reasoning on very specific knowledge about their environment and lifestyle. For example, they tend to group things based on their purpose, utility, or typical usage (educated people tend to use formal categories). This is very hard to fake. In comparison, learning more abstract forms of reasoning is relatively simpler as it involves studying theoretical concepts that can be applied to a wide range of situations.

It is important to note that uneducated people are no less intelligent or smart than educated people. They just think in a slightly different way. Moreover, these differences show only in specific contexts.

However, if an impersonator cannot simulate these differences they will be perceived as strange. A reputation of an 'eccentric' may work in some situations but it may be undesirable if the goal is to be indistinguishable from average members of the target social class.


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