The golden rule is don't reveal your salary ... just show it off instead

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How much we all get paid to do our jobs is a tricky subject. While most people are not happy to tell you what they earn, many are delighted to show you – by means of what sociologists refer to as "conspicuous consumption". In other words, they spend their salaries on ostentatious displays of wealth. I'm thinking principally here of pirates (lots of gold teeth, gaudy jewellery and perhaps a parrot on the shoulder) and the kind of gentlemen who drive around south-east London's rougher thoroughfares in snow-white Bentleys with blacked-out windows and a pavement-shaking stereo. (These fellas also favour lots of gold teeth, emerald rings the size of snooker balls and perhaps a pitbull on the shoulder.)

There are people who never flaunt or discuss their money and find the subject to be the height of bad taste. That would be the rest of us. The first time I encountered this was with a good friend at school, a bloke we shall refer to as "Martin". Alone in our group, he left school as soon as he was able, at 16, and got a job at a local printer. And while it's unlikely that his entry-level post was lucrative, everything is relative ... to the rest of us, whatever he was earning was bound to be a lorry load more than whatever pennies we were accruing in our Saturday jobs.

As time went on, we became more and more curious as to what kind of wedge he was pulling down. So we asked him – and his answer was always the same: "Oh, too much." We would implore and cajole, desperate for a morsel of information with which to be dazzled and to dazzle others. ("You will never guess how much Martin's making at the printer.") But he never weakened. I still don't know how much he earns. Maybe I'll ask him on Facebook.

One demographic that is never shy about revealing take-home pay is professional footballers, especially the top echelon, whose salaries (particularly if they are playing poorly) are often used by the media as pejorative adjectives. "Quite why the £320,000-a-week striker thought it wise to repeatedly kick the ball over and past the goal rather than into it remains a mystery to both this reporter and the 45,000 onlookers who would struggle to earn £320,000 in a decade."

The only time I have ever heard a football figure talk with normal-person sanity about footballers' wages is Sir Alex Ferguson. While manager at Aberdeen the early 1980s, he was asked by a reporter why he was apparently so hard on his players, given his insistence on them running up and down the city's beachside sand dunes in a quite tortuous training exercise.

"These boys are earning executive wages," he said, quite perplexed as to why he was being asked such a silly question. "So I expect executive performance from them."

Mind you, I would probably sprint up a vertical sand dune if Fergie told me to, wages or no wages.

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