An Informal Examination of Generational Entitlement
People talk a lot of shit about millennials. As a millennial myself, it doesn’t bother me too much- I’ve been working extremely hard for a lot of years. I know that as a white, straight, thin, cisgender, able-bodied person, I have a lot of privileges that I didn’t earn and need to constantly check. I am very well aware that I am entitled to nothing and owe gratitude for everything. But I do drink out of mason jars sometimes, I’ve taken (bad) selfies before and I waste a lot of time staring at my phone, so at least those stereotypes are true. If you want to talk shit about my generation, so be it; we’ll still be here trying to carve out our lives as best we can.
Though I have a mostly-unused liberal arts degree under my belt, I make my living as a classically-trained chef. Because the job market is shitty and I don’t have the money to risk opening up my own operation, I am currently contracted through Whole Foods. I run a pop-up station in the middle of the prepared foods area, cooking made-to-order vegan meals right in front of people. It’s cool because I absolutely love feeding people and it’s awful because Whole Foods customers are everything that millennials are accused of being, times ten thousand. Entitled, demanding, narcissistic, unfriendly, self-centered, impatient, staunchly unwilling to be self-aware or considerate of others…you can read more about that here and here so I don’t go off on a thousand angry tangents. Obviously, not all Whole Foods customers are like that. There are some great ones, and even the half-decent ones are each a breath of fresh air. But the majority of customers I deal with every day act like spoiled, rude, undisciplined children.
Because I cook and sell my food right out in the middle of the store, I interact with Whole Foods customers and their entitlement complexes directly and constantly. I get to notice and analyze trends in behavior, even if only informally. One unexpected trend has become particularly clear to me: the millennial-aged customers (roughly 18 to 30) are the ones far more likely than anyone else to be friendly and decent. Yes, you heard me.
Even as a millennial myself, this trend continues to surprise me. Every day, the millennials I serve have much higher frequencies of saying “please” and “thank you” (rather than just “give me a” and “I want.”) They are the most likely to smile, respond to me when I greet them (most customers choose to ignore my greetings completely or just glare) and engage with me as if I’m a real human being. Even if they’re just placing their order and not having a full conversation with me (which is fine), millennials are the most likely to do so with decency and even kindness. They are more likely to be considerate, and therefore less likely to make outlandish and unreasonable demands. If they do make a demand I can’t fulfill and I apologetically explain why I can’t fulfill it, millennial customers are the most likely to understand. Most customers of other generations, on the other hand, will whine extensively or continue insisting that I meet that demand, even if I’ve just apologized and explained why it’s physically impossible for me to do so.
Now, not all millennial customers act like this. We’re still talking about Whole Foods customers, after all, so plenty of them display the same entitlement and abandonment of decency/self-awareness as everyone around them. And in keeping with the rest of Whole Foods customers, plenty of the millennial ones I interact with are dumber than a box of hair. Regardless, millennial customers show vastly less entitlement than baby boomer and silent generation (elderly) customers, with gen-x’ers somewhere in the middle.
Often, I witness millennials living up to some of their stereotypes while simultaneously defying others. As I cook a long line of orders, they’ll wait patiently with their face glued to their smart phone. They’ll say the word “like” five times while placing their order, but they will also say the word “please.” They’ll walk in covered in tattoos or wearing ultra-short spandex or bro tanks; they’ll take a selfie with the plate of food I made them. Okay. So sue them. Personally, I don’t care what they’re wearing or what words frequent their vocabulary or what they do with their phones. Their willingness to include human decency in their interactions with others is what really makes a difference. The choices they make in their own lives is none of my business; I care about how they treat others and relate with the world around them.
I have no idea if the trend of millennials acting less entitled than baby boomers exists only within Whole Foods shopping experiences, or whether it extends to the outside world as well. And I can only venture wild guesses about why these trends exist in the first place. Maybe it’s because when baby boomers were our age, basic needs and milestones were more easily-attainable. You could typically pay your way through college by working a minimum-wage summer job. Once graduating with a bachelor’s degree, you had a good chance of actually getting a decent job. And even with a basic factory job, you could buy a home, support yourself and a family, etc. Given inflation, job market saturation, exploding tuition costs, the decreasing worth of the bachelor’s degree, etc., those things are no longer a given. For us, a degree is necessary to get a decent job but often useless once we’ve earned it; earning that degree puts us in an average of $30,000 in debt (with super-high interest rates.) Unpaid internships are the new real jobs, minimum wage can’t cover basic needs due to inflation, and we have to work our asses off for years before we can even dream of being able to buy a home and support ourselves/a family (if ever.) Even for the privileged, basic things like education, jobs and homes are not a given for millennials. It’s just not that easy anymore and everything is more competitive, so we know we can’t just expect or feel entitled to a life like our parents lived in their early adulthood. And if we can’t expect those basic things, maybe that’s what shakes us out of the illusion of being able to expect anything and everything from the world around us. Maybe despite our smartphones and short attention spans, we’re more used to being patient because we know we have to wait and work for things we want. We have to wait and work for a decent job, wait until we’re dead to have our student loans paid off, wait to have enough money to buy a home, etc. All of this is just a hypothesis, but I know it is true for me and those around me.
Maybe you’re thinking “You just perceive the generational behavior differences this way because you’re a millennial and you’re used to interacting with other millennials. You get them, they get you, and that’s not the case when you interact with other generations.” Maybe there’s some validity to that. But there are quantifiable differences that are pretty indisputable measures of friendliness, politeness and entitlement. I can’t ignore the “please and thank you” count, the count of how many people ignore me when I smile at them and say hello, the count of how many people demand I fulfill an impossible request even when I’ve explained why I don’t have the power to do so, the count of people who demand to be the exception to the rules and procedures, etc. The people who have placed an order and been told “I have two orders in front of you so it will be 15 minutes”, said “Ok, I can wait. I’ll be back in 15” and come back 3 minutes later only to budge everyone in line and demand “Is it ready yet? I don’t have time to wait” have all been over 40. Are you that person? If so, maybe you should consider conducting yourself- and I can’t believe I’m saying this- more like the millennial in line behind you.