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09.04.2018

Rich hungry people suck. Millennials have coined a word for this — “hangry” — but millennials suck too. (BPB Ed: The writer is a millennial). They turn into insufferable cranks who forget all social graces, concerned only with the echoes inside their tummies. They feel like the world owes them something. When I’m hungry and someone asks me for a favour, they get a punch instead.

But we have to draw the line somewhere, and I do the line-drawing when I’m at a restaurant and that one bonehead — you know who I mean — decides to be nasty to the waitstaff. It’s one of the most uncomfortable situations in the world, worse even than nudity in a film you’re watching with your parents. Torn between the outmoded demands of loyalty and ordinary human decency, I usually grimace and simmer and suck it up, hating myself and everyone around me.

It seems like a redundant concern, this behaviour: something our parents might have done because no one told them any different. Young people today think we’re better than the post-Partition baby boomers. We don’t litter. We’re not entitled. We’re even beginning to talk openly about what a shame the caste system is. We treat women with respect; we don’t say things like “I’m not a feminist; I believe in equality”.

Oh, wait.

Sure, I’m being glib. But I’m also being real. People, not just the oldies who’ll soon be weeded out by the circle of life but also our fellow woke millennials, have no idea how to talk to people in the service industry. I’ll tell you why, too. It’s because we’re now in a moment of well-intentioned but hollow virtue signalling, where we reserve our progressive values to show people who “matter,” like our 350 Twitter followers, while our entitlement hangs out in full display when no one can see us.

#NotAllYungPpl? I don’t know. Sure, many things motivate the brat-snap at waiters. One lesson millennials haven’t learned yet is that language is a barrier - just not in the way they think. I must confess that I’ve been at restaurants where people, sometimes at my own table, will order their food in Hindi, and in the same breath make a snarky comment about the waiter in English before he’s left. I’ve heard people laugh condescendingly when a server struggles to pronounce a word.

One time I was getting a meal at a balcony table in Khan Market before they shut down all terraces and balconies. (Then reopened them.) (Then shut them down). (Then reopened them.) “What is wrong with this guy?” my friend said as our server was struggling to take down our order. I think he was unable to tell us the full list of ingredients for the (possibly made-up) European-sounding dish we wanted to order; impatient and starving, my friend accidentally used her inside voice outside.

We all think these things, because we’re all terrible; the problem is when you say it out loud at the cost of another person’s feelings. After an excruciating few seconds where we all looked in different directions, our waiter left our table. To have apologised when he returned would have prolonged the moment unconscionably. We laughed awkwardly, fully aware that we’d have fled to a bathroom to cry had we been in his position.

The server-patron relationship is such a one-sided one that anything other than courtesy comes from a bad place. Heaven forbid a waiter losing her head at a customer for being difficult, no matter how many times she’s wanted to say, “Just keep quiet and eat your goddamn food, you little terror.” Millennials are great at writing unbearably long, vengeful, teary diatribes on social media highlighting how an establishment has been so callous and heartless (“It’s 2018 and you’re still not training your staff!”) and how their feelings are hurt and they “strongly urge everyone I know” to NEVER go to that place again and teach them a bloody lesson.

Sometimes, to patrons, a meltdown seems like nothing short of necessary. The server is rude (“but ma, he started it!”). They’ve been trained to profile you by appearance and act like they’re doing you a favour (“Could they tell this Zara jacket was bought at 50% off?”). They’ve messed up your order (“I asked for a burger, you got me a shoelace!”). The food is terrible (“I could have just eaten yellow dal at home!”). It’s taking too long (“Have they gone to Paris to get my French fries?” “Amit, French fries are from Belgium.”).

I visit one restaurant in a week and meet a grand total of three restaurant staffers. Staff? They deal with spoilt man-children - other than myself - for eight to 10 hours a day. I don’t always remember this. Once, I was extremely annoyed to find a plastic wrapper in my food at a certain piano-shaped cocktail bar in Delhi. In the middle of my rant at the apologetic staff, my friend — embarrassed and trying to restore some balance so that we wouldn’t be tagged as Those Kind Of People — thought it wise to compliment them on all the other stuff we’d ordered. “There was plastic in this one dish,” my friend said, smiling desperately, “but I must tell you the rest of the food is excellent.”

A city like Delhi comes with its unique-but-not-really power dynamics and glaring class inequalities. Maybe it’s because of the extreme weather we get for like 11 months in a year, but everyone’s always acting crabby and entitled. Dignity of labour is a mirage, and there’s an unspoken acceptance of a social hierarchy. It’s still OK to yell at waiters, cab drivers, domestic workers and everyone else who exists to do our bidding and nothing else (“Understand? You better understand,” as Gen-Xers used to say).We can’t blame it on ignorance, the way we handwave our parents’s bad behaviour. With us, it’s just a convenient dereliction of duty: with all the woke tutorials in the world, we still choose to act like dicks when it suits us.

This, of course, is why we’ll never raise our voice at anyone serving us at the Sunday brunch buffet at the Taj on SP Marg. They have spikey haircuts and went to hotel management colleges. Dare my server pour me a little less sambharat Sagar Ratna, though. I will show them their place. But hey, it’s not all bad; at least I can tell stories about how waiters get to spit in my food to preserve the illusion of universal justice.

This story was contributed by Akhil Sood, an arts and culture writer living in New Delhi.

Photo Credit: Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

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