An idea for a sociology study

Thanks in great part to the efforts of a fellow Starbucks patron and one-time major-metro-area employee of the chain, I have hit upon a hypothesis in desperate need of investigation. Over the years I have noticed at some almost-conscious level that the level of detail involved in the order of a person’s coffee drink seems inversely proportional to his or her level of happiness. Someone who requests, for example, a two-shot, four-raw-sugar grande Americano, with sugar-shots-water in that order and with the drink reaching exactly to the top of the java sleeve (and I am not making this up) is far more likely to be wearing a bland if not surly expression, speak in a monotone, and exhibit other signs of a flat affect. My friend Ken attributes this to the customer’s sense of not being in control of most aspects of his or her life, and he’s right–this trait is classically and strongly associated with compulsive behaviors surrounding food, exercise, and other areas which the neurotic individual can continue to direct to an exquisite degree even when work, marital issues and finances prove refractory to his or her best managerial efforts.

As a corollary, watch how people in business suits conduct themselves in coffee shops compared to the hipster and slacker-generation types. The former will drop $5 on a complex specialty concoction and the latter half that much on a Venti Pike Place, room for cream, and I believe that even controlling for income and concomitant spending habits you would see a preponderance of clearly regimented types with anal-retentive inclinations with respect to their orders.

I have seen this in related areas. I recall being in an Einstein Brothers and watching a sour-faced man who, despite his manifest barely-concealed impatience, could not help but include about eight different types of bagels in his order of a baker’s dozen, with several midstream decision changes and an order of a toasted Asiago cheese bagel with a different spread on each half on top of the to-go portion. The man was in a suit on a Saturday morning and I assumed that this meant he had to work and was probably not happy about it.

Perhaps there is some confirmation bias at work here, but that seems unlikely since I never consciously considered this correlation before today, although as I eagerly plumb my memory for supporting data I will probably not remember the flanneled Gen X-er with a skateboard under his arm who chewed out the barista for screwing up his mocha latte or the guy in evening wear who grabbed a house blend while employing the “pull-my-finger” joke with a huge grin.

This is tangentially related at best, but I’ve noticed that when strangers behave in a way that’s sufficiently annoying, it loses its capacity to irritate and instead seems comical. Last night I was on a bus and in the row in front of me was a guy talking into his cell phone at high volume. He was in his sixties and wearing a polo shirt and affecting the kind of practiced faux-baritone intended to project authority. He was telling his interlocutor that he was going to be late because he’d had a busy day but expected to be at the hotel by 9:20 and the restaurant by 9:40. So he was obviously in town on business of some sort. I didn’t consider these details in any way until minutes later, after I had placed a call of my own to a friend who is preparing for a marathon in two weeks and fighting an illness. The connection was crappy and I had to speak over the hum of the bus engine as well. After a few minutes the polo-shirt guy (now two rows in front of me for some reason) turned around stood up, and blared “Could you please keep your voice down?” Although not yet aware of the irony of this salvo, I was certainly aware of its inanity and underlying douchebaggery and so I did what I always do automatically when hoping to inflame someone: smirked ever so slightly and kept right on what I was doing. It was tempting to sneer at him and maybe tell him to mind his own business and go fuck himself, but I’ve found that people like this despise being mocked or ignored far more than they dislike being given even negative attention. So let’s hear it for fat, bald guys in their sixties who schedule business dinners on Sunday nights. Self-important prick. Hopefully he got some bad swordfish.

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  1. #1 by khaulein on September 27, 2010 - 12:08 pm

    Great post. I’d be scanning the local Starbucks scene for confirmation, but the preponderance of IU students and faculty makes the cohort here pretty hopelessly unrepresentative.

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