Aristocat or Alley Cat

So my family and I were getting lunch at Sizzler's the other day.

Yes, Sizzler's. Because Sizzler's has a great lunch menu with an all-you-can-eat salad bar. Buffets are great when you're eating out with kids.

Anyway, we noticed a family at the register in front of us. The parents were ordering, and the little girl kept interrupting to say she didn't want cheese on her burger. The parents weren't really listening to their daughter, because they were ordering, so they shushed her.

There's an interesting book from Malcolm Gladwell called Outliers: The Story of Success. In this book Gladwell argues that children from a middle class background have an edge over children from poorer backgrounds, because middle class children develop a sense of entitlement. The word entitlement has a very negative connotation. People picture spoiled trust fund brats who constantly whine and demand.

But according to Gladwell, middle class children are "taught how to interact comfortably with adults, and to speak up when [they] need to."

“Even in fourth grade, middle class children appeared to be acting on their own behalf to gain advantage. They made special requests of teachers and doctors to adjust procedures to accommodate their desires.”

By contrast, the working class and poor children were characterized by “an emerging sense of distance, distrust, and constraint.” They didn’t know how to get their way, or how to “customize” whatever environment they were in, for their best purposes.


Whereas working class and poor people tend to accept that the options presented to them are the only options, middle class and upper middle class people make special requests so that options accommodate and favor them.

My wife and I have this running joke between the 2 of us.  My Chinese ancestry is from Southern China (Guangdong Province), whereas my wife's Chinese ancestry is from Northern China (Shanghai).  We joke that she's the aristocat, and I'm the alley cat.  She has the upper middle class mindset, and I have the peasant mindset.

Her father came from a fairly wealthy family, so he had servants before the Communists took over and put him in a labor camp.  He's a polite and kind fellow, but he can also come off as somewhat insistent, especially when it comes to service.

My wife is the same way.  My wife wants the best service whenever we eat out, travel or shop.  I, on the other hand, am pretty easygoing, and since I've been in customer service, I'm very weary of coming off as too demanding.

But oftentimes I find that we get better service and more benefits when we gently and politely insist on being accommodated.

That's what I want for my daughter.  I want her to articulate her needs and wishes to adults.  She already has figured out how to do this to a large extent.  The very first word she could articulate through gesture was the word, "No."

It's a very important word, because saying "No" can mean so many things.  Saying no eliminates that which you don't like: "No, I don't like vegetables."  Saying no is an assertion of your independence: "No I'm not like you."  Saying no is also a defiant act, an act of resistance: "No, I will not give up my seat."

Of course when your daughter stonewalls you with these no's, you'll find it frustrating as a parent.  But although my daughter can't talk yet, she's using the word no a lot less.  Instead of saying what she doesn't want, my daughter points and tries to tell us what she does want.  And that's much better.
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