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  • Writer's pictureKaren Herbert

Karenism #1: I'd Like to Speak to the Manager!

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

One of the worst Karenisms is "asking for the manager." The universal impatience attributed to white Boomer-age women has become legendary. Fast food restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, wherever and whenever. From the plethora of memes available, I believe that there are plenty of rude Karens out there.

I understand the frustration; I’ve had the experience of waiting in a long cashier's line or served a wrong order. Sometimes, there is a loud countdown clock ticking away the seconds in my mind. Many of us are juggling online business meetings, virtual school, and everything that needs to get done. Patience needs to prevail, but if you surrender to anger, you are labeled a Karen.

There are hundreds if not thousands of "Manager" Karen memes out there. I thought I'd seen everything about Karens and managers until this TikTok video posted by user Pj Mossell. In the video, a white woman is clearly incensed about the lack of Nacho Fries in her order, abusing the workers who she calls "teenyboppers." All while her mask is down around her chin. The workers are laughing, and if they have any concern, it's for the woman's daughter, who stands by mutely as her mother is making a scene.

Taco Bell's Nacho Fries are a special menu item and are only available for limited time intervals. When they were last on the menu, this tasty inexpensive treat was discussed online by a few of my Facebook friends, one who was literally in the drive-through line at Taco Bell. "Sooo good" was her verdict. Another friend stated that eating the extraordinary fries was a "sacred rite of baptism in nacho cheese." So the woman's ire is understandable - no one wants to miss out on a snack that is so good it's sacramental.

But calling the police is definitely an extreme reaction - did she want the workers that prepared her order to be arrested? They had no control over the availability of the Nacho Fries! Try making your own at home - there's a recipe here.

There are also memes about McDonald's being out of chicken nuggets, not getting enough ketchup packets or another small mistake.

If you are one of those Karens, you are often faced with the choice of being represented by Kate Gosselin, whose hairstyle has become synonymous with Karenisms, or Gordon Ramsay, a celebrity chef who verbally abuses contestants on his reality show. Or maybe Godzilla. I don't know what depiction is best, and I definitely don't have a favorite. I'm disappointed that the rude behavior of so many white women has become widespread enough to become a meme-able stereotype.

What makes these occurrences even more disconcerting is the fact that all of us have been depending on essential workers more than ever during the last year. These frontline workers have been instrumental in keeping the economy going and keeping people fed, even families with a Karen. Furthermore, essential workers are among the lowest-paid, especially considering their high level of exposure to the Covid-19 virus.

Fast-food employees are also on the lowest rung of the hospitality ladder compared to formal restaurants and educational food service work. The nationwide annual wage is only $13,500, which is barely above the poverty level set for a single-person household, $12,880. There are almost 4 million fast-food workers in our country, and the average age is 29 years old. Many have children (26%) and more than half work more than one job.

The stress of the Covid-19 virus sits on top of the typical overload faced by fast-food employees. Reporter Emily Guendelsberger took on three service jobs when her newspaper closed, thinking to write about how technology was being used to change the service industry. What she found out from her work at McDonald's was that scheduling algorithms created both burnout and dangerous conditions as employees rushed to fulfill orders around fryers and grills. She writes in a July 2019 Vox article:

"Technology has also made understaffing a science. At my McDonald’s, we always seemed to be staffed at a level that maximized misery for workers and customers, as exemplified by the constant line and yells of “Open up another register!” Not only did this permanently strand us in the weeds, it meant that customers were often in a bad mood by the time they got to us."

These hard-working folks are doing the labor that saves you time and effort in the kitchen. Additionally, if you put a value on your time (even minimum wage), most fast-food meals are definitely cheaper. All while facing exposure to the Covid-19 virus while most Karens are safely working from home. Many places are understaffed, too, adding to the stress the workers feel.

As a white woman in the Karen age group, and an actual Karen, I'm on a crusade of sorts when on the other side of the counter (or drive-through). It's always correct to say thank you, so I thank the employees every time. I add another quick comment, too.

"Can't wait to get these crispy fries home to my hungry family!"

"Love Taco Tuesday!"

"Fried chicken is our favorite - thanks!"

"See you next time!"

"So glad you are open for breakfast, too."

When is it okay to ask for the manager? When there is an occasion like this one.

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