Apparently going to Spoons and Greggs is appropriating working class culture
A Guardian columnist has suggested privileged kids enjoying them are on a class safari. That’s ridiculous, they’re just good, British chains
Earlier this week, Hetty Douglas, a South London creative, invoked the collective fury of a bored early-September internet by saying some workmen in McDonald's looked like they only have one GCSE.
In huck magazine, Dawn Foster gives her take, titled ‘Privileged kids need to stop fetishising working class culture’. It's been widely shared, and rightly so – it nails a lot of the sentiment behind the backlash. Within it, however, there's one problem. She thinks that privileged kids talking about enjoying Wetherspoons and Greggs are appropriating working class culture.
“There are thousands of privileged young people in Britain though who spend their days eulogising about going to Greggs and Wetherspoons as if it shows how grounded and open-minded they are,” writes Foster.
“Instagramming photos from your Wetherspoons crawl seems exciting and exotic when you have the privilege to adopt any class signifier you like,” she writes later in the piece.
It'd be unfair to say Foster is alone in this. Plenty of other twitter users echo the idea – that middle class people enjoying Spoons and Greggs have ulterior motives.
I’m drawing the line here. This is the hill I am prepared to die on. Young, privileged people do a lot of tone-deaf things, but enjoying Spoons and Greggs are not those things.
As Foster's piece and many others outline, we all know someone like Hetty Douglas. To a greater or lesser extent, most of us probably are her at times: making tone-deaf jokes about class, and fretting over just how terribly middle class we really are.
Entire universities seemingly fall into stereotypes around it – take the Bristol student who learns to ditch their full name after the first term in favour of some tattered Diadora, safe in the knowledge that they can put the boat shoes back on when their parents come for lunch.
But Spoons and Greggs? That’s not a poverty safari – it’s just enjoyment.
Nobody genuinely believes that going to Spoons or Greggs shows how grounded or open-minded they are. Instagramming a pub crawl is neither exotic nor exciting.
We’re going to a ubiquitous pub chain with an annual revenue of £1.60 billion and almost 1,000 outlets, a bakery that sells 2.5 million sausage rolls a week.
The simplest explanation often happens to be the right one, as is the case here. There's no ulterior motive or hidden meaning. There's just people liking things, and sharing that.
There may well be swathes of middle-aged middle class people who for the first time, stop the Range Rover just short of M&S and tuck into a steak bake, pulling a funny face as they do so. Sadly, this sense of adventure and unfamiliarity, for young people, is a myth.
Foster's charge is that middle class people can shout about going to Spoons and Greggs without inviting the derision that working class people receive. Yet, young people are in no position to pour scorn on people for doing the exact same thing they do so much. It's a point of common ground, a new stone in the foundation of our national identity.
Playing dress-up, as Foster argues, may not erode discrimination and snobbery based on class – but unironically enjoying nice, cheap things surely does go a way to eroding, rather than reinforcing, that snobbery. Nobody is saying that they’re too good for these things at the same time as doing them.
Or perhaps they are. Perhaps young people are all going to Spoons ironically. But can anyone actually subscribe to the idea that we spend so much of our time in these restaurants, pubs, and bakeries just for the lolz? That we suppress our guffaws for just long enough to take the next bite of the sausage roll?
The reason you're in Greggs isn't because you're too embarrassed to call mother to top up your Monzo so you can get a Pret.
From chav socials, to disingenuously moaning about being broke, there’s a lot of shit things posh people do at uni to make working class students feel uncomfortable and out of place. Enjoying a high-street pasty and a cheap pint just aren’t those things.
Greggs and Spoons are genuine cult sensations. We should know – extolling the virtues of the Wetherspoons Loop one week, making a Greggs university league table the next. But this isn't new, and it's certainly not ironic. It's a point of genuine passion. I'm pretty sure young people have been drinking in Spoons since the 80s.
"They're buying food or ordering a pint, not going on a class-crossing field trip to alien territory," is as true for the working class people Dawn Foster writes about as it is for everyone else.