Vast quantities of ink have been spilt around the world outlining all the things my generation – the millennial generation – is to blame for.
People love to hate on us. Millennials are entitled and lazy, say commentators. We expect everything to be handed to us. Our priorities are wrong. Because we prefer experiences over purchases, we don’t know the value of anything.
Everywhere you look, millennials are given flak for spending money on avocado toast instead of buying property, for contributing to the declining use of bar soap, for imperiling the future viability of golf and other leisure pursuits, and even for not getting married at the ages our parents or grandparents did.
In a Hong Kong context, though, I really believe the urge to criticize younger people is innate. Sure, this generation gets it laid on thicker than most but for older Hongkongers the global trend for savaging millennials is just a bandwagon on which to ride. Put simply, people of a certain age in this town enjoy nothing more than asserting their authority over younger folks a little too much.
It’s a cultural thing. Hong Kong Chinese people, of Generation X and older, love to trash my generation. They do it constantly and indiscriminately. They see themselves as being above the fray, hovering in a comfort zone which they refuse to vacate. And the worst of it is that we are compelled to agree with everything they say (thanks for that, Confucius).
The “When I was your age…” lecture is one I’ve heard my entire life. “A thousand dollars can’t buy the kind of hardships we faced in our youth,” a popular Cantonese expression, is rehearsed with great frequency. The implication is that the experience of growing up poor, and having faced hardships, has taught the speaker not to take things for granted – as opposed to those of us more fortunate in our upbringing who do just that. The sentiment of counting one’s blessings is not a bad one to have, but when it’s thrown at you every time you open your month, then trust me, it gets annoying.
A more amusing example? While tracking down a particular brand of cookies for a ‘Hong Kong local bites’ article I was working on, I was yelled at by an elderly shopkeeper who told me “young people eat too many unhealthy snacks.”
There’s another factor that plays its part in Hongkongers giving their millennials a hard time, though, and that’s the Hong Kong style of parenting.
Chinese people are not supposed to sing their children’s praises – at least, not openly so. “Why can’t you be more like so-and-so’s son/daughter?” is a fairly common refrain everywhere from the playground to the dim sum restaurant.
My own mother, who I know loves me dearly, has certainly thrown me shade. “My daughter is so bad at everything,” she said to my teachers when I was at school in England. “The only thing she’s good at is English. I think she’ll probably end up getting a job at a coffee shop in Hong Kong where she can greet customers in English, because that is the only skill she has.” (The response from my teachers? “Mrs Lo, we think you should apologize to your daughter.”)
More recently, friends of hers were apparently complimenting my work when she responded, “Well, what else is she going to do other than be a journalist in English media? Her Chinese is crap.” (It’s really not!)
I have no doubt at all that my mom is proud of what I do, but maybe she’s as much a victim of this deep-seated culture of youth-bashing as my own generation is. She apologized to me afterwards. “You know it’s not okay for us to brag about our kids.”
So, what gives? The millennial blame game seems to be going strong, aided by cultural shifts that continue to take place. But will these tides be strong enough for Hongkongers my own age to move away from maligning young ’uns when they get a bit older themselves? I wouldn’t hold my breath.