Overview:

I live in a middle-class neighborhood but I grocery shop in a nearby upper-class neighborhood. Guess what? The rich are different.

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I live in a neighborhood that abuts one of the wealthiest communities in America (read: the world). These are the 1% you’ve heard of. The homes all cost multi-millions of dollars and many of these homes have exquisite ocean views.

I began to shop at a grocery store in this upper-class neighborhood some years ago, avoiding a slightly closer store in my own nearby middle-class neighborhood because I no longer wanted to run into my college students in my grocery store.

“Oh, Hi Dr. McKenna! I see you’re buying pop-tarts, a bottle of chardonnay, and a laxative. What are you up to tonight?”

I don’t run into anyone I know at the rich store.

After many years of wandering among the rich, I offer here some unscientific anecdotal observations on the wealthy at their grocery store:

The men are machismo, rude type-A personalities. They walk in front of you as you peruse shelved items, and they grab items off shelves from behind you—and they never say ‘excuse me.’ It’s their right to run roughshod over fellow shoppers. They act as if courtesy would be effeminate when offered to a fellow man. Their manners do not extend to men.

The women are impossibly beautiful, and some are overheard talking amiably with fellow female shoppers about their botox treatments and their daughter Meagan’s soccer coach or their daughter Elise’s horsemanship. Some women are trophy wives, but many are not. And the women who are not trophy wives are also beautiful because, I don’t know, somehow beautiful women in America have their paths chalked before them toward wealth.

The men and the women drive expensive cars, and the store parking lot is covered in them. You’ll find Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Maserati, Ferrari, Alpha Romeo, Lexis, BMW, Mercedes, Range Rover, Tesla, Rivian, and others. The car owners feel they invented the rules of the road and can alter them at will. Most of the car owners act as if they do in fact own the roads they drive upon. They will arrive at the intersection near the store, an intersection with four stop signs, and not realize they were the third car to arrive and need to wait their turn; instead, they pause for two seconds and then think it’s their time to go. I’m amused at the rare occasion when one of them bumps into another of them.

Their children are also beautiful, with blonde locks and metallic blue balls stuck in their heads for eyes. The kids are models of insouciance and may arrive on $2000 eBikes and come inside the grocery store only for a Starbucks Frappuccino.

As to the stuff on the shelves and in the bins, the offerings are better than stores in my middle-class neighborhood. From fruits to veggies to meats to alcohol—it’s better. Though, the sticker prices on wines and whiskeys would shock a middle-class visitor. Some of the whiskeys are in the hundreds of dollars. A store manager told me the liquor department alone makes $60,000 on a weekend of sales, every weekend. In my middle-class store, the chilled ready-to-buy white wines are in the $7 to $12 range, but in the upper-class store, the chilled whites are in the $20 to $40 range and higher.

I don’t buy the expensive things, but the cheap things at the rich store are still better than the expensive things at the middle-class store.

I wonder how store employees view their clientele. The employees are working class and plainly live nowhere near this store, except for one elderly rich woman who apparently just wants something to do with her day-time hours and helps bag groceries. She is very old and very, very beautiful. But the check-out staff are all solidly working class, as are the guys who stock the shelves. How do they put up with these rich people? The butchers sometimes express a certain reserve with me, and I think it’s because they think I’m one of these wealthy patrons. I want to shout, “I’m not one of these rich people!”

It’s a different world, and there’s a lot that’s galling about it—for instance, the rich, to no one’s surprise, have that entitled air, that sense of privilege. This gets to me because, in almost every case of wealthy couples, there’s only one person in the marriage who actually made (or inherited) the money. The other partner is a Klingon. So why do the partners that did not make (or inherit) the money act as if they’re somebody? They’re not. They’ve not contributed much to society at all. They just married a person who was able to make (or inherit) money. Why the air of importance?

Some of the rich are Trumpolines, but not all, surprisingly. In the 2020 election year, I saw a gigantic Trump banner on a massive 15 million dollar mansion. But across the street at an equally colossal house, there was an even larger Biden banner. (As if banners for any cause can actually sway anyone’s view about anything. No one ever said, “I saw an abortion bumper sticker today on a car and it really changed my mind on abortion.”)

Here’s a final unscientific postscript: The rich are different than you and me. Shop a while in their shoes and you’ll see.

J. H. McKenna (Ph.D.) has taught the history of religion since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and the LA Times, Huffington...