Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Kryzys, la crise, la crisi, whatever you want to call it.

No, not that one. In the self-absorbed world of the western twenty-something there is only One Great Crisis and that is THIRTY.

It has recently occurred to me that I am twenty-nine.

To be honest, it happened not long ago and I managed to cheat myself into overlooking the whole thing by conveniently having the same birthday as that of another friend who is four years younger. Effectively this meant I ended up celebrating the last birthday of my third decade by getting inelegantly wasted with a very large number of very young students (many of them Polish).

Classily done.

So, since it's Tuesday night and we have nothing better to do than practice our note-taking skills and proofread Italian legal translation, let's take a cheerful moment to reflect on all the things we didn't achieve. All those 'When I grow up's that never made it past the drawing board. All those trips round the world we forgot to book, novels that we never started, flat deposits that we really on reflection oughtn't to have frittered away on kir petillante and crepes nutella on the rue St André des Arts...

All the things we thought we might have been...

... but aren't.

I'll start the ball rolling.

I thought by now I'd be...

1/ At the height of my professional career. I had little inkling, ten years ago, of what that professional career was to have been, but it would have been exciting. Something like a spy, or an investment banker* or an ambassador in the Foreign Office. In any case, it would have involved expensive tailored suits and wine-bar lunches.

2/ Living in a nice apartment. Possibly on the Lamarck-Caulaincourt side of Montmartre. There would have been a Very Deep Bath that you could swim in, plus a terrace (I do have a balcony actually but since I live in Belgium it's too cold to use it).
I was never clear on the specifics but one thing is certain: it would not have involved a 'lit-mezzanine'.

3/Gorgeous. Seriously: I never thought I'd have any use for benzoyl peroxide cream past the age of twenty two. I mean, who gets spots and wrinkles? Ok, I don't actually have wrinkles: I have three lines on my forehead and That Is All. But spots? Oh and how. And let's not mention the uncontrollable hair, the wonky glasses, the fact that I can't wear office clothes without looking like the temp waitress...

3-bis/ In possession of a generous set of assets. Up until the age of about twenty-three I still believed that one day I might wake up to find that they just appeared overnight. I genuinely thought I'd magically grow up to have a knockout figure, and that chicken fillets would be items that belonged in the fridge and not at the bottom of a B-cup. Dads of the world! This is what happens if you watch Baywatch with your daughters on a Saturday afternoon. Switch It Off.

4/ Able to cope with guys. Somehow I thought I'd have worked it out by now: how to be just the right degree of cool, rather than careening wildly from Desperate to Ice Queen; how to slouch seductively in a figure-hugging black dress, long blonde(ish) hair swinging - instead of twisting from one foot to the other, chewing my nails and talking at a good four hundred times my normal rate. Oh and I never predicted Twitter, G-talk, Skype, text messaging, Facebook... all simply a big digital mass of potential misunderstanding.
I would also have learnt to let Mr Wrong know the score in a grown up way, from the word go, instead of telling myself, with no small degree of cowardice, that just one more drink won't hurt and maybe he just wants to be friends after all.

4-bis/ A lesbian. As a teenager I was pretty certain that I would end up living a sedate and highly PC life devoted to intellectual pursuits and novel writing in a cottage near Cambridge with a female companion of a similar disposition. I read Orlando and Colette's Claudine novels and dreamed of a tweedy, steamy, forbidden existence.
But somewhere around 2001, in the vicinity of St Andrews University Students' Association Bar, something went horribly wrong.
I blame the intrusion of heterosexuality (and possibly also modern languages) for my failure to publish any great works of literature so far.

5/ Confident. I mean really - not aggressive, not obnoxious, just calmly assertive. Able to mingle. Well-versed in the school of Good Chat. Self-assured. Not plagued by the nagging suspicion that any minute now someone will suddenly Find You Out and tell everyone that you are Faking It and banish you back to the hot damp little corner of the pot wash where you belong.
If anyone knows the secret to this one, do let me know.

So... what did you think you'd be by now?

Answers in the comments box, please!

*my Dad used to work in the City and travelled to exciting parts of Africa a lot so I grew up thinking that this was the height of sophistication. I remember being asked in church once what I wanted to be when I grew up and replying 'I want to work in a bank like Daddy'. Oh Mrs Thatcher, what have you done?


Lilacspecs said...

I'm 28 and turning 29 in May. I actually had my crisis at 25, but I only think 30 will bother me less cause I'll be married by then and that's one of my goals (I know...so not feminist. I suck).
But I guess it depends on if I ask my 18 year old me or my 25 year old me where I4d be at 30.
This, I think , will be a blog post of mine today or tomorrow, for sure. I have to catch the train so I'll take a notebook with me this morning.

Darth Sida said...

Pino, but you know, don't you, you are going to have fond memories of the now time - and be puzzled (or, indeed, angry) about your eeh, quandaries of 2009?
[I wanted to put it simply: BTDT, but realised my chances to be a lesbian were zeroic.]
[What's Mrs Thatcher done? -- Well, is she anyhow responsible for Adrian Mole, or better yet, the Capital City tv series?]

pinolona said...

Lilacspecs, not at all: most of my friends had already planned out their weddings in detail, even down to the hymns (anglo-catholic upbringing). I simply didn't - not sure why entirely although it may have had something to do with point 4b). I'm kind of cool about thirty to be honest. I don't feel particularly old yet and I know it'll all go far, far too quickly so it's not worth wasting the time panicking.

Darth: I know, I'm not worrying as such, but you can't deny the comic potential of the pre-30 crisis :) It makes a good post, ok?
It's true, you don't really have the necessary qualifications to be a lesbian - although at the start of Polandian there were some doubts as to whether you were a woman or not (until Jamie met you).
If Darth is back, does that mean you're writing again?

What's Mrs Thatcher done? What hasn't she done?! I meant that an upbringing steeped in Thatcherism may be why little girls from Sevenoaks want to grow up to work in banks like Daddy instead of keeping house like Mummy.

inda said...

Why not a post about great things you have achieved without planning, such as: 'polishing' Polish, 'salsing', blogging, etc :)

pinolona said...

because it wouldn't be as funny :D

Laura and Ben said...

I might have to steal this idea too, if you don't mind. Stop having all the best blog ideas!!!

I am 25 and found my last birthday quite horrible. I hope they aren't always this bad in future... I don't normally worry about ageing.

pinolona said...

oooh my goodness, you're so young! Somehow I thought you were older than me. You obviously have a very mature outlook :)

Laura and Ben said...

Oh nooo - now I'm worried that I sound old!!! I do sound exactly like my mum; actually, I force her to phone up my bank and insurance for me, suggesting that I don't have a very mature outlook.

Oh, I'm so conflicted!!! :)

Michael Dembinski said...

I look forward to reading your posts as you approach 50 :-)

Your greatest moment as Literary Giant is yet to come. Orlando. Now there was an artiste (V. Woolf) that knew what the Immortal Creative Soul meant.

Vanilla distractions are getting you down. You have a gift. Shine.

Darth Sida said...

Pino, of course we're having a good post here (and that's why I wanted to write a comment).
I take it you never saw the Capital City series (esp. not in Poland in the 80s context) so what can you know. You are simply too young!
ps: Jamie knows nothing. It is not impossible I sent a decoy man for the meeting with him.

Anonymous said...

Konkurs dla wszystkich obcokrajowców czytających to i władających polskim.

Kryzys lat 80. Wchodzę do baru mlecznego. Zamawiam cienką, kryzysową zupkę i odstawiam na stolik obok. W tzw. międzyczasie idę zamówić drugie danie. Wracam i zjadam zupę. Nadchodzi student obcokrajowiec i mówi: "Co kryzys?". "Ano kryzys, kryzys" odpowiadam i wykańczam zupę.
Wołają mnie po moje naleśniki. Wracam z naleśnikami do stolika. O dziwo - moja zupa jest nietknięta!!! Zjedzona zupa była zupą obcokrajowca - studenta! Co chciał powiedzieć student przez "Co kryzys?"

pinolona said...


ale nie mam zielonego pojęcia...
chyba nie był anglika.

może francuz? 'excusez-moi?'
albo 'whose soup is this?' ?

'so kiss this!' (potoczny)

chyba ktoś ma inny pomysł??

student SGH said...

twenty... what...?

twenty nine???

That pic from Kraków market sqaure is too small to tell if you look young, but writing takes years off you...

And you reminded me that next month I'm turning twenty two. For no apparent reason my friends and me see the 22nd birthday as a kind of defining moment or rather turning point. Few of them already grumbled on their birthdays how old they were and how many years had already gone by. I really don't get it, it's not 18, when you reach the age of majority, not 20, when two decades pass, not twenty one, which is rather more breakthrough day in the US, in Poland you can get a driving licence for a lorry or a bus if you're twenty one.

I have my own theory on why Poles in their early 20's feel oldish. There's already a kind of gulf between us and contemporary teenagers. Those fluorescent-adolescents who are now attending middle and high schools are a totally different generation. Mostly girls, my female friends from teenage years didn't look like that, didn't act like that, talked about different things. The change is visible - all my former teachers who I meet recall my peers and me as "good as gold" children and gripe about rowdy teenagers of these days - those born in the nineties and brought up in affluence, much bigger than the one my generation experienced.

But frankly speaking I'm afraid that in seven years I'll be facing the same review of my accomplishments and it will be a bitter moment.

But after all it's still not too late to fulfil your dreams and to grow rich too, tough it shouldn't be a primary goal...

and that coping with creatures of opposite sex - looks like a collective problem of these days. I'm still asking myself "what does she really think / want / expect?" or "is it in earnest, or just for kicks?" maybe they also ask themselves the same, and so both parties, afraid of being hurt or rejected refrain from showing emotions too openly.

don't tell me about facebook. I'm fed up of all those inventions, I can't keep up with them.

And finally it's not too late to take up writing. The blog is an intriguing blend of child-like look at the world with mature reflection. So maybe when you'll be knocking fifty you'll put the best (how to recognise them? - easily - the ones which get the most comments) excerpts together into one book.

Island1 said...

Of course you only have my word that I met Darth and that I am not, in fact, Darth myself.

Hotmamamia said...

I'm thinking this whole "where am I going to be by ___years" is a terrible thing that teachers and therapists did to your generation!

What is so wrong with just going along with life and having short term plans and achieving nice little goals? I never set a timeframe for anything in my life...seriously...I wanted to get married at some point and have a couple kids at some point...got that accomplished by 33 and that is cool. I wanted to get an advanced degree just to prove to myself that I could...took 8 years, but it got done. I just kept my eyes and ears open for growth (personal and professional) opportunities and the rest really just happened!

Honestly, it's a waste of time to worry about a long term plan that you have set up for yourself when you cannot control much of what goes on around you :)

Enjoy 29 and 30 and 40 and 50...I'm on my way to sixty and the sky is still the limit!

Oh, BTW, found you via Lilacspecs...she's my daughter :P

pinolona said...

Laura... do you think your Mum would mind phoning up for me as well??

Darth: Capital City? No, missed that one. YouTube link please!

Bartek: gosh, you're so young! I disagree with you: I think the generation gap is between Poles of my age (very late twenties, early thirties), who have clear memories of the 1980s and Communism, and those aged under 25, who may have studied in a foreign country, have expectations of a middle-class yuppie lifestyle after graduation and may well have spent some time abroad (probably in London) post-accession. They also have much more left-wing views than their thirtysomething counterparts, who tend to be strong economic liberals (unsurprisingly). It's very noticeable :)
Cheer up, I'm sure you won't be bitter at 29. There's nothing to be bitter about: it's all a big game in the end.

Island: Noooooo!! Darth strikes again!

Hotmamamia: I'm sort of the other way around: I can only really plan over the short term, I know what I want to do this year (in terms of career normally) and everything else sort of fits around it. Even the thought that I might stay in Brussels for A Whole Year is terrifying. But I do wonder whether I should try and put down roots somewhere.
Great, I've been reading your daughter's blog for a while now :) it's good stuff. I see you have your own, must check that out...

student SGH said...

so how old did you think I was. After all it could turn out that you thought I was older than I thought you were ;)

Those who remember communism have blurry memories of empty shelves in the shop and probably nothing else - they grew up in the nineties. We can easier find a common tongue with them, have the same aspirations.

Have you met or talked to Polish teenagers, have you overheard what they talk about? I suppose the answer is negative, because of the language barrier. Or maybe there's nothing surprising for you, cause they are becoming similar to their counterparts from western countries. But I do travel a lot around Warsaw by public transport, visit the same places as they do and almost every day have the opportunity to observe - and still they are a different generation.

Left-wings views - maybe it's a matter of environment, by I rather see a tilt at conservatism, supporting leftists social ideas like gay nuptials, support for abortion, limiting Church's role in social life is not on as far as I see. The other thing is Polish hypocrisy and inclination to identify having left-wing views with glorifying communism. Economic liberalism is indeed very noticeable.

Acrimonious Bartek - just a joke and a small call for a review for me ;)

pinolona said...

? I'm confused - that is your name? at least that's what Michael (jeziorki) calls you... or should I stick to your blog ID? apologies if I've taken away your anonymity...

uhhhh the language barrier is not so huge actually, you underestimate me: I do understand most of what I hear on the tram (in Brussels as well) :) although I'm obviously not au fait with a lot of the slang used by teenagers because they didn't teach it at UJ and because my friends don't necessarily use that sort of code with me since I'm a foreigner.
And yes, Polish teenagers seem pretty similar to British ones, but my experience was that this extended to young people up to 24/25: it was only those in their early thirties who seemed noticeably different.

Why are you acrimonious?
OK, I know maybe one Polish teenager, but I definitely, definitely noticed a stark difference between for example my freelancer colleagues who are around the thirty mark and the students I shared with in my first year in Kraków, who were in their early twenties. That's where I perceived the generation gap, from my observations of Polish society as a visitor: somewhere around 26/7. I still feel that young people in this age group are more strongly marked by the impression of Communism and by their parents' experiences than those who are ten years younger.

I assumed you were 24-ish: you write quite a serious blog and I'm used to Polish students being a couple of years older than British ones because of the five-year Masters system.

student SGH said...

Bartek - this is my real name (I still use it e.g. on Polandian), to be precise a diminutive, only the surname should remain unknown, although you may still remember it, cause I used to post under my real name and surname, but then switched to anonymity. Use whatever you want, except surname.

I've noticed that borderline age is now around 20, so a few years lower.

So you had a good insight into my more or less peers. Generation gap is about mindsets, behaviours, priorities in life and generally style, I won't try to put it over once again...

You write only about communism, but the first decade of independent Poland was not the same as the present times. When I grew up in the nineties the culture was different, our parents weren't so overloaded with work, bonds between people were stronger and the consumerism hadn't crept up yet. Current teenagers are growing up in much bigger affluence, objects which were our beyond our wildest dreams (like mobile phone ten years ago) are available for everyone and those who don't have it are excluded.

Still we could argue for hours about this.

and I assumed you were 26. And with that acrimonious it was just a joke - hope I'll never be (tough my sense of humour is invariably hard to swallow).

When it comes to birthdays: in primary school my friends would laugh at me, because I had been born in December and so I was younger, but now they envy me that I'm younger. I didn't think it would occur that soon.

Masters system is becoming the thing of the past. Polish universities are obliged to adopt the Bologne two-tier system. In my school my peers and me are the guinea pigs and I have to say it's a total disaster

Darth Sida said...

Pino, I found merely this:

The show was great: not only could the Pole of the 80s watch dreamily how the West (Money) Was Won [And Damn How Fast], but the series had a Joanna Kanska, a Pole cast as a Finnish broker, plus episodically another Polish actor who now goes by the name of Bork, Tomek Bork [resistance was futile]. In pre-EU, pre-Capital era it was nearly as fascinating as, hm, knowing that that certain woman who appeared in Antonioni's Blowup and done a score of other nice things, residing in London is the very granddaughter of the greatest Polish poet. The small world of Polish...(or was it English?)