Sunday, 10 February 2013

Me – the odd one…

I haven’t planned to mark the second anniversary of submerging into corporate world, neither here, nor at work, but it somehow coincided with the first… kind of crisis. It’s not a pure burnout, nor anything akin. I’m still highly motivated, my work gives me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction and still offers a lot of challenges. It’s about people I’m surrounded by.

Overwhelming majority of my colleagues are staid, several years older people who’ve set up families – are married and most have offspring. For many months I hadn’t minded it. I would get along with them and still do so, unlike many of my friends from university who couldn’t imagine working with people not of their age. I hadn’t mind it, but with time it sank in to me I’m a different breed. It’s not just boiling down to the fact I’m 25 and most of them are in their 30’s, but this age difference is a why and wherefore I don’t fit in.

I was aware of some sort of generation gap long before, but I first realised the depth of gulf between us early last month when one of my colleagues returned from maternity leave. Our team went down to our canteen for a coffee and to have a chat. The conversation, predictably, revolved around early stages of parenthood, I sat with all the young and slightly older parents and silently gobbled an ice-cream (eating cold Big Milk once a week superbly fends off germs from throat in the winter, recommended second breakfast) and for the first time I felt actually alienated. I felt like standing up and walking away, but for sake of civility I listened to them with feigned interest in things which won’t be familiar to me for a while.

From that very moment I inadvertently looked for ways to escape their company in moments when we were not focused strictly on work-related stuff. I have workmates below 30s at different departments, so I decided to spend most of my lunch / coffee breaks with them, much to my fellow colleagues chagrin (I don’t understand why they find it so aberrant I seek company of my peers).

Since then some of their habits I used to perceive as minor shortcomings, began to wind me up. The ‘dirty mug pride’ is at the top of their list. Whenever I see them coming to our desk where we have a kettle, coffee jar and milk with mugs or cups not washed after coffee sipped on the previous day it makes me want to puke and I have to hold back not to snatch it and shatter it on their held-up-high heads. At the end of the day before I leave, no matter how much I hurry and no matter how exhausted I am, I have to go to the kitchen and wash my mug. My parents taught me at home that whenever I use any dish, after I finish I should wash and keep it clean, for sake of hygiene. I don’t feel comfortable with dirt, they do.

This somehow contradicts with how toffee-nosed they are. When talking about holiday voyages, they claim they don’t accept accommodation below four-star standard. Everything below this substandard and they deserve something more. The same goes about business trips. I don’t mind staying in an economy-class two-star hotel. I only need a clean bed linen, a clean bathroom, a closet spacious enough for my suits and shirts and a decent breakfast. Why the hell my colleagues think they deserve a better standard? Are they made of higher-quality clay?

This is all a matter of klasa – you have it or not, you won’t learn it, nor acquire it. Good taste and good manners can be easily recognised – whenever they are rehearsed, they are unnatural. You might finish a good university, get a prestigious job, grow into wealth, learn foreign languages, but if you lack klasa, your image will always lack that missing piece. It all comes out in a way you treat people, how you mark your social status, how you use foreign languages, your reliability and attitude to work, etc. A well-mannered person will never treat anyone with superiority, will not raise their voice, keep cool head, be self-confident (this reflect their lack of inferiority complex), never show off their wealth, will learn foreign languages continuously and improve their command, instead of confining to just getting by in communication. Klasa is about modesty and proper balance between self-confidence and self-effacement.

When I observe them, dwell on their mindset, a picture of a typical lemming emerges in my mind. And the word ‘lemming’ does not just refer to voting for Platforma.

By the way, once I can say I am proud of this government. It has fought over 300 billion zlotys for Poland from the EU budget for years 2014-2020. This money will have a great contribution to helping Poland catching up with western economies. I call it an immense success, much greater than the same amount negotiated by Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz government in late 2005, as conditions are much tougher than then. When everyone was focusing on cutbacks, getting that much money is a success. The other story is that the budget might be voted down by the European parliament, many members of which are reluctant to such ‘profligacy’, so the joy might be premature, but the very fact such amount of EU funds is at stake is a reason give credit to our government. Of course the main opposition party, whose leader quite recently declared keeping fingers crossed for Polish negotiating team, but on Friday silver-mouthed PiS deputy Mariusz Błaszczak announced 300 billion are a bare minimum… How much would his principal attain for Poland during late-night informal negotiations without an interpreter?

Coming back to the main thread of the post – I’ve just realised my colleagues are a by-product of culture of consumerism, or triumph of ‘having’ over ‘being’. Living beyond means to show off their status is typical for Poland’s fledging middle class. The focal point of their wealth is usually a mortgage, symbol of dream of state-of-the-art dwelling fulfilled. Not planning to take a mortgage is it least dubious. In my parents’ generation having so much money implied right away you must have come into the possession of it illicitly. For much younger people it rather invokes a question “what’s wrong with you?” What’s wrong with you that you don’t want to have your own flat right away? And I simply don’t feel like taking such burden on my back if I don’t have to (if I was renting a flat, I’d surely have a different view), for many reasons.
Firstly, property prices, despite recent considerable drop, are still steep and given their relation to disposable income, the imbalance of supply and demand, curbed mortgage lending, macroeconomic situation, dwindling consumer confidence and demographic trends, are very unlikely to go up in two or three years; the worst scenario is that they level off.
Secondly, being free of debts gives you a huge comfort – future is not full of insecurity over job stability, health, source of income.
Thirdly, it’s about pure maths. Assuming I take out a 25-years, 250,000 PLN mortgage at interest rate of 6% (=0.5% monthly) and pay it off in monthly annuities, the monthly instalment is 1,610.75 PLN, out of which around 1,250 PLN goes for interest payment, so in the first month my debt is reduced by 360.75 PLN. It means after a year of repayment my outstanding debt is less than 4,500 lower than at repayment phase inception! I could also set aside some money and from most of them prepay the loan (some rainy-day liquidity cushion must stand by). I could safely assume after a year my outstanding debt would go down by 15,000 PLN. In a year of saving and living with parents (and putting up with them) I can set aside a whole lot more and my savings earn interest on top of that.
Fourthly, there are bargains on property market and in case of urgent sale a vendor decreases asking price and can accept an even higher discount in return for cash received immediately. If you want to hunt a bargain, there will be no time to arrange a mortgage. Oh, I would’ve forgotten, the very procedure of fixing a mortgage is also expensive – upfront and other fees usually consume an equivalent of a square metre of a flat at best.

Being thrifty is not a virtue in consumerist world. None of my colleagues does what my parents were doing from the day of my birth until I was finished high school – they were setting aside small sums of money for a separate bank book, then on time deposits. For what they’d put aside and interest earned I could buy a brand-new city car, but a single zloty from that money has not been spent until now and it still works. Then I’d put aside money as a student and inherited some more money. Savings began to rise quickly as I got a full-time job. Should I be ashamed I have accumulated something instead of throwing it about? Should I, as some suggest, paint the town red each weekend and thus decrease balance of my bank account by at least a few hundred zlotys each month?

Some people say after the stint of two years at one employer, there is a need for a change. But in the respects above, transfer to another bank would mean doing the same thing with the same sort of people, so there’s no point in changing… Unless for pay-related reasons… But this is not the case now…

Got it off my chest! What a relief!

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