Sunday, 7 October 2007

Birthday celebrations and musings...

I’ve been writing a post about my birthday trip to Barcelona, but I want to post some pics with it so when I get some from Anya I’ll post that later... Overall, though, the trip was amazing.

When we got back last Monday, Anya stayed overnight and then headed to Oxford, where she’s going to grad school. On Tuesday my friend Jon called to say he was in town. Jon is from Canada, and he's been going to law school in Toronto. I met him a few years ago through a mutual friend in NY and we usually hang out when he’s visiting NY, he's there off and on. Last year he took a year off school to work at a law firm in Tokyo. I planned to visit him and a few of my other friends who live there, but unfortunately it was just too expensive. Hopefully now that I'm closer it will be easier to get over to Asia.

Jon's doing a semester now in Paris at La Sorbonne, so before he started classes he came over to London for two days. He was heading to Barcelona afterwards, so we were doing opposite trips. I met up with Jon after work for a drink and then we went to see New Young Pony Club at the Astoria. I didn't know much about the band before the show, but it was really great. There's 3 girls and two guys. The girls are all really sexy in different ways, the singer is a pretty black girl with a hip, kind of quirky style. The keyboardist is blonde and vixen-y, she was wearing a black dress with these huge black feather fringes on the shoulders. I was stoked to see they have a girl drummer, and she played quite well. The guys in the band are kind of dorky and awkward looking, which is nice in a way because they sort of fade into the background and let the girls do their thing. They basically play dance-rock, and the show was really high energy. We danced and got all sweaty and had a fun time.

The next night we went to Nuno's restaurant, Bacchus. Anya and her brother Dennis had plans to meet up there with their cousin Carl. Carl lives in the States and he was in town on a business trip with a colleague. Jon wanted to check out Bacchus as well, so we basically crashed their dinner but they were really cool about us joining them. Jon lived in Russia for awhile so he and Dennis were able to chat a bit in Russian.

We all decided to try the 9 course tasting menu. It was a brand new menu, so although I've been there two times already I hadn't had any of those dishes. We started dinner around 8 and didn't finish until after 12. The meal was amazing. It was definitely the best meal I've had there yet. It's really coming together fabulously. Everything we had was really delicious and interesting and flavourful, and different to anything I've ever tasted before. I think Nuno's really hitting his stride with the menu, which is exciting because they've haven't even been open a full year. I can only imagine where he'll go with things next!

It was really a lovely dinner and in the end Carl was so sweet and treated all of us, which was very generous. It was so nice to relax and eat yummy food and have drinks and by the end of the night we were all feeling nice and warm, even though it was rainy and cold outside. Jorge and Miguel came to meet up with us for drinks and afterwards we all headed back to the flat and hung out for awhile.

The weekend after was pretty hectic. My company has been doing really well, so as a thank you to their employees this year they decided to do their annual Summer party as a big event. I'm not sure why they were having the Summer party at the end of Sept, but whatever. They treated everyone to go for the day and stay overnight at a golf club / spa / resort in Essex County. I roomed with my boss which I guess is kind of weird but Martha and I get along and we spent really minimal time in the room, so it wasn't that bad.

The trip itself was definitely an experience. There's about 90 people in the London offices and most people went. They took us in a coach bus from the office in the morning which felt like some strange grown up field trip, we played quiz games and they handed out juice. Martha and I grabbed the backseat of the bus (obviously) and I listened to my ipod most of the time so it wasn't that bad. The place was spread over 300 acres in the English countryside and the grounds were very beautiful. But most of it was a golf course, there weren't really gardens or anything to walk around. They had planned lots of outdoor games but it was pouring so we couldn't do any of them. They'd split us into teams and I heard the events were supposed to include climbing big inflatable walls and stuff so I was pretty relieved it was raining. I'm not really into climbing inflatable walls with my co-workers although a surprising amount of people I work with were very disappointed.

The people who planned the event worked really hard so I felt bad but it just seemed ridiculous to expect that in a country where it probably rains over 80% of the time that we would have a nice clear day to do outdoor activities. But apparently they banked on it, because there was no contingency plan. The spa was booked until 5 and was overly expensive anyway. They had a room with two snooker tables and a room with table tennis, but they said we couldn't play table tennis because it was next to the massage room and it made too much noise. Which was ridiculous design on their part. There were also squash courts and a pool, but I didn't bring a bathing suit and I didn't really feel like getting into a swimsuit in front of my colleagues.

We all ate lunch and basically wandered around the complex for awhile. I watched people play squash for it a bit, it's really popular here, they have it at my gym as well. It looks fun and like a pretty intense workout, I'd like to try it. Martha went up to the room and slept until dinner and I just walked around and hung out with different people. I ended up going with some of the guys in marketing & sales to play poker in a hotel room. I don't know how to play that well but I helped my friend Richard play and we won, so I'm either decent at poker or have good luck, but either way it was fun, especially since I was the only girl playing with like 7 guys.

After the poker game I went to change and we all went down to dinner. The dinner was a 3 course meal in a big event hall, and they had a couple bars and a DJ. Everything was free, and everyone I work with proceeded to get wasted. My Australian friend Jordan and I were like, ok we’re not getting drunk and we’re not dancing. Jordan’s 21 and this is his first real job, so he’s not even used to working at a corporation, let alone partying with co-workers. And I’m just way too American to feel comfortable getting very drunk around people I work with. But in Britain, not only is it totally not a big deal, it’s completely expected. I had a few beers and then switched to water about halfway through the night. Jordan and I spent the night cracking up at how drunk and crazy everyone was, taking pictures of people dancing, and generally marvelling at the Brits. I won’t go into details, but half the stuff that happened that night would have been seriously frowned upon in the States.

There’s something I really enjoy about the work environment in the UK. People are much more themselves at work, they feel free to say what they think, people curse and tease each other, basically they act how they would be around their friends. A lot of people are good friends with their work mates, hang out with them on the weekends, everyone goes to the pub together on Fridays. They don’t take themselves too seriously at work, which I really like. If you have a stressful day or problems with someone, everyone just kind of has a beer together after and everything’s cool. People can separate stuff that happens at work from who you are as a person. I love that part of it, the fact that you don’t always have to try to be super positive about every little thing and watch everything you say and do at work. I think the American corporate environment in incredibly stifling, and I think the Brits are just as productive and work as hard, but it’s a much better work environment.

I also definitely have reservations about the drinking culture here in general, especially as it relates to work. Some people at the party were so out of control as far as I’m concerned. I wouldn’t even get that drunk with my friends. And it didn’t phase anyone. At work on Monday, everyone was just laughing about it, it seemed like there was absolutely no judgement or repercussions. And as much as that makes me feel comfortable that no one would think the worse of you if you partied a little too much, I also know that I would never act that way around my colleagues. And I think that in a way it is kind of sad. In the morning we all went to breakfast and I said to one of the guys I work with, I just don’t understand why people would get that drunk at a work party. I mean, my boss and I had to carry a guy back to his room, another guy fell over and knocked over a table full of glasses. And he said, well some people don’t get to go out much, and it’s free to drink, so they enjoy themselves.

I guess that’s the main thing I’m learning about British culture. To me, just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to drink like you’re a 16 year old at your first party. But that’s the mentality here. People who during the day are quiet and reserved get a couple drinks in them and it’s their excuse to ‘let loose’, and do the things they want to do but don’t have the courage to do when they’re sober. And that’s something I can’t relate to. I shoot my mouth off and I’m louder when I’m drunk, but I’m always still myself. I still say what I think when I’m sober as much as I do when I’m drunk, probably just less belligerently. With the Brits it’s like Jekyll and Hyde. They’re all nice and proper, but put a few drinks in ‘em and they can get quite intense. They really do drink to get drunk. It’s not like they’re out with friends and they have some drinks, and if they get drunk, whatever. It’s like their whole night revolves around getting wasted, and if they don’t get super falling down drunk, they feel it was a let down. Of course I’m generalizing here, I know a lot of Brits who aren’t like that, but on the whole, that’s the social culture here. It definitely takes getting used to.

And at the party I think in a way people were taken aback by the fact that I wasn’t indulging with them. I’m sure they chalk it up to me being American, but I could tell it bothered them like, what was my problem? Everyone kept saying, why aren’t you drunk? Drink more! I’m sure it’s also a bit disconcerting when you’re wasted and someone you’re hanging out with is sober because you know they’ll remember every detail in the morning and you probably won’t. I tried to go to bed around 2, but people knew it'd been my birthday so the Managing Director (the British title for company President) bought me and another guy whose birthday it was a bottle of champagne. I had some champagne and sang Pogues songs with one of my bosses and went to bed.

The next day I came back home and slept all day because my birthday party was that night. We started with dinner at this pub called El Paso where Jorge & Nuno are friends with the owners. For a pub in London, they have good tex mex food, and it’s a fun atmosphere and cheap, so it worked out well. They set a big table for us in the back room. We have a new flatmate, Miguel, who is a close friend of Joao’s from Portugal. Miguel just moved to London to start university, and he was planning to move in with us when we got a new flat. Since we decided to stay where we are for another few months, Miguel is staying in Jorge’s room for awhile, same as I did. It worked out alright for him because he just got here, so it gives him some time to get settled and save money before we move. He got a part time job at El Paso for now, and my birthday was his first night working there. So he still got to hang out with us, but from the other side of the bar.

My good friend Kevin just moved here from NY to go to grad school for journalism, so he came and met everyone. It seemed weird to see him in London because I’m so used to hanging out with him in NY. It’s going to be really good to have him here, makes it seem more like home. I’ve only been here a little while so I wasn’t expecting to have many people at my birthday, but a bunch of people came out and it was really fun. Anya and her brother Dennis came, some of Dennis’ friends, Jorge & Joao, Gabriela, Paul (who works at the drum shop with Jorge), IR who is an old friend of Jorge & Joao’s, Hans & some of his friends, Rory and lil’ Rachel. Hans brought these confetti poppers and in the middle of dinner everyone sang happy birthday and popped the confetti poppers at me, it was cute. Afterwards we went to this club called Catch to watch the Fabulous Penetrators play and met up with some more people there. Joao’s friend Joe (who I met in Boston like 8 years ago) came with his sister, Jorge’s friend Sam came, Anjalie, some other peeps. We all got drunk and danced and it was really fun, and the Penetrators were sweet and dedicated a song to me for my birthday.

So all in all I think I definitely celebrated my 30th well. If I had to turn 30, spending it in Barcelona and then with friends in London made it really seem more of a positive milestone than something depressing. Sometimes I can’t believe how fast time has gone by. Other times I look back on my life and think that I understand the paths I’ve taken and that I’ve done the best with what I have in my life. Always tried to be a good person to the people around me, be a positive factor in people’s lives instead of a burden. In the time I’ve been alive so far I think that I’ve always tried to explore the world as much as I’ve had the ability to. Tried to have as many new and varied experiences as I can, encounter different ways to live and different ways of thinking, make new friends and learn from people I meet. I’m happy with how I spent my 20s, the experiences I’ve had, and although things were rough at times I wouldn’t say I have any real regrets.

I also think that in the last few years in NY I started to feel like there were a lot of things I wanted to do that I still hadn’t done. And there’s never any guarantee in this life how long you have. And although I feel like I don’t have any regrets so far, I knew I was going to start to if I didn’t make changes in my life. The one major thing I’ve always wanted to do more is travel. For a lot of reasons - money, work, personal situations - I just never had the ability to take the time off and travel as much as I wanted. I also realized that I’ve spent my entire life living on the East Coast of the US. And as much as it seemed like I’d lived different places because I lived in a major city like NY and I’d lived in Boston and Pennsylvania, I also realized that my world view was going to be really limited.

So as hard as it has been to make this transition, one of my goals was that my 30th birthday would be a step towards a new life, a celebration of all the things I’ve done up to that point, but also an entrée to a new phase in my life. I really despise that idea that if you’re a woman and you’re not married with kids at 30 you’re somehow a failure. I look back on my life and I know I made the right decisions for myself when I needed to, and I think I am where I need to be right now. I think I really took advantage of my 20s, both socially and also building my career and figuring out the life I wanted, and I’m kind of looking forward to moving into a new phase. I really couldn’t imagine that there was anything else new I was going to learn from the NY nightlife scene. And while DJing and doing the magazine and going out all the time to shows and events and gallery openings and whatever else was really fulfilling to me for the last 10 years or so, I really wasn’t feeling that into it in the last two years, or at least the scene that was going on in NY.

Even just a change in scenery like coming to London though I think has done a lot of good for me. I still do some of the same stuff here, go to shows and clubs and whatnot, but it’s a different scene and a whole different vibe, I just like it better. You feel much more a part of the rest of the world in London, everyone I meet is from a different country. Just in the group of friends at my birthday party were people from Portugal, Russia, Japan, Norway, England, US. I like that aspect of living here, you’re always learning from the people around you and everyone has interesting stories to tell.

A lot of women say their 30s are a good decade because they spent their 20s figuring out who they were and what they wanted, and in their 30s they were able to relax and enjoy themselves. I’m looking forward to getting older, I don’t feel like I’m losing something. I’m open to having a different kind of life here. What kind of life, time will tell, but hopefully it will a good one. Give me a chance to explore the world and gain a broader perspective, and of course learn more about myself and what I want to do in the process.

1 comment:

goldengirl said...

Brilliant and as always, well said. Happy Birthday darling girl.

Mum