When I was at college, I earned some extra cash by tutoring English. My three students were 10 years younger than me, all born in 1987, the year when the “wind of change” began sweeping away the old regime’s most ugly rudiments. Even then, I admired those kids — their fast reactions and gadget-orientated minds (even though in the late 90s the world of gadgets was confined to pagers, gameboys and clunky computers.) But these youngsters were always somehow alien to me. It was obvious they had grown up in a different country to mine.
Curiously, at least half of the people I work with today come from the very same “alien” generation. The more I observe the ways they express themselves both in business and personal affairs, the more I feel that we grew up in different worlds. Ambitious, self-confident, resourceful, knowing what they want but still managing to take it easy, practical, inventive, open-minded and somehow free. It doesn’t mean that the thirty-somethings lack all these qualities, it just seems to me that achieving success is so much more effortless for this new generation.
I asked my colleague, 23-year-old fashion editor Kseniya, an easy-going office sweetheart whose aptitude and knowledge of languages often leaves me speechless, if she has any memory of the Soviet Union. “I know of it only from textbooks and from my mom’s tales,” she said with a smile. Asked about her goals, she shrugged and said calmly: “to grab every opportunity that comes my way.”
Experts suggest that when societies go through a fundamental, crucial change, just like Russia did during the past 25 years, the gap between the generations widens dramatically. Add the pace with which the world is moving these days, and it’s no surprise that a small age gap can turn into a gulf.
In fact, when I interact with people in their late 30s and early 40s, I often feel they’re perfect strangers, too. “We’re the last generation with stable values, a steady life focus and a strong sense of responsibility,” said Aleksey, a 43-year-old friend of mine. A father of three who has been married for 22 years, he said his generation has strong family values, which are lacking among today’s thirty-somethings. “We still had the Soviet family model ingrained into us; you guys grew up in the crazy 90s, amidst all that anarchy and chaos. And that’s what’s happening inside your heads, too, – you’re much more lost.”
In some ways it’s true. It seems that many of my peers are still searching for identity and direction, both in their careers and in their relationships. The contrasts posed by a conservative Soviet upbringing, a sudden wave of freedom and a consumerist boom have left us with a major dilemma: should we stick to conventional patterns or “do it our own way?”
Yet the twenty-somethings, it appears, have no problems on this front. Asked if she intends to settle down any time soon, my colleague Ksenia said, “I am looking for love, but I believe in marriage too. I just don’t know when it’s going to happen.” She said that some of her friends are planning to marry in the near future, some already have families of their own, some are just dating casually, while others aren’t even willing to consider anything serious until they are in their 30s. “There’re so many ways to live your life these days, you just have to choose the one which is right for you,” she said.
But what I am most curious about is the generation that’s coming of age after Ksenia’s: today’s teenagers. These are aliens from an even more distant planet. They’ve grown up in the world that consists not of borders, but of limitless information that’s being constantly updated. They learned to write text-messages before they could speak. Many have been travelling abroad since they were babies. These youngsters already know a lot, perhaps too much. I recently had to explain to my 10-year-old niece what “metrosexual” means after she heard this word on her favorite reality-TV show (of course she already knows all about homosexuality.) I wonder what they will do with this country, where so many things still bear the marks of that alien place: the Soviet Union.
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.