For whom the clock ticks
London, March 2017
— Charlotte, I wonder whether there is a notion of a spinster in French? — I asked, cozily crouching on a new comfortable chocolate-colored sofa. The sofa, like my old friend, embraces me and understandingly squeaks under the weight of my body. My question, though, remains unclear to my French friend, with whom we have been sharing not only our small old townhouse in the very heart of northern London but also all the problems we have.
— A spinster? What do you mean, Tina? — asked Charlotte in surprise, making a large gulp of pear and ginger tea.
For a moment, I felt uneasy for my question, and I regretted having asked it. However, the insistent and impatient look of my charming friend suggested that she would not give up and would want to find out the meaning of this mysterious word.
— said I, trying to sound serious. Explaining the meaning of a spinster to the young educated European woman, I felt the stupidity and absurdity of the situation.
Almaty, January 2017
— asks me the Kazakh taxi driver offhand, dragging me out of the continuous flow of thoughts. I catch the gaze of his brown eyes in the rear-view mirror.
Last year in February, I returned to Almaty for a month and a half after completing my three years’ contract service in Cyprus. The sunny Mediterranean days, sweet and dragging, like almond nougat, were behind me, and in the future… Frankly speaking, at that time I did not know myself what was waiting for me in London.
— I am working as an auditor in an international firm, and I have just returned from Cyprus,— I knapped the phrase I knew by heart. If you are born and have grown in Kazakhstan, you should be ready to provide detailed answers to all kinds of questions. it is impossible to keep things secret, you will only warm up your interlocutor’s interest. In this case, questions will be poured on you, like rice from a torn bag.
The driver definitely likes the facts of my biography. He touches his hair, smoothening it, and continues his interrogation.
— Are you married?
— No, — I shake my head negatively.
— And how old are you? — the man continues asking, and I hear enthusiasm in his voice. He looks thirty, he has dark skin, simple features and his speech is simple, too. He says that working in a taxi is his main job and the source of income.
— 28, — I reply, anticipating his reaction. I am used to people mistaking me for a college student because of my look.
— 28?! And you are single? You know, you are old even for me! — he yells disappointedly, turning to me sideways.
While I was staying in my native city, everybody was reminding me that I was already 28 and that I was not married. It also turned out that I had to hurry and jump onto the departing train of my youth and have a baby immediately after that, as “you know, it is the biological clock that is ticking”.
The most insistent people tried to find out what was wrong: “You seem to be pretty, intelligent, your family is good, and you are still unmarried. Ah, I understand, you are making a career”. I found myself exposed to such a severe psychological attack that I decided to wear one of my mother’s gold rings as a wedding ring next time I come here.
When I was leaving to work abroad, I had just turned 25. When I returned, I was old, 28 years of age.
I asked my unmarried friends about it. I found out that each of them was feeling uncomfortable because of the people’s reaction to their age and marital status. They encountered the contemptuous attitude of the persons of the opposite sex: only because they were 28-30, they were supposed to accept all kinds of dubious propositions happily and be grateful for any kind of condescending attention.
A couple of months ago, I read an article at one of the Kazakhstan portals, in which the author openly used the term “spinster” writing about girls older than 25. I understood that becoming a spinster was the most terrible thing that could happen to a young woman in Kazakhstan. It does not matter whether you have made a terrific career, you have a high salary and international headhunters are chasing you, regularly offering jobs in Switzerland or in Seychelles. It doesn’t matter whether you have a good family and loving friends. If you are not married and you do not have an Instagram status “A loving wife and a mother of two angels”, you are a loser.
In Kazakhstan, people take pity of such girls but in the west they are respected. Sometimes I am asked why I left Kazakhstan, and I reply jokingly that the government of Kazakhstan expels all the single girls older than 25 from the country.
When I lived in Cyprus, my friends would tell me that I was still a ‘baby’ and that it was too early for me to get married. Young people in Cyprus date for years. Some of my friends had been a couple since school for 15-17 years and were not married yet. Cypriots usually get married at the age of 30-33.
I like Europe because here I do not think about my age and forget about it. It is considered to be improper to ask “Why aren't you married?” or to comment “It is time for you to get married”. Here you live your life without superstitions and you do not think about what the people would say. Here you are not in a hurry to get married only because you are 25+. You are involved in self-fulfillment and you can be sure that no one will call you a spinster.
London, March 2017
Charlotte begins to laugh after my story. Her short chestnut curls shake in synch with her laughter.
— “Vieille fille”. But we usually use this expression when speaking about women older than fifty or even sixty, but definitely not about girls over 25.
I smile. I feel sad and happy at the same time. I feel sad because Charlotte will never be able to understand our eastern Kazakh mentality. When you are asked personal questions about age, marital status, often transgressing all the personal and social boundaries, you cannot ignore these questions. Ignoring questions is considered to be rude in relation to the persons we are talking to. I feel happy because Charlotte will definitely meet the one and will not be in a hurry to marry anyone, only because she is a little older than 25.
Rustina is an auditor with a large international firm and a blogger for Tinatin's London Life, a co-founder of the community Kazakh British Young Professionals (KazBritYuppies) in London and of a travel-startup Oh My Guide! She is a nomad living in four countries: Slovakia, Spain, Kazakhstan and Great Britain.
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