Give me two

Top of the heap

Juli 2017, London

We were sitting in the luxurious lobby of the legendary hotel The Ritz London in Piccadilly. The hotel, a true manifestation of the exquisite atmosphere of a French chateau of the glamorous Louis XVI time, was glimmering with gold under ancient chandeliers. The grey-haired butler wearing a dark-green velvet uniform was solemnly opening the doors for the gentlemen in elegant suits and ladies with gorgeous hats on, who were returning from the last but one day of the Royal Ascot horse race.

– Why did you come to London? – I ask my friend, a successful thirty-year old analyst working for a leading supplier of financial information. Unlike us, international migrants, who have come to the big city ‘to search for happiness’, my friend has both his own flat in London and a well-paid job.

He pauses for a second, as if my question has taken him aback. Yet, I know that people like him have long found an answer to the question "Why did you come to the capital of the world?"

We are the generation of thirty-year olds, have stopped to look at the world from the position of a political map of the world. The entire globe is like one country for us, and countries are like cities and towns. I went to Cyprus yesterday, and today I am in London, with New York waiting for me tomorrow...

It is commonly believed that people come to big cities to earn money. This supposition is true only partly. For example, wages are relatively high in London. However, this big money is easily overlapped by equally high costs of rent, meals and transport. Each week, I spend the sum approximately equal to my monthly salary of a senior auditor in Kazakhstan.

My friends and colleagues never raise the subject of money. Money is perceived like fuel for a car, helping them to maintain a certain lifestyle. Instead of buying expensive attributes of a successful life, my friends invest in impressions and travels. To swim in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, to visit the Peruvian shamans, to run on the El Teide Volcano in Tenerife or to apply to the Dubai marathon race – all this fits our philosophy of saving moments, not goods. We are emotional migrant workers, and we are driven by the desire to experience ever new emotions. Simple consumption is boring for us, just like watching television after work.

However, there is the second factor without which it would be difficult to maintain this attitude. This factor is freedom, internal freedom from tradition, family obligations and the society. Due to the eastern mentality, the Kazakhstan people are very much concerned about what the others will think. Just like a pharmacist, the society weighs each step I take on a small scale and, having measured my value, labels me as ‘married-successful’, ‘single – loser’, ‘in search of herself – idler’, ‘having a stable job – her life is a success’, ’divorced – a shame’.

Far from the far-fetched staples, it is easier to enjoy life here in Europe. The burden of the public opinion turns into light nostalgia for the homeland, when I walk in Barcelona on a warm May evening. Roaming around the old Gothic quarter, it seems to me for a moment that I have sensed the familiar breeze from the Almaty mountains.

– “I came to London because I can manage my life from here. I build my own career here”, – replies my friend after a sup of latte. He always drinks coffee in the evening, having ruined my stereotypic belief that coffee is a morning beverage.

I ask him to explain this in more detail, as I have always had an impression in my country that it is easier for a man than for a woman to make a career.

The notion of having the strings pulled is expressed in Russian by the work ‘blat’. It originates from the Polish word ‘blat’, originating, in its turn, from the German word ‘das Blatt’ – ‘a piece of paper’, ‘paper money’. This slang word, so common in the countries of the former Soviet Union, according to Wikipedia, means acquaintance or connections used for personal purposes and infringing the interests of others. My friend came across this phenomenon, so well-known to us, at work, too, where micro-communities at work, especially in national companies, are often divided into those marked by ‘blat’ and those who are not. Not numerous international companies are an exception to this rule. The mechanism is simple: if you have connections and support from the management, you will get a promotion. If you are an ordinary worker, your career rather looks like a road than a ladder.

In London, competition among professionals is very tough. Companies have a clear vision that their success is directly determined by the employees; therefore, they select the best people, having high professional skills. One cannot buy a vacancy, and connections will be of no help. Here a worker’s progress is evaluated by the management, and the worker’s wages depend on his or her productivity.

“Why did you come here?” – I am asked a similar question by my friend. I think the reason for my coming here was curiosity, plus challenge.

In London, it is impossible to predict what interesting persons I may meet next week. I may look at the paintings of an artist, a former girlfriend of a famous actor, who has offered me a personalized tour of her exhibition. I may have tea with an author who is writing a book about the millennium generation. Maybe, I will just have a light talk with a well-known film producer at one of the social events. The city suggests looking at the world through perception of different people belonging to different social classes.

I am curious whether I will pass the trial of the huge 8-million megacity. I wonder what new opportunities will open up for me in my professional and personal life and whether I will be able to make use of them. As Frank Sinatra sang in his song New York, New York: “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”. He knew what he sang about, this youngster from New Jersey, who conquered the Big Apple and the whole world.
© Rustina Temir

Rustina Temir

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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