It used to be them, but now it’s me |

It used to be them, but now it’s me

As an amateur anthropologist-sociologist, which basically makes me an eavesdropping voyeur, I’ve concluded that men and women communicate in code according to their age.

As far as I know, there are no charts, graphs or studies to back this up. Then again, I haven’t looked into it that much.

My observations come from years of lurking through cafes and restaurants, supermarkets and bars. I’m the one who seems preoccupied in the printed word, with my face firmly planted behind the pages of a newspaper.

You see, I always carry a newspaper when I go on my fact-finding missions. That way, when a cafe is empty or restaurant conversation becomes dreadfully boring, I have something with me to occupy my time.

But let’s get something straight. My research is not about espionage. While my subjects are interesting and all, really, it’s not the context of what they say but how they say it that fascinates me. (Either that or my personal life is woefully pathetic.)

For example, the other day I heard a middle-aged woman gossiping to a co-worker about a colleague, about whom she said: “You should have seen her in that gaudy dress. What nerve.”

Only a middle-aged woman would use “gaudy” and “nerve” in the same breath.

You wouldn’t catch a 20-something club-hopping, go-go dish using the word “gaudy.” She’s more inclined to tell her friend the colleague dresses “ghetto” and that her demeanor is that which (because this is a family newspaper) rhymes with “witch.”

The use of our English language, without vernacular, is not among the 20-something generation’s better traits. Neither is tactfulness and civility. And while I’m at it: politeness, empathy, compassion, kindness and attention span.

In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that most men and women in their 20s are functionally uncouth. Not that there’s anything abnormal about this. In fact, it’s quite normal to have your head in something other than a thought-provoking book, oblivious to everyone around you in this “the-world-revolves-around-me/you-suck” decade.

Yep. The 20s. The “what-was-I-thinking-when-I-pierced-my …?” (you fill in the body part) decade when you tried to fashion your life like a Hollywood movie, complete with its own soundtrack.

It’s only when you’ve turned 30 that you wind up swapping the CDs from your 20-something soundtrack after you realize the music isn’t as good as your friends made it out to be.

In fact, I can’t even give away my old Depeche Mode CDs. What was I thinking when I bought them? Was “Personal Jesus” really a song about liberation over oppression or a simplistic instruction manual on all things decadent?

At 34, I think it’s now safe for me to rail on the 20-somethings. We really have nothing in common anymore, just as I never had anything in common with people in their 30s when I was in my 20s. When I was in my 20s, people in their 30s were has-beens who seemed out of place, weird and possibly even perverted.

With much condescension, I now refer to 20-somethings as “the kids.”

You know you’ve hit your 30s when you start putting the word “the” in front of nouns and pronouns.

“The kids,” I told a 33-year-old friend recently, “they like the J-Lo and the Eminem on the MTV.”

Not that 30-somethings aren’t without their share of peccadillos. Rather than being mindfully tactless as their 20-something counterparts, people in their 30s approach narcissism with their own brand of, um, sophistication. Most 30-somethings would call it something else. Like pretension.

My Volvo-driving, public radio-listening chardonnay-sipping peers are so-inclined to let people around them know how smart they are after graduating from the 20-something years.

We’re not afraid to tell people we “heard a great piece” on NPR about the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Or we saw a great “indie” movie the other night about the struggle between twin brothers seeking the attention of their favorite uncle who could never tell them apart.

Or we brag that our palettes can indeed tell the difference between a Napa Valley and “some schlocky” Sierra Nevada foothill cabernet.

And we tell our peers: “Yeah. Dennis Miller. What a smartass but the guy’s a genius.” When, actually, we understand only about half his jokes and pretend we can relate to his high-brow banter by laughing on cue with the rest of the bewildered laugh track-heads in the audience.

And at least once a week, a thirty-something, somewhere, somehow , will ask their friends or colleagues if they caught “Seinfeld” last night.

It no longer matters that Seinfeld was the hip show when we were still in our 20s and is now running endlessly in syndication.

“That was so funny when George …” (insert favorite neurotic George example).

We also keep telling ourselves, “TV is so awful these days. Why don’t they make shows like ‘Seinfeld’ anymore?”

It’s probably because most of us are in denial that we were too stupid in our 20s to identify with the arcane, thirty-something humor Seinfeld represents.

— Tribune City Editor Jeff Munson contributes to “Off Beat” whenever he feels like it because he’s in his 30s. He can be reached at

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