Get out the Door

d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 15.01.2021

If you’re like me, nothing is worse than personal administration. By that I mean any paperwork or chore done in the name of maintaining your societal and situational wellbeing, things like taxes, getting a leaky faucet fixed, renewing your car insurance. In theory, you would think that the dullness of the task might mitigate the stinging worries over its importance, or that its urgency would at least aggrandize your sense of accomplishment afterwards. But no. Neither is the case. These tasks are simply awful, time-sucking necessities whose only reward is the morbidly unfun and uninteresting knowledge that, now that they’re done, bigger problems are less likely to emerge and unhinge you.

Luckily, such personal administrative tasks are usually kept on easy and predictable rhythms. Bills come once a month; taxes are due once a year; stuff breaks in your house – hopefully – not too often. Recently, however, I moved. I have moved before, many times in fact, but every time I do I re-feel the excitement… as well as the suckerpunch of the attendant administrative stresses.

I’m talking about leaving forwarding addresses, updating insurance policies, sorting out new utilities, discovering the local recycling and garbage routine. I’m talking about, in a new build, myriads of bizarrely unforeseeable problems like broken doorbells or faulty sprinklers in the garage that spew dirty water at the slightest touch. I’m talking about, in an old build, joyfully finding that the previous owners ripped out certain cove tiles just to push their living room furniture one centimeter closer to the wall. I’m talking about waging email wars with management companies or contractors when they bill you unjustly.

Now, it is debatable how stressful these chores and problems really are, since “stress” itself is a subjectively felt and relative concept. Certain life-conquering old-schoolers might scoff at the idea that finding a new local plumber is anything but routine, even exciting: something to do after you get home from work, hang up your suit, and have a shot of brandy. On the other side, the time-sapped and overworked who have reached an anxiety boiling point through a confluence of perpetual worries about workplace bullies, financial insecurity, and global warming may only be able to phone the plumbing company through sobs and scoopfuls of Ben and Jerry’s “Chocolate Therapy” ice cream.

Here is where I recognize, first, a generational divide. Folks in their late twenties and thirties, especially in the USA, espouse a cult of youthfulness. They – we – were born in the ’80s and ’90s and have rebelled against the outdated and frankly dull-seeming model of “adult” that we knew from childhood. When our parents were our age they already had five or ten kids, spent miserable weekends doing yardwork, gave their dry-cleaner a personalized Christmas card, and had given up on rock music. Not us. We continue to play video games and wear hoodies to work, we date longer and change employers more, we keep up with the internet lingo. In fact, an entirely novel category of American slang has been fitted to this cultural zeitgeist, where the best friends of a “man-child” are his “fam,” the newfangled gerund “adulting” pertains to making responsible decisions, and all the boring minutiae of personal administration are known (and dreaded) as “life admin.”

Is this phenomenon reflected in Luxembourgish society? To an extent, yes: thirty-something “youths” everywhere have faced similar technological shakeups and cultural shifts, at least in the West. And everyone, regardless of age, gets exasperated from stupid nonsense like having to find, call, and wait all day for an electrician. But it also strikes me that youngish Luxembourgers don’t rally around their annoyance at life admin with the same cultural import as their American cousins do. I observe that many of my Luxembourgish counterparts navigate the “adult” world of taxes and insurance with a certainty that is partly homegrown, and which I might have too if I were operating in my anglophone motherland, but that is also partly cultural. The tricks and processes of life admin are known within family and friend circles, are even celebrated in the case of state-facilitated actions like applying for tuition reimbursement. In contrast, personal administration across the Atlantic is a psyche-snapping free-for-all informed by internet randos and anomalously opinionated acquaintances, and exacerbated by stressful conditions like working two jobs or (justifiably) worrying that a marauding band of brainwashed losers might storm the Capitol building at any moment.

I don’t mean to suggest that life, and therefore life admin, is easy in the Grand Duchy, only that there is a faint but palpable attitudinal split. What I see in Luxembourg is a relative tendency for systemic trust and networked knowledge, and more experiential affinity between parent and thirty-something child. What I don’t see (as much) is the perception that personal administration is situationally unique and generation-definingly obnoxious. And yet, man-children overrun both societies… it will be fascinating to watch them evolve, variously, into Luxembourgish and American old-man-children. Will “adulting” become “senioring,” a similarly ironic term for doing elderly things while feeling like a kid? I’m off to the park, Mable – gotta feed the ducks while ripping my Nintendo Switch a new one on the latest Smash Bros game.

Jeffrey Palms
© 2023 d’Lëtzebuerger Land