These are some of the 30 things author Siobhan Adcock claims every 20something should know in her new book, “30 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do Before Turning 30“ (Broadway Books).
A student at Cornell University, Adcock wrote the book after reflecting on what adulthood means -- a stage which she says occurs as you near your 30th birthday -- around the time you begin to own property of have kids.
“As you approach 30, you expect to start feeling like a grown-up, or at least more like a grown-up than you did at 20,“ she writes. “The years leading up to your 30s require you to develop a whole new skill set -- you‘re moving ahead in your career, your friends are getting married and having children, your parents and grandparents are getting older, your standard of living is changing. Suddenly you need to know how to spend discretionary income, how to keep house, how to be a good human being, how to maintain a car and an apartment and a career and healthy relationships with your friends and family.“
One might imagine that you‘d need to learn most of those skills long before the age of 30, but there are plenty of tips in the book that you‘re not likely to know even if you live to be 90. Adcock, for instance, notes that she‘s nearing her 30th birthday and still doesn‘t know how to drive a stick shift.
BE A KNOW-IT-ALL
Like other popular advice books such as “The Rules“ or the “Survival“ manual series, “30 Things“ has an entertaining shtick with insights into subjects such as “How to cook one ‘signature‘ meal,“ or “How to clean your place in under 45 minutes if friends or a prospective lover are coming by unexpectedly and soon.“
If you‘re a callow 20something, there may be a few tips here that will help you get ahead of the pack. “These are skills that improve you, and improve the world,“ Adcock says. “Be gallant. Be gracious. Be smart. Be a hero. Be irresistable. Be an insufferable know-it-all.“
Some of Adcock‘s 30 things sound pretty mundane. “How to wrap a present,“ for instance. But Adcock points out that a poorly-wrapped present sends a message that “you really don‘t care,“ even if you‘ve spent months searching and saving for the gift. Why wreck your present‘s impact with a bad wrap job?
Then too, building a successful fire, either at a campsite or a barbecue... anyone can do that, right? Wrong. Starting a campfire can be a tricky business, and if you don‘t know what you‘re doing, you come off as a campsite klutz. On the other hand, “The person who correctly and swiftly builds a campire for the convenience and/or survival of others is a hero.“
Here again, Adcock reminds us that it‘s the little things that add up to a big deal in how others judge your competence.
Speaking of which, she notes that you should know how to cook one ‘signature meal‘ by the time you‘re 30 to impress guests. “Knowing how to cook just one meal well is not only smart -- it‘s also something you‘re likely to find quite useful. Women love men who can cook; men love women who can cook; women and men love women and men who can cook. If you can‘t cook, or don‘t like cooking, you have to be able to pretend you do or else no one will like you.“
She says the easiest cuisine to pull off for those who hate to cook is Italian: a tasty meal of pasta and veggies can be thrown together in 15 minutes. Adcock offers a recipe for linguine with broccoli and garlic that looks and tastes great, but isn‘t much harder to make than boiling water.
“30 Things“ also has some interesting tips on “holding your liquor,“ the best cocktails to choose (or avoid), how to select a good wine, and how to know when you‘ve reached your “tipping point“ to stop soaking up the suds.
Some of the advice seems a bit claustrophobic or picky. On wine, for instance, she advises to, “Pick a certain grape and make it yours, preferably one that‘s not as well trodden as a merlot or a Chardonnay: Be a pinot noir person, a syrah person, a red zinfandel person...“
But does anyone really care what kind of wine you drink? Adcock doesn‘t explain why you should limit yourself.
Ditto on beer, where again, Adcock advises one to pick a “signature“ beer, apparently to advertise the notion that you are Mr. or Ms. Classy Beer Guzzler. Just so you‘re careful to “never be a signature ‘light beer‘ drinker.“ That could apparently send a message that you‘re also a lightweight.
One of the more interesting passages is “how to send a drink to someone‘s table.“ It turns out there‘s a great deal of etiquette and social ritual to buying a lady a drink at a bar (manners don‘t matter if you‘re buying a guy a drink -- he‘ll be simply dumbfounded and grateful). First, you have to get on good terms with your waitperson, coming off as “explicit, humble, and charming“ to get the server to approach the person you‘re interested in. When the server makes your pitch, you either wave and smile, trying to look “approachable, attractive and harmless,“ or you go the “sneak‘s way“ and pretend that you‘re busy doing something else -- reading a menu or talking to a friend -- and are surprised to be pointed out. If the lady accepts your drink offer, just smile and wait at least 10 minutes before approaching her table. “Don‘t wink. Don‘t lift your glass and mouth, ‘To you, gorgeous,‘ or ‘Salut, beautiful.‘ Don‘t lift a silent meaningful toast. Just look normal and friendly.“
After you‘ve convinced the object of your interest that you‘re not going to swoop in on her like a vulture, you should walk over to her table, introduce yourself nice and friendly-like, shake hands and ask, “‘Do you mind if I join you for a moment?‘ The ‘for a moment‘ is key: You don‘t want your intended to feel cornered...“
Adcock reveals that buying a drink for someone is quite a social ritual and takes a good deal of finesse to pull off. Who knew?
Some of the advice comes off a bit ditsy. Adcock‘s suggestions for “how to order wine at a restaurant without getting stiffed,“ for instance, devolves into a selection-by-committee approach. “The best first step is to open the wine selection up to the table, so everybody can share their thoughts about what they like and what they‘re planning to eat,“ she writes. Begging your pardon, but this sounds like a recipe for disaster, setting up people who know zilch about wines. Does the table get stuck drinking lambrusco or white zinfandel because your dinner guests don‘t know these wines double as mouth-wash?
Some advice is mundane: how to change a flat tire, how to change a baby‘s diaper, how to finish a piece of furniture. But those sections are balanced by such useful items as how to keep a plant alive for at least a year (TLC), how to hold a baby (“Always support the head.“), and how to carve a lasagna so it‘s not a soupy mess (let it stand for an hour to firm up).
A favorite chapter is #19: “How to Whistle With Your Fingers.“ This conjures an image of a streetwise Noo Yawker, commanding attention in a hyperactive world: “The ear-popping taxi-stopping finger whistle has about a million practical applications in everyday life,“ Adcock writes. Like, besides hailing a cab, you can whistle for your favorite sports team or rock band. Just don‘t whistle “to express admiration for someone‘s butt.“
Whistling with your fingers ain‘t easy. There‘s the curled-tongue style where you pinch your tongue halfway back and blow; and the two-handed tongue-tuck style, where you stick both index fingers in your mouth. Both take a lot of practice, during which “you‘re going to get spitty and out of breath and people will look at you funny.“
But once you‘ve got your whistle down along with the other 29 skills in the book, you‘ll be an adult, my friend. For $12.95 and 315 pages of reading, that‘s a small price to pay.
Quiz: Are You Ready to Turn 30?
By the time you‘re 30, life will demand that you know how to do certain things -- most of which aren‘t covered by the etiquette books or your parents‘ advice. Whether you‘re bluffing your way through a dinner with clients, struggling with the labyrnthine rules of thank-you notes, or dealing with the increasing number of friends getting married and having babies, your late 20s and early 30s are years that call for some serious finesse. Are you equipped with enough basic know-how to call yourself a real grown-up? Test yourself:
1. True or False:
It‘s okay to use the little red plastic stirrer in a cocktail as a straw.
2. What‘s the right order to connect the cables when jump-starting a car?
a. Dead car‘s red battery terminal, live car‘s red battery terminal, live car‘s black battery terminal, dead car‘s black battery terminal
b. Dead car‘s red battery terminal, live car‘s red battery terminal, live car‘s black battery terminal, dead car‘s engine block.
c. Jumper cables? Who actually has those?
3. Which of the following requires a thank-you note?
a. Someone writes you a letter of recommendation.
b. Someone interviews you for a job.
c. Both of the above.
4. Which of the following requires not just a thank-you note but also a
a. Someone writes you a letter of recommendation.
b. You are a guest in someone‘s home for at least one night.
c. Someone sends you a surprise gift.
5. True or False:
It‘s okay to eat sushi with your fingers if other people at your table are doing
6. You‘re at dinner with clients and you‘re asked to order wine for the table. Almost everyone‘s having the special: steak with a side of sauteed spinach. What‘s the best wine to order?
a. A buttery Chardonnay.
b. A semi-dry Riesling.
c. A tannic Shiraz.
7. You‘re at the home of a good friend who‘s recently had a baby. She asks
you to do her a big favor and change the baby‘s diaper while she fixes some
tea for the two of you. What‘s the right thing to do?
a. Wash your hands and change the diaper gladly, even if you‘re not exactly
an expert at diapers, and/or you‘re a guy.
b. Tell her you don‘t know how to change a diaper, and beg her to let you
make the tea.
c. Make a face and change the diaper, then complain about how much mess
was in it.
8. You‘re parallel parking your car and you accidentally tap the bumper of the car behind you. Do you need to leave a note?
a. Yes, if people are watching.
b. Yes, if you did some actual damage to the car.
c. No. Even if the car‘s bumper is falling off.
9. Which of the following is a good argument for asking for a raise?
a. Your last presentation ruled.
b. Your company is doing really well.
c. You‘ve consulted the latest trade salary survey for your field and discovered that you make less than other people in your line of work in your geographic region... and your last five presentations ruled.
IO. Which of the following emergency fixes will help you get chocolate syrup out of your favorite cotton shirt?
a. Isopropyl alcohol.
b. A good dollop of spit, discreetly applied in the bathroom.
c. Cold water.
Give yourself one point for every correct answer:
You poor thing. Your clothes are stained, your business associates are confused, your car battery‘s dead, and all your plants probably are too. But it‘s okay. It‘s never too late to pick up a few new tricks. Just to start you off, in fact, here‘s one: spit can be used to remove not just chocolate stains but lots of other food stains as well, because the enzymes in saliva that break down food work in much the same way as the enzymatic stain-removing solutions at the grocery store. There, Now you feel smarter, right?
People like people who know how to do stuff, so a lot of people probably like you. You should be proud to know that you are well on your way to achieving savvy-grown-up status.
Congratulations -- not only are you ready to turn 30 and be an exceptionally savvy, smart grown-up, you‘re probably ready to be the head of an international engineering firm. Your work here is done.
Adapted from the book, “30 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do Before Turning 30,“ by Siobhan Adcock, $12.95 (Broadway Books).