Being new in any environment is always a struggle, especially for us introverts who are terrified of making a faux pas (not just me I hope!) What do I wish I had known when I moved to Poland? Ah if only someone had handed me a manual… or a blog… Anyway, part of the fun is discovering the little idiosyncrasies yourself but sometimes it’s good to have a road map to guide you a bit. Here’s what I’d like any newbie to know about Poles:
Not being from here, sometimes it’s hard to find products which aren’t available in stores or are a little different than the mass-produced stuff. Honestly if you don’t use the internet or watch TV in the language of the country you live in, you miss out on a lot. You either you have to read blogs in Polish or talk to people. Word-of-mouth was usually my way but now I’m trying to branch out and search for things in google in Polish and read more Polish stuff. Luckily I found a great blog called PiggyPeg, which does reviews of beauty products and helped me find awesome stuff. Here’s what I’ve discovered so far.
You either assimilate or you don’t. It’s a choice you make. I’ve seen and heard of many cases here in Poland where someone just refuses to learn the language or adapt to the traditions here. What a shame, you know? If you’re here, you might as well live. Otherwise, what’s the point really? I’m a firm believer that if you’ve made a decision to live in a place, you’ve gotta go all in. If not, you can never truly experience the culture for what it really is.
That’s right. I said writing. Not sending emails or whatsapping people. Writing an actual letter on actual paper that people can actually keep. Writing cards and letters is something I grew up doing. My proper southern mama (hi mom!) always had us write cards for special occasions or to say thank you and it kinda stuck. Letters are a dying tradition but they are one of the most squishy, mushy ways to make someone feel appreciated, especially when you live far, far away from your lovies. Those of us who live abroad can appreciate it most of all. (hint: card giveaway at the bottom!)
In America, the way to make people feel comfortable in a social situation is to be friendly and treat them like friends. We wanna be pals. If you have to do something unpleasant like get a new driver’s license, you try as hard as possible to make jokes or at least small talk with the person behind the counter. You laugh together or something to feel like friends and you can even refer to them by their first name without disrespecting them. In fact, it goes along with the “let’s be friends” thing. How about Poles? Do they behave similarly?
Five and a half years in Poland and I’m already an old Polish woman. One of my favorite summer activities is canning. Produce is super seasonal here so in the winter there’s no way you’re gonna find things like berries or good tomatoes. The only way to eat that stuff all year is to can it for the winter. When I lived in the States I was always a little wary of it. Whenever you read about it online, it seems so dangerous and scary like you can really easily poison yourself and your whole family. In reality, it’s not that hard.
Which would you prefer? 1. Paying for public health care, being fully covered, but waiting in long queues when you need to use it? 2. Choosing your own private health care plan, getting good service, and paying only once, albeit at a higher rate but possibly not being fully covered? Hard to say, really. Let’s take a closer look.
You may have heard that Polish people complain a lot. And it’s true. It’s like a national pastime. The important thing to remember is that people complain as a way to bond, greet each other, feel comfortable around each other. It makes them feel like they can relate to one other because they have the same problems. Having a history of hard times after hard times, it makes sense. And anyway, everyone complains, right? But Poles have their own special complaints, tailored to the issues we often face here. Let’s take a look.