Hi guys, I have something a little bit different for you this week. This is a post by my friend/co-worker Phil, a fellow foreigner in Poland, who lives even farther than I do from home. He’s got really cool insight into the differences between life in Poland and Australia. It’s a long one, but it’s well worth the read!
I’m Phil. You may remember me from such videos as this one:
I’m a friend of Leah’s. Her blog helped me move to and find work in Poland. I’m an Australian living in Warsaw with my girlfriend (who is a Pole), our 2 cats and dog. Zofia and I met a few years ago at a heavy metal festival in Germany.
Australia and Poland have a strong but relatively unknown partnership. It’s said that 10 citizens of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth set foot on Australian soil in December, 1696, when Captain Willem Vlamingh’s Dutch expedition of three ships reached and explored the coast of Western Australia. Australians and Poles fought under the command of each other in the trenches of Tobruk. The Australian Government represented Poland in the USSR for a few years after WW2 and both countries were one of the few who got out of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis without going into recession.
Having lived here now almost a year, I thought it would be interesting if I put together a few comparisons between my life in Australia and my life here in Warszawa.
In Australia, I was a welder (spawacz). I worked a 42 hours week in a factory, waking up at 5.30am every day and getting home from work about 4.30pm. I lived in a 3-bedroom house with my family on a ¾ of an acre block of land in the leafy eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
Here, I take on multiple roles. I’m an English teacher for Leah and I’m a writer for a small Polish startup company. I live in a brand new 1-bedroom 50sq/m apartment, about a 5-minute drive from the Palace of Science and Culture.
So what else is different?
Yeah, I’d hate to state the obvious, but it’s the end of November and it’s bloody cold. Autumn in Australia, we may have a low of 5-10 degrees, but taking the dog for her morning siu siu, it can be a refreshing -2.
Summer on the other hand, Poles are usually complaining (more than normal) when the mercury hits the mid to high 20s. 38 degrees is unheard of. For me, 42 degrees means that I might have to have 2 beers with dinner tonight and 47 means I might have to put on the aircon.
Summer here and it’s daylight at 3am, sunset at 9pm. Now (late autumn) and the sun rises at 7 and sets at 3.30. My first winter is probably going to kill me.
This may be a European thing more than a Polish thing, but alcohol is readily available at a corner store. In Australia, alcohol is in ‘bottle shops’ (bottle-o) or supermarkets and is damn expensive.
Let’s take a local beer for example. Melbourne, a 6 pack of Victoria Bitter (VB) is around $17 ($12.50USD or 52PLN). I can get 4x 1/2 litre bottles of Żywiec, my favourite ‘normal’ beer for 9PLN ($2.60AUD or $2.90USD).
That has everything to do with the cost of living (which is a whole other blog post unto itself).
It’s very uncommon to drink water from the tap here in Warsaw. Unless you have a filter installed, I’d go as far to say that it’s unheard of. Why? The tap water isn’t bad, personally I can’t taste much difference. But it’s not to be trusted.
Pipes are very old and from time to time, brown tap water and some unwelcome ‘floaties’ can be found in your glass. This means having to buy lots of bottled water, which in turn leads to more and more…
An all too familiar sight in Warsaw
Rubbish and recycling
Recycling seems to be non-existent here. In parks, reserves and vacant lots, people dump rubbish. Whether it be bags of normal house waste, or surplus building material from a construction site, it’s all just dumped ‘out of sight’. Car batteries, old shoes, dirty nappies/diapers, you name it, it gets thrown into the bushes. This leads to more rats. Which leads to more feral cats. Which leads to less birds and small mammals. All because some Janusz doesn’t want to spend 10zł to throw his rubbish where it belongs. Take that, environment.
Australia is a beautiful country. But you need to own a car if you want to do a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g. Especially in Melbourne. When we landed here after our 26-hour flight from Australia, guess what we did? Caught a train home from the airport!
A train- TO THE AIRPORT!!
Any other Melbournian knows how much of a big deal that is. Poles outside of Warsaw may hate me for this, but…trains and trams are cheap, quick, clean and seldom more than 2 minutes late (peak hour excluded). If they are, it’s a big problem. Most metro trains are every 90 seconds and suburban trains no more than 5 minutes. Buses are a little less frequent as they’re subject to traffic snarls.
The Melbourne public transport system is, well, sub-par. Trains run once every 20-30 minutes and in peak hours, every 7-10 minutes. Even then, it seems like every 2nd City Loop train is cancelled at the last minute. Travel is expensive and the myki system is the devil if you’re running late (make sure you tap on). Ticket inspectors don’t put you into a headlock and hogtie you if you don’t have a ticket, either.
And it’s not just quantity that Warsaw (or Europe in general) is better at – it’s quality, too.
About 75% of trains and buses are less than 10 years old and on nearly every single bus, you can buy a ticket. I have a karta miejska. Similar to the myki system, but I don’t have to tap on and off each time. All new trains, buses and trams have a screen telling you which station you’re at, the rest of the stops on the line and the ETA to them.
About traffic- I’d much rather be stuck on the Monash Freeway on a Friday afternoon in the rain than stuck on Most Świętokrzyski. Warsaw’s traffic is abhorrent at the best of times. In the 9 months I’ve lived here, we’ve needed a car less than a dozen times. Registration and insurance in Mazowieckie (this state/county) is expensive and complicated. Also, it’s not uncommon to see cars double or triple-parked for 8 hours a day.
Want to travel from Melbourne to Sydney? You’re gunna fly, no question about it. Maybe drive if you want to see the Dog on the Tuckerbox. Want to travel from Kiev to Berlin? A similar distance. You can fly. You can also train. The Pandolin takes about twice as long as flying, but it’s much cheaper, greener and simply fun. You get to actually see the countryside. Hungry? Go to the dinner car and buy a steak. No more cattle-class economy flights. I personally think that rural and inland Australia would be opened up to tourism if we had trains that could travel over 120km/h.
Enough about day to day life, what about Polish vs Australian people and culture?
I have never met anyone as rude, impatient and straight out ungrateful as the elderly of Warsaw. I’ve seen women in their late 60s or early 70s get onto a bus and physically push aside pregnant women who are simultaneously getting off the same bus. Traditionally, you wait for people to exit the bus before you get on. No. I’m old. I’m more important than you. I’ve lost track of the amount of times some old girl has trampled on my toes because she might lose her window seat.
My students, co-workers and girlfriends friends (I simply don’t have my own Polish friends) range from their early 20s to late 30s. I recently engaged some of my Advanced English students and discussed ‘What it means to be Polish’. A lot of them simply said they identify as European more than being Polish.
Job and holiday opportunities abroad, blending of cultures and the internet have led to a lot of people I’ve spoken to not wanting to embrace the way the world sees a typical Pole. Over the last 5-10 years, I personally believe that the ‘stereotypical Pole’ has gone from that of someone who is difficult, loud and not overly helpful, to someone who is hard-working, logical and forward-thinking. The financial, video game, manufacturing and I.T/tech industries are just some examples that I think have helped challenge and redefine this stereotype.
If you meet an Australian (or as Leah will atest, an American) out of their own country, they will not hesitate to shove their patriotism right down your throat. The younger generation of Poles (born after 1990) seem to acknowledge their motherland, but take a reserved humbleness in their patriotism and pride. They seem to be aware of the lives their forefathers led, and they strive to respect and continue that, but are determined to forge a life, legacy and ultimately, an identity of their own.
All countries all over the world have their citizens that are blindly patriotic and think their country is the best and Poland is no exception. November 11th, Polish National Day, is celebrated with red flares, tear gas and rubber bullets.
The current government, love them or hate them, only seem to be adding to this feeling of dispossession amongst non-religious non ‘nationalist’ Poles.
A little request for Australians who have told any Asians or Indians (or any foreigner) to ‘get out of my country’- I was recently on the receiving end of that attitude. Told that I’m not welcomed here and to speak Polish or get out. It was just a grumpy Bogan/Janusz, but all the same, don’t be like that.
Size and scale
Zosia and I recently went on a road trip (a drive) to Gdansk for a long weekend. The trip is roughly halfway across the country and takes about 4 hours. A lot of Poles cannot imagine a hell worse than sitting in a car for any more than 6 hours on a roadtrip. Meanwhile, in Australia, a 37-hour drive from Melbourne to Perth across the nullarbor is almost a rite of passage.
Driving between the 2 biggest cities in Poland, Warsaw and Krakow, takes a little under 4 hours. If you can drive from Melbourne to Brisbane in under 18 hours, you’re doing pretty good.
This also has its downsides. Living in the geographical center of Europe we can easily hire a car and drive to Italy for the weekend. Easy. Want to celebrate my birthday hiking in the Carpathian mountains? Let’s do it. New Year’s Eve in Norway with the northern lights? No problem.
It’s big, but there’s a whole lot of nothing in the middle.
Beauty & Fashion
Australia has the cliche beach babe, but let me tell you that Polish women take blonde hair and blue eyes to the next level. They also take black hair and pale skin to a new level. Men, too. Slavic people seem to be built much slimmer and petite and naturally more attractive. Chiseled jawbones, naturally ectomorphic bodies and a sharp fashion sense. Female hammer-throwers are the exception.
In the ‘burbs of Melbourne, it wasn’t uncommon to see people walking around Woolies (a supermarket) in a pair of trackie dacks (sweatpants), ugg boots and a 15-year-old frayed Country Road jumper. I cannot imagine walking around Piotr & Paweł and seeing a woman in anything other than at least a black pair of tights and a smart looking jumper. I rarely see a girl outside that isn’t dressed in anything less than smart business attire.
When I first came to Europe in 2007, a friend’s dad (who is Irish) warned me about Slavic women and how attractive they are, as well as how good they cook. 8 years later, here I am!
Parma. Bigos. Sanga. Pierogi. Dimmy. Mazurek. Banga. Which are Australian, which are Polish? Vegemite and Ptasie Mleczko do not mix, I can assure you of that. I tried to compare Australian food and Polish food, but to be honest, what is Australian food? Chicken Parmigiana isn’t exactly the most Australian name for a food.
Polish cuisine consists of a lot of meat and vegetables. Aussies be warned, if you come here, be prepared to eat fermented cucumbers (ogórek kiszony) by the jar full. Poles love their fermented everything.
In Australia, the American burger, Sushi and Tex-mex has long been popular. It seems to just be taking off in Poland. Indian, Asian, Italian and (surprisingly) Greek foods are also quite popular here.
Another thing to note – there are a lot less obese people in Poland. Perhaps because I’ve seen more Australians than I have Poles. An observation, nonetheless.
Chemist Warehouse is very similar to Rossmann. Both stores stock prescription and over-the-counter medicine, as well as cosmetics, perfume and other personal medical or hygiene items.
But here, you can buy kitchen supplies and food! OK, in the chemist in Australia you can perhaps buy Jelly Beans for diabetics, but here, you can get a bag of Doritos with your blood pressure tablets! That’s convenient!
I love my football. Aussie rules, that is. I have my team’s logo (The Essendon Bombers) tattooed on my arm. If a Carlton fan sat next to me at a match, I’d shake his hand and say ‘good game’ at the end, no matter the result. I don’t think a Legia fan would shake the hand of a Lech Poznań fan after a match.
Fans of the biggest team in Warsaw, Legia Warszawa, have a reputation for being irrationally violent. Think ‘rubber bullet and water cannon’ violent.
I’ve been warned not to wear my Aussie Rules football guernsey (black and red) in public as it can be mistaken for rival team and it may result in me losing some teeth.
I wasn’t going to touch politics with a 10-foot crosier but rather than voice my opinions, I thought I might shed some light on the differences or similarities. Firstly, ‘right-wing’ means ‘conservative’ in both countries, however in Poland, saying that you’re ‘left-wing’ is basically saying that you’re a socialist. With a quick look at the last 60 years of Polish history, one can see why that may not be a smart move.
Both governments have their head in the sand in terms of climate change (yay, coal!). Australia locks up 3-year-old asylum seekers in prison camps while the head of the current Polish government publicly said that ‘Middle Eastern Refugees will bring strange unknown parasites and diseases Poland’ – so I guess that’s something we both have in common.
Religion and Politics are very close bedfellows here in Poland. A simple Google search of ‘czarny protest’ will tell you all you need to know about that.
In comparison, Biskupin is a small settlement made of trees that were felled between 747 and 722BC.
In more modern times, Krakow Square was made the political capital of the country in 1038. 1038, that’s the price of an average TV, not a year.
That being said, the oldest building in Melbourne is Old St James’ Cathedral, built as recently as 1839.
Which country is older? Well, that’s open for discussion. But one thing is for sure, Poland has had to protest and fight for it’s independence more than nearly any other country on the planet.
Because of this, there are some rivalries that make blood boil (ahem, Russia) and some alliances that make you almost family. The relationship between Poles and Hungarians make Aussies and Kiwis look like strangers. Poles also know how to hold a grudge. A lot of Poles aren’t thrilled at the idea of other countries buying Polish companies or even investing here, regardless of the economic benefits.
Watching the news online in Poland, you will be forced to watch an advertisement before your story starts. But it’s not uncommon for that advertisement to be interrupted by another advertisement.
Radio advertisements are so in-depth and seamless that you often hear a voice say REKLAMA (advertisement) so listeners know what is paid advertising and what is actually part of the radio programme.
Physically, you cannot escape advertising. People rent out the balconies of apartments that overlook main roads to advertising companies. Melbourne has 3, maybe 4 giant LCD advertisment billboards.
The main road through central Warsaw, Aleje Jerozolimskie, has one every few hundred meters. ATM machines play you an advertisement before they dispense your money. Believe it or not, advertisements make learning the language so much easier.
I live in the middle of a capital European city. The only animals I see on a daily basis are wrony (crows) and sroki (magpies). But not Australian magpies. These guys are blue and green and they don’t try to take your eyes out like Australian magpies do.
In the warmer months, our dog regularly (attempted) made friends with some hedgehogs. However, nothing here wants to kill me and that’s kinda boring.
I’ve noticed myself, in Warsaw, bashing my shoes to make sure there are no redback spiders in them and telling the dog to stay out of the long grass because of brown snakes. A trip to Zosia’s parents near Bydgoszcz and we may see some moles (kret).
When camping, nothing beats waking up to the soothing sounds of koalas fighting or kookaburras laughing at you. But camping in a tent is frowned upon here in Poland, as bears and wolves aren’t overly welcoming.
On a serious note, one of the only things I miss about home is the sheer amount of diversity that I found literally in my own backyard. The constant chattering of rosellas and lorikeets, the sound of noisy miners attacking a cat or the ear-piercing shriek of a gang of cockatoos are some things that just cannot be found here.
Having only been here for approximately 9 months now, there is still a lot that I haven’t experienced. No one knows what the next 9 months will hold for me and my Polish experiences but I plan to face them with the same enthusiasm that an Australian greets the long weekend with.
More information about the history of the Polish-Australian relationship can be found on The Polish Embassy in Canberra’s website or in the recently published book, ‘The Poles and Australia’ by Małgorzata Klatt.