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Culture, For Foreigners

From Australia to Poland: Phil’s first year impressions

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!

Dzień dobry!

I’m Phil.  You may remember me from such videos as this one:

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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?

Weather

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.

Alcohol

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).

Water

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…


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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.

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Public Transport

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?

People

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.  

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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!

Food

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.

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It’s everywhere…

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.

Pharmacies

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!

Sport

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.

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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.

Politics

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.

History

Aborigines settled the interior parts of Australia nearly 50,000 years ago. They are part of what is arguably one of the oldest known cultures in the world.6906554-3x2-940x627

In comparison, Biskupin is a small settlement made of trees that were felled between 747 and 722BC.

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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.

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That being said, the oldest building in Melbourne is Old St James’ Cathedral, built as recently as 1839.

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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.

Advertisements

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.  

Animals

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).

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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.

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19 Comments

  • Reply conny 8 December 2016 at 01:17

    – the fall sucks a lot particularly this year
    – you can also boil the water and then perhaps prepare yourself some herbata or like
    – I think there is less rubbish nowadays than it used to be, though I may be wrong
    – the train to the Chopin/Okęcie airport has also its downsides
    – every football fan is violent, not only Legia supporters
    – „People rent out the balconies of apartments that overlook main roads to advertising companies” — actually it’s rare, all in all it’s not USSR

    • Reply Phil Forbes 9 December 2016 at 12:08

      -I agree, I was warned that both Fall and Winter will be insane compared to Australia, but so far Fall was a let down and winter is shaping up to be the same!

      -we boil water for tea, thats the only time it’s ‘Safe’ 😉

      -Yeah? I’d hate to see it worse than it is. Just today I saw some crows having a blasst in some new rubbish, left in the park overnight.

      -What are the downsides? I’d be really interested to hear!

      -Agree with you there. Violence at football matches in Australia is unheard of. I simply do not understand it.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 10 December 2016 at 10:02

      That’s true – fall was much better the last two years! Have faith, Phil!

  • Reply Maja 8 December 2016 at 20:27

    Very interesting article. I agree with everything you told about Poland :)

    • Reply Phil Forbes 9 December 2016 at 12:09

      Hey Maja! Thanks!
      There is a lot more that I’d like to mention but it’s hard to put it all into 1 blog post :)

  • Reply Anna 8 December 2016 at 21:31

    Well done! I learned a lot about Australia, and your specific kind of humor 😉 Thanks! For a foreigner being only 9 months here you have us pretty much figured out! Congratulations!

    • Reply Phil Forbes 9 December 2016 at 12:10

      Cześć Anna! I have my girlfriend and her parents to thank for the insights into how Poles work 😀 I wouldn’t say I have you ALL figured out, but I understand a little more day by day!

  • Reply Kamil Kazanowski 9 December 2016 at 08:23

    My oh my, this is one of the best “interviews” I’ve read recently. “Interesting” would be an understatement.
    Totally love it!

    • Reply Phil Forbes 9 December 2016 at 12:10

      haha glad you like it Kamil. Thanks so much!

  • Reply Ryan 9 December 2016 at 11:32

    I had a good chuckle at a few of the points you raised. I will be sure to wear my Carlton guernsey next time I see you 😁
    Enjoy your first Polish Christmas and New Year’s. It will be an entirely new experience.

    • Reply Phil Forbes 9 December 2016 at 12:12

      Go back to Lygon street

      Wesołych swiat mate. Have a good one! Let’s do something Jan 26th!

  • Reply Piotr 9 December 2016 at 18:17

    I`m trying to post comment but your website refuses me access. What happened?

  • Reply Piotr 9 December 2016 at 19:28

    Hi Phil,

    Nice to meet you-it`s great you came to Leah`s blog to share your opinion about Poland with us. Some of your thoughts seem to be really intriguing for me. So, I would like to give my two cents. When I was reading about elder men or women pushing other people to get a place at the window on the bus, I almost saw an old lady wearing a neglected coat and a destroyed cap/beret made from a wool. I know it`s stereotype but these kind of people exist everywhere. Luckily, there are many sweet and beloved grandpas and grandmas here. They are really hospitable, talk to you and even give you a piece of cake with a mug of tea when hungry. You are right that our country is changing. However it`s happening too slow in my opinion. Although young Poles learn languages, want to know other cultures and aren`t so scared of difference, there are many things to do yet. Some of them are mentioned in your post. I don`t understand why we leave our garbage in bushes or woods. Don`t we know it`s harmful for our environment? We have beautiful green fields so it isn`t needed to damage them. Or we can`t care an our common area? How do you think? Advertisements are really big trouble for our country. Walls and buildings covered with posters of undressed girls ( or other ones wearing only strings and bras) don`t look too pretty unfortunately. I think it`s related to fact we aren`t able to project an area around us-we simply can`t make it nice, even if we want. I think Polish people are just used to lack of beauty and ugliness too. Your point of view connected with Polish fashion and dress code really made me interested as well. I agree that Polish women are smart, beautiful and elegant. Men don`t care about clothes too much though. Meeting an unshaved guy in a spotted vest, holy torn jeans trousers, socks and flip-flops/ sandals isn`t such a rare situation. On the other hand, a look definitely doesn`t definite our personality and inteligence. I reckon that we could learn it from the Westerners-I really like it. And don`t worry-Polish winter won`t kill you. A warm sweater, a glass of hot drink, a soft blanket and everything should be fine ;-).

  • Reply Piotr 9 December 2016 at 19:32

    Everything is ok. When I used undressed instead of naked, my comment was published. Censorship must have thought than I was spreading pornography, ha, ha.

  • Reply Paulina 10 December 2016 at 02:53

    Very nice post! As an immigrant, I love to read about other experiences. First two years in a foreign country are always the most interesting :) Good luck in my beloved Poland, Phil!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 10 December 2016 at 10:03

      Living in Chicago, huh? Very cool! How long have you lived in the States?

      • Reply Paulina 10 December 2016 at 16:40

        Just 5 years, so I still feel like a newbie a little bit 😀

  • Reply Joanna (Aska) 14 January 2017 at 03:12

    I came across your blog by chance and as a Pole living in Australia for the passed 24 years, I smiled while reading it. Things definitely changed, but some things just don’t. Bless our older generation :-) Your reflections brought back some great memories and I think it’s time for another visit. Thank you .

  • Reply Jagoda 18 January 2017 at 22:22

    Leah, I can’t believe I only just discovered your blog!!! Such a shame it’s at a time when I’m overloaded with work and can’t dedicate as much time as I’d like to read all your posts. But I’ll get there 😉 You’ve created a nice place for foreigners in Poland to get together. Great job!

    Let me introduce myself briefly to you all – I’m a Polish-Australian who’s been living in Poland for 16 years now! OMG! It’s scary when I write it. My sisters and I were raised by my Polish parents in Melbourne. I came to Poland as a young adult, and kind of stayed accidentally. Long story 😛 Anyway, now I’m married and have 3 kids. I live in Poznań now, but I lived in Gdynia and the Trójmiast area for a few years – love Gdynia! The best city in Poland, and it reminded me of Melbourne a lot. Close to the beach, great people, very modern, very green.

    Phil, so great to “meet” a Melbournian here, I’m also from the eastern suburbs 😀 I wonder if we’ve got any friends in common 😉 Thanks for this post – loved it! Particularly: “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.” Laughed so hard at this! So, so true! I am so guilty of this 😛
    When it comes to differences, the frequency of being paid is something worth mentioning – monthly (as opposed to weekly/fortnightly in Oz). I spent almost my entire first salary in a week, thinking I’d be paid again the following week (there was no contract or anything, just a student’s job, but still).
    Another huge difference is the education and schooling system. But that’s a subject for a whole separate post. Worth looking into, especially when/if you have kids. I can’t bloody get the hang of it here. It all seems so “unorganised” 😉

    Phil, good luck with your new life in Poland. It is sometimes challenging, but I guess our Aussie “no worries mate” gets us through most of the tough times 😉
    PS. Yay heavy metal 😉

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