I have an American neighbor. Actually, he is Polish, but he lived in America for more than 20 years before he and his wife came back to Poland to retire. By looks alone, it is difficult to distinguish them from any other Polish retired couple... unless you look deeper…
I noticed them first by their American car. Not that the sight of an American car on our street is anything unusual as I am the owner of 2 American cars. I guess I wanted to see who was treading on my territory. Then I noticed their unmistakably American Christmas decorations visible from the street. As my investigation deepened, I noticed that their clothes were not exactly Polish. They are more similar to those my parents wear which is a bit different than the Polish retired folks style (think marchewki jeans and white sneakers, not that there is anything wrong with that). Finally, I knew something was up when I saw that the man picks up his dog’s poo, every time, without fail, even when no one is looking (Well, when he thinks no one is looking- I’m very discreet). They had to be American. Further observation was warranted.
For investigatory purposes, I was glad to have run into the whole family in the corner shop when their son was visiting. The shop is very small so I easily overheard their conversation. Their son asked, “Czy oni mają good pastries?” “Tak, kochanie,” his mom reassured him, “Oni mają.” Oni? Chyba my a nie oni. I got riled up for a moment thinking that they were questioning Polish pastries asking if “they” have good pastries wondering why obviously Polish people would say “they” and not “we”. Then I chilled out from conspiracy theory mode and figured they were probably talking about the shop as “they” not the whole darn country.
I had to talk it over with the flower shop owner who is no longer the flower shop owner as she has leased out her shop space to another establishment -but that is neither here nor there. She and her husband also lived for about 20 years in the US and during that time built a house here in Poland and bought their shop. But that was back when one dollar was 4+ zloty not the 2.9 zloty it is now. The flower shop owner and her husband with their unique blend of Polish and Long Island accents confirmed my suspicions that the new neighbors were in fact Polish-American. Investigation over.
The flower shop owners agreed that they themselves had come back just in time to cash in on their stay in the US. Many people who are doing it now are finding it more difficult financially than they originally expected. In addition to finding the move more costly than expected, some of the people coming back can be surprised by the Poland that they find now. Still many people in Poland are poor and cannot make ends meet but more and more “normal” people are coming into their own and can afford nice cars and homes and summer vacations in exotic locations without having to work abroad.
If I were one of those Polish people who went abroad to make a better life for myself and my family, I might be a little resentful of Poland’s success. The whole justification for my sacrifice abroad is that it couldn’t be achieved at home, right? I mean I’d be happy for my country and its people but still a little pissed off that I am not returning the rich “American” to the poor Poland. You can be happy and pissed off at the same time, can’t you?
Of course, I know some people who made the move fully aware of the changes which have occurred in Poland. I also know some Polish people aware of the changes have decided to stay in the US indefinitely or to stay in the US longer to save up more money. I also know some American people who live in Poland who act like it is deep PRL here, but that is another story.
I met up with our neighbor the other day at the corner shop. He entered with his Vote Obama winter hat on and inquired as to the price of Black Smirnoff. When he heard the price he said, “No way! Idę do Żabki.” Ahh, the free market at work.
PS About the dog poo - If you are Polish living in Poland and you pick up after your dog, please forgive my generalization, but you know it is true. To be fair, I decided to count how many individual poos I encountered on my way from the parking area to the company where I taught today. The rules- too be counted the poo had to be in my line of sight at a distance no more that 3 meters away. I counted 32 individual poos…and 2 empty bottles of Wiśniowka. Not bad.