Saturday, May 15, 2010

That’s So Polish: Poland Is Better At Everything

I am American and I am proud of it. But I don’t live in America. I live in Poland. That must mean that Poland is super duper, right? Not really. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking Poland. I think that some things in America are great and some things are not. I feel the same about Poland. I think that some things here are great and that some things are not. Mostly things here are just different.

My father would not agree with me (or you, if you feel the same as I do). Yes, he’d agree that things here are different. There’s no denying when I look out the window that I’m not in America anymore, but the buildings are no better or worse, just different. For my father, different means worse. Everything in America is how it should be and things should be done the American way (read: the right way). Or at least that’s the impression we got when he visited us.

Having said that, I have to defend my father and any others out there who view their own way as THE WAY (such as myself when I first came to Poland). When I first came here, I often found myself saying things like, “In America, school is organized this way…” half-expecting my teacher friends to declare, “Yes! Finally! A school system that makes sense. Why didn’t we think of that?!?” OK, I said half-expecting which really means secretly hoping, so don’t judge me for my reaction to my first real taste of a foreign culture.

We like what is familiar to us. If you only know one way, be it the American way, the German way or the Chinese way, you tend to think that your way is the best. Exposure to other cultures and other ways of doing things is the best way for us to see what is good, what is bad, what is the same and what is different in other people and other ways of doing things. And even my father, the most American of all Americans, would certainly agree with that.

But this is supposed to be about the Polish way, not the American way, but I digress.

If you are planning to visit Poland, you should know a few things.

Disclaimer: If you do not have a sense of humor and are genetically unable to recognize satire and/or sarcasm, you should stop reading now.

You should know that Polish women are the most beautiful in the world. If you don’t believe me, just ask one of them (or one of their spouses). In addition, Polish landscapes, nature, flora and fauna cannot be beaten by any other.

You should know that Polish folks are pretty good dancers and they will assume that you know how to dance too. If you are like me and cannot dance, I suggest feigning illness. The previous statement is true for drinking. Please replace “dance” with “drink” and the same rules apply.

You should know that Polish schools are the most difficult of any you have ever attended and if you are American you should know that you are a moron. (I couldn’t resist;)

You should know that the Polish health care system is at the same time the best and the worst you could ever experience. Moreover, every health care professional earns peanuts especially my OB/GYN who drives a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Apparently peanuts are worth more than they used to be.

You should know that Polish salaries are low (which actually is kind of true) and that gasoline is expensive (especially compared to America).

You should know that Polish food (the actual food, not the cuisine) is far superior than the artificial, jedzeniopodobny food of where ever you are from.

If you are American, you should know that Poland would like to thank you and at the same time strangle you for the introduction of Coca-cola, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, etc. into Polish society.

You should know that Polish folks have a tendency to complain. Complainers should not be seen as pessimists. It is just a societal feature such as American people who are always “fine”, end every conversation with “have a nice day” and who never tire of talking about America.

Lots of brave and intelligent Polish folks have made many valuable contributions to history and to the arts and sciences over the years and damn you if you don’t know every last one of them. A piece of advice – Never tell anyone that you used to think Copernicus was Italian or that Marie Curie and Chopin were French. Trust me.

You should know that traffic jams in Poland are worse than anything you have ever experienced at least in Europe, unless you are from Brussels. The latest ranking for the worst traffic in Europe is as follows: #1 Brussels #2 Warsaw #3 Wroclaw. You see, I told you Poland is better at everything.

Are you royally perturbed at the moment? Yes? No? Maybe? It’s like with your siblings. You can beat on your sister as much as you want, but just wait until somebody else makes fun of her. So I guess I’m just another foreigner making fun of Poland. Not really. I am another foreigner, but I do live in Poland and have lived here awhile. My husband is Polish and my children are Polish. I have a NIP (a tax-payer #) and a PESEL (like America’s Social Security #). I have made pierogi by hand, by myself on more than one occasion…and they were really good. Enough said.

Please don’t think I haven’t fallen victim to the “Poland is better” syndrome myself.

  • While teaching US History in the States, I organized a letter exchange between some of my old students in Poland and some of my American students in the US. We couldn’t send emails because our school in the US did not have a computer lab. I was truly horrified when I saw that the majority of my American students were unable to write appropriate letters and that the Polish students of the same age had written better letters in English, their second (and for some third) language. I was also saddened to find out that more than half of my students had never sent or received any piece of mail ever and most of them did not know how to properly address an envelope…at age 15.

  • Once I totally overreacted and berated (via email) one of my friends who sent me a “Polish” computer virus. It went something like this: This is a Polish computer virus. Please delete your entire hard drive yourself. Actually, it is pretty funny if you have some emotional distance to those kinds of jokes. I was having a bad day, and I let her have it. By chance, in the newspaper that day, it was reported that some Polish students have received some big award from Microsoft or something, and I included that in my email as proof of how inaccurate her views about Poland were. After I calmed down, I sent another email asking her to disregard the first email and apologized for my rant. She in turn apologized for her joke. To be sure, I am no longer on her list of people to forward jokes to.

  • Another time I overreacted was while shopping at an outlet mall in the US where I had previously worked as a student. Misiu and I were shopping and we bought a pair of shoes. No biggie, right? We paid for them and then the saleslady tried to put the shoe box in a bag that was obviously way too small. She commented on her own struggle saying, “Jeez, I am doing this like a Polak.” Big mistake. I shot off questions to the saleslady like, “Are you saying that Polish people are stupid? Do you even know where Poland is? My Misiu can speak Polish and a few other languages. What about you?” At that point, her face was bright red and she was having trouble with her own language, the English language. I bet she never made a comment like that again, at least not in public. Of course, these days I’d probably let it go, or I’d tell her in a less confrontational way that it’s not cool to say stuff like that.

I haven’t had it easy either. I often have to defend my country and my countrymen. “Chris, why are you all so ………. over there in America (fill in whatever you want in the blank)?” I have a lot less explaining to do now that George Bush is out of office. I remember one student who gave me no peace. She was an IT specialist in her mid 50s and she informed me that I was stupid every chance she could. She often laughed “what a talent it is to teach someone your own language”. She also thought it was a pity Hitler didn’t “finish his job”, so I figured she was pretty nutty to begin with.

And on that nutty note, I end this post because my Polish husband who is better at everything is waiting for me.

PS I forgot to mention that my father hangs the American flag outside his home every morning and takes it back in every evening. In honor of the Polish plane crash victims, he hung his Polish flag along with the American flag for a week. That’s my Dad.


Titania yng Nghymru said...

hi Chris
I enjoyed reading ur new post:) you just hit the point ;) and i dont feel offended at all even tho im a pole myself. i actually had fun reading it.
it is true that some (or maybe majority?) poles think this way: what's polish, is the best of all. i used to think like that but now im living in the uk with my eng bf and thru the exposure to other cultures in britain i can see how ridiculous some "polish things" are! my bf makes me see pl things in a slightly different light and he always brings me down to earth when my polishness comes up to the surface ;) im def more objective than i used to be :)
like you, i also live abroad and my blog is quite reverse to yours ;) im a pole and i write about the foreign culture im living in. u write ur kielbasa stories, while i blog my fish 'n' chips stories (what a great title, btw!!!) ;-) im trying to be rather descriptive than judgemental of the british culture, leaving the opinion to a reader.

as for food, i would still support the view that polish food is good, natural and tasty, much, better than the fruit, veggies and meat from the uk or holland :P been there, tried it :P however ive tried some other cuisines than i loved them! my bf is a great fan of pl sausages, bigos, cutlets but hates pierogi and pickled herring! :((((

complaining about everything - yeah, another famous pl feature :) hate it! hate it! hate it! it was one of the small reasons why i left poland. was soooo much sick of it! esp within my family :(

sklodowska and chopin - yeah! dont forget they are polish! never ever! ;) i smiled when i read that paragraph as not long ago i, myself, had a sort of argument with my bf about maria sklodowska-curie :P and i insisted on calling her m. sklodowska-curie and not just m. curie, as the british do. dunno why, it just pisses me off when her name is reduced to the french part and the pl one is omitted and because of that many ppl dont even know she is polish. i will not argue about chopin tho as his name was french "by default" from the very begininng and copernicus lived so long ago that his name has always been associated with latin and renaissance scientist. nevertheless ive already enlightened my british colleagues at work that these people were polish and they were surprised to find out that! i think, we poles, are just very proud of them! and dont forget JPII and L. Walesa :)

pl schools - more regime and lessons tightly packed with activities, stricter than those in the uk, it seems to me like pl kids have to learn more than the british ones, again, been there, done that :) british schools waste so much time!!! :P

mc donalds and the other fast food outlets - yeah, we love them and we hate them! the nation is divided. we like having them as they take us closer to the west but we also disapprove of them due to the fact that fast food is simply unhealthy. poland is still a country that is trying to resist to them! what comes from the west is bad and corrupted, it's what ppl think in the eastern europe (not just pl)

well, it's more or less what i wanted to add from myself :) well done to you for defending the polish nation at a shop :) and greetz for ur dad, who may see some more positive things about pl in the future :)

Chris said...

Thanks for the comment. I was afraid that I'd have to suffer the silence as a punishment for my post ;)

I also like the name "Kielbasa Stories". All credit for the name and the idea that I should write a blog goes to my friend Ewa (On the blog, I call her Big Apple Ewa). Before she planted the idea and the title in my head, I had never even read a blog. Thanks Ewa so much for your support!

And about the food- I like that in Poland, you can still find ingredients, not just pre-packaged food-like material. I sometimes play a game at the supermarket. I check out other people's shopping carts and decide whose house I could survive in. It passes the time in the check-out line.

Thanks again for the comment and enjoy your fish and chips ;)

melissa said...

I started reading with lough (you are so good observer!) and ended with tears, I am really moved with your fathers gesture.

Stardust said...

People all over the world love their counties, but there is a huge difference between Poles and Americans. In Poles eyes is OK for you to love Poland, but is not OK for me to love America. If I ever say I want to move from America, all my American friends will assume naturally that I want to move back to Poland. On the other hand in your previous post every Pole was telling you to move somewhere in Europe, like they don't know you ARE American. Is a tipical polish double standart:)))

Stardust said...

And I almost forgot to say;) I love America so much it almost hurts.

Chris said...

Melissa - The best part is that my father didn't tell me about the flag. My mother did.

Stardust - Me too.

Lukrecja z Borgiow said...

You won a $64,000 question.
It is very sad that Polish people have to use dead scientists, composers, etc. to make them feel better and worthier.

As per second part of your post, I can not imagine living anywhere else. I just love PA, even when in the middle of the night, I have a guest sitting in my driveway eating out of my garbage can.


Chris said...

I miss PA too. Oh, raccoons and bears in your garbage at night. That's so PA. Do you know that we have Hershey's bars here at the foreign food shop?

ds said...

I can't decide what's more moving: your father with the flag or you overreacting ;)
anyway here everybody knows the best in the world in anything are the French ;)

and please mention to your American friends that Polish is not Russsian. That where I usually do overreact ;)

Lukrecja z Borgiow said...

It sounds so funny Foreign food shop.

Would you like me to send you some? they have it at the gas station, LOL.

Chris said...

ds- I forgot about the superiority of the French :) It beats Poland's. About Polish/Russian confusion, have you ever noticed that in Hollywood productions they are interchangeable. For example, the Russian gangster is played by a Polish actor, speaking Polish (who will notice anyway, right?) and the Polish cleaning lady is played by a Russian actress, speaking Russian. Sorry for the stereotypes, but that's what often is shown in the movies.

Lukrecja - I can send you a "Grzesiek". They are also sold at the gas station ;)

Lukrecja z Borgiow said...

They are sold at the European Deli.

Stardust said...

DS--> Sorry, but overreacting I think is to expect people all over the world to hear the difference between polish and russian accent. Do you hear the difference between japanese, korean, vietnamese? I don't and that's why it doesn't bother me if someone thinks I am russian. Getting upset about such details I think is another proof of being superial to everybody else.

Stardust said...

Hey anybody wants whole Greenpoint? Full of Grzesiek, Prince polo, Danusia and god only knows what else:)))))) Aaaa and Podwawelska:)

Titania yng Nghymru said...

"It is very sad that Polish people have to use dead scientists, composers, etc. to make them feel better and worthier"
@ Lukrecja z Borgiow - why is it sad????!!! there is nothing sad about it. we just want them to be known among thousands other famous artists/scientists etc, we are simply proud of them! is that wrong? :P

Hjuston said...

Don't forget that Kopernik była kobieta! :)
and do you know the award 'dobre, Bo polskie'? I think that tells a lot too.