Friday, January 15, 2016

You think you know somebody

Can you be friends with someone who thinks you're simple? That's what I'm asking myself today.

Conversation with a teacher friend, the short version:

Friend: You're wrong, but I forgive you because you're not Polish. Chriiiisss, you couldn't possibly understand the situation. You know nothing of European history, recent politics, the Polish education system, the situation for real people in Poland.

Me: Kochana, I studied history.

Friend: But in America. It doesn't count. (Gee, thanks my friend.)

Me: Yes, yes. On my exams I only wrote "America good. Rest of world bad." And I got an A+. Anyhow, I read a lot and not only from sources sympathetic to my opinions. 

Friend: But you read English papers. You cannot get the whole picture that way.

Me: I read the Polish papers too, dear friend. 

Friend: But as an American you cannot understand the Polish reality of people who work and live in Poland. People who have to find a job, a place to live, find a place in the hospital, pay a mortgage.

Me: Absolutely, since I came to Poland 16 years ago, I have never had a job interview, never been hired or fired from a job. My home was given to me by angels. Mortgage? What's that? Hospitals welcome me with open arms, especially that time I almost gave birth in the waiting room because the hospital refused to admit me. 

Friend: But you can't imagine how it is to be a public school teacher here. The abuse we have to take, the peanuts we earn.

Me: As a former school teacher I assure you, I understand your struggles.

Friend: But you taught in a nice school in America. I work over 40 hours in two different schools.

Me: I worked 50 hours in one school. Nice? Our metal detectors were certainly top-of-the line.

Friend: Ok, but at least you got paid a reasonable salary.

Me: I earned less than the per hour pay of a fast food cashier.

Friend: Well, in Polish schools it's just worse.

Me: I worked in high school in Poland and while it wasn't all fun and games, nobody got shot. 

Friend: Please. You're exaggerating. You didn't get shot at school in America.

Me: Not me. One of the kids. That's why I'm not a public school teacher anymore, that and the money.

Friend: Well, anyhow. You're not fully immersed in Polish culture, so you've been misled by the leftist media. If you really understood life in Poland, your (political) opinions would be different.

Me: Well, at least you didn't say it's because I'm a cycling atheist.


I know plenty of foreigners who live in Poland and don't give a rat's ass about Polish politics. They don't know who the President is, are unaware that there's also a Prime Minister, and probably won't take an interest as long as they live in Poland...unless the exchange rate continues its plunge right into the toilet.

But someone who knows me, has known me for years? I thought they'd put me in a different category than the random expat passers through. I know that I wasn't born in Poland, and I'm not Polish, but jasna cholera I take an interest in the country I call home. Yes, I have a different perspective. I'm an immigrant after all. I'm not asking her to agree with me. I'm only asking for respect of my intelligence as an adult member of society. 

My friend? Please ask her what's wrong with Obama, why Americans are overweight, or who will be the next US President. She's an expert.


Izabelka said...

To be honest if I were you, it would be the last conversation with this person.

Sorry,taki mamy klimat. ;-)

The Twisted Red LadyBug / Anda Alexandra said...

Everybody loves to judge and put labels, no matter where you go...

czarownica said...

Same here in the UK - Poles are trying to teach the English how they should govern their country, ha ha.
World known experts on everything - why Poland is still 100 lat za Murzynami then?

tenkris said...

Cycling atheist... You don't believe in the existence of cycling? Ha ha...

Chris said...

No, no, no I'm a firm believer in cycling and I'm a practicing cyclist ;) Perhaps a comma is in order there. I referring to recent comments by the Foreign Affairs Minister that veganism or maybe it was vegetarianism, cycling year round, and atheism are not part of Polish traditions. He said it much better. Today I encountered a lot of snow tire atheists out on the snowy roads though and not a single cyclist. We went sledding. Cycling awaits us tomorrow :)

bitowo said...

how much time did you waste to talk with her ? she's too stuborn or narrow-minded to admit right

Anonymous said...

I think Chris forgot that where there are two Poles there are three political opinions.

And while true that you were NOT born in Poland, and that you are an immigrant, but not an ignorant. What makes immigrants superior to the natives is the fact that they by default look outside the box because from birth they were brought up in a different culture with vastly different values and ideas.

As long as everyone keeps an open mind. And that's where your friend failed. She stayed closed-minded with her own share of misconceptions about you and your upbringing. Waste of time, she'll never learn. Such shallow people, even if being teachers, are impossible to convince. I wouldn't waste any time on her.

Oh, and trust me Chris, it is so much better you were not born in Poland. With all due respect where it is needed, life in Poland, according to was not peachy or rosy in any respect.


Chris said...

Thanks all for your comments. I was just having a hard time and needed someplace to vent my frustrations. I hope no one was put off by what I wrote. It wasn't a Polish thing, just a "friend" thing.

I totally plan to use the "I'm an immigrant, not an ignorant" thing in the future, if I may. Very clever.

Maria Agdalena said...

Even though what your friend said wasn't particularly open-minded, it wasn't a Polish-only thing either. I have seen multiple examples of this kind of thinking here in Sweden, too. I suppose it comes down to "My country is so unique only a native can understand it". Yeah right :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris!

I am an American who regularly visits friends in Poland. Maybe it is because I do not live in Poland, but I do have to say that, because of the cultural differences, there is a certain lack of meeting of the minds or a an inability on both ends to fully comprehend the reality of the other when we are together. When I am with my friends, I feel like they never entirely comprehend my perspective. But, I must acknowledge that I do not fully comprehend their perspective either because I did not grow up in their culture, their traditions, their way of speaking (and I speak Polish well), etc.

So, while I in no way wish to dismiss your intelligence, I can say that there is something that rings true in your friend's observations (even if she is incorrect to dismiss your intelligence or perhaps expresses herself in what feels like a narrow-minded way) when she says that you simply do not understand. From my experience, I perceive that there is something essential to culture and worldview that can only be fully grasped and understood if a person grows up and is formed in a particular culture. If it weren't this way, then we would be one world with one culture.

I appreciate reading your blog because, as an American, I have tried over the years to better and sincerely understand Polish culture or worldview. Some of your observations give me a glimpse and help me to better understand it since you share your observations and life experiences in Poland from an American perspective.

While those I know in Poland may not see eye to eye with me and may feel that I do not fully understand them and their way of thinking, I can say the same for them toward me. Despite the misunderstandings and confusion, I do perceive that they are still my friends because, when it comes down to it, I know that they sincerely care about my ultimate good and well-being, and they are always sure to give me extra helpings of pierogi so that I will not die of hunger. :)

Chris said...

Hi Anon - Thanks for your comment. I'm glad that you're a reader and that your friends keep you well-supplied in the pierogi department.

I know that I'll never be Polish even when I get my Polish citizenship, just as my kids are not exactly American. A few Halloweens and Thanksgivings celebrated in Poland don't make them American. They're Polish. If they go to America for good as adults, they'll always be a bit different.

I'll always lack some elements of understanding too, here in Poland and in the US if I went back today. Having said that, I go to extreme efforts to gather information on certain "Polish" subjects including asking people of different ages their opinions on those topics. I have lived here almost half of my life, almost my entire adult life. I got married in Poland, suffered a serious illness in Poland, had a miscarriage, gave birth twice, been to court, had my first car accident, worked in a public institution, started my own business, got audited by the tax office, been stopped by the police, been mugged, been attacked by a would-be rapist, been burgled, had my car broken into, been spit on, and so much more. My husband is Polish. My kids are Polish. My salary is paid in PLN. I may never have eaten the horrible chocolate-like concoction my husband's generation remembers, but neither has my friend. She's too young.

So I agree on certain Polish things, I'm definitely at a disadvantage. But in the discussion with my friend (she's still my friend), we should have been on equal footing.

PS I can make pierogi ;)

toya said...

Jasne ze nigdy nie zrozumiesz tego co sie dzieje w Polsce, nie wyssalas przeciez z mlekiem matki, rasizmu, antysemityzmu i ksenofobi.

slawekk said...

Anonymous said
> there is something essential to culture and worldview that can only be fully grasped and understood if a person grows up and is formed in a particular culture

While this is true about people visiting a foreign country as tourists, the situation of those that have lived fully submerged in some culture for many years is different. To me it's obvious that having lived half of life in one culture and another half in another culture gives a better perspective on both. It is the people who have seen less and know only one side (like Chris's friend) who don't understand.

Chris said...

toya - Jejku, tyle słuchałam od kolegi o żydowski spisek. Nie do wiary ;)

slawekk - I believe you have some experience in living abroad as well. What do your friends say? How do you feel? My American friends say I'm so "European" I think due to my support of vacation days and maternity leave and perhaps my clothes which are in fact from Gap. My Polish friends used to say I was so American when I talked about my childhood or teenage years, my teaching job in the US, and anything having to do with hunting and fishing. Now, they jokingly say I'm so Polish as our life experiences run parallel to each other and also that I can make pierogi. How do I feel? I feel that I'm both American and Polish, maybe 60/40 or even 50/50. We'll see how I feel as I get older and older ;)

slawekk said...

> I believe you have some experience in living abroad

I lived in the US for 15 years.

> What do your friends say?

The subject seldom comes up with my friends. Sometimes I play an expert on America in discussions like recently "Why America has been such source of technical innovation?".

> How do you feel?

As I get older I feel and think less and less about my tribal allegiances. This process has accelerated recently.

Chris said...

With me as well. Perhaps it is my age or my relationship to people in my life or even politics.

Today I met some new people and for the first time, the new people didn't ask me how I liked Poland. It was nice.

Anonymous said...

I really liked this post, Chris. But the final two sentences are just killer. Very nicely done -- and -- I can relate!
Dorota in Colorado

Anonymous said...

As of 22 January, The staff at Radio Poland have deleted over a hundred comments and blocked a number of it regular users with out notice or warnings from their English language Facebook page. The users who were blocked and the comments deleted all had one thing in common they took a pro Poland stand, they were critical of the media manufactured crisis in Polish Democracy and supported the PiS. No comments reflecting views that were anti-government, liberal-leftist, anti-Poland and or anti-PiS were deleted or their authors blocked. In the last two weeks numerous articles have appeared on Radio Poland English language website that were part and parcel of a PO sponsored propaganda campaign to overthrow a government elected by a clear majority of the voting public. The editorial tone of numerous articles is designed to convey a message to the English speaking media that PiS rules without public support and it actions are illegitimate. Radio Poland is a a publicly funded body that has been hijacked by PO supporters in an effort to attack the government. This must be stopped!

Anonymous said...

She sounds like a proper asshole (excuse my french). (forgot my login hahaha)

Chris said...

Anon - Re:Radio Poland. Could you write something, anything to convince me (us) that this comment is not copy/paste. - Your French is pardoned ;)

Justyna Lomot said...

well, I wasn't born here so I should have nothing to say about Obama, Trump, Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Jeb Bush, etc.
but I do, and I take pride in reading WSJ each morning. and watching Meet the Press on Sun, among others...
one day I've heard from someone - I am so proud of you, Justyna. you weren't born here, but you care so much about this country.
Yes, I do. because I live here. I also care about Poland, because I was born there and Poland will always be close to my heart. I can't stand today's politics in Poland, the government, their new laws. I feel sorry for people living there, but they also are responsible for whatever happened last fall... I hope they will learn their lesson!
That said, I am proud of you, Chris, that you care about Poland! too bad your 'friend' can't see that...

Chris said...

Thanks Justyna. You're sweet. I'm proud of you too.

I see that Sanders and Trump won New Hampshire. Things are getting real!

Papuga z Ameryki said...

:):):) That was funny to read... I have almost forgotten how Polish conversations might ... straight and "get right to the point" be;) I'm surprised she is still a friend of yours ;) American usually stay away from that kind of relationships where they are being told they don't know much ;)

On the other hand... USA... is still being perceived by Poles as Eldorado, where even the poorest with hard job and aspirations can achieve something... in Poland, from my observance, sometimes it's really challenging, especially for certain professions where the salary is not negotiable... Second of all... I have never seen a rude, unpolite American student who wouldn't be immediately punished for the bad behaviour... In Polish schools, it's not a big deal to go to the principle's office... it's actually a great story to tell and make fun of... Here the teacher is more respected than the Polish one. Believe me or not... it's true.

Lastly don't feel insulted by this conversation. Probably she is a good, very sincere friend... just... Polish ;) And btw. probably you do know much more about PL than many Poles do know about their own country. I know this from immigrant's experience. Immigrant who doesn't belong... Neither to your country nor to my own.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

I totally understand your annoyance, and I feel your pain. :)
I have been living in the States for most of my life (I was 8 years old when my family decided to move here from Krakow). My American friends, however, still do not take me (or rather my opinions) seriously. Because although I am about to graduate from one of the best US grad schools with degrees in history and political science, what could I know about the US? I guess I'll always be just an immigrant. On the other hand, people expect me to be an expert when it comes to Poland or Polish affairs. Yes, I am very aware of what's going on in my homeland, but I do not know what is the best place to hang out in Wroclaw for instance or the tourist attractions lets say in Siedlce (because I've never been in these places and I do not have any connection to these places), and yet my American friends get very surprised that I am so unaware. How could you not know such things? Are you not Polish, they ask.
So you're not alone in your struggles - thousands of immigrants are with you.
Poles (not all but most) are very sensitive, by the way, when it comes to our history (or rather our historical narrative), and politics. I'm sure you've noticed. It will take many years for this to change. Unfortunately, sometimes the opinions of foreigners are treated not as inputs, but as attacks. It's just something you have to swallow and move on.

Hang in there,

Chris said...

Papuga- I completely agree with you about the Eldorado stereotypes. I love the Polish soap operas where someone goes to America for 6 months and comes back a biznesman or tech millionaire. People fully expect that I am sitting on a fortune, and teaching is my amusing hobby.

I have to disagree with you about the behavior of American students versus Polish students. I have worked in a few elementary, one middle, and several high schools in the US. In Poland I have worked in a high school and an occupational high school. In America I was regularly told to fuck off. A student attempted to punch me in the face with a closed fist. The principal ordered him to apologize to which he said - Sorry Bitch. In Poland, the worst thing the kids did was cheat or skip class.

Chris said...

Anon A. - I totally get you. I have never seen a Tom Cruise movie. What? Are you really American? I haven't seen Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, or House of Cards. I used to think it was The Breaking Dead! I keep up with the politics because, let's face it, American politics is everywhere.

Thanks for struggling with me! And if you need to know where to eat in Wroclaw, you can ask me ;)

Sara said...

i'm sorry about this, but we have more then this in our arabs country, unfortuntely this kind of people are worldwide

Chris said...

Sara - So true. Yeah, my friend's not so bad compared to others. I still like her ;)

Papuga z Ameryki said...

Wow... Girl... what an experience... but I dare to guess no one has left any poop at your door as a sign of a teacher's appreciation day... every day... (One of my friend's stories)

But you are right Yes, let's face it... I have only experience from good schools. Most of them were in DC or rather from VA or MD, some good in NYC, maybe some Hawaian preschools or charter schools for adults.

I wouldn't dare to send my child to a school where she would be the only one white kid... Not ready yet for that kind of experiments ;) not on my child. In DC, no one says it aloud but everyone moves to local counties after their kids are about to finish preschool. The land is much more expensive but local schools are great. In DC, there are almost no white kids at all. Tell me from your experience, why?

I talked to many parents from around the States and yes they confirm what you've just said. The policy about bullying or respecting teachers in DC area is very strict. I don't have also any experience from Middle School, except interviewing some Polish students who had a chance to see the difference between Polish and American school. So I believe you. :)

Paweł Szmajda said...

Left vs right... this artificial polarisation of political spectrum is the saddest thing in the current politics, not only in Poland, but everywhere. Let's fucking argue about lies and meaningless topics, while the people in power do their thing, for better or worse. There's no point.