Tales of a freshman

A new employee of mine started work this Monday (although he’s been in Warsaw since last Wednesday). He’s from Newcastle, England, UK, British Isles, Great Britain, call it what you will, the far side of the channel.  He’s never worked or lived outside the UK, I think he’s 30 years old. We’re lucky, him also, that our work does not always demand competency in the lingua polska (as many of our clients are international and much of the report writing is also demanded in English) and so we were able to consider a recruitment policy that may otherwise appear a little stupid. He’ll obviously be somewhat restricted but what he lacks in Polishness should be made up for with Britishness, which is preferred by some clients even when getting things done overseas.

Can I just make it clear up-front that he’s being paid and treated the same as any Pole would be. No special treatment just because he’s a Brit. We had a vacancy, he was a candidate, all candidates were offered the same deal wherever they came from.

However capable he may turn out to be at work, having a freshman to look after is already bringing back memories of how it was when I first arrived and highlighting just how much trivial knowledge one needs just to survive in a new country, irrespective of work demands. Hopefully he won’t mind me using him as study / blog post material, if he’s at all a writing type we might even get him on here to give us his own “first impressions”.

He’s achieved a lot since arriving. He’s only had since Thursday so that’s what, 5 days not including today and including two days of weekend and he’s already found and moved into an apartment, opened a bank account, sorted out things like mobile phones, cars and stuff at work and fair bit of other routine stuff. He’s also got a good handle on Warsaw nightlife over the weekend as far as I know and has learnt, with a passable accent, precicesly one word a day. I think they are – piwo, dziendobry, dziekuje, tak, nie & prosze.

The little stuff is amusing though, for me anyway. We were at a lunch meeting today with a client called Maciej Kowalski (surname disguised to protect the innocent, but it was pretty close). He asked Maciej if he was Polish. I nearly spat my soup across the table but then I suppose it’s a reasonable question for a freshman. By now I understand Polish, central European, names, faces, accents and demeanour but he doesn’t know a Maciej from a Gabor from a Jaromir at this stage.

During the same meeting it was clear that Maciej was having some difficulty understand him. A bit suprising as he does not have a strong Geordie accent by any means and speaks relatively slowly but when he asked Maciej “Where were you staying in Mexico?” and Maciej answered “Yes, I always catch the tram to work!”, I knew we had communication breakdown. I asked Maciej, nicely, if freshman was understandable and he, of course said “perfectly”. After the meeting I gave freshman the pep-talk on making doubly sure that someone has understood what he said because I’ve never, not once, heard a Pole admit that they don’t understand. They’ll just nod their head, grunt, say things like “sure, yeah” and leave you with the impression that every last word was understood completely. Then, whatever it is he wanted to happen, won’t happen and he’ll be left wondering what went wrong.

Looking for forms of identification in the office for use with ZUS and other such crap, he produced his driving license. Being British that would be the normal way to identify yourself as that’s about all you ever carry around with you in the UK and from that the big-brother computer systems will provide all other data. Here in Poland of course this idea is just laughable, especially so when the license was one of those old paper ones that had most definitely seen better days. Honestly, I’ve seen used toilet paper that was in better condition than this! It gave everyone in the office a good laugh at any rate and a few even took photos of his license to take home and show their families! He’s now applying for a “proper” license.

He’s moved into his apartment but has no crockery, cutlery or any of those other useful items in life. What’s more he has bugger-all idea about where to go and get them and how to get them back to his place. I remember those days well! I also remember my first big party in Poland where I wanted some candles and if it wasn’t for the help of a colleague at the time, my apartment would have looked more suitable for a wake than a dance party! (Those gravestone candles are very attractive though, aren’t they?) Being the all-round good guy that I am, I’m taking him shopping in Ikea tomorrow.

It is very early days for freshman, things have gone suprisingly smoothly so far but we have yet to tackle the tricky things like visas, ordering a pizza, directing a taxi, getting paid, paying taxes, melduneks and all that jazz. Plenty of time for the shit to hit the fan!

Stay tuned for the next episode of –


24 thoughts on “Tales of a freshman

  1. Jason says:

    Excellent blog. What kind of work do you and the freshman do?

  2. guest says:

    This guy needs a woman and not IKEA. ! :D

    Buy him a train ticket to Sopot. There he can find all the ladies from Waszawa…lying in bikini on the beach.

  3. guest says:

    ps: Jason ,talking/asking about work/job is a top10 weblog sin. It is boring and it is private.

  4. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    Remember to buy him a good city plan. Instruct him that Zajączka, Zajęcza and Zajączkowska are three different streets, just in case. Teach him to ignore traffic lights and simply watch out for incoming cars instead (when he’s not driving, that is). If he doesn’t own a car, make sure he knows how to fend off a ticket inspector (they are notorious for trying to cheat foreigners into paying undue penalties).

    Other safety precautions:
    – don’t give money to beggars, unless they are playing that accordion really well;
    – don’t respond to strangers who try to start a conversation in the middle of a street, even if the first word they say is “pshprashaa”;
    – don’t take leaflets from anyone, unless that someone is clearly still in highschool;
    – don’t feed ducks nor pigeons, don’t touch squirrels, avoid bats, and by no means do ever let a seemingly homeless dog follow you;
    – hedgehogs and small reptiles are not your friends, either;
    – if someone is offering you a piece of fish they’ve just catched, tell them you’re on diet (but don’t say you’re a vegetarian);
    – if you’re paying more than 50 złoty for a taxi ride, either the driver is trying to be a smartass or you’re in Łódź;
    – if there are lots of trees and old-looking buildings around you, and there are policemen guarding one of them, don’t cross the street improperly (the guarded building is an embassy, and policemen are under orders to arrest anyone who crosses the street improperly; this is important, because for some reason good pubs and embassies tend to be close together);
    – if you see a teenager or a group thereof while walking alone after midnight, avoid looking that teenager in their eyes and try to think about something pleasant (they can smell fear);
    – avoid right bank of the town after sunset;
    – if lost, aim at the big ugly spire with a clock face near its top;
    – if lost in dungeons under Warszawa Centralna train station (also known as “Chaos Depot” among natives), close your eyes and let the Force guide you; any other technique works, too, as long as it’s at least partially random;
    – the red part of any pavement is for bikes and is used by pedestrians; the gray part is for pedestrians and is used by bikes; the white bike signs painted on the red part mean a bike was run over by a car at this spot;
    – in case you do see an actual bike, there is 30% probability the person riding it has rabies;
    – in case you need a vaccine, look for the nearest public toilet; many of them have been converted into veterinary clinics;
    – in case you need a public toilet, always have a diaper with you;
    – if a pair of policemen approaches you, asks for ID, and then proceeds to write down your name and such, refrain from panicking, as they are only doing it for practice (unless they are protecting an embassy, in which case they will proceed to threaten you with possibility of arresting you under charges of terrorism, which in turn is a running gag among policemen, because there are no terrorists in Warsaw and people are only being killed for money);
    – strangers who look as if they were angry with you are harmless;
    – however, if you see someone showing their teeth to you, run;
    – the nasty old ladies in thick brown furs usually calm down as soon as they see an empty chair;
    – English name of a shop or a company does not imply any of its employees speaks English;
    – nor does the word “sorry” when spoken out loud by someone; it’s actually Polish and means “pshprashaa”;

  5. scatts says:

    Thanks, I shall pass those tips on, Happy Jack!

  6. Michael B. says:

    “- the nasty old ladies in thick brown furs usually calm down as soon as they see an empty chair;”

    I think I have to disagree with you there sir…sometimes they continue to pummel you with their bags/umbrellas, or continue the verbal berating whilst comfortably seated as well!!!

    Everything else is spot on though!!! :)

  7. guest says:

    BTW, Alan has some nice new videos.


    Very informative.

  8. pinolona says:

    Happy Jack, what’s your blog address? I want a subscription…

  9. Phred says:

    Tell him not to ask for a toaleta if he wants a towel.

    If he has to go to a doctor and he’s given a thermometer, tell him to be sure he doesn’t slip it under his tongue.

  10. Reason says:

    Brings back memories – I came over to start up what became a huge enterprise in 1990 – imagine it then. One memorable story – in 1990 try to find ice trays – not those infernal little bags you put water in and tie the end. Well, EVERYONE told me ‘you cannot buy ice trays in Poland’ – telling me that was tantamount to putting a steak in front of a dog. I would do everything possible to reach my goal. (‘You cannot find that in Poland’ became what I called the Polish national anthem I heard it so much) Well, I looked high and low for an entire day (I was in the Gdansk area) and there was neither hide nor hare of an ice tray. Dejected I went to Sopot and was walking down Monte Cassino and happened across a poor sot selling all means of plastic things. I spotted those little plastic folding holders for eggs! Cut the hinges off fill em with water and you have perfectly half round ice cubes.

  11. anglopole says:

    hahaha – great entry Scatt:) Tell your new employee to be careful in Warsaw, otherwise this can happen to him: http://www.dailymotion.com/relevance/search/Englishman/video/x534wg_the-englishman_fun – after all Poles too are unpredictable; So, the all important advise is: expect the unexpected! ;)
    (btw. he’ll be welcome in: http://www.goldenline.pl/grupa/active-english )

  12. island1 says:

    Don’t forget to add to Jacek’s slightly ominous list:

    And there are some good things too!

  13. Leopolis says:

    Never step on the grass or else you will step in dog presents. Likewise, keep your eyes on the pavement on Hoża Street (a.k.a. Poop Alley).

    Never believe anything anybody tells you about Praga Warszawa unless if s/he has actually 1) been there 2) had some negative experience there that compares to something you’d experience in your home country.

    BTW, I agree that talking about private work stuff is a big NIE! on the blogosphere, especially considering you didn’t post a job announcement that I could have applied for before leaving Warsaw ;)

  14. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    Island – yes, there are. Survival, for example. And the Vietnamese fast food near Miła St. Although sometimes it’s too fast and I fail to shoot it.

    Pinolona – your friends from Kraków would disown you. Krakowians and Warsawians are like Capulets and Montagues of the north, sans the innocent pure love part.

    But enough with silly stereotypes. I’m just pulling your legs. For instance, in reality one can safely enter Praga after sunset, if their dog is big enough.

  15. Ewa says:

    As is well known, I’m a problem repellent. I entered Praga after sunset many times, without dog, repeatedly with car. And left with the same car, even equipped with the same windows…

  16. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    My guess is your car and its windows were made in Kraków, and now nobody wants to make friends with them. On one hand, I’m always disgusted by this kind of prejudice. On the other, you sure do save a lot of money on dog food.

  17. Ewa says:

    Nono, those windows were _broken_ in Kraków. Not made. Slight difference. (Don’t leave the radio panel inside your car if you park it too close to Park Jordana in Kraków, guys…)

  18. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    See, if you had bought a dog instead of a car, there would be no windows to brake, irrespective of which town you were visiting at the moment. As a nice bonus, you could train your dog to carry your radio panel for you.

  19. Ewa says:

    But the dog sled is a bit less accommodating than a car, y’know. Definitely. Cannot take my all family from home to Dresden in four hours…

  20. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    That’s right, but going to Dresden means you leave the scope of this blog, so it doesn’t count. Unless the car in question is Maluch, but then you would probably be unable to put your whole family in it (not to mention the dog). Unless the car is actually a good old Syrena, in which case I would recommend the dog sled after all.

  21. Sylwia says:

    Shouldn’t the Praga stereotype be long dead? I’ve been living here for some years now, walking out at all ours of a day and night, leaving my car in the street, and the only traumatic experience that happened to me was when my cat caught a bat on my balcony and brought it inside to play with it. Yes, I did regret not having a big dog then!

    Waiting for the next episode of Lost in Warszawa.

  22. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    The reality is that Praga is just poor. Most parts are regular blokowiska. For the record, blokowisko is a housing estate consisting of several substandard blocks of flats, usually very dense (each building is ten floors or more), accompanied by a bus stop, a parking, a grocery store, a poorly maintained playground, and some public facility such as a school or a clinic (all of these connected together with pavements, rather than streets). They are relatively unattractive, because Warsaw’s business and commercial hub is beyond the river, and the public transport is not as developed. Most blokowiska are also somewhat unpleasant to wander about, because they are ugly and unfriendly in a lot of small ways (for instance, they lack visual cues to help you navigate between blocks).

    Some older districts of Praga near the river, Szmulki in particular, are essentially slums, with all the inventory that comes with a typical slum. I know that area a bit, as half of my highschool class lived there, and I wouldn’t move there if they paid me. That’s where most stories about Praga being dangerous come from. However, most people who live there say it’s a decent place to live, as long as you keep on good terms with the more colorful part of local population. Most of their dogs are not combat trained, as far as I know.

    Frakly, I was hoping my humorous intent was made obvious by the warning about hedgehogs, or the part where I said bike signs mark accident sites.

  23. Sylwia says:

    Jacek – It was obvious, and it was funny! It’s just that the place you describe is a tiny part of Praga, and even not all of the Szmulki area is as you say. I.e. Ząbkowska street looks like this, and I’d recommend the place to anyone who wants to have a gist of the old Warsaw.

    Actually the last time I had a guest from the US I took her to a pub there and she liked it very much. :-)

  24. […] seems that one doesn’t have to be 13 years old to be a freshman and find themselves – no, not Lost in Warszawa – Lost in […]

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