My Polish Street: Anatomy of a Polish 'burb

The suburbs of Poland are chaos theory applied to residential development. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to explain what has transpired other than to assume it has been an out of control free-for-all, first come first serve and do what the hell you like. So astounded was I by this mess that I recently visited a town planning department cunningly disguised as a guy who wants to build something. Here is the transcript of our meeting:

Me – “Good afternoon to you, fine urząd lady. I’d like to build a house in Nowa Dupa, or maybe a scrap yard for old car parts I’m not sure yet, where do I apply for permission?”

Urząd lady – “Permission?”

Me – “Yes. Take a look at the zoning plan perhaps?”

Urząd lady – “Zoning plan? Nowa Dupa?”

Me – “Yes. Well, perhaps you have a booklet explaining how developments in that area should be put together? Your future plans for infrastructure projects, transport, utility connections and so on? Perhaps some guidelines on architectural style, appropriate heights, colours, density of development, that sort of thing?”

Urząd lady – “Infrastructure? Transport? Utilities? Architecture? The director’s a very busy man, an important person. He doesn’t have time for things like that.”

Me – “Okay, let’s put it this way. I’ve bought a plot at the corner of ulica Kurcza and ulica Pieczony here (shows map) and I’m not sure whether it’s best to build a house there or a scrap yard. You know, the kind of place with mountains of old car parts, Rottweilers running around and workers with serious cases of bum crack exposure?“

Urząd lady – “It’s more than my job’s worth to comment on things like that. That’s your problem. Nothing to do with me.”

Me – “So you don’t care what I do then?”

Urząd lady – “Far from it!! I need you to sign this paper and buy a 60 grosz stamp from my friend over there. Then you can bugger off because it’s nearly 15:00 and we’re closing. Oh, and if you do build anything here’s the number to my cousin. He’s an expert carpenter, bricklayer, electrician and road builder who installs satellite dishes in his spare time.”

No surprise then that we are where we are. In some cases you see land that is perfectly situated for development just standing idle, used for absolutely bugger all while elsewhere new housing estates are springing up on tiny plots that used to be someone’s vegetable patch.

Polish “developers” need little encouragement beyond a narrow muddy track leading absolutely nowhere, preferably into the middle of a field of crops or a forest. Follow this with a casual discussion in the bar and you have the beginnings of ‘Tomasz Trump IV’.

TT IV – “No, jak tam, stary!”

MATE – “Soohigh, dude! Moj kumpel, Marek, kupalowałesz fajne teren agricultoraliczny na tam ten pole blisko moja babcia. Wiesz! On ma tylko 1,500 metre quadratowy i budowaliśmyczjyzny 58 domki. Bliżniaki, oczywiszcze. Mały kurdupoły domki ale ludzie bardzo lubi tego domki i on sprzedawały sie jak ciepłe bułeczki! Teraz on ma Range Rowera, wakacja na Bali i wszystki najlepsze sprzet AGD, nawet expres do kawy!”

TT IV – “Kurde! Ja tesz chce expres do kawy. Znam pole ktory ma malutki pierdolowy droga. Do roboty!”

Such are the beginnings and before you can say “O co chodzi?” something looking for all the world like a set for Coronation Street has appeared in the centre of a very large field somewhere on the edge of Łomianki. Surrounded by nothing but crops, served by only a mud track, the electrical supply provided by a set of jump leads hooked onto a nearby overhead line. Like a powerful lighthouse it flashes its message to all passers by “Look what a fellow Pole did. He got rich and now drives a Range Rowera. And you…..loser??!”


This nervous tension cannot last very long and so it is that Pan Masło, a middle manager in an international firm who seems to have far more money that his position would suggest, steps in and builds his 350 m2 mansion on an adjacent plot. The architecture doesn’t match, the colours don’t match, the scale is all wrong and it doesn’t line up with Coronation Street….but who cares.


Pan Masło’s place

More time goes by. The mud track gets worse and worse but as nobody has yet taken ownership of it, nothing is done to improve it beyond throwing more sand into the pot-holes. Another ‘developer’ builds a second Coronation Street not quite the same as the first and going off at a slight angle in the wrong direction. A few more mansions go up. There are problems with the water supply, sewage and electricity but they muddle through. The noise of 20 dogs barking in the night is a bit annoying but one must have a security system out in the sticks.

As a the population builds someone decides to open a sklep spożywczy in their garage with a 24hr alcohol license. Before long this becomes a popular local hangout and most missing husbands can be found there. No Polish settlement is truly kosher without a “Skup Palet” establishment, so someone opens one of those, also 24hr of course because you never know when you’re going to need a pallet! Around the same time all the Dell Boy Trotter types turn up and start opening Tyre Shops and Air Conditioning workshops, these being mixed in with the housing just to give the place that authentic Polish suburb feel.


Dell Boy’s Klima shop

The throbbing commercial heart of this fledgling community is further enhanced by a few residents opening up internet business using their home address. One selling AGD and the other baby goods imported from Italy. This greatly increases the traffic and the pressure on the roads but does please Skup Palet Man who experiences a 30% jump in trade. Urged on by the success of Skup Palet Man, Wiklina Lady parks her caravan on the corner and neatly arranges her woven baskets, rocking-chairs and garden ornaments. Completing the full set of required services, someone opens a bicycle repair shop which doubles as a place to buy ski equipment in the winter months.

An enterprising newcomer notices that there’s a spare 400 m2 on the corner that’s not used for anything more than a dog toilet so he builds a block comprising of 24 apartments, each with 50 m2 and one underground parking space. He makes a deal with a bank to offer 130% mortgages denominated in Icelandic Kronur, which proves a popular (but ultimately doomed) option. Everyone has two cars so they park the other one on the side of the mud track and then complain about the conditions to anyone that will listen.

By now the community will have achieved the regulatory target of 15% of developments that will never be properly completed, the owners having spent 90% of their budget on 10% of the items of work and then realised (too late) how deep their hand is in the potty.

This busy suburb is now being noticed and so three Ukrainian hookers wearing luminous hot-pants have taken to hanging around in the bushes nearby. A guy from Katowice opens a mountain style karczma on the side of the mud track, which proves to be popular with the locals at the weekend especially in the winter when an enterprising local farmer runs ‘kulig‘ from the village to the karczma. On the back of the karczma traffic, assorted locals set up shop by the side of the road selling jars of hand-picked mushrooms neatly displayed on the top of an upturned plastic crate. In the summer you can buy apples and cherries. The concentration of sweet teeth finally fuels the opening of two cake shops, one with permanent queues for the ice-cream in spring and summer.

And so it goes on…… Darwin would have called it evolution but with luck we won’t have to suffer a 1,000-page book by Richard Dawkins as I don’t think he knows where Poland is. It’s all way too Catholic for him over here anyway!

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35 thoughts on “My Polish Street: Anatomy of a Polish 'burb

  1. Bartek says:

    a well-written and hilarious satire on the incompetence of devil-may-care urząd staff, idiotic regulations, greedy developers and the dark side of Polish mentality…

    Don’t you go overboard with expletives? Or is it a shrewd attempt to act as a Polish factor on Polandian?

  2. Hilarious, really – one of the most amusing things I’ve read about life in Poland in quite awhile. Reminds me a bit of some of the older Banterist posts I’ve seen on Poland.

  3. Bob says:

    scatts – Har X 1000 – very good.

    It is a bit better at stara dupa, things have settled in since the days it was nowa dupa.Road is ‘paved’ with some type of concoction that has hidden the mud well and the ladies in the local shop smile – must be the prozac I have been slipping into the town water tank.

    Potholes are a way of life in Poland. When someone asks me about the roads in Poland I simply tell them the roads are a series if differing size and shape potholes that are occasionally surrounded by asphalt.

    However the ‘urzendniks’ are the same down here in the south part of town – seems that no matter what sex they are it is that time of month on top of a serious hangover

  4. wildphelps says:

    You failed to mention the dentist, the eye doctor and/or the veterinarian who also set up shop in the spare room of their mansion for off the books business. Otherwise, you’re right on the mark.

  5. Bob says:

    Phelps – they just flip signs depending who may be in at the time probably in the ground floor apartment of an apartment block

  6. Scatts says:

    Thanks, Bart! Just trying to inject a little realism (the swearing).

  7. Scatts says:

    There you go, you see. I’d never heard of this ‘Banterist’ chap before and now I can go explore!

  8. Scatts says:

    What I did fail to mention is the Apteka. After all, that’s probably the most important and well used facility in every Polish community.

  9. Scatts says:

    Stara Dupa sounds like far better place, Bob! I see you have experience in these things.

  10. Bartek says:

    you also forgot to put a Gabinet ginekologiczno – położniczy. My neighbour just set one up in his basement…

  11. Scatts says:

    Whenever anyone mentions gynaecologists all I can think about is jokes like – “How does a gynaecologist decorate his hallway?”, “Through his letterbox!!” Boom Boom.

  12. Bartek says:

    lovely technical joke.

    From another kettle of fish – does anybody know how are those oranges which stick in the bottles of exotic alcohol put there?

  13. island1 says:

    I thought it was somehow due to storks, never heard the kettle-of-fish theory.

  14. Surely ‘Stomatologia’ i ‘Solarium’ is up there too. Or maybe it’s just cause I live in the Natolin district of Warsaw where people are seriously into their tanning and dental enhancements? Ireland’s capital Dublin is a well-known case-study site for brutal planning. The vertical development of Warsaw is still psychologically damaging for me and it is he firs time I have ever lived in an apartment. Isn’t planning and development of residential blocks here still social realism but just with a few licks of paint?

  15. Bob says:


    They slide the Bottle over the “BUD” and the Fruit grows into it.
    A realy great one is the Pear d’ Anjou.
    When the Bottle is empty with the Liquor, be careful when you eat the Fruit. This is very Potent !!!! (From Yahoo Answers)

    But I believe it has to do more with gynecological tools, industrial lubricants and letterboxes myself

  16. Bartek says:

    I know it Bob, I just wondered if the others know as well.

    But a lot of people in Poland scratched their heads about it. Around ten years ago my father asked about it a waiter in the restaurant and he enlightened him.

  17. Bartek says:

    another kettle of fish = sth totally different. Can’t I use such idiom when signalling shifting ground?

    And what the hell do the storks have to do with anything discussed here?

    Island1 – is there a new welcome note on the top of main page, or has it been there for a while and I just overlooked it?

  18. hilarious! and to the point!

  19. Scatts says:

    Bart, there always was one but I changed the text of the welcome note today, which probably made it noticeable.

  20. Bartek says:

    are you going to change the name of the last figure each single day?

    Ernest Hemingway? Did you get his message from beyond the grave?

    So they’ve got the Internet in the afterlife. Hope the connection speeds are faster than in Poland.

  21. Bob says:

    Bartek – thought you were really positing a question.

    Now – one for you – how do they load so many olives on the jar all with the pimento facing out and so tightly that they are hard to get out? Perhaps many pani Basia’s poking them in?

  22. Bartek says:

    Bob – I specialise mostly in rhetorical questions which get on other people’s nerves. This time I was just curious if the fellow commentators know.

    I plead my ignorance. My common sense only tells me they shrink it somehow, in the jar they swell. I;m not sure if I know what you’re writing about. Would you give a link to picture showing such invention – maybe then I’ll come up with something.

  23. Scatts says:

    I thought they did it like the ships – make an orange from matchsticks that folds down to a small size then slide it in the bottle and pull some strings to erect it back to the right shape!

  24. Ania says:

    Lovely! When they get to the karczma and kulig stage in Nowa Dupa I’m moving back into Poland. I will increase the standing of Nowa Dupan in the eyes of the World, as the person quoted in the heading of Polandian.
    Much obliged! Should I smuggle some Bass ale in from the UK on my next visit to the Matrix (Macierz)?

  25. Scatts says:

    Ale is always welcome, Ania!

  26. pole says:

    “Perhaps some guidelines on architectural style, appropriate heights, colours, density of development, that sort of thing?””
    My building = my decisions. As long as its safe, the state shouldn’t have anything to say.
    If you want state babysitting you, that’s fine, but we don’t like that here.
    There’s too much intervention going anyway. I can’t even chop down a tree on my land without bureau’s permission… the only solution is to secretly poison a tree and let it die.

    The mud track is propably a gmina’s failure – it is exceedingly hard to get them to build something. And it is almost impossible to get a building permission for public road.

  27. tee says:

    As long as you’re not living in a desert or in the middle of a forest, but in some sort of community, then I’m sorry to say, but you’re terribly wrong.

    You seem to be an incredible egoist who cares not for anything else than the tip of your nose/the end of your lawn, which means that you have no interest or perhaps even the idea that places with no harmony at all (be it architecture, environment, etc) negatively influences you in the same way it influences your neighbors and the feeling of the entire location.

    I do hope that such attitude would change one day in Poland. Of course, for that, we also need a change of bureaucracy.

  28. POTFUR says:

    And this kind of mentality explains, in a nutshell, why things (as brilliantly described above) will not change too quickly.

  29. Scatts says:

    Tee, I’m really struggling to work out how you can say this…

    “you have no interest or perhaps even the idea that places with no harmony at all (be it architecture, environment, etc) negatively influences you in the same way it influences your neighbors and the feeling of the entire location”

    …if you actually read and understood what I wrote.

  30. tee says:

    I’m sorry, I was very tired which decreased my language skills level to about 10%.

  31. Polish says:

    Dear All foregin people that stay in Poland and still complaining:
    Does anyone forced you to live here?
    If Poland is extremely ‘exotic’ country for you maybe it’s just better to come back to your own ‘perfect’ countries?
    We are catholics, we don’t agree to have a gay couple in our system, no roads, no standarized colour of roofs on our ugly and dirty ‘burbs. What is more we are still drunk…..oh my god so many bad things here – I have to consider an ascape form this country as well.
    Oh I forgot – we are THIEFS drunk one – one of the worse!!

  32. Scatts says:

    Dear Polish,

    You must have read a lot of our content to be able to throw in so many different points and your summary of our position is so very apt.


    We love you too, by the way. Share the joy my friend.

  33. Slobodan says:

    Well written but you have to think about the other side

  34. Great post :-D. True one, and I have laughed loudly many times reading it.

    I think that the complete lack of any order in Nowa Dupa is one of the things that make me feel “free and normal” in my country. I am glad you have noticed the obligatory 15-20% of developments that will never get finished, funky angles between buildings and a complete lack of style consistency. But there is a pattern!! The pattern is… exactly you have just described it Scats! :-), no matter what part of Poland you go to. Only the first 100 or 1000 totally diffrent buildings look strange together, in a whole it looks like Polska to me :-D.

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