Six Years in Poland

As of the 15th of August I start my seventh year of life in Poland. I thought I’d take some time to look back on the previous six years and think about what has changed and what hasn’t.

Porsche, Apple, Hard Rock Cafe and Habanero logos and images

Lovely things you can buy now

We have, for the most part, more choice. Just this summer I’ve found loose habanero peppers at Alma, something unthinkable just a few years ago. It’s also been possible to have stuff shipped often for free from Amazon, from the UK, for a year or two now. While you need to visit Warsaw and Warsaw only to buy a Ferrari, you’re spoiled for choice if you want to buy a Porsche as there are dealerships spread across Poznan, Warsaw, Sopot and Katowice of all places. A few years back we saw the arrival of Subway sandwich shops and, in the last year, we’ve seen both Starbucks and Hard Rock Cafe show up in Warsaw and Krakow. The restaurants in general are getting a bit better as Poles start to appreciate true, authentic dishes that taste just like what they’ve had while on holiday. Apple’s iPad was even simultaneously released here at the same time as Canada, Japan, the UK, and Norway  received it, although there is still no iTunes store and no Apple stores.

While we have more choice, I’m not sure that customer service has improved.  I know that many decry the American style of cheery, upbeat – almost maniacal – customer service but against the alternatives of disinterest, indifference and downright incompetence, I know which I prefer.  If things are improving, it is sporadic.  I hope that as more Poles return from working abroad they will both demand better customer service and provide better customer service, having provided it and experienced it away from Poland.

Speaking of being abroad:  we can travel, often do and now more than ever any destination is reasonable even if it is exotic. I don’t know if this is a Polish thing, a Central European thing or a European thing …but Poles travel widely. Of course, all the usual, fairly close or cheap places are frequently visited. However, I have friends or colleagues that have traveled to the Galapagos Islands, Peru, China and elsewhere. In just six years my wife and I have spent at least one or more nights in 13 European countries. Since we’ve been included in the Schengen Zone and since a number of countries have opened themselves to Polish workers, it seems as though Poles travel even more.

President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek

President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek

The political situation here is better as well. Note that I say “better” not “good”. Right after I moved here PiS gained power and it was like Bush III: Po Polsku. A few years back, though, and PO gained power and turned the dial down on the rhetoric. Smolensk happened and paved the way for a PO PM and President, removing an outlet used by PiS to maintain the appearance of popular legitimacy while at the same time allowing them a platform from which to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt. A few years back Jerzy Buzek was elected President of the European Parliament and his time there has been largely a success, even if he has presided over the European Parliament at a difficult time. Just recently Poland assumed the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

For Krakow, in particular, the job situation seems to be very good. There’s been an explosion of outsourcing companies here and for workers with a bit of experience and/or education it’s possible to earn, relatively speaking, quite a lot of money. The problem is that things are almost too good – the market is extremely competitive and as such has driven wages up very rapidly. I’m worried that this isn’t sustainable but only time will tell.  Elsewhere the job market seems good and I’m sure it is booming for people that export, as the Zloty has recently dived into the toilet for the umpteenth time.  Unfortunately, the jobs need to be good since so many young couples took out home loans in Swiss Franc and have seen their payments balloon by anywhere from 50 to nearly 100 percent.  Since it is likely to be a bureaucratic nightmare to file for bankruptcy in Poland, I suspect that most will simply accept the utterly crushing debt and make budget cuts until they can just barely afford it, keeping whatever remains of their sanity by repeating the mantra “it will go back down”.

Accident warning

Warning: Homicidal Drivers Approaching

Unfortunately, a critical point that hasn’t changed for the better – at all – is how people drive. It’s as terrible as ever, with the most unthinking, self-centered, and reckless behavior occurring constantly. There seems to be very little desire on the part of the government to honestly crack down on this sort of thing and so it continues with no improvement in sight. As a result, people routinely die on Polish roads at rates that are many times higher than in almost every other country in the EU. Poland is a dangerous place to be a pedestrian or a driver in and will be until Poles stop making excuses like “the roads are crap”, “the trees…”, “it’s OTHER drivers that are bad, not me”, “I’m not drunk; I can drive ok”, etc. At least there are “more” roads and they are a bit better but from a visitor’s point of view it is still abysmal.

Another thing that hasn’t significantly changed is how religious people are and, in general, how religion here is treated. While I know of a few others that haven’t been married in a church, they are in the very, very small minority. Remarkably, I recently did happen to see a Hasidic Jewish person working at Makro here in Krakow. I think it is the first time I’ve seen someone who is clearly a local and who clearly is Jewish. I was quite pleased to see this but, in general, Poland remains very deeply monotheistic. I do think that the influence of the church in most Poles daily lives is waning but there is a vocal minority that continues to agitate for zero abortions, no business on Sunday, etc.

Polish Border Crossing Sign

There Be Dragons Here (Smok Wawelski!)

Last but not least:  the situation for foreigners in Poland.  I believe there has been a slight improvement here.  More people speak English, for one, but coverage is sporadic at best.  I’m sure I’ll get plenty of stick for this but, I’m sorry, if Poles want tourists, if we want to do business with foreigners, and if we want visitors to have a positive impression of Poland we need to speak English.  Signs and information at museums, monuments, government-owned sights and other similar locations need to be provided in at least Polish and English and, ideally, Polish, English, German and likely one other language (French?).  Don’t bother telling me that everyone that visits or moves here needs to learn Polish; every ex-pat has heard it a million times.  The fact of the matter is there are a billion people that speak English and about 50 million that speak Polish.  You can also stop calling it “Polish for Foreigners” and start calling it “Polish as a Second Language”.

There are probably a dozen or more things I’ve missed or not included here but, in general, I would argue that things have improved. I would also argue that they haven’t improved quickly enough and that there is still a long, long, long way to go before Poland is equal of France, Germany or the UK. My hope, though, is that we get there some day and my belief is that we can get there if we are determined.

39 thoughts on “Six Years in Poland

  1. Hmmmm, while Poland seems to be changing for the better, England seems mired in the past:

  2. That would have been a good point to review. I don’t honestly think Poland’s fascination with the past in order to explain (specifically: to excuse the present) has lessened at all.

    Any time you get a few Poles and a few ex-pats together, the conversation will almost invariably turn to WW2 and how everyone has screwed Poland. It gets boring.

  3. siudol says:

    I’ve read a few of your previous posts, Brad, and I quite enjoyed them. This one, however, is pretty disappointing.

    Driving aside (hard to argue with you there), you basically equate better with more westernized. Not enough flashy cars and can’t get a Ferrari in Poznan – terrible; no people smiling their forced, insincere smiles just to flog you something – bad for business; and, to top it off, they can hardly cobble a sentence together in English. What a backward place! When it comes to politics I can come up with a number of “western” countries where it is just as ridiculous and grotesque. Let’s just say Polish politics has its own distinct flavour. Returning to the issue of English, I don’t really care how many billions of people speak English in the world, but whenever someone goes to a foreign country it’s their problem when they can’t communicate with the people living there. I frankly find it arrogant to expect everyone to speak English and criticize them for not being able to do so.

  4. VLF says:

    “…“Polish for Foreigners” and start calling it “Polish as a Second Language””
    Apart from the PC thought control what’d be the point of that?
    How many non-foreigners need classes in Polish?
    Why the “newspeak”?

  5. Tim Richards says:

    Hmm, can’t say the arrival of Hard Rock Cafe or Starbucks is much of a cue for celebration. What I’m hanging out for is the rise of some cool independent cafes with kickass baristas, working with quality coffee. Not what you associate with Star “enormous milkshakes with hint of coffee” Bucks.

    Nor Subway, for that matter. Give me a good zapiekanka any day. :)

  6. siudol says:

    Just to elaborate on my criticism of your piece. It is very simplistic. You only look at consumerism in Poland.

    There is a number of things you could have mentioned.

    How about, for example, the health care? You’ve lived in the country long enough to form an opinion. Has it got better? We are all getting older and one day will need it. I, and a significant number of people, care more about that than an increased number of little red Ferraris driving past my window.

    What about the level of various social services you forgot to mention? What will happen when you fall on hard times and lose your job? That may never happen to you, so you don’t care, but a lot of people (and not all of them are lazy lay-abouts) may face that problem and would want the state to help them out, instead of just letting them live under a bridge and forget about them.

    Another issue, the degree of secularization. Don’t you think things would drastically improve in Poland if the power of the clerics was reduced and some people started thinking and questioning things for themselves, instead of meekly accepting what those religious idiots ram down their throats from the pulpits.

    I could go on and on.

    You fail to mention any non-consumer related and non-political issues, and focus only on what (and how efficiently) you can and cannot buy, how ridiculous the political scene still is, and how poorly the country caters to foreigners. Not a very well thought out article, I’d say.

    One more thing. Before you start calling me a commie, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to come across as a hypocrite and must own up I also like a spacious house/apartment, well-paid, secure job and a good, reliable car. It doesn’t need to be a Porsche though, a little munchkin Honda civic will do just fine.

  7. It’s the Polish mind-set that is the cause for the name “Polish for Foreigners”; there are plenty of people who aren’t foreigners but don’t speak Polish. Quite frankly, there are plenty of people who don’t live in Poland that want or need to learn Polish as well and their nationality or particular location shouldn’t really have a bearing on things.

  8. Tim: agreed. But these are “signs of civilization” (don’t argue with me about what sort of civilization) regardless.

    As for zapiekankas: I never have ever needed that much ketchup, cheese or “white sauce”. Give me a kebab or a slice of pizza.

  9. I forgot that politics, driving, religion and travel are all “consumerism”.

    Regarding health care: the only health care I’ve needed is a few visits to the doctor via private health care provided by my workplace. I’ve officially taken sick leave twice in the six years I’ve been here and both times were for really bad colds. I wouldn’t have visited the doctor at all but here you have to in order to take time off’ve work. I’ve had to do some work-mandated health check-ups to ensure I’m still healthy enough to sit on my ass in front of a computer all day but, again, those were at the private health care firm.

    Regarding social services: haven’t used them for the most part, unless you count some dickhead rear-ending me and then claiming I was committing insurance fraud by saying the damage was already there and the cops having me stop by for a chat and saying they’d get back to me in a year (or, apparently “never”) is use of social services …or having to renew my karta pobytu every few years; is that social services? I do hear of plenty of people gaming the system though and plenty of people dodging taxes but don’t interact with them regularly enough to form much of an opinion or truly observe whether or not things are better or worse.

    Regarding secularization: directly from my piece, “[…] in general, Poland remains very deeply monotheistic. I do think that the influence of the church in most Poles daily lives is waning but there is a vocal minority that continues to agitate for zero abortions, no business on Sunday, etc.” …Do I seem like I’m pro-religion? Maybe it’s hard to tell, so I will be clear: I am not pro-religion. I’m somewhere between atheist and agnostic. I accept that some people like or think they need religion (for a variety of reasons). I am not militant about my atheism but I do not go to church on Christmas or Easter, I don’t pray for people and I don’t make a habit of talking to priests or nuns – though I don’t make a point of running them down in the street, either, even though they are worth more points than regular pedestrians.

    Penultimate lastly: this is a blog, not Gazeta Wyborcza. Write your own piece if you aren’t happy with mine. Polandian takes submissions.

    Lastly: one thing that definitely hasn’t changed is the number of people bitching in the comments on the internet about how some dumbass foreigner has got it wrong somehow. Poland, Poles and those who have an interest in either are tough to love.

  10. On a serious note: one thing I *could* have written about is the level of education here in Poland, but I still don’t have a picture I would consider adequate or complete.

    I do talk to a lot of people and some are VERY well educated but I’ve also talked to (interviewed) people who lack the most basic math skills. I’m not talking about integral calculus, I mean the ability to multiple or divide using a calculator. They might just represent the portion of the population that is only marginally employable; I don’t know.

    I do feel that Poles cheat themselves too much with all the cheating that goes on in schools. I also feel that people here spend way too much of their lives in school – I’ve met loads of people that have never had a job and they are 25. This seems insane to me, especially when so many people are getting soft degrees and thus few real work-related skills but whom also don’t seem to have received the benefits of a traditional liberal-arts education (critical thinking faculties, knowledge of philosophy, interest in current events, etc).

    Anyway, I could have written more but the article was already ~1300 words long and I wasn’t sure anyone would bother reading that much, not to mention another 300 to 900 words.

    PS: speaking of health care, I will say this: the veterinarians here seem ok. Our two cats do actually get twice-yearly visits and one got spayed recently and that went pretty smoothly. I don’t know if things have gotten any better or worse, though. When we were getting ready to have the young kitty spayed, we were told by a friend that she knew a vet that would use laparoscopic techniques and tools to get the job done but our regular vet said that the “normal” method was ok and that it wouldn’t leave much of a scar or be very invasive. She appears to have been 100 percent correct.

  11. One more “BTW” or “PS” item for the people that have read all the way through my long-winded comments: I’ve wanted to do an article on Poland’s “best” politicians. I know my wife has a person or two she really likes and I’m a big fan of Jerzy Buzek. Would anyone else be interested in reading something like that? Does anyone here have someone we all ought to know about and/or pay attention to?

    I’d genuinely like to know what people think about this and I’m open to any suggestions. I know this can be a controversial topic and that there’s no correct answers but with so many crappy politicians out there I’d like to highlight a few that are perhaps earning their keep.

  12. siudol says:

    Brad, Isn’t also the point of a blog to invite comments from people who have some critical remarks about what the author has said? Why does it always have to be “bitching” when someone criticizes a Polandian blogger? I have been selective in my criticism of your piece, granted, just like you have in the observations you have made. If those are the only observations you have, that’s fair enough. I thought there may be more. Had I been offensive you would be perfectly entitled to get upset with me, however I was just critical, and find your comment “Write your own piece if you aren’t happy with mine” a bit disappointing.

    Besides, I never said I could write better than you, and never said your efforts to share you experiences in Poland are unappreciated. However, by your usually high standards (which I mentioned), I find this article a little below par. Is it such a bad thing I have pointed it out? I have taken a couple of cheap shots perhaps, and you have quickly picked up on them, albeit in a bit of a prickly way.

    I also never said I thought you were pro-religion and Iike the point you make about the priests/nuns and driving, where you nicely combine two topics of your piece. Although a bit on the defensive side, your long reply is certainly very appreciated. I’d like to make it clear I read Polandian not to find reasons to pick on the authors, but to see how Poland is perceived by foreigners and to have a meaningful discussion/conversation, sometimes critical, if I disagree. I believe this one has been just that.

  13. siudol says:

    Couldn’t agree more about the cheating at exams. In this respect certainly nothing has improved. It was going on twenty plus years ago when I was a student and still is.

    I have seen it happen in other countries too, but on a much more insignificant scale. I wonder if that is a uniquely Polish phenomenon?

  14. Samuel Phlot says:

    Ya might want to check the definition of monotheism but you are quite right in stating that most Poles are monotheistic.

  15. Samuel Phlot says:

    BTW, the road rules I read said that you get extra points for cats.

  16. VLF says:

    Are we splitting hairs?
    On a recent trip to the USA (know to the locals as America) I found I was a “legal alien” an ALIEN?!?! So I’m not sure about the “Polish mind-set” theory.

    I see no need for the newspeak. The message is clear and everyone understands what it means. Next we’ll have “Polish language stress-free, all-inclusive classes for gender-non-specific persons”. Phleeeze give us a break.

  17. VLF says:

    HA! “Penultimate lastly: this is a blog, not Gazeta Wyborcza. Write your own piece if you aren’t happy with mine. Polandian takes submissions.”
    Disable comments and bask in the dim light of Internet fame.

  18. VLF says:

    …globalisation…uniformity…loss of local flavour (or flavor if you prefer).
    Not to argue with you, but more as a general comment, with the uniformity sweeping the globe I see less and less point in travelling. I see people in China who dine daily at Maccy Dees, and discuss the culture of China over a burger.
    Isn’t it sad that the world is becoming a pulp of “no-need-to-chew” culture?
    Somehow THE Bar Mleczny in Grodzka in Krakow is described in several tourist guides from Japan to Italy, the Subway is not.

  19. Name says:

    Agree re the overabundant sauces, but the magic phrase here is “bez sosu” – though sometimes the servers send it out with sauce just through sheer force of habit.

    Must recommend the zapiekanki from the streetside serving window of the bar mleczny just off the Rynek in Toruń. They use really good mushrooms, especially noticeable bez sosu.

  20. odrzut says:

    Wow, maybe time to visit home country? You seem very frustrated.

    Poland is not inferior to England because it is different, so the solution is not to make it more like UK or France (which BTW also don’t seem too eager to embrace English).

    Poland is just less wealthy, and less democratic. Not by much, and thigs are improving (slowly), but still. That’s what needs to change, and we are working on it.

    Implementing UK culture there would be bad – we do have culture, and we don’t want to change it, just to be considered more civilized by people like you.

    Two things I’d agree with you we should change ASAP – driving culture and too few signs with English translations (or Russian for that matter).

    Ferrari shops are just not important byproduct of some Poles being more wealthy. We should optimize and measure the cause (wealth), not the result. And this we can achieve not by importing western produts, but by perfecting and promoting our own. Which we slowly do.

  21. Pistefka says:

    Hungarian school pupils and students are quite bad when it comes to cheating too. I think it is inevitable in any system where the emphasis is on memorizing vast numbers of “facts” and where literature classes consist of reading one or more classics per week and then answering test questions on them.

  22. scatts says:

    Well, how nice to have a post from our chum Brad and especially one on a topic that generates so much interest!

    It looks like most of the comments are fair and raise points that add to the piece rather than detract. It’s really very hard to create a 100% bombproof post without spending a great deal of time on it and even then there is a law of diminishing returns that comes into play. Also, the only time you realise some of the things you missed is when people comment, so it gets a bit frustrating.

    I find the continuing commercialisation of Poland a sad thing but rather inevitable. Witha bit of luck there is room for the bar mleczny AND Starbucks but if I had to choose one to keep it would be the first one.

    Would be idealistic to expect Poland to adopt all the good things and not bother with the bad. Also, someone would have to play God and decide whether Starbucks (for example) is overall a good or bad influence. It’s a free market so most things will come, hopefully the bad ones will then go again.

    Is a Habanero pepper something I should be worried that I’ve missed out on?

    I might do a 15 year look-back when the time comes.

  23. Scatts: we’ve got to be realistic. It’s not possible to have a great road/motorway infrastructure, high-speed internet access, good or great health care and everything else without that commercialization. It’s tough to maintain respectful links to the past while living in the present and considering the future. I don’t think Poland has done a particularly great job of it but that is probably more the actual fault of the commies – once a historic building is knocked down or re-done and otherwise wrecked, it’s gone.

    That being said, I think what we really dislike is how utterly tasteless most of the commercialization is. Hoardings and posters and visual garbage is EVERYWHERE. It makes everything looks really, really old, tacky, cheap and desperate. I hate that but there are already better, existing ways to advertise or connect with potential customers. It’s up to businesses here to be smart about it. Nothing has changed in this regard since I’ve moved here. Many of the signs I saw for the first time when I first left Balice airport are still there, just more battered and faded.

    Habaneros are simply very, very hot peppers. Hot enough that after briefly touching them you need to carefully wash your hands or you will regret it shortly thereafter. A little bit – about 10-15 grams – goes a long, long way. Excellent heat and a distinctive taste as well.

    Oh and personally I hope that Starbucks drives the locals to, as another commenter said, create their own, unique and well-ran coffee houses. There are loads of places to get coffee but few or any that I would consider a place that really knows anything about coffee. When I can walk in a place and have a reasonable expectation that I will be able to buy a half-dozen or more varieties of roasted beans whole or ground or at least a few varieties of unroasted beans, I’ll know we are there. Poles drink loads of coffee (tea as well) so this really shouldn’t be hard to do.

    For everyone else: I don’t mind the comments about my piece being incomplete or even my opinions being wrong. I honestly think anyone who feels that way SHOULD write something themselves. We need this variety of viewpoints; it’s healthy.

  24. Liz says:

    The blog is supposed to be about what has changed or not in Poland. Judging by some of the comments, It seems to be in danger of becoming a catalogue of what is good/bad.

    Cheating in exams comes into the latter (bad) category, and the possible reasons for this state of affairs could make a separate blog topic. However, after 25 years here, I would say that the situation has improved somewhat and would probably change even more for the better if the over-40s could curb their nostalgia for the days when it was the norm and everyone “helped” everyone else.

    One aspect of life that has changed (for the worse) is rail travel: rolling stock, timetables, maintenance and routes. This is an example of the Polish family silver disappearing day by day.

    People here probably have more of everything except that irreplaceable commodity – time.

    Coffee has improved. You don’t now receive a glass of ground beans topped up with hot water. Nor am I referring to Starbucks, Coffee Heaven or any of the chains. Here I take issue with Brad. The Trójmiasto has coffee houses (Maraska in Gdańsk, for example) that in my opinion easily match those in the UK.

    It’s better not to list what hasn’t changed – we go back to simply stating the good/bad aspects of Polish life.

  25. Bob says:

    Brad – good post

    All politics aside – when I first came to Poland in 1990:

    There was not 1 shopping cart in the entire country – clearly no Tesco, Auchan etc. Only small shops where it was FORBIDDEN to touch anything which was not too difficult as everything was behind the counter.

    To enter a store there had to be an available hand-basket – each store had a small table that had (sometimes) hand baskets piled on it. If there was no basket you were not allowed to enter – crowd control/anti-theft/laziness?

    In some stores marked as ‘Super Sam’ (and other iterations with the word Sam) which meant ‘self service’ you could stroll down the short aisles (if you had your basket) and often there would be women in smocks standing on crated at the end of each aisle checking that you did not steal something.

    There were no grills, no charcoal, real showers were hard to come by – most were tubs with a hose with a sprayer end that would only go abdomen high and of course the tub had a gap all around it so the floor would always be soaked. AND the worst were what I call the ‘Polish Shelf Toilets’ – certain that many have run across them – what a dumb idea and disgusting.

    Packaged meat – none, chicken breasts, hard to find, chickens not much more than a bag of bones, beef would need a hammer drill to cut through it – but – the best thing was and for me still are the pickles – Ogorik Kiszony (sp) – just like I had as a kid in NY and hard to find these days outside of Poland and Vienna.

    We should expand your post into a new one non-politically discussing and chronicling the material changes that we each have seen and experienced over the years.


  26. Yana says:

    The peppers are a good thing, the rest – I’m not sure, because I simply don’t care about those brands, gadgets, stuff. One thing that really surprised me in a very positive way in the UK years ago was the availability of various herbs & spices from all over the world. I could go to some shops and buy loads of aromatic stuff for a couple of pounds. Now THAT is really cool :-) Once I bought a big bag of fresh ginger rhizomes for a pound!

    When I visited my home city of Krakow last month I couldn’t find some spices even in places like Alma, and some other exotic food was massively overpriced. I can see the changes though and that’s a good sign.

  27. Martin says:

    Saying that Poland still has “a long, long, long way to go before [it] is equal of France, Germany or the UK.” suggests a view of richer countries as inherently superior to poorer ones which is entirely alien to me. I have no idea why someone with that attitude would stay in a ‘second-rate country’ if they had a choice. My experience is that most ex-pats see the pros and cons of different nations with a little more sophistication.

  28. Tea says:

    Arrogant? English is a global language, it’s hardly arrogant to expect EVERYONE to know at least passable English, so we all could communicate – no matter the nationality or ethnicity. And if Poland wants to be a part of global village and benefit from it, then sorry – we have to know English. No one will learn Polish for barely 40 million people speaking it.

  29. Tee says:

    If by “loss of local flavor” you mean no kotlet schabowy every Sunday (or in every restaurant there is) in favor of something more exotic (even from Polish kitchen) then what’s the problem?

    Do notice that while there are chain-malls and restaurants everywhere, there are also more and more places that are truly unique.

    Also – the charm of The Bar Mleczny on Grodzka is that it’s one of few communist equivalent of McDonalds that survived the transformation, but before that, there were thousands places like this. Btw, this milk bar it’s widely recognized known as one of the most commercialized places in the entire Krakow. No wonder it’s in tourist guides.

    Also – some uniformity is necessary, if we want to live in peace all together. However I also have doubts that we’ll see the uniformity of culture soon.

  30. siudol says:

    Of course it is arrogant. If it is not arrogant to you, that just proves my point. I still vividly remember indignant Brits in Spain complaining “Those bloody Dagos can’t even speak a word of English!” That’s something I have observed not only in Spain, may I add. Because the majority of people do something it does not mean EVERYONE has to be able to do it and, if by not being able to do it they put themselves at a disadvantage, that’s their right. If some Poles don’t care about speaking English, are content with not traveling outside of Poland, and don’t give a toss about being part of the global village, I’m happy for them. No one has to learn Polish but they shouldn’t whinge when they have problems communicating in Poland. I wonder if some (I stress some) English speakers keep coming up with this point simply because they are too lazy to learn the language of the country they reside in.

    I was very tempted to say, If you want total uniformity go and live in North Korea, but then realized people there most likely don’t speak English at all, so that probably wouldn’t work out for you.

  31. This isn’t a question of whether or not people that live in Poland should speak Polish. They should, or expect difficulties. Obviously.

    This is about Poles (and those who live in Poland) who are concerned about whether or not Poland is a top-tier, fully westernized, totally modern country. It is an opinion, but a widely-held opinion, that English must be spoken in order to cater to visitors. Many visitors usually means (equals) a modern, nice country with lots to offer a visitor.

    I’m lucky because English is my native language but it is a global language and quite frankly it is THE global language. Some day it will not be but today it is. Poles must speak some English in order to cater to visitors, both native English speaking and non-native English speaking. There is no realistic alternative as no one wants to turn away tourists and their money.

    To be clear: I am not asking someone in a village shop to speak English. I am, however, asking for some English from the people that work in a restaurant on Florianska or right on the Rynek in Krakow. Or, at least, menus, signs and other key bits and points of information to be provided in multiple languages.

    To also be clear: My Polish sucks, but I can order a taxi in Polish, order my dinner in Polish, do my shopping in Polish (grocery or otherwise) and have a brief and basic chat with someone in Polish. This doesn’t bother me and I rather enjoy the opportunity.

  32. Name says:

    Brad doesn’t come from England.

  33. siudol says:

    I do get your point, and don’t contest it, that those who want to improve their job prospects will do so by speaking English and that Poland will get more tourist money by catering better to visitors. After all, it doesn’t have a Mediterranean climate, lots of palm trees and picturesque coastline and has to attract foreign tourist is some way.

    I also concede that it is more difficult for an English speaker in a foreign country to learn its language and that’s because a lot of local people deny them the opportunity by insisting on talking to them in English. Therefore I appreciate it even more when they try.

    My point was more general about the arrogance of some English speakers (and I certainly was not including any Polandian blogger in that category).

    I am not sure though I agree with the assertion that Poland to be a totally modern, top-tier country it has be more westernized. A topic for a another piece perhaps?

  34. Correct. I’m from Oregon which is technically a part of the United States, at least until they finally manage to secede.

    Regarding the comment, “We should optimize and measure the cause (wealth), not the result. And this we can achieve not by importing western produts, but by perfecting and promoting our own. Which we slowly do.” …Do you know how long, how much effort, how much money it takes to create a global product or name? Cambridge and MIT, Coke and Cadbury, Jaguar and Porsche, Apple and RIM, etc, etc?

    PS: I *am* frustrated. I believe Poles are capable of a lot more. In particular, I’m frustrated with the government which seems to be squandering this unique, incredible time and its opportunities. It’s fine to be in “don’t rock the boat” mode when you’re at the top of the heap but it’s a fast track to nowhere when you’re somewhere in the middle.

    I am not frustrated, however, in that I can’t buy a Porsche or iPad from an Apple store or whatever. I like buying stuff of course, but I want everyone’s perception of Poland to be a country the equal or better of Norway, Japan, the UK, the US, etc. I believe that no one holds back Poland more than Poles (and in particular, Polish government) through their inactivity, dithering, cronyism and of course mild amounts of corruption not to mention the usual levels of incompetence for anyone in politics.

  35. oedrzut says:

    Well, we have the government we’ve choosen. I don’t believe all elections since 1990 were rigged, and still we consistently choose bad gov. I think it says more about society (and mass media), than about government. Polish politics are representative for all Poles. That hurts, but it’s more probable explanation for last 20 years, than “Układ”.

    About global brands – if something is good, and has great marketing, it doesn’t have to be long before it is bestseller – my favorite examples are Solaris buses, CD Projekt RED games (The Witcher franchise), animations of Tomasz Bagiński and his studio, Polish metal bands. Few, and mostly art related, but it’s still something.

    Disclaimer: I don’t support PO gov, even if it seems like I do – I’ll probably vote UPR, because I think that ideal Poland should be sth between current system, and UPR vision. Still – IMHO gov don’t really matter that much in modern economy. People and ideas do.

  36. Sylwia says:

    “I would also argue that they haven’t improved quickly enough and that there is still a long, long, long way to go before Poland is equal of France, Germany or the UK.”

    Where in France or Germany have you seen signs in English or other languages?

    About Buzek and other politicians. I’d be interested to read such a post. Poles aren’t generally saying nice things about politicians as long as they’re not dead. An outside view might be refreshing.

  37. Stix says:

    Great post, and even better debate.

    On the subject of learning English/Polish: I’m English and have been learning Polish at evening classes in London for two years.

    One big obstacle I find to learning Polish is the use of the lektor on Polish television. With English subtitles it would be easier for both Poles and non-Poles to learn either language (such as in Scandinavia).

    This isn’t to say that Polish people need to learn more English, just that it would make it easier for that process to take place without the lektor sabotaging every non-Polish film on TV.

    In terms of commercialisation: I only hope that Polish authorities don’t sell out the architectural charm of their cities to commercial franchise. Every English high street looks the same, right down the empty shells of Woolworths!

  38. Outsider says:

    Just a guess, but I would venture Brad meant countries that are superior to Poland in various ways, not only economically. I doubt he or anyone else would claim Poland is a worse place than Saudi Arabia or UAE, both vastly richer in terms of cash. Money aside, would you say that France or Germany are not better organized, better maintained, more lawful, more mature than Poland? I sure would.

    Great post by Brad. Having lived outside of Poland most of my life and visiting infrequently, I’m curious to see how foreigners perceive Poland’s evolution since the fall of communism. Why foreigners? Because I’ll usually put more stock in the opinion of a “resident alien” than of a local. Being born and bred in a country immunizes you to much of its crap, but when coming from the outside, in Brad’s case from halfway across the world, you’re naturally more curious, observant, and of course vulnerable to local diseases, literally and figuratively.

    I absolutely agree with with Brad about the drivers. Most need to be shot on the spot.

    Customer service: still far from good, but improving IMO. I’d say Polish clerks have mostly lost their “fuck off” attitude and are evolving towards what I call the Belgian model of customer service, i.e. “I don’t know and I don’t care, so please go away and have a nice day”. Not a whole lot better, but still.

    Politics and religion: I wouldn’t know, I give both of those a wide berth, in any country. I’ve no reason to expect Polish politicians and clergymen to be much different from those elsewhere, so they can all eff off as far as I’m concerned.

    Habaneros, Porsches, Macs, etc.: not sure I agree with you, Brad. Since you’re from the States, I imagine your standards of consumer choice are orders of magnitude
    above those of just about anywhere else. Personally, I don’t see any major difference in the availability of stuff compared to Western Europe. Although I admit I have very little use for posh paraphernalia of any kind, so I tend not to notice them at all.

    Foreigners in Poland and language issues: I’ve no way of knowing. I do, however, notice that “I don’t speak Polish” still works fine as a deterrent to people who hand out fliers, petitions, conduct surveys or otherwise bother you in public, of which there seem to be an inordinate amount on every street in Poland.

    Eyesores, tacky ads, and a general disregard for public spaces: absolutely agree, it’s unspeakably awful. No one seems to bat an eye at the sight of a freshly restored building plastered all over with banners hawking mundane shit in shades of poison green, candy yellow and vagina pink. No one seems to care that most gray commie apartment blocks now look like they’ve been painted by kindergartners. I can’t stand it and I doubt it’ll get any better unless every single Polish urban planner is replaced by a foreigner. Any foreigner.

  39. Przygotowanie imprezy urodzinowej wymaga poświęcenia większej
    ilości czasu. Jeśli nie mamy ochoty i czasu na takie
    przygotowania, ale mimo wszystko chcemy zorganizować wystrzałową imprezę urodzinową to wskazane jest zdecydować
    się na profesjonalny catering katowice. Aktualnie firmy oferujące catering oferują niezwykle niskie ceny, a w związku z tym, zamówienie cateringu wcale nie musi nas drogo
    kosztować. Taki catering katowiceto zróżnicowane potrawy,
    które są uważnie tworzone. Powinieneś wybrać urodziny z cateringiem,
    bowiem jest to ogromna oszczędność czasu, pieniędzy i
    zwłaszcza nerwów.

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