Tag Archives: Podlaskie

Of old ladies, dogs, and public transport

Richard Harradine-Robinson (aka Kalisimba) wanted to tell us a thing or two about his experience of living in Poland. We’ve given him a platform, and just enough rope to hang himself with. Enjoy!

I’ve lived on and off in Poland for the past 10 years and I decided recently to call this fair country – ‘Poland the paradoxical’. To give you a quick example:

In 2005 the voivodship of Podlaskie was named ‘the green lungs of Europe’

Fair enough, you might think, given the extensive lakes, forests and arable land – then you check out the major industries of the region and discover that 4 out of every 10 cigarettes smoked in this country is produced here by a well-known tobacco firm. I could go on, but I thought I’d tell you about old ladies, dogs and, public transport in Warsaw.

Firstly, the dog issue. Now, like any Brit, I like dogs… but I should qualify this statement by saying “I like dogs which are relatively well trained by their owners.” After some research, I found out that the majority of dogs in the centre of Warsaw are owned either by the elderly, or the poor, or both. Again so far so good. No-one is going to deprive the least privileged members of society their only means of solace. Then again, after some research, it turns out that a large proportion of these people were brought here after the war in the reconstruction of Warsaw from the eastern parts of Poland and were essentially peasants and farm workers and now occupy flats provided by the local authorities at peanuts rent. They are reluctant to move even when offered large amounts of money from developers.

Now farm animals aren’t treated like pets, as in the UK, but as guard dogs and are housed outside in all weathers. So these people acquired their guard dogs and promptly moved them into 40 sq.metres of shared living space. Rottwielers, German shepherds, and recently and more worryingly, breeds like the pit bull.

Now the logic goes that a dog has to guard, so if it barks at all hours of night and day…ergo..it’s doing its job !! Neighbours, I hear you say, what neighbours the dog brigade reply.

I was walking back one Sunday morning from the apteka through a green square near my flat in the centre where two old ladies were nattering away while their equally yappy little dogs were playing around. One of the little blighters spotted me and launched itself into the air and made a bee-line for me post haste, showing all its fangs. As it leapt up to sink them into me, it met my uplifted foot on its derrier and howling , returned to its owner. She swore at me in Polish promising all sorts of retribution, ‘till I firmly pointed out that I would be formally complaining and the lady in question could expect a hefty fine for letting her dog off the lead and attempting to attack me. That shut her up.

The same old ladies (not so many men for some reason) seem to occupy the buses and trams en masse during the rush hour in the morning. I have not been able to work out why there are so many at 6 and 7 in the morning, and all expecting to be seated, but there they are, monopolizing the system. They don’t like traveling by the quicker and more convenient method of the Metro—probably because half the student population of Warsaw is going to 8 o’clock lectures. So as my job involves advising a government minister, I suggested to him the government would do well to adopt a scheme like London, where discount passengers i.e. Pensioners and students would be obliged to pay full price at peak times. I thought this a perfectly sensible answer to the capital’s increasingly overloaded transport system. There was a horrified pregnant pause while he eyed me incredulously.

“But that would be discriminating against the old and the young” he eventually gasped.
“Quite correct” I said, “got it in one… or two rather” I smiled.
“No, you don’t understand. We can’t restrict their travel. Sometimes it’s the only entertainment they get”
“Well good, they can get their entertainment outside of rush hour”
“No, you see, a lot of them have to get to the doctors.”
“What at 6 o’clock in the morning ?”
“Yes, they are trying to beat the queues”
“I thought you said it’s their entertainment”
“That too. And a lot of them dont sleep very well and so they use the transport system to keep themselves occupied.”

This is the first time I’ve ever heard of a major capital city’s transport system being used as an antidote to insomnia. And, of course at the heart of the problem is everybody seems to start at the same time, unlike the UK. Another hangover from communism?

And on a slightly more serious note, there is a major problem with housing in Warsaw, and I’m not talking about the high prices. Look at any city in the UK and you’ll see how the inner cities are no- go areas because of high rise council estates in the centres where poverty and crime go hand in hand. Then take a look at Al. Jana Pawla II around the Hala Mirowska area. On one side of the street you’ve got the glossy new office complexes, shops and restaurants built by Skanksa, and on the other, pensioners displaying the contents of their 40 sq. metres for viewing and sale set out on an old towel on the pavement. Visiting businessmen are quite rightly confused with this dual image of cutting edge modernity and poverty side by side. And it’s this public housing poverty that creates a mentality of “It’s not mine, so I wont take care of it” referring to everything from dog shit to dumping rubbish. And the new, young middle class who are paying a fortune for a downtown newbuild apartment don’t like the old, poor relics next door. Human nature, alas.

Thought I would leave you with a lovely story from the ministry which sums up the misguided fervour of public officials.

Recently, a foreign delegation arrived and were due to continue down to Posnan for a conference. So the director of one of the departments dispatched some underling to the Central train station to get reserved tickets for the Express with a proviso to only get the best seats for the 10 or so dignitaries. Which he promptly did. And when the foreign businessmen were given their tickets and asked to embark, it turned out the ticket office lady had given them all window seats… in different compartments!

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