How to survive a Polish winter

It’s winter in Poland. I know this because I can’t feel any of my extremities and because every news item I’ve seen in the past month has been about upside down cars in snow drifts. Assuming you live in Poland and plan on making it through to spring without losing significant parts of your anatomy to frostbite I recommend you read the following:

Do not attempt to go anywhere
Stay in. Going out is almost certainly going to hurt. Attempting to travel anywhere is about as sensible as opening a strip club in Tehran. All trains are 17 hours late, all aircraft have been diverted to Bogotá, and buses are largely on fire. Fortunately there is a wealth of indoor entertainment to be had ranging from counting the individual strands of spaghetti in your cupboard to watching old people slip on ice and get eaten by dogs through your window. Fortunately the internet still works at minus 20 so you can spend a great deal of time looking at pictures of countries where the climate doesn’t actively try to kill you.


Remind me again why I live in Poland

If you must go out
Occasionally, going out becomes necessary. The pub isn’t going to come to you no matter how long you wait; at least those are the preliminary findings of my study. If you must wander out into the frosty beyond there are a few things you should know. That white stuff heaped all over the place is not your friend. Pick it up and form it into rough globes to throw at people if you must, but they won’t be happy. There’s nothing funny about snowballs in Poland. You’re definitely going to fall over too. Notice how Polish people shuffle-skate on ice pavements while you carefully plant your feet on what looks like safe ground. It won’t work. Learn to shuffle-skate or embrace the comedy potential of the icy face plant.


Snowballs: not funny even when formed by Asiatic monkeys

Fun with hats
One of the best things about living in Poland is that you get to wear hats. In England the only people who wear hats on a regular basis are teenage hoodlums and old men. Anyone else wearing a hat is either at a wedding or almost certainly homosexual. This is a shame because there’s a lot of entertainment value to be had from hats. In Poland the wearing of hats by normal people is not entirely unknown year round and becomes almost universal during the winter months. It sometimes gets cold enough to justify a hat in England. On the rare occasions when this happens the streets are full of highly self-conscious hat-wearing people peering at each other to see if they look like idiots.

I now have several hats, some with earflaps, and I take great delight in deploying them whenever possible. There’s something strangely liberating about openly using earflaps in a public place. Us Englishmen are not used to such sartorial extravagances.

One more thing about hats; the traditional Polish style winter cap with a peak is unquestionably superior to the modern woolen beanie or bobble hat. The peak is there for a reason: to stop snow getting in your face. The beanie completely fails in this respect. Also, peaked hats make you look a bit like a policeman.

peaked cap

The only sensible hat for Polish winters

Fun with gloves
I never wore gloves in England. Sometimes it is cold enough, but we figure that’s why pockets were invented. There are so many things you can’t do while wearing gloves that you can while your opposable thumbs are merely tucked into convenient apertures in the side of your coat. I’d list them but, now I come to think of it, I suspect they are all smoking related or, in fact, just smoking. Still, gloves are a hassle and are even more prone to getting lost than small children at fairgrounds.

The major problem with pocket use in Poland is the associated risk of death or serious injury. Have you ever tripped over with your hands in your pockets? I have, and I still have the scars. Have you ever tried walking on Polish pavements? Tripping is more or less guaranteed. If you haven’t got your hands readily available for impact management you’ll be lucky to get through a winter without putting in some hospital time. The peak of your hat can also become seriously bent.

Last week I saw an item on the news recommending eating more. It was part of perfectly sensible, if slightly condescending, piece on coping with the cold but I was so astonished I almost choked on my fifth piece of chocolate cake. I must have seen 97 thousand news items recommending that I eat less but this is the first I can remember recommending the opposite. For that fact alone it deserves a place in TV’s hall of fame, assuming there is such a place.


Chocolate cake may be your only hope

Choose your lair with care
Polish domestic heating arrangements come in two forms: warm enough to bake bread or none at all. Oddly, the older and more unattractive your flat is the more likely it is to be toasty in the winter. Those cracked and flaking communist blocks look like recently baked bricks in the infrared. Their residents swelter away the winter months bathed in the piped-in afterglow of local power plants. Meanwhile, in the hip and trendy lofts and apartments of the Old Town, suckers like me are wearing every item of clothing they have and huddling around photographs of sweaty people for warmth.

Walk past one of those communist-era blocks in the middle of winter and you’ll see windows open. Walk past a bohemian trendy kamienice in the center of town and you’ll see blue-lipped urbanites coating themselves in tar in an attempt to preserve their core temperatures. I like my flat. It has interesting nooks, vast sloping white ceilings, and exposed beams with mysterious graffiti. It’s a delight for nine months of the year, but for the other three its the kind of place you can confidently hang sides of beef without fear of decay. Presumably I could live here for 900 years and never die, except that I would have doused myself in flamables by then.

Only another 17 weeks to go…

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