“Don’t start living tomorrow, tomorrow never arrives. Start working on your dreams and ambitions today”.
Foreign expats in Poland are a valuable source of information. Although their opinions are subjective and their experiences individual, their perceptions have some similar points. It is worth finding out how the reality looks though their eyes. Why? Because the famous proverb says: a guest sees more in an hour than the host in a year.
Coming to Poland
After my bachelor I wanted some change, and back then my parents were living in Poland and they told me that I should consider Kozminksi University, so I did and decided to move to Poland.
I had a very basic knowledge about Poland before I decided to move. I could experience and know a bit of Poland when I was visiting my parents during my holidays. (I knew that Poles are Wodka drinkers and its true =) that generally Poles speak English almost every where you go and its true J )
I came before and knew some people the first week and month was relatively easy in comparison with others I guess. But the language and the weather were my main difficulties. (I was coming from Spain, I have been living in Madrid during 2,5 years before coming to Poland J also the fact that days are shorter in comparison to what I was used to, the way of living was also a challenge (food, the way and time you eat dinner) and the language although many people are English speaker it’s not always the case or when you need to read some indication/information, is very difficult and I could not understand a single word.
Poles always treated me and still treat me very good J they are generally very friendly (maybe this is also due to the surroundings international environment but I can’t complain). Generally people are very proud and happy trying to help you and understand what I mean when I’m trying to speak, they also try to teach.
When it comes to the contrasts in the Polish society:
– People who went away during war/communism and are starting to come back or the next generations are coming to Poland
– People who went to live abroad (for studies or other matters) + evolving in an international surrounding: they are more open minded
– People from Warsaw: I think that this is in each country the same, people from the capital are having a different behavior than the other (I’m from France from Lyon and we think that people from Paris are behaving in a certain way generally we don’t really like them and from what I understand it’s the same in Poland).
– People from outside Warsaw
– Younger vs older
– People who could take advantage of the end of communism vs. the others: you can’t see the difference because generally the people who were in the right place in the right moment at the end of communism are nowadays the “richest” in the country. And to some extent I have the feeling that in Poland when people have many they have to show it not always with taste but they have to show whereas in my home country for example we usually say that people with the most are the one showing the less.
– We are hospitable: yes
– We are jealous when someone is better than us: I could experience that with some people yes.
– We are hard working: it depends!!
– Polish Women are very attractive (what is so attractive about women here?): when you hear and speak with boys from other countries yes they think so
– We complain a lot: yes J and not always very optimistic.
– We are religious: YES (!!) I never saw so many people going to church on Sundays as I saw in Poland, you also see many references to the religion and the pope Jana Pawel II. For me it was a choc (a big one) to realize that abortion was prohibited in the country and to some extent liked to the religion. Christmas, Easter are very important and may traditions are linked to it.
– We are traditional: (conservative?) YES & NO I think it depends more on where people are, from the education they received. But I think that Poles are more traditional and conservative in general that in my home country.
Outfits: You can see people wearing a lot of luxury brands but in general I think that the way people are dressed is similar to the one of people in western Europe (of course even for winter you can be “fashionable” J )
Free time: I think that they like to spend time with friends, going for some drinks (also just for a beer) to enjoy time and especially in summer or when the weather allows it I feel that people like to spend time in outdoors (seaside, Mazury, parks or terraces).
What is it like to be foreign in Poland
Besides family and friends I would say I miss the sun and food I think that for the food is because of the infrastructures, tastes and culture of the country.
No it’s not difficult to live here though. In my opinion the culture is somehow the same (European) also if we enter into more details we will find differences but this is normal. Again the only difficult aspect of living in Poland is to get used to the long and cold winter.
Making friends was really easy. First because like I was horseback riding I could make friends with people with the same interest and speaking English and then in the university (most of my friends are Polish 99% J ) since you meet people with whom you have similar interests, character,… it’s easy to build friendship.
I think it’s safer (I have been living in Wilanow so I never felt scared) in comparison to other big cities in Europe of course you have some districts where you should not go alone or being careful but this is everywhere the same. I cant’ remember a situation when I was scared (maybe on the road first time I saw them driving hahaha Poles are crazy when it comes to driving!!!! )
A poor or a rich country?
I think that it’s hard to say because you have few people with a lot of money but a lot of them with few. Poland is a country still developing I’m not sure we can consider it as a rich country yet (for example lack of infrastructures; roads, public transportation but also the health system in Poland; it’s easier to be cured when you have money). I also think that the past history of the country played the role in the fact that nowadays Poland is not a rich country.
Last year there was the Euro Cup in Poland this helped to develop a bit the infrastructure but also the prices. In my opinion since I arrived prices have been rising (food, electricity etc.) but I’m not sure that wages are following.
Emigration? Maybe Poles think that they will be happier in Western Europe or in other “more developed” countries where they’ll be able to make more money (but in my opinion sometimes they forget about the standard of living and the cost of living in these countries). I also think that there is a part of them emigrating just to discover something new, gain experience and then come back.
Environment? I’m not sure that the environment care is one of the priorities for Poles nowadays…. J it may come later like it’s coming more and more in other countries! I think it’s linked to the evolution of the country.
International fans during UEFA Euro 2012
As far as I could experience and hear the level of education is high in Poland, this is also a reason why many foreign companies are coming to Poland because they can have qualified work force for a lower amount of money.
I would invest in infrastructure (especially roads, highways) and develop public transportation in the main cities and in between the cities.
In my opinion the future of Poland is quite good, with an important economical development in the next few years. Poland is an important country (cross country) between EU and countries outside EU. Companies are coming to invest and develop their activity here. Poland to some extent is similar to Spain (I hope they won’t have to go through the same economical situation! But the size of the country the size of the population is pretty similar). I think that in 20 years Poland will have reached a similar level to other western European countries and will be still very dependent on the economical situation of its commercial partners.
To read about the Polish culture, maybe even to have contact with Poles before (or cross cultural lesson) for example to know how to behave in certain situation what you should or should not do. You also may know everything about the Administration in Poland, what are the papers you need to do and so on. I would also recommend not to try to find all the same you have in your home country but to look for some new experience and to be adaptable and of course take some basic course of Polish language!!
American expats watching a football game in Poland.
I went to Poland for a three month assignment as I was an expert. I was in Poland for 3 months to represent trade settlements and train hires in international settlements. I flew out from New York on Monday October 15, I officially entered the office on the October 17 and I left on January 15, that’s officially when I left. I was offered the chance to go. I guess because of my background and the function although international settlements was not my field, but I was not told exactly why I was one of the people they chose and they did not choose anyone from the actual settlements team. But it was for my understanding that either they did not have anyone on the actual team in a right situation (other employees had families, someone had sick relatives, someone just got married, also we had one person who was a temporary hire). I also heard that personality wise they thought I would be a good choice because everyone in my department knew I liked to travel a lot. So I got the feeling that I was one of the three people that were offered the opportunity. I could have said no but I was not going to. I was actually worried that I did not sell it enough that I wanted to go. I was not excited about the location specifically, but just about the opportunity to work abroad. I always wanted to do it. I felt that I got lucky that I was even offered the opportunity. ‘Since you have told me about this you have to take me now, you can’t say no’- I thought.
What is Poland?
The first time I travelled to Europe was the first time I travelled by myself and also the first time I used the website Couchsurfing. So the first night I was in Berlin and I met up with a Couchsurfer and then she brought me along and we met up with a few friends. I told them what my itinerary was for the trip. I was going to go from Germany, Austria Hungary and to the Czech Republic and then they asked me if I was going to Kraków. And I am like ‘no, it was not a part of my trip’. And they said I should go so that was my first exposure to Europe and when I was hanging out with people from Germany they mentioned Krakow so just from there it was already in my head. I had never considered it, I had never looked into it at all, but I already had a positive response to city Krakow, the name. I had heard something good about it the first time I was abroad.
Research about Kraków
I always do it. I always research about places I travel to, just Googling and looking online so I did look into few things about Krakow and also where I can travel to from Krakow when I am there. I figured if I was going to be for three months in Europe I would travel as much as I can. Also the company was helpful and they did send out like explanatory tourist information for people who travelled there.
I got an image that although Warsaw is the capital city, Krakow is where really everybody goes to. That it is the cultural hub of Poland. The fact that I learned was that the main square is the largest main square in Europe. And the city of Krakow was not destroyed in the war so a lot of what you see is basically what it used to be. And also obviously I read about Auschwitz and that was the one touristy thing I wanted to do.
I did not look into what to expect from people that lived there. Since I went there later than my colleagues, they gave me a little idea about what to expect and what people are like there. I did not look into traditions. I knew it was a religious country, other than that no. I think I learned about not using trains when I was already in Poland. I remember people mentioning to me that going somewhere nearby was easier by bus than by train. I do not think I was warned of anything.
The first weeks
It helped that I was okay to use English for everything that I wanted to do. I was happy about that and about how inexpensive Poland is when you think in American dollars. That was definitely something I learned about. It was helpful that my coworker and I overlapped for like 2 weeks. She went there two weeks before me and she could show me how to get from home to work because she lived in the same complex as me. Especially in the beginning we definitely spent a lot of time together outside of work, walking around the city and then going to a restaurant or something. She took me around to a couple of places, then showed me where ATM was and where to take the tram and also told me about downloading Jakdojade.pl. I guess I just tried to find a certain routine, like get up and how much time I needed to get ready and get to work, eventually I had a routine as far as beginning the day, the work and then after work. Maybe evenings were different a little every day but for the morning and the afternoon. I guess I adapted by coming up with the routine.
I liked the trams. It is interesting; we do not have it in New York. There is an underground system and buses, but I like the tram system. People also do not drive much in New York. In New York I got in a habit of just falling asleep on the subway so I was oblivious about what is around me. In Krakow I think because I am short and also because I am standing up on the tram obviously I did not take naps. I definitely felt like I was an outsider amongst the locals. It is because I do not look Polish at all so I felt I stood out.
When I took the bus to Wrocław, going there and coming back I did have difficulties trying to use English because I felt it was very disorganized how the buses worked. Everyone was just crowded, there was no line to get on the bus, everyone was hopping together. I had bought a ticket in advance and I did not know if it was ok for me to hop on the bus in advance with my ticket or if I had to keep waiting. Nobody was speaking English to me so I did not know. I had a ticked so I should be guaranteed the seat, but I was not. That was the most difficult situation I had. At some point on the way back this older lady said something like ‘you have got the ticket you can sit down’ so I got on. I never really used just body language. Maybe nod- yes, but that is about it.
I definitely noticed how people were very quick to use shortcuts and functions in Excel. I do not know if it is taught this way or if people just started picking up on it because they had to do it. I noticed people were very quick with that. It is probably the fact that a lot of people we hired were out of college or still in school. They were quick to learn and more adapted to using a computer than my older coworkers in the States. I also noticed that people were very good with taking breaks and time off away from the computer, stepping away, and going for a coffee break or something like that. In general people were good at going and sitting in the pantry with a coffee.
Outside of work I noticed the difference in the use of names. It was interesting to me. How Joanna is Asia, Piotr is Piotrek and Przemysław is Przemek. In the States there would be nick names for people, but not like a nick name that is specific for the name that this person has. My coworkers were curious about it too. That was very strange.
I did not interact with too many people that were older. I was invited to my colleague’s (from trade settlements) house for Christmas. Both of her parents had some understanding of English and they tried to speak to me in English so that was not too weird and it seemed they had an experience in meeting people from other cultures because I think someone from her family was married to a person from Taiwan who lived in New York.
Most people from Poland I met were either from the same company or I met them trough Couchsurfing so they wanted to be open and friendly. I did not experience any bad side of Polish people. I thought everyone were friendly. In general I felt very well received. I felt respected.
I travelled on a lot of weekends. Obviously there were a lot of parties from work. I joined the gym, I ate out all the time- I did not cook at all, the most I cooked was heat up the oatmeal that I brought from home. I tried to go out with the American expatriates and also tried to hang out with the Polish employees. I also went out with Couchsurfers if they had something going on too. But through the month of November and December I travelled most of my weekends so I was out of town a lot.
My experience of clubs was Coco. I was three times at Coco and that was all the clubs I went to. You can thank Asia (Joanna) for that. Coco was fine. Clubs seemed very similar to how it is in the States. People dancing on dance floor and when they are getting drinks standing around and talking. I do not go to many clubs in USA, but it seems very similar. Now it is illegal to smoke indoors in the States so that is something to get used to, you know people were smoking indoors. It seemed similar to how it is here that people would meet up at someone’s house and drink a little first before they go out to the actual party. When it comes to drinking I felt that beer was the major drink. I actually appreciated that Polish girls can just drink beer and hangout and that is it, they do not need to drink something fruity , they are like ‘we can just hang out and drink beer more like guys do’ . I appreciated that. Although the whole syrup thing changes that because there is no syrup in beer here. Syrup with the straw (laughing). Also before I came here I had never heard of hot bear or mold wine. I did not feel like I needed to try it because why would I want a hot beer if I can drink an ice cold beer. I tried it and I liked it and in the cold winter it is an actually a good thing to have.
Clubs in Poland
Most people I worked with had to have a good handle of English. But then there were people like Ania’s parents. She was telling me that her parents may not be able to have a conversation and she made it sound like they did not know English at all. That was my original perception of what she was trying to tell me and then it turned out that they had been to New York and her mom travels quite often and she had a very good handle of English. That was not what I expected. Maybe it was because Krakow was a more touristy place so people had at least basic understanding of English.
What did you miss?
Probably the Asian food. Partly because I purposely avoided it. The only time when I eat Chinese food at home is when a family member makes it or I go out with family to eat. When I am with my friends I never go to eat Chinese food and that extended to Poland. First of all I did not hear good things about it in general. My Polish coworkers always made fun of Chinese food. So the thing I missed most, especially when I got reminders, was the food.
Also at first one thing that I did not know if I could do or not was downloading music and movies and stuff like that. But after a while I started doing it because everyone else was doing it.
As far as sports are concerned , the only thing that I really used to play was basketball, but I stopped doing it myself. I used to run, but it got too cold outside so even back at home I would not be running outdoor. So it was not something I missed because I was in Poland. I joined the gym so I was able to work out. I do watch American sports, but it is not something I watch religiously as I used to. I did not really miss it especially that I do not play fantasy sports anymore. I am following European football (or soccer) and my coworkers in Poland talk about it. It is not hard to follow European sports in Poland. I definitely can tell that some people were into football. One of my American coworkers in Poland told me that he heard people talking about Krakow football teams. That some people are really die hard football fans and he said how you should not mention which team you like. And that if a random person asks you which team you like you should not tell them. I have heard that boxing is very popular but I did not notice that when I was there.
Hospitality- I think it is true. I do not know if it was something I heard before or Ania’s family pointed to that when the Polish have Christmas dinner you set an extra plate in case a stranger comes by. A thing like that is a good example of hospitality. I kind of was that stranger that night.
Complaining-if it happened it was in Polish so I did not understand. I cannot say people complained to me. I feel like people of our generation were definitely more aware of social issues and they have more of an opinion I guess. When I went to the wedding in Warsaw, the people I met, some of the braid maid’s friends’ conversations drifted off to local issues and something like that. I do not know if that is complaining, but that it is definitely like it. I do not know exactly what they were saying. I do not know if it was criticism or not, but they definitely had an opinion at least compared to me because I do not know much about anything as far as political issues and the world.
Hard work- I do not know what the average is, but it definitely is not below any average. For me it is hard to compare, but the people I worked with were not hard working and they were American so if they are the standard I do not know what to say. I do not think that it was like people slack off or did not do what they were expected to do. I feel like everyone was willing to stay longer to have everything done.
Women are attractive- I would agree with that. I do not think it is untrue. I think it is more like it is everywhere as opposed to that it is an overwhelmingly high ratio. The observation I made while living in New York is that women in New York are attractive and then I also come across people that are not so attractive. It might be overrated, this high ratio, but there are definitely attractive women in Poland. I am curious what the Polish guys’ perception is. Because I met a Couchsurfer in Gdańsk and she is half Polish half Moroccan. So because of the mixed ethnicity you wouldn’t think she was Polish. And she was travelling in Portugal and you know she was on the beach, she was getting tanned, she has like dark skin and dark curly hair and then she was on the elevator and she saw these two Polish guys commenting about her something like ‘Oh I wish we had girls like her in Poland’. And she understood that and responded ‘I am Polish’. I guess when it is common it is not that interesting.
Poland is religious- I had the feeling that the religion is important and a lot of the holidays and celebrations were a religious thing. I felt like a lot of traditions were based on religion, but I did not feel like people were crossing themselves or things like that.
Catholic holidays are celebrated by many people in Poland
Opinion about fashion
It is very European. I guess my personal sense is a little different. As far as going to work there was kind of a range of what people wore. I heard that in summertime some people wore just a t-shirt. That is actually a very weird thing to do in the business environment. I do not know how to explain my perception of the European style, but this is more for the guys. For the women I do not think it was a lot different from what you would see in the States or anywhere else. I thought women dressed very well. I actually did start to appreciate how women looked in winter clothes having to wear a lot of clothes and stuff like that. We just wait till the summer time when people wear fewer clothes. I would assume that fashion designers are making clothes for people who live in colder places; they make better stuff to wear, more fashionable.
It was my understanding that the education that you get as an undergrad is not of a very high level that is why everybody goes for their master’s. My perception is that the Polish master’s degree is an equivalent to the undergrad degree in the States. As far as what I do know that people learn is history, but not even the Polish history, but the world history a lot. It always seemed that people had a better understanding of the US history than I have. I am sure I would do worse on the US history than the Polish would do. I do not know who I talked to, but they were able to name all the capitals. I can name all the states, but I can’t do the capitals.
I never felt unsafe. I think Poland was safe. But there are some people in New York who would never fall asleep in the subway and for me it does not matter at all.
Places in Poland
I thought that Wrocław was kind of similar to Krakow, just kind of a smaller version. I do not think there was anything specific about Wrocław. If you have seen Warsaw and Kraków I did not think you have to see Wrocław. But Gdańsk would be an interesting city to see for someone who has never been to Poland. It is a coastal city and I do not think that anyone thinks of Poland as being a coastal country. I liked Gdańsk. It definitely, the old town, felt a little different. I went there for the Independence Day so I observed people celebrating and being proud of being Polish. There were kids riding bikes and one kid had a Polish flag stuck to his bike. And people walking around with flags and houses were decorated. People were gathering and some ladies were playing the piano, but there was nothing too fancy for that day. Zakopane felt more mountainous. A lot of restaurants were like cabins with wooden walls. They had local cheese. I thought the town seemed very touristy. I thought it was ok, the main street was really pretty with the lights, but then when you walked a block away there did not seem to be anything too different from another city.
Krupówki- the main street in Zakopane
Could you stay in Poland for the rest of your life?
I do not think for the rest of my life. Couple of years- yes, but not the rest of my life. My reason why is because then I am assuming I would be getting paid the local wages and just the fact that being able to travel would be harder and also hard to travel outside of Krakow outside of Europe. It is not easy and it is also more expensive, it is my perception. That’s the main reason I can tell you right now that it is definitely ‘no’ for living there forever. Living in New York is convenient. I have only realized it recently by talking to people when travelling that flight prices is going to be the same no matter where you are. The flight prices will not change because of the wages in a certain place. It is not that I do not like Krakow or living in Krakow, but about the opportunities to get outside of Krakow. But if an opportunity comes up I will definitely go back to Krakow for work for two years or three.