Poland is facing a huge problem regarding the labor supply. The consequences of a sudden drop in labor supply are disastrous for a country. The main solution to this problem is attracting immigrants, which has already been adopted by Western European countries. Polish government officials publicly expressed that they must adopt the same solution and make Poland an attractive country for immigrants and their families. However, the current trends are showing that Poland is treated as a stopover by its immigrants. Although it offers higher salaries than many other developing countries, the cost of basic living significantly exceeds the minimum wage. As soon as the immigrants realize that many occupations still do not allow them to survive in Poland, they follow the native citizens of Poland and eventually move westwards.
The interview with a Nigerian man, a well-educated employee, a husband of a Polish citizen and a father of a lovely little girl, reveals the thought process that foils the plans of the Polish government officials.
Did you know anything about Poland before you came here?
Well, I knew that probably there would be no job for me. I believe that the job situation in Poland is like everywhere because every country has its own problem when it comes to jobs. Not having a job was tied to the fact that I am not a native Polish person. I do not speak Polish fluently and in the past I did not speak Polish at all, apart from some basic words like ‘dziękuję’. So even though there are English speaking jobs, it is so hard to get one because there are many people looking for jobs. And I understood that it is not tied to Poland only.
How did you meet your wife?
I went on holiday to London and after we met, we became friends. She had a boyfriend and I had a girlfriend at that time. But our relationships did not work out. We met again a couple of years later and we were still friends. When my previous relationship did not work out I realized that I knew my wife very well and that we had been very open with each other so I thought that we should become a couple. She was very skeptical at the beginning, but then she decided to try. It is much better when you are friends first because you are open and nothing is hidden.
First month in Poland
Coming from a hot country…..I cannot endure winter. My first month was cold. I started going out and meeting people and fitting into the system. People that I met were very nice so I did not miss home. Things are not that different in Poland. The only thing that is different is that my skin is dark. The only problem I had, was when I went to the immigration office there was so much paper work. This process is so long that you are kind of angry about it. You have to go there every day because you are not told what to do at once. You bring one thing, and then they will tell you that you are in a wrong place and you have to wait like 14 days because they have to write to you another letter and this is for example something, that they could have told you before to save your time. But right now I understand it is paper work and everybody wants you to have that paper signed, but at the beginning it was crazy for me.
How do people in Poland treat you?
I always think in terms of ‘how do I treat people?’. One thing about foreigners is that they want people to see that they are foreign and that people will be willing to help them. I want people to see me as a person not as a foreigner. I tried to greet people first and even when a person stared at me I looked back or turned around and said ‘dzień dobry’ to this person. I waved back at people and it all worked for me. I made many friends, and among them there are many people that travel a lot. When I first came to Poland my parents in law were very welcoming. But in the first wedding I attended in Poland I was the only black person, everyone else was Polish. They looked at me first and it was a bit strange, but then everything started getting better; groups of people started coming up to me and asking me where I was from, if I liked the wedding. They tried to make me feel like at home. They were very happy to have me and they were very welcoming. The wanted to drink vodka with me! I was very happy. But sometimes when I go somewhere with my wife, you know, it is a black person and a white person together, people in villages and even in Warsaw give us stares that I do not get when I am alone. When I am alone people want to know me, want to know where I came from and why.
What do you like about Polish people?
The fact that they are family oriented. So if you are a family to them they really take you on, they want to help you and want to give you everything. It is very nice.
What do you find annoying in Polish people?
Complaining a lot. We have a lot of individual problems. But when you see someone and ask them how they are, the first thing you want to hear is ‘yeah I am fine’. Polish people say: ‘on no, work, stress, no job, no money, I am dying’. It is not so nice to complain because complaining makes things worse. It makes you limited to your sad life. Most of the time it is the Polish mentality because people even told me: ‘this is our tradition to complain because if we don’t it means we are either sick or dead’. It has gotten into people’s blood and they cannot do without it. I was in the bus standing and a lady next to me took out her phone. I saw the text message that she got and these were wishes. The wishes were very nice and positive, but she replied that her life was bad and she did not know if her life was going in the right direction because she works too much and she slept only 4 hours the night before and that she wanted to die. So she replied to a nice positive text with so much complaining…
Working with Poles-what is it like?
From my experience in the past I noticed that Polish people hide information and do not tell you what is going on. The communication is not open. I spent two months at one workplace and it was very bad because people knew I did not speak Polish and they switched to Polish in front of me so I could feel that they talked about me. I was worried that any job I would get would be the same, that I would sit for eight hours with a group of Polish people and they would not communicate with me. Then I would have this feeling that they have something against me. I do not like talking behind people’s back.
1. Poles are hospitable: I generally do agree. But it does not work for everybody.
2. Poles are envious of each other: One time we talked about salaries during our class at university and one Polish guy told me that we should not discuss how much people earn because it makes everyone jealous. I do not know… I cannot say much about it, personally. I do not have any encounters of jealous people.
3. Poles are hard working: I do not think that Polish people are hard working. They are just doing whatever they have to, to keep their jobs. For example, my friend worked for an international company. Her job was a 9 to 5 job. But sometimes she leaved work around 7. And several times I asked her if she got paid for extra hours and if she was asked to stay longer and she said ‘no’. So I asked he: ‘Why are you there then?’ She said that if she does not do the extra work every day it will pile up. So this is neither working hard nor smart. It means just killing yourself. People who work hard they do not complain that they work hard and they can finish their work on time.
4. Polish women are attractive: I can tell you that today I discussed it with some friends. From what I have seen I can tell you that Polish girls are most beautiful. I look at women’s heart too and I can tell you that most of the women I have seen are so nice, like women that you could take home to show to your mother. They have so many qualities and they are so cool.
5. Polish people are religious: I think that people here are not religious. I can tell you that they follow the principles of the church. They are just really stuck in those church principles. Sometimes I ask people about things in the Bible and I see that Polish people do not even read the Bible. So they do not know the things in the Bible, come on! People think: ‘this is how we do it, this is how it should be’ so there is more of a catholic tradition here, not religion.
Is Poland safe?
It is very safe. I feel safe here. I have never seen any bad things going on around me. I have never felt scared.
How about the quality of education?
I think the level of education is very high. My university was like an eye opener for me, it was really good. The only problem that I see the Polish education is that they are opening these small private universities. I do not know why they are doing that, I am not sure how they operate. They are trying to compete with other places and maybe they are hoping that in a couple of years their graduates will be proud of completing these universities. I do not know.
How about relations between adults and children?
I can see that people in Poland like children, but they do not want to have them. Some teenagers are disrespectful towards their parents and older people. Sometimes when you go to bars you will see a child screaming and beating her/his mother. For me spoiling a child like this is shocking.
Relations between men and women?
From what I have seen maybe men treat ladies quite ok, not really so good. But one of the things I noticed is that Polish guys are afraid of commitment. It is not so nice about them. Because how can you be in a relationship with someone for 7, 8, 9 or 10 years and you just want a partnership not a commitment. It is not good. When I see couples in the city, in the park or on the bus they do cuddle, they love each other. But individually the people I met, they are scared, they do not commit themselves to a relationship. I do not know why. So many female friends of mine admitted that any time they mention about commitment and marriage to their boyfriends, there is always a fight. Their boyfriends do not want to hear about it. They do not want it. I do not know what they are afraid of.
Young vs old?
I have noticed that young people are not respectful to the old ones. For example on the bus it should be natural that a young person gives up their seat to the old person. Sometimes I see old people who pick up children from school and then they get in the bus. If they see one free seat they would give it to the child and they would be standing. So children grow up feeling that they can sit and older people have to stand. In Nigeria we really respect old people. In one tribe in my country if someone wants to greet an old person they have to bow down. And if you are a lady you have to get on your knees. It shows a great respect. In one Polish TV show I saw that when a small girl entered the kitchen and her mom was preparing breakfast she said to her mom ‘cześć’ (Polish: ‘hi’). Haha, what is it? For me when I get up I would say ‘good morning Ma’ because it is my mom.
How is Poland different from Nigeria?
There are about 40 million people in Poland while in Nigeria there are 160 million people so it makes a huge difference. Another thing is that people in Poland are not open. Even if you have friends and you want them to hang out they always say they do not have time while in fact they have time, but I do not know what they do with it. In Nigeria we are open and we hang out. No matter what your life is like you still go out and spend time with people. Even if you only spend only few minutes with people you will feel better. It keeps you going in spite of stress and things like that. But Polish people do not want to go out, they do not want to disturb you and bla, bla, bla. Who cares about disturbing anybody! People get depressed because they do not spend enough time with friends.
Another thing is that when it comes to jobs and salaries…. In my country for each position there is a fixed salary, but in Poland for the same position one person will earn ten thousand zloty and another person will earn one thousand. It is unorganized; I do not know how it works. And people here do not want to talk about their salaries, which is crazy.
Also, I do not know what makes money for Poland apart from potatoes and taxes. In Nigeria we have crude oil which brings profits. And also the house rents are so crazy. They are too high, in my opinion. A small apartment rent is over twelve hundred zloty and for someone who earns a common salary of two thousand zloty this is too expensive. And then you have to pay very high bills on top of that. The salaries in Poland are basically low. In Nigeria I would pay six thousand zloty for the whole year’s rent. There are huge differences in prices. Maybe it is because Poland is small and my country is big… I do not know! And also we are happy people.
What do you miss most about Nigeria?
I miss the food. I miss our traditional meals because this is something I grew up with. The ingredients are available in Poland, but they are very expensive. I would have to earn at least ten thousand zloty per month to afford to eat my local food regularly.
Why do you think people emigrate from Poland in such large amounts?
People mostly emigrate to the UK. One, it is to find a job. Secondly, it gives them the opportunity to have children and the government will pay them to have those kids. People think: ‘ I can have kids in my own country, but when I have it elsewhere the government really cares.’ So people move abroad to give their kids those things that they cannot afford here.
Would you like to stay in Poland for the rest of your life?
I have just finished my university and I need to work in my profession and make money. I need to move somewhere where I can work and make money for like five years, to buy my own house in Poland and then make enough money, move back and start my own business. But when it comes to settling down and living my old life it would be here in Poland, it would not be elsewhere. But now I have to go somewhere, make money and come back.
Recommendation for other foreigners
The difference between me and someone who just wants to come to Poland is that first of all I am married. I have my wife’s family. But someone who is coming here needs to open up his/her mind and realize that it is not going to be easy to get a job start making money. And even if one finds a job easily there might not be enough money to live and save. One just needs to be open and ready for good luck or a lack of luck. If you are an IT specialist or an engineer you will make good money, but everyone else, like me, must be prepared for tough times. But one thing is that Poland is a nice place to live because when it comes to a crisis or a war, killing people, kidnaps and stuff like that it is not dangerous. It is a cool and calm country. It is really a cool place to stay.