Monday, May 11, 2009

The Top Ten Things about Living in Poland

As my time in Poland looks like it could well be coming to an end here I thought I'd put up some of the reasons I've enjoyed it so much.

  1. As you may have noticed I have a bit of an obsession with the weather and Poland has enabled me to see real winter. Minus temperatures and weeks of snow are the norm here and more than make up for the lack of spring. Most Brits move looking for the sun whereas for me it was the cold I wanted.
  2. Bank transfers. No one in Poland understands the idea of paypal as there is no need for it here. Cheques came in too late and never caught on so the bank transfer system is very easy, very secure and basically free. On, the Polish version of E-bay, almost every transaction is by bank transfer as giving someone your bank number and name is no big deal here. It is an excellent system and should be exported throughout the EU.
  3. Public Holidays. In England the bank holidays are usually when school is off anyway and are always on Monday. Not so here as they tend to be on a fixed date. The benefit of this is that when you have a Tuesday or a Thursday off people tend to take the extra day and make a longer weekend. There are too few public holidays in Britain and fixing them all to Monday takes the fun away.
  4. The food here, that is Polish food, is generally great. It may not have the strong flavours and exotic tastes that some people might want but it is good, honest food. Although some things like pierogi and zurek have no English equivalents it isn't food which would really shock or surprise anyone. I shall really miss some of the pork dishes and meals when we leave.
  5. The trains. Polish people always laugh when I say this as the trains here are slow and the toilets have probably not been cleaned since the fall of communism. However, if you can get by the drunks and the kebab shops the stations are not very different to those in Britain (just uglier) whilst the prices are much lower (about £3 for 100km) and are charged only by type of train (there are basically 3) an length. Very simple compared to the British system and much better value. The network is also wider and I have never had a train fail to arrive or get to its destination here, something I've suffered on a few occasions in Britain.
  6. Although state health care here is rather byzantine the private system is great. The level of technology in opticians, private doctors and dentists is far above and beyond anything I've experienced in Britain and appointments can be organised the next day. Whatsmore, doctors actually try to treat their patients rather than saying "come back next week if you don't feel better" after you've already waited over a week for an appointment. you may have to pay for the services but they're not that expensive and the price is value for money.
  7. I no that no one Polish is likely to agree with me but in my experience I find Polish streets safer. It may be largely because of the British love of drinking and fighting on Friday night but I've seen very little trouble anywhere in all my time here. Even running a pub for 6 months (before this blog) I saw only 2 fights. I've never had to dodge around piles of sick or look for a cash machine without blood all over it here either.
  8. The Polish countryside consists mostly of forest, most of it nationally owned. You can go and walk there and it makes travelling real fun. Sadly, state control means there's not a lot you can do but at least there is a place and the right to access it. Train journeys show this off to its best and keeping on the lookout for storks always adds to the fun.
  9. Poland still has all the small shops and markets, bakers, butchers and grocers that have been slowly turning into hairdressers and take-aways in Britain. This means you've got a better chance of finding real food tha in the UK. Added to this, in Poland cooking means cooking. Not re-heating, boiling in a bag, microwaving or phoning out. It's easy to be tempted by ready meals but they barely exist here keeping me safe!
  10. Attitude, a lot less of it. It shocked me, even when I was at school, to see small children wandering around swearing and being antagonistic to adults. Poland does have its own chav problem, largely associated with football hooligans, but it is by no means as all pervading as in Britain. They cannot terrorise town centres or shopping centres as they just get kicked out. The lack of lots of attractive benefits also makes them more inclined to get out and do something rather than do nothing but smoke drink and pop out kids.
A rather long list, but I hope it shows you some of the things I've enjoyed whilst I've been here - and some of those I'm sure to miss when I move.


agi said...

It would be great if all the things were as great as you described them, but one may get the idea you're looking at Poland through pink-tinted sunglasses ;-)
1. To make you miss the snow less, we may go on holidays to Polish mountains.
2. Bank transfers are relatively easy here, as long as it's all local. Remember trying to get anything from e-bay or amazon?
3. There are public holidays in Poland, but think about mid-terms we're gonna get in the UK. And they're actually at sensible time of school year, yay!!!
4. I will cook Polish stuff for you anyway, plus we'll visit my parent, you know what that means ;-)
5. You probably haven't travelled on Polish trains enough. It happens that the train is delayed a few hours and no explanation is offered etc. In the UK I've never had any probs with trains, they're much faster and better quality, and cheap if you book early enough.
6. There are still plenty of incompetent doctors both in public and private sector here.
7. I've recently showed you two places in our district where there was sick on the pavement.
8. English countryside is at least just as nice, if a bit different.
9. Shops in the UK are much better, there is actually such thing as customer service. People are nice to you and genuinely willing to help when you need it.
10. The kids don't terrorize shopping centres but schools instead, there's been plenty of stories on the news about teachers attacked by students and such like.
All in all, it's not that great in here either. But I know you'll miss it when we go. Perhaps the next entry should be the top ten things about Britain?

Anonymous said...

Did you speak Polish before moving to Poland, or did you learn as you went? Thanks for sharing!

sam_acw said...

Thanks for commenting Agi :) Cool comments!

To the second - I still don't speak fluent Polish. Intermediate maybe but far from perfect.

JohnW said...

I am interested in the public education in Poland. I have worked in the US as a teacher in a number of different schools. Right now I work with adolescent males going through the process of drug and/or alcohol treatment. I have been trained in a number of disciplines and techniques to handle students in a physical manner if need be.

Back in 1992 I was going through the process of obtaining my certification which requires a student teaching session. I had a group of students from Poland. It was an wonderful experience. They were all well behaved and had provided me with many teachable moments.

What really intrigued me was how one student described public education at that time. He said that in the city he grew up in schools had a shift schedule. He said that it would change every six or seven weeks so no one could have an after school job. I did a survey of students in my classes and found out most of them had after school jobs and some even worked a full forty hour week. No wonder homework never got done my most.

I knew Poland is heavily forested but I wasn't sure about the ownership issues. Here in the US there is a patchwork fo private and public land. Much of the public land is open to many different activities. As an example, right out my office window is a section of wildlife management area that is open to hunting. I can, after work, head out with my bow during the season and hunt for deer if I want. I was wondering what restrictions are placed on public lands in Poland?

sam_acw said...

Thanks for the long comment JohnW.
The shift system is no longer in place in most schools.
Teens working is almost unheard of though due to a combination of attitudes, higher unemployment and the law. Poles are unlikely to be that financially indpendant until their early to mid 20s and most I teach think money only comes from Dad.
The school day is earlier than in Britain (typically 8-3 or 7-2) and younger kids finish earlier. The students are given huge amounts of homework as most teachers are not keen on teaching. The idea of giving sstudents a book, telling them to "learn" a chapter or two and then testing them on how well they have memorised it is the cornerstone of the Polish education system.
The majority of forests, around 85 percent if I recall, are state owned but the activities outside walking are quite restrictive. The hunting tends to be organised by collectives of hunters and it is seen as a fairly elitist activity in some provinces. From the information I have, hunting here seems to follow the German/continental model rather than an English or US one. Think of lots of formal uniforms, bugle calls, driven game and high seats.

JohnW said...

Interesting. I can see how the shift system in education would put a lot of constraints on everyone. In a way it is sad to hear about the educational system in Poland being so rigid. Don't get me wrong, one of the cornerstones of a well rounded education involves rote memory and research but it does need enrichment to be a quality education. Here in the US we have more focus on doing just that but I do fear that we may be constrained more due to certain laws such as the No Child Left Behind Act. It has been forcing teachers to basically teach students to take a standardized test rather than develop their intellects with enrichening subject matter and going into details on various topics. As an example, when I taught US History I conducted a lesson on starting a fire with a flint and steel as well as how to throw a tomahawk. Every kid loved it and my mother ran into one of my students the other day. She is a pharmacist and commented that she still remembers those activities from long ago. Again that was back in 1994. Today, it could not happen. One would be the issue of political correctness and the other would be how would it fit with the guidelines of no child left behind. The last public school I worked in cancelled all field trips because they could not be justified through the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks. People are too afraid of losing their teaching certificates if there is a big issue. So little things such as special events and field trips have gone by the wayside due to this change.

I'll add that my personal doctor is from Poland. In fact, he and his wife are doctors. She works with my mother and he works with me. They are very nice and matter of fact. I don't worry about too much BS being given to me as some other doctors will try to do.

sam_acw said...

Poland's education system does produce a rather odd result. The system produces fantastic specialists (engineers, technicians, doctors etc.) but in terms of general education it is lacking and there are very few generalists.
The idea of trying to develop skills, logic, rhetoric or even use the knowledge they have is not common here. My wife even had exams based upon identifying quotations from methodology books (in a methodology exam) and remembering which graph was on which page!

JohnW said...

That is interesting to note. I remember many of my Polish students would have jobs to pay for various things. One of the things that I noticed was that they had a strong work ethic. One kid came here with nothing and now I believe he became a lawyer. One girl married an electrician while another kid I knew worked his way up at a local company. All of them had help in an ESL( English as a Second Language) class and did very well.

Out of curiosity, why are you moving back to England? I will confess that I did not read all of your posts so maybe I don't have a clue. If that is a private matter I fully understand.

sam_acw said...

Poles working abroad have a great work ethic, in Poland it is more variable.
We're leaving for a few reasons
- family
- the basic contract in Poland gives no pension, security, national insurance, health care or benefits. All these are automatic in Britain (when you work)
- The crisis has led to around a 25% reduction in property prices in Britain while prices here have stayed steady, rents even going up slightly in some cases. Despite both having good jobs we have no chance of getting a flat or house.