Life in Poland


I’ve never been over-sensitive to discrimination. I’m not one of those people to boo-hoo into my pillow at night because somebody has slighted me. I’m a big girl, I’ve got thick skin and even if something seemed to be unfair, I’ve always been able to shrug it off. Actually, I’ve only ever felt discriminated against a couple of times in my life.

The first time was at university. In a class where I had a 98% average, I was given back my exam by the professor with no comment. It was another A. What was there really to say anyhow? I was not expecting a pat on the back. C’mon it wasn’t kindergarten and my fellow college students were not so fond of the classmates with good grades.

I myself was very fond of good grades and collected a lot of them. For me, the university tuition was very expensive despite my attending a state university. I wanted to learn as much as I could for every dollar I had to spend especially because I earned those dollars measuring old men for suit trousers in a men’s clothing shop. (Inseam measurements were the worst, but the men seemed to enjoy the experience.) My classmates, it seemed, felt quite the opposite – about the knowledge-per-dollar thing, not the inseam-measuring thing. Many of them wanted to see how little they could learn for their money (or their parent’s money) and still graduate.

Anyhow my classmate Jeff, seated beside me, got his exam back. It was a C+ or a C-. I don’t remember exactly, but I do remember the big red C. Just the sight of it turned my stomach. Jeff’s results did get a comment out of our professor, “Good job, Jeff. You really pulled it out this time.” Pulled it out of where? I thought. Your ear? Your ass? I didn’t comment, but the professor must have read my mind because she looked at me and said, “Don’t be so smug. We can’t all be naturally smart.” That infuriated me because in fact I’m no genius. I’m just a hard worker whose hard work had just been negated by her professor, another female nonetheless. At the end of the class, the professor invited Jeff (who had not opened his mouth once in the whole 90 minutes) to consider graduate school because our profession needed men like him. Apparently, it already had enough women like me.

ducks discrimination There was one other incident at university which just came to mind. I had forgotten about it I think because I did not feel threatened personally or academically in any way. I just didn’t feel discriminated against for some reason although I should have. I selected my university courses trying to balance what courses I needed to take, what courses I wanted to take, and what courses were offered during hours not conflicting with my job at the men’s shop. I rarely listened to other students’ recommendations or warnings about specific professors because through experience I had found them to be wildly exaggerated or just downright untrue. So when starting a new semester, I entered the classroom fresh with no opinion of the professor formed before entering. That’s how I got a big surprise with one professor new to me.

I sat down in a class that at first seemed normal. Then I noticed everyone was looking at me. My zipper was up. My blouse was buttoned. Nothing on my face. No toilet paper on my shoe. I checked my schedule and the number on the door. Everything seemed to jive, but then I noticed that I was the only woman in the class. Strange, but not impossible, I thought. Then the professor arrived and he began looking at me as well and then he started to speak to everyone in the room except to me. I will spare you the details but the gist of it was that women were of lower intellect (his wife, as he said, a prime example) and should not be allowed to operate motor vehicles let alone attend university. And then all was silent and everyone was looking at me. All I could do was laugh. And I did. But not a nice, sweet giggle but a deep belly laugh. I felt like on TV. All eyes were on me. After my brave laugh, I responded meekly (I don’t know why meekly after such a laugh), “You must be very sad.” My professor shouted, “Speak up! We can’t hear you!” I shouted from the back corner of the classroom, the seat closest to the door, “You must be very sad!” (in similar fashion the recent Obama “You lie!” shout) My professor responded, “Hmmm” and started our first lecture. The rest of the semester, women were never spared unkind and unfair remarks to which I either ignored or gave a chuckle. Really, only a sad person could behave as he did. Unlike other women who had taken his courses, I didn’t argue with him. I felt it was not my job to reform an asshole. Unlike other women who had taken his courses, I remained untouched personally by his remarks. I mean, he never commented on my intellect just all women as a group and those comments never even made a dent in my strong self-worth. No, that’s incorrect. niagarafallsOnce he read 2 lines out of my exam essay for the class and said that their was a light at the end of womankind’s tunnel. I did not take his comm ent as a compliment because honestly, who cares what an asshole thinks about you. As it turned out, I think my assessment of him as sad was a correct one because a few years later he committed suicide by jumping in the Niagara Falls – ‘cause you gotta go out like a man.

The second time in my life I felt discriminated against was when I was applying for a job. I was very proud to be the only one of my classmates in education to have a job interview while still studying. I just knew that I would have a job locked in before graduation and all my loser classmates would still be flipping burgers or sponging off their parents for the next school year. As I sat in the school secretary’s office proudly awaiting my first real job interview, my bubble got burst by another teacher who had come to greet the principal before the school day got started. “Mornin’, mornin’ ,” he said to the principal followed by a firm handshake. “Have you hired the new wrestling coach yet?” he inquired. Eyeing me, the principal laughed and said, “We’ve got our first candidate right here. Come this way, little lady.” I was applywrestlinging for the job of 11th grade US History teacher and all that was missing was a nice slap on the ass. I didn’t get the job, but I was interviewed 3 times and taught a lesson to be critiqued. Maybe the wrestling coach thing had nothing to do with it. I mean a woman could be a wrestling coach too, but I sure did feel like shyte and I felt discriminated against really for the first time in my life because a professor thinking that you are naturally smart or another professor thinking that you are naturally an imbecile is meaningless when you are facing the possibility of measuring men’s inseams for the rest of your life.

In Poland, I haven’t really had any similar situations. Maybe in my first job in the City in an American company, our boss made some comments that could constitute creating a hostile work environment for women. In one case, he said that a candidate for a secretarial position definitely wouldn’t win any Miss Poland contest and then proceeded to hire a woman who looked like she stepped out of a porn film. Later, he made a distasteful Monica Lewinsky/cigar joke to the new secretary. This boss was Polish/American and he wanted to be more American that Americans, so I told him that he couldn’t say those things in the home office in the US. He agreed, and I had peace and quiet for a long time after that.

Most recently, I’ve come to feel discriminated against in my daughter’s Pre-school of all places. You may have read about the Religion lessons at Pre-school which are in fact catechism lessons. I don’t want my daughter to attend. Here’s the kicker- I was brought up Catholic. I attended private Catholic school. I attended mass 6 days a week for my whole primary school education. I still don’t want my daughter to attend “Religia” at Pre-school. Religion lessons, in my opinion, are for private school or on the church grounds. I’m guess I’m just picky like that.

Parents were informed that kids would only go to Religion if we signed them up. I didn’t sign my daughter up. Next we were asked by the Headmistress to write a declaration that we DO NOT want our daughter to attend Religion lessons. We wrote it. Yesterday, we were asked by the classroom teacher to write another declaration that we do not want our daughter to attend. C’mon, I’m not one of those overprotective parents who complains about every slight of their child, but this is too much. We did not sign Lizzie up. I informed the classroom teacher verbally that I do not want Lizzie to attend. Misiu wrote a declaration for the Headmistress. That has to be sufficient. Why are they complicating our lives? Is it all because we don’t want to attend Religion? To single us out? Is it conscious or subconscious on their part? Is it just Polish school bureaucracy run wild? I don’t really care. I feel that they are strongly encroaching on our rights and on our privacy and I have to defend myself and my child. I inquired if the same procedure is going to be in place for English lessons. They answered that of course not, you must sign your child up for English lessons, not declare that you don’t want your child to attend. Interesting.

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    January 9, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    I totally agree with you. I stopped attending church in Poland after I found out that the grade from religion counts in the GPA at the end of high school and hence affects the chances to enter a state-run university. I want no part in such things.

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