I have to admit that before coming to Poland for the first time, I did not know a whole heck of a lot about the country. What I knew about Poland at that time came mainly from history books, giving me no idea what real life in Poland looked like at all. It couldn’t all be standing in line and jumping over shipyard fences now could it?
The basics of history including Poland’s unfortunate geographic location between the Germans and the Russians, I learned at school. Wałęsa and the Solidarity movement was an important part of my labor relations class. I also knew that Polish people ate a lot of kiełbasa, cabbage, and pierogi. They used the zloty, and it was probably cold there. As a typical all-American girl, I thought that little bit of info, a Polish/English dictionary, 200 bucks, and a smile was enough to sustain me in this foreign country.
I’m a goralka
I do have some Polish heritage on my paternal grandmother’s side from the Polish mountain area of Nowy Targ, but in practicality that was of no use to me. Szafa and dupa (wardrobe and arse) were the only 2 words of Polish I knew from my Grandma. What bind could I get myself into that these two words alone could save me? I didn’t realize that szafa was even a Polish word until going to school and asking the teacher where the szafa was. I had never encountered that word except at my Grandma’s because who has wardrobes in America? Not too many people I think.
Duck, duck, dupa!
It was during a school recess game of “duck, duck, goose” that I discovered the word dupa as foreign. My cousin was “it” and when she hit the goose she screamed “I hit you on your dupa!”. None of the kids knew what we were talking about. It was really a mystery to me, so I asked my mother what was up. She explained that it was Polish. Huh? Polish, another language. Huh? People in Poland speak Polish. Huh? Grandma’s parents came from Poland where they speak Polish. Huh? People from different countries speak different languages. What?! Yes, I was a sheltered child.
There’s no soap in Poland
Not very useful advice
Armed with szafa and dupa, I applied for a few jobs abroad. I thought it would look good on my CV. The job in Poland was arranged through a non-profit organization that finds you a job and…that’s about it. I had to buy my ticket myself which I did not earn back in a year!!! of teaching in high school in Poland (and that is with trzynastka even -the 13th salary which is a bonus for teachers). I was able to meet with the organizer of the job in person. That’s where I got some strange information about Poland. The strangest being that there’s no soap in Poland. C’mon it was years ago, and I somehow survived each day without Googling everything, but this was a fact I didn’t even need to Google. I was pretty sure that Polish people were washing, and they were using something resembling soap.
After a bit of grilling this man (who had been coming to Poland for over 20 years), he conceded that Polish people do use soap, but that it is very hard to come by and that I should bring soap along with me. Soap for a year?! I don’t think so. I decided to check out this information with a friend who had been to Poland for a student exchange a few years earlier. She assured me that there was soap in Poland, but that there wasn’t Secret antiperspirant. Ok, that I could live with. In addition to putting my mind at ease about the soap issue, my friend had a few more pieces of advice.
Very useful advice
Piece of advice #1 When offered flaki, decline. Flaki is tripe, and my husband ordered it for me on our first date.
Piece of advice #2 Carry about 50 złoty in your pocket so when you are mugged, you can give the money quickly and escape. Useful, except the first time I was attacked, the attacker wasn’t interested in my money. The second time I was attacked, my attacker stole my shoe…from my foot.
Piece of advice #3 When you meet someone with gold teeth, they are probably Russian and you should be careful. Never needed to use this advice, and anyhow it’s kind of iffy.
Piece of advice #4 Budapest yes, Bucharest no. Went on a trip to Budapest organized by the Dept. of Agriculture with a bus full of farmers and retired farmers from the Leszno area. What fun!
My next source of information about Poland came from none other than the Polish Tourism Bureau. After looking at their brochures, I thought Poland was an awesome country where everyone either spends time on the beach or climbing in the mountains with intermittent visits to luxurious spas. Sign me up!
How does that work?
Later when I became more knowledgeable about Poland, I liked to make fun of those less knowledgeable than I. Not nice of me I know. My parents were quite worried about me so to make them feel better I sent them a couple of pictures. First, I sent them pictures of our school’s basement and told them that was my apartment. Next, I sent them pictures of some garden sheds (szopki i altanki na działce) and told them that those were people’s houses. It was in revenge to my complaining that I didn’t have access to a washer, and my father telling me to just go and buy one. It would have cost me 3 months salary at the time.
My sister had other concerns for me such as worrying about my access to hot water. She also wanted to know if we had bread in Poland. I informed that we do, but second hand from Germany. “Second hand bread from Germany? How does that work?” she asked. “Yes,” I wondered, “how does that work?”
What do you know about Poland?
Want to know why I moved to Poland in the first place? Find out here.