You think you know somebody and then you find out that they think your are a hopeless sierota, floating around their country without a care in the world or a thought in your head. Can you be friends with someone who thinks you’re simple, someone who thinks you don’t understand the world around you, someone who feels the need to school you on just about everything? That’s what I’m asking myself today after a conversation with a teacher friend. I’m a teacher too. I’ve been an ESL teacher in Poland for over 20 years. Prior to that I was a history, ESL, and special education teacher in the US. And here I am questioning my own intellect. Am I a bit dim?
The long and the short of it
The conversation started out normal enough. A typical catch-up session between two friends. But as it usual goes, we quickly fell into complaining. Not about our students, no, no, never, but about some of our fellow colleagues, the overall education system in Poland, the lack of respect we feel, and the lack of money in this dying profession. Gauging from similar conversations I have had with my teacher friends in the US, these issues are not exclusive to Poland, but to the teaching profession in general.
What a long introduction. Well here it is, the abbreviated version of my conversation with a teacher friend. It started out with me being wrong about something or other:
Friend: You’re wrong, but I forgive you because you’re not Polish. Chris, you couldn’t possibly understand the situation. You know nothing of European history, recent politics, the Polish education system, the situation for real people in Poland.
Me: Kochana, I studied history.
Friend: But in America. It doesn’t count. (Gee, thanks my friend.)
Me: Yes, yes. On my exams I only wrote “America good. Rest of world bad.” And I got an A+. Anyhow, I read a lot and not only from sources sympathetic to my opinions.
Friend: But you read English papers. You cannot get the whole picture that way.
Me: I read the Polish papers too, dear friend.
Friend: But as an American you cannot understand the Polish reality of people who work and live in Poland. People who have to find a job, a place to live, find a place in the hospital, pay a mortgage.
Me: Absolutely, since I came to Poland straight out of college, I have never had a job interview, never been hired or fired from a job. My home was given to me by angels. Mortgage? What’s that? Hospitals welcome me with open arms, especially that time I almost gave birth in the waiting room because the hospital refused to admit me.
Friend: But you can’t imagine how it is to be a public school teacher here. The abuse we have to take, the peanuts we earn.
Me: As a former school teacher I assure you, I understand your struggles.
Friend: But you taught in a nice school in America. I work over 40 hours in two different schools.
Me: I worked 50 hours in one of my schools in the US. Nice? Our metal detectors were certainly top-of-the line.
Friend: Ok, but at least you got paid a reasonable salary.
Me: I earned less per hour than a fast food cashier.
Friend: Well, in Polish schools it’s just worse.
Me: I worked in high school in Poland, in two actually at the same time, and while it wasn’t all fun and games, nobody got shot.
Friend: Please. You’re exaggerating. You didn’t get shot at school in America.
Me: Not me. One of the kids. Got shot. By another kid. That’s why I’m not a public school teacher in the US anymore, that and the money.
Friend: Well, anyhow. You’re not fully immersed in Polish culture, so you’ve been misled by the leftist media. If you really understood life in Poland, your (political) opinions would be different.
Me: Well, at least you didn’t say it’s because I’m a cycling atheist.
Mamy to gdzieś?
I know plenty of foreigners who live in Poland and don’t give a rat’s ass about Polish politics or real life in Poland. They don’t know who the President is, are unaware that there’s also a Prime Minister, and probably won’t take an interest as long as they live in Poland…unless the exchange rate continues its plunge right into the toilet. But someone who knows me, has known me for years? I thought they’d put me in a different category than the random expat passer-through. I know that I wasn’t born in Poland, and I’m not Polish, but jasna cholera I take an interest in the country I call home. Yes, I have a different perspective. I’m an immigrant after all. I’m not asking her to agree with me. I’m only asking for respect of my intelligence as an adult member of society.
You think you know somebody
My friend? Well, we are still friends. If you ever meet her, please ask her what’s wrong with the current US President, why Americans are overweight, or who will be the next US President. She’s an expert.