Life in Poland

You think you know somebody


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.

The tea

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.    

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    January 16, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    To be honest if I were you, it would be the last conversation with this person.

    Sorry,taki mamy klimat. 😉

  • Reply
    The Twisted Red LadyBug / Anda Alexandra
    January 16, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Everybody loves to judge and put labels, no matter where you go…

  • Reply
    January 16, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Same here in the UK – Poles are trying to teach the English how they should govern their country, ha ha.
    World known experts on everything – why Poland is still 100 lat za Murzynami then?

  • Reply
    January 16, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Cycling atheist… You don't believe in the existence of cycling? Ha ha…

  • Reply
    January 16, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    No, no, no I'm a firm believer in cycling and I'm a practicing cyclist 😉 Perhaps a comma is in order there. I referring to recent comments by the Foreign Affairs Minister that veganism or maybe it was vegetarianism, cycling year round, and atheism are not part of Polish traditions. He said it much better. Today I encountered a lot of snow tire atheists out on the snowy roads though and not a single cyclist. We went sledding. Cycling awaits us tomorrow 🙂

  • Reply
    January 16, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    how much time did you waste to talk with her ? she's too stuborn or narrow-minded to admit right

  • Reply
    January 17, 2016 at 2:27 am

    I think Chris forgot that where there are two Poles there are three political opinions.

    And while true that you were NOT born in Poland, and that you are an immigrant, but not an ignorant. What makes immigrants superior to the natives is the fact that they by default look outside the box because from birth they were brought up in a different culture with vastly different values and ideas.

    As long as everyone keeps an open mind. And that's where your friend failed. She stayed closed-minded with her own share of misconceptions about you and your upbringing. Waste of time, she'll never learn. Such shallow people, even if being teachers, are impossible to convince. I wouldn't waste any time on her.

    Oh, and trust me Chris, it is so much better you were not born in Poland. With all due respect where it is needed, life in Poland, according to was not peachy or rosy in any respect.


  • Reply
    January 18, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    Thanks all for your comments. I was just having a hard time and needed someplace to vent my frustrations. I hope no one was put off by what I wrote. It wasn't a Polish thing, just a "friend" thing.

    I totally plan to use the "I'm an immigrant, not an ignorant" thing in the future, if I may. Very clever.

  • Reply
    Maria Agdalena
    January 18, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    Even though what your friend said wasn't particularly open-minded, it wasn't a Polish-only thing either. I have seen multiple examples of this kind of thinking here in Sweden, too. I suppose it comes down to "My country is so unique only a native can understand it". Yeah right 🙂

  • Reply
    January 19, 2016 at 5:21 am

    Hi Chris!

    I am an American who regularly visits friends in Poland. Maybe it is because I do not live in Poland, but I do have to say that, because of the cultural differences, there is a certain lack of meeting of the minds or a an inability on both ends to fully comprehend the reality of the other when we are together. When I am with my friends, I feel like they never entirely comprehend my perspective. But, I must acknowledge that I do not fully comprehend their perspective either because I did not grow up in their culture, their traditions, their way of speaking (and I speak Polish well), etc.

    So, while I in no way wish to dismiss your intelligence, I can say that there is something that rings true in your friend's observations (even if she is incorrect to dismiss your intelligence or perhaps expresses herself in what feels like a narrow-minded way) when she says that you simply do not understand. From my experience, I perceive that there is something essential to culture and worldview that can only be fully grasped and understood if a person grows up and is formed in a particular culture. If it weren't this way, then we would be one world with one culture.

    I appreciate reading your blog because, as an American, I have tried over the years to better and sincerely understand Polish culture or worldview. Some of your observations give me a glimpse and help me to better understand it since you share your observations and life experiences in Poland from an American perspective.

    While those I know in Poland may not see eye to eye with me and may feel that I do not fully understand them and their way of thinking, I can say the same for them toward me. Despite the misunderstandings and confusion, I do perceive that they are still my friends because, when it comes down to it, I know that they sincerely care about my ultimate good and well-being, and they are always sure to give me extra helpings of pierogi so that I will not die of hunger. 🙂

  • Reply
    January 19, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Hi Anon – Thanks for your comment. I'm glad that you're a reader and that your friends keep you well-supplied in the pierogi department.

    I know that I'll never be Polish even when I get my Polish citizenship, just as my kids are not exactly American. A few Halloweens and Thanksgivings celebrated in Poland don't make them American. They're Polish. If they go to America for good as adults, they'll always be a bit different.

    I'll always lack some elements of understanding too, here in Poland and in the US if I went back today. Having said that, I go to extreme efforts to gather information on certain "Polish" subjects including asking people of different ages their opinions on those topics. I have lived here almost half of my life, almost my entire adult life. I got married in Poland, suffered a serious illness in Poland, had a miscarriage, gave birth twice, been to court, had my first car accident, worked in a public institution, started my own business, got audited by the tax office, been stopped by the police, been mugged, been attacked by a would-be rapist, been burgled, had my car broken into, been spit on, and so much more. My husband is Polish. My kids are Polish. My salary is paid in PLN. I may never have eaten the horrible chocolate-like concoction my husband's generation remembers, but neither has my friend. She's too young.

    So I agree on certain Polish things, I'm definitely at a disadvantage. But in the discussion with my friend (she's still my friend), we should have been on equal footing.

    PS I can make pierogi 😉

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 12:39 am

    Jasne ze nigdy nie zrozumiesz tego co sie dzieje w Polsce, nie wyssalas przeciez z mlekiem matki, rasizmu, antysemityzmu i ksenofobi.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 8:27 am

    Anonymous said
    > there is something essential to culture and worldview that can only be fully grasped and understood if a person grows up and is formed in a particular culture

    While this is true about people visiting a foreign country as tourists, the situation of those that have lived fully submerged in some culture for many years is different. To me it's obvious that having lived half of life in one culture and another half in another culture gives a better perspective on both. It is the people who have seen less and know only one side (like Chris's friend) who don't understand.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    toya – Jejku, tyle słuchałam od kolegi o żydowski spisek. Nie do wiary 😉

    slawekk – I believe you have some experience in living abroad as well. What do your friends say? How do you feel? My American friends say I'm so "European" I think due to my support of vacation days and maternity leave and perhaps my clothes which are in fact from Gap. My Polish friends used to say I was so American when I talked about my childhood or teenage years, my teaching job in the US, and anything having to do with hunting and fishing. Now, they jokingly say I'm so Polish as our life experiences run parallel to each other and also that I can make pierogi. How do I feel? I feel that I'm both American and Polish, maybe 60/40 or even 50/50. We'll see how I feel as I get older and older 😉

  • Reply
    January 21, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    > I believe you have some experience in living abroad

    I lived in the US for 15 years.

    > What do your friends say?

    The subject seldom comes up with my friends. Sometimes I play an expert on America in discussions like recently "Why America has been such source of technical innovation?".

    > How do you feel?

    As I get older I feel and think less and less about my tribal allegiances. This process has accelerated recently.

  • Reply
    January 22, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    With me as well. Perhaps it is my age or my relationship to people in my life or even politics.

    Today I met some new people and for the first time, the new people didn't ask me how I liked Poland. It was nice.

  • Reply
    January 26, 2016 at 9:46 pm

    I really liked this post, Chris. But the final two sentences are just killer. Very nicely done — and — I can relate!
    Dorota in Colorado

  • Reply
    January 27, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    As of 22 January, The staff at Radio Poland have deleted over a hundred comments and blocked a number of it regular users with out notice or warnings from their English language Facebook page. The users who were blocked and the comments deleted all had one thing in common they took a pro Poland stand, they were critical of the media manufactured crisis in Polish Democracy and supported the PiS. No comments reflecting views that were anti-government, liberal-leftist, anti-Poland and or anti-PiS were deleted or their authors blocked. In the last two weeks numerous articles have appeared on Radio Poland English language website that were part and parcel of a PO sponsored propaganda campaign to overthrow a government elected by a clear majority of the voting public. The editorial tone of numerous articles is designed to convey a message to the English speaking media that PiS rules without public support and it actions are illegitimate. Radio Poland is a a publicly funded body that has been hijacked by PO supporters in an effort to attack the government. This must be stopped!

  • Reply
    January 27, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    She sounds like a proper asshole (excuse my french). (forgot my login hahaha)

  • Reply
    January 28, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    Anon – Re:Radio Poland. Could you write something, anything to convince me (us) that this comment is not copy/paste. – Your French is pardoned 😉

  • Reply
    Sallie Atkins
    April 17, 2023 at 1:24 pm

    I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry.

Leave a Reply