Monday, November 28, 2005

Observations from two weeks in Poland

I was in Poland for two weeks, my first trip to Poland since the summer of 2004, I noticed and found out a few things

The scoring leader of the Polish Orange Ekstraklasa, Grzegorz Piechna, makes 30,000 Euros a year.

Video screens in bars and pubs are in. During the 2002 WC qualifiers I couldn't find places in Poland to watch games, now they are a dime a dozen.

Polish beer is going into the shitter, did you know that Tyskie is being made in Poznan and not Tychy? Bullshit if you ask me. Other "imports" are all brewed in Poland, I guess they do it in order to avoid tariffs and compete with the Polish brews, clearly these beers are not as good as the originals.

I bought a bottle of Sobieski vodka in Poland to take to the US, I get to the US and look at the label only to find "imported by" some company in California. So the guy I bought the booze for will think I bought it in the States instead of dragging it with me from Poland.

I still don't get some of the Polish crappers, what is that little shelf for? I was told that they no longer make crappers with the shelf.
UPDATE: I was alerted to a nice article by the Banterist about the poo shelf.

People still use wood burning stoves, but they often don't use wood. I saw yellow or red colors in the smoke coming from chimneys, really thick with rancid smells.

The Polish hip-hop section at Media-Markt is about half the size of the entire Polish music section.

Media-Markt has no computers powered by AMD, weird.

Poland is expensive. Some crappy Pierre Cardin suits made outside of Opole were being sold for 1500 PLN, that's almost $500, and let me reiterate that these suits were crap, go to Vistula, cheaper and better quality.

Polish roads still scare me.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

It's culture, eh?

Last night, N and I went to the Filharmonia Narodowa to listen to the Concerto for Orchestra and 'Cello by Prokofiev and a Tchaikovski symphonia. We've been to the Opera Narodowa plenty last year to watch ballet, but it was our first time at the Filharmonia. I found the building small and the seating limited, but it was really beautiful inside. A mixture of socialist pseudo-grandeur and a nostalgia for the original building, it has not aged well in certain areas. However, the marble stairs and the high ceilings were wonderful, as were the comfortable seats.

Our tickets cost us 25zl each. I am always amazed at the affordability (is there such a word?) of cultural events in Warsaw. True, our seats weren't amazing (2nd row on the extreme left), but we came to hear music not to watch it being played. Twenty-five zlotych is about 5 pounds and I cannot imagine being able to go and see a classical music concert for that sum of money in London. Unless you're a student and don't mind standing in the back behind some support column.

I realise that such low ticket prices come at a cost, the orchestras and symphonias are very poorly paid (but that's no different to those playing in professional orchestras in London) and the buildings sometimes need a bit more care. But it does allow people, all kinds of people, to come and listen and watch.

Not that they do, really. Last night's audience was seriously geriatric. But, still, the possibility is there.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just a quick note to all the Americans reading this, Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a great holiday, really. It's like Christmas without the stress. So remember to take this time to remember all the good things in life while filling your bellies with some delicious birdies.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Museum of the Warsaw Uprising

When it gets to Sunday morning and I'm lying in bed avoiding getting up, I usually think back over the weekend so far. Generally there have been a couple of interesting nights out but a wasted day, or a Saturday filled with boring necessities like cleaning and supermarkets.

Well, this weekend we decided to do something with our Sunday that would justify its (and our) existence. We trotted off to the newish Museum of the Warsaw Uprising (which their website actually calls the 'Warsaw Rising Museum' but that conjures a different image in my mind) and were impressed.

The museum is pretty new and modern in its approach. There are no long display cabinets under harsh lighting, but interesting and interactive displays using film, photography, newspaper extracts, models, mock-ups of rooms and bunkers, and plenty of bits of paper to collect.

The museum revolves around a central pillar, which pulsates, as if with a heartbeat. If you go up close, you discover speakers hidden all over with sounds of the uprising broadcast from it, but the beating sound follows you throughout the tour.

Its an awfully tragic story, and you can't but feel indignant and ashamed that the allies abandoned the Poles to defend their city alone, but the Polish sense of pride permeates the museum, and the heroic efforts of the unequal fight are honoured.

The information was well presented and clear (although they really should have got a native-speaker to check the English translations) and I especially liked the old photos and description of the Scout-run postal service that they set up around the city.

It's a museum that takes a good couple of hours to get round, and on Sunday it was packed, but towards the end they have thoughtfully placed a Blickle cafe where you can have a coffee and a piece of cake to see you through the rest of the displays.

If you haven't already been, go and see it!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

saturday night

Well, I was going to round up our saturday night p3 executive board meeting... but it's already been taken care of over here. Cheers!

Winter

Winter has offically begun in Poland. Well, at least it's snowing. And, if I remember correctly, we're getting snow MUCH earlier this year than last.

And this early snow is a shame, really. Poland is best in autumn. It has an autumnal landscape--meditative, still, drooping, withering.

But now as I look out my window I see only a blank canvas that will have to wait six months until it is again painted by nature's brush. Til then: slush and icicles.

Friday, November 18, 2005

P3

The next p3 will take place tomorrow, at Tortilla Factory from 8pm onwards.

You're all expected (except Gus who's excused) - bloggers and non-bloggers alike.

As you may have gathered it's an incredibly formal event, with more beer to drink than notes to take.

Do jutra!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Nightmares on asfalt

I normally don't have nightmares, or at least don't remember them, but this morning was different. I was having a driving dream, a Polish driving experience (PDE) dream. And I woke up very scared.

Let me try to explain what driving is like here first...

If you're on the interstate, any semblance of rules are thrown out the window, along with your cigarette (Poles love their country, but seem to love littering, too). Vehicles go what ever speed and fill any empty space that is possible with their rolling death bullet, whether it's into the opposing lane of traffic, on the shoulder, on the sidewalk, around the back side of bus stops, over bus stops (this has happened) and I've even seen cars not only drive at 160+ kph into oncoming traffic, I've seen them pass those same cars on THEIR side's shoulder!!!!

Gulp.

In the city, things are the same, except the drivers seem to aim for pedestrians (perhaps this is some left over Russian anti-Pole incentive program, where each driver who takes out a Pole gets an extra loaf of bread or slab of meat. Double if they were Catholic. Triple if in the Solidarity movement). Another oddity is the 'yield' law. Yes, we have yield signs and yes in America we yield to the right if everyone comes to an intersection at the same time (tricky with 4!), but in Poland you have to yield to the right.

Always.

No matter how wide the road you're driving on, and how narrow or dirty the road they're driving on (to your right), you must yield. I now know 3 expats who've gotten in accidents in these situations. 1)Expat 1 was in the intersection long before the car to the right (CTTR) came in. He got smashed in the rear, spun around and a hefty ticket, two days before leaving the country-for good. 2)Expat 2 is at a T-intersection, inching very, very slowly into the top of the T, and turning right. There were parked cars blocking her view. Once out, fully into the lane she saw a minvan barreling at her, with the driver's head down (likely dialing or sms-ing on her mobile). In my book, a head-on collision occurred, but since she was turning right, and regardless the person in CTTR wasn't watching the road, and was speeding (60k in a residential area), Expat 2 got a hefty ticket, and the bill for a shitload of auto damage. 3) Expat 3, ditto of Expat 1, even in the same frickin' intersection. Ticket to Expat 3. Fortunately, no one was hurt in these accidents. Just pissed. (American pissed, not British-otherwise there'd be some DUI action going on!)

Back to the yield. The above applies always, unless there's this stupid yellow and white diamond sign, one that is beyond normal graphical comprehension.

And lastly, here's a few notes from Wikitravel: Estimate double time used and double tiredness comparing to driving in countries like Germany or France.
Poles drive aggressively and with little or no regard to speed limits. Scenes seen on the Polish roads are sometimes described as shocking by the foreigners not accustomed to the way locals handle their machines. Drunk driving is also a big problem, despite heavy penalties. Overall, Poland has a higher index of deaths on the roads than many European countries.


Good times. Good times.

Well, lets add some spice to the mix and make it even crazier!

Over the last few years there have been a string of startling events in the news, regarding ambulance drivers in Lodz purposefully letting their patients die, or even adding lethal injections, in order to cash in on a little mortuary scam. Anyone ready for a Polish car accident yet?

So, finally, my dream:

I was driving our car along Warsaw's streets, on a moist day, almost reminiscient of a Seattle (insert any day of week here). I was driving on the wide Sluzew loop road that links Wilanow with Ursynow. The dream was of my view while driving and as the future events unfolded, the view changed from behind and above the car.

I'm doing about 60-70KPH, as are the cars around me. Jackass #1 comes barreling in on my left at twice the speed and cuts in front of me, just as Jackass #2 is pulling in from the road on the right (see above). Needless to say, it was suddenly a Hollywood style scene, with my car and yours truly rocketing up and spinning through the air, already a mangled piece of metal.

I awoke upon the next impact with one of the cars and I must have been in obvious freakout mode, as our little Polish cat, Dudek, came rushing to my rescue to soothe my nerves.

Was I looking forward to driving my girlfriend's mother to the airport in 2 hours during rush hour traffic after all this. On the same road?

I think not.

But this time I survived to tell the tale.

Poland’s peculiarities

I think we’ve pretty much agreed that Poland is a country that provokes extreme opinions. But why?

I’ve noticed loads of little things that I haven’t come across before in the UK, Germany or Belgium. My theory is that if we start a list of random observations and gather them all together, those people outside of Poland reading this will have a better idea of what we’re dealing with.

These are in no particular order, good bad and ugly all mixed up together:

  • People fall over themselves to give up their tram or bus seat to other people, especially the elderly.
  • Despite the strong Catholicism and high church attendance, the busiest places on a Sunday are the shopping malls, which are everywhere.
  • If you walk around the streets of Warsaw with a black person, people openly stare. With their mouths gaping.
  • Polish men have manners. Doors are opened, coats are helped on and I know I should be outraged, but it’s kind of sweet.
  • Polish food is a mix of mouth-wateringly delicious dishes, soup and too much offal.
  • If you try and watch an English-language (or other foreign language) film on Polish television, you will have to put up with a monotonous Polish man translating everything over the original with little or no emotion.

There are more… somebody help me out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Great Morski Oko Park Dog Poisoner Mystery

A rumour is spreading among pet owners who walk their dogs in a Mokotow park that someone is trying to murder our furry friends.

Dog owners in Mokotow - including myself - are living in fear. The rumour says that four mutts have been poisoned while going for walkies in Morski Oko Park, which lies between ul Marszalkowska and Belwederska.

The dogs are being poisoned, the gossip goes, by a man who is lacing salmon, or other raw fish, with rat poison, and then leaving it in the park, waiting for an unsuspecting pooch to gobble it up.

And it’s the last meal they ever have.

I have been able to ascertain through my investigations (this is a true story!) that at least one dog has died this way. One dog owner told us that she was out with her two pets in Morski Oko Park a few weeks ago. All was well until they got home. Then, both dogs started being violently sick. Some hours later one of them died.

So just who is doing this? Is there a dog-hating psychopath on the loose in the park? And what of the other three dogs? Is this true, or just a version of Chinese whispers?

My theory is that this is, in actual fact, more like Japanese whispers. Raw salmon – when it is wrapped up in seaweed and rice – is otherwise known as Sushi! For a long while I have been certain that nobody actually likes sushi – they just pretend to because it’s trendy. In reality, most do what I do when I put one of those nasty fishy things in my mouth: they want to spit it back out again immediately.

So what I think is happening is this. Business people are going to sushi restaurants and are not eating the fish, but are putting it discreetly in bags (doggy bags?) and then taking it outside and dumping the horrid stuff in the street.

Or, in the park!

Dogs are then coming upon the stuff and eating it.

The result is that they are sick as a dog, and what waits them is a long, slow death at the hands of sushi.

This is a true story, and if you have heard anything similar, then please let us dog walkers of Morski Oko know. It’s a matter of life and death!!!

This is the back of my college diploma


The front side is just as wrinkled, creased, and crinkled.

As long as we're discussing Poland's less fine points, please allow me a cathardic howl over what recently befell this poor, innocent document, which understandably has a great amount of symbolic value for me.

As you may or may not know, arranging to live and work in Poland is a long, hard, nervewracking slog. To get a residence permit you need a work permit, but to get a work permit you need a residence permit. Each requires a significant sum of cash and hours of inconvenient line-waiting in drab offices packed with people crowding onto too-small benches. They also require piles of documents, pictures, stamps, signatures, notices, statements, permissions and so forth. What is required varies significantly from year to year, but there is always more, and whatever it is, it's harder to get.

As of November 1, 2005 one of these additional requirements came into effect. According to the regulation, what had previously been enough to satisfy the Ministry of Immigrant Affairs that you were educated - a signed, notarized translation of your diploma - was no longer enough. Now, it is required that each foreigner present his actual document - along with the signed, notarized translation - and a transcript from the school. These documents are then transferred to the Ministry of Education (which has nowhere near the capacity to handle such a job), where they will be evaluated and "adjusted" to the equivalent Polish degrees. Thus, a "Master's" degree in the States would most likely be adjusted to "Magister" in Poland.

My application for the renewal of my residence permit was due on November 4 - I got roped into this rule by three days.

So. Mom has to send the diploma from home, right?

No problem. Mom is a very dependable woman. She got the document in the mail virtually the next day (so as not to risk losing any more time), and even sent it priority with "Do not bend" stamped all over the bloody thing.

This is what I found in my mailbox last Monday:



There are shoe prints on the other side of the envelope you see above.

Of course, it wasn't laid out all flat like that - my mailbox is half that size. Instead it was folded - and I don't mean "gently rolled" folded, I mean creased and bent flat right down the middle. (It really is, though it's difficult to see in the first picture.)

This vandalism did not happen in the US, or in transit. It happened in that Polish mailman's hands. He could have brought this large envelope up to our door (we're on the fourth floor - there's an elevator) and at least attempted to deliver it in person. If he had, he would have found my girlfriend waiting there to receive it. She had a day off and was in the apartment when the mail was deliviered.

Instead, he pretended that he didn't understand "Do Not Bend" stamped five times on the envelope ("Do Not Bend" is global mail speak), and that whatever this was in this special priority envelope was surely not important enough to be kept flat that he must trudge all the way over to the elevator a meter away, travel up to the fourth floor, and knock on the door.

And hence, last Monday, I found my creased and crinkled diploma - a document I had studied four years to attain, a document which probably represents my life's greatest achievement so far (*sigh*), a document which most people have framed and hung on their office walls - smashed into my mailbox like a candy wrapper into an overfull garbage pail.

I will never be able to replace it, really. I could ask my college to send me another, but it certainly wouldn't be the same - the man who was President of my college and signed my diploma has moved onto another school. I don't know what the dating policy would be either. And to be honest, I'm not sure my college would even allow me to replace it.

I know. It's just a piece of paper. But damn it, that piece of paper represents my life in a way, and they trampled on it, crushed it and ruined it.

And all I was trying to do was follow the rules.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I'm the yo-yo at the end of Poland's string

I was born in Poland, but it does annoy me at times. I read Aaron's post (below) and I laughed in agreement: the customs, the salesclerks, the unbending rules, the post office, etc... all serve to annoy me. But I keep coming back.

I was born here, lived here for the first 12 years of my life. Then, at the age of 25, I came back for two years. I loved it, I hated it and then I loved it some more. After three years in the UK, I came back (this time with my new British husband) to love and hate some more. I cannot help it: it keeps calling me back.

I truly am the yo-yo at the end of Poland's string.

The first question

Whenever I meet a new Polish person, I'm always asked the same question: "So, what do you think about Poland?"

Without fail. Every time.

And I never feel totally comfortable when asked this question. It seems that they either want me to bury the country in compliments or to reinforce some American stereotype by saying that I don't like everything here. What's a man to do!? I'm either a total dope or I'm "just not willing to integrate."

I normally just shrug the question off with a reference to nice beer and unfriendly sales clerks. That's usually enough to placate my interlocutor. But those with the sixth sense have the ability to see through my veneer of indifference into my true thoughts.

I'll be honest. Poland drives me nuts.

The politics, the people, the customs...they all drive me to distraction. I'll expound on this later. But I do like Poland at times. Mostly from 9:00 PM until 5:00 AM. During these 8 hours, Poland is hard to beat.

In true P3 style, this post was written after bending the elbows at a local pub. Polish beer--whew--is always good.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Pijemy Po Polsku - About

(pee-YEH-muh po POL-skoo) "We drink in the Polish style"

This blog was founded by an enlightened group of intellectuals - mostly expatriate-immigrants to the wondrous, fascinating, and blood-boilingly infuriating country of Poland: The beatroot, Becca, Filip and Agnes (a native), and Gustav, though we hope others will join.

As the election season in Poland heated up in the autumn of 2005, an interesting thing began to happen. Expat bloggers in Poland who had never come into blog-contact before began discovering each other's existence. Heady days, those were. A flurry of blog-activity ensued. It wasn't long before Poland bloggers in Warsaw began contacting each other and decided to meet over - what else - but a few delicious Polish beers (piwa). At the first meeting the beatroot and Gustav got together, and got along so well that we met again the next week, when Becca joined in. Filip and Agnes were soon to follow, as they were sitting nearby, heard us debating, and were eager to participate. A tradition was born. We named our movement "Pijemy Po Polsku" - We drink in the Polish style.

Our aim? What's in an aim? We have no aim - except perhaps to give our perspective, for what it's worth. Not everybody is an expatriate in Poland, so we think we might have an interesting point of view to offer. We would also like to generate discussion. We have learned what an effective conduit for creating, discussing and challenging ideas blogging is through our own personal blogs, and believe that a collective effort could be especially effective in doing so. We believe creating, discussing and challenging ideas exercises our minds and enriches us.

So here we go! Na zdrowie!