Time for more character insinuation. Observations of the Polish character. Some of them relatively new or recently reinforced, others very old but all have been openly discussed with a variety of Poles who, for the most part, agree with me. Those who don’t agree with me, tend to disagree with anything bad being said about Poles by any foreigner. Fair enough.
- At close range the Poles are much nicer people than anyone I’ve met. A very strong sense of family makes for a much more intense family unit than I am used to. For the most part this is a good thing as families here can be strong, open and highly supportive although it can on occasion go the wrong way. Poles make for very good friends, never short on ideas for things to do, always up for a bit of a laugh and also very supportive of their mates. Polish hospitality towards family, friends or just guests is the stuff of legend and quite rightly so. I’ve never known other people go to quite the same lengths to make people feel welcome, and overstuffed!
- Poles are generally very intelligent and always eager to learn more. Whilst their formal education is certainly above average (I don’t think I know a Pole without at least a masters degree!) most people realise that their “real-life” experience, in a business sense if not others, needs improving and they are very eager to work on that. Most are hard working within their allotted scope and hours but going beyond that, for free, is still not to be taken for granted, as it might be in the US or UK for example. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.
- Poles tend to be very caring people, especially with children, but really anyone close to them who displays any sign of not being quite 100% is going to be fussed over until it’s sorted out. Of course, the hypochondriac nature will mean that a headache is brain cancer and a slight cough is pneumonia but better that way than not caring at all. The caring is coupled with an openness and eagerness to discuss all other problems, not of a physical nature. Amateur psychoanalysis is a national pastime and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Poland is the EU champion of tea-leaf or goats intestine reading along with tarot cards and other ways of finding out what’s going on in people’s heads.
- The Poles are masters of looking smart on a shoestring budget. To see a badly dressed Pole is unusual and out of necessity they are masters of finding ways to do this without having to resort to Gucci-Falluci shops and prices. I am always shocked at my mother-in-law’s ability to show us an entire wardrobe she just picked up in a market somewhere for 50 zloty!
- Poles are clean people who live in clean cities in a clean country.
- Poles, older ones at least although it has been passed on, take resourcefulness and prudence to levels other countries can only dream of (or laugh at, if that’s the way they feel). They can make meals for a week from what at first appearance seems to be an empty fridge. They can live quite happily on what people in most countries would throw away. There is no need for special dumps or recycling centres because the recycling happens naturally at a grass-roots level. Latest example here was our new bed. I took the old frame to pieces and placed them in the basement rubbish room. Before I could return with the mattress, the frame had vanished!
- Poles believe in exercising their rights even at the expense, danger or inconvenience of others. This is deep rooted and comes out in many different ways in normal daily life. I’m not just talking about their right to vote or to bear arms or something, I mean everything they see as “their right”, which often extends into areas that others might not feel is a right at all. A small but very recent example from home is the “komorki affair”. Most apartments have small rooms in the basement in which you can store all your ‘junk’. This apartment has two parking spaces and therefore two ‘komorki’ when we moved in to this apartment the owner gave us the keys to komorki numbers 147 and 148. We used these for a number of years then suddenly one day we found we were locked out of 148. Someone had removed the door and changed the lock! Without bothering to try and find us and talk about it, of course. We eventually traced the culprit who was the new owner of apartment C2 and apparently was the legal owner of komorka 148 with an “akt notarialny” to prove it. He (lets call him “that miserable bastard downstairs”) rather reluctantly agreed to unlock the door so we could remove our stuff and went in search of the komorka we were supposed to have. The obvious choice was the one with our apartment number on the door ( komorka 159) so we approached the person who was using that. He said it was hard to empty his one as it had special shelving and perhaps we could use the adjacent one which was also his (and leaked!). Having nothing special to move in we agreed and since then were using komorki 147 and 159a. Just a couple of weeks ago now, I was accosted in the basement while getting Zosia in the car to take to school by a woman claiming to be the employee of the owner of apartment C1 who wanted their komorka number 159a returning immediately! I’m afraid I reacted badly. Bear in mind that this owner is the same tosspot who told us we could use the leaky one and now that it has been fixed (and I have fitted a nice new door) wants it back. This went on for quite some time with both the owner and administration ganging up on me, waving akt notarialny’s in my face and sticking notices on the komorka door and the apartment door. It is subsequently resolved to the point that when I have access to komorka 149 (for which I have an akt notarialny) I shall be moving from 159a. The point, as regards this post, is that at NO POINT in all this did anyone care, or even think, about what I was supposed to do with the stuff we have in 159a. For all they care it could be thrown in the street just as long as they get what they are entitled to have, their “right”. When it comes to exercising a right, there is no quarter given, it is my right and who cares about you!
- Another example of Poles not caring about other people is the almost total lack of respect shown towards ‘strangers’ in everyday life. If you happen to be just one of the masses, not family, not a friend, you can quite simply go to hell. This also shows itself very often, the most common being things like the whole pushing in queues thing, but generally, being able to get your hands on something at the expense of a stranger makes Poles feel good. On the roads, the most obvious example is the blocking of junctions. At busy times here in Warsaw, most of the traffic delays are caused by people who just follow the queue in front of them but end up stranded in the middle of the junction blocking all the traffic going the other way. Buses, trams, cars, they all do it. I used to think this was just bad driving, I’m now convinced it is because they absolutely don’t give a shit about anyone wanting to drive the other way. They will keep their place in their queue and give not a second of thought to who they might be inconveniencing in the process. It’s not illegal, so screw you!
- I realise that something of a trend is developing here, but the next bad point also involves not giving a shit about other people. Poles have turned blaming other people into an art form! I would need a supercomputer to calculate the number of times I’ve heard excuses as to why something has gone wrong with blame being firmly placed on someone else. I can count on one hand the number of times a Pole has said “I made a mistake, I’m sorry”. Taking responsibility is not something Poles like to do, certainly at work. I know football is a bad example but just look at it – Podolski’s a traitor, the English ref cheated us….this is not just confined to football, this is normal life. One of the main considerations in a Pole’s thought process before embarking on something is “If it goes wrong, who can I blame”.
- Whoever coined the phrase “Stubborn as an ass” had never visited Poland otherwise it would have been “Stubborn as a Pole”. There are times, many times, when it really doesn’t matter how much glaringly obvious evidence and truth you have on your side, the Polish person you are trying to convince is just going to dig their heels in and deny it all. This is most obvious if the truth involves them having done something wrong, of course.
- I don’t really have much ‘otherwise’ but there is one thing that intrigues me. Guest writer, Richard Harradine-Robinson, recently wrote of Poland being paradoxical. Take a look at the above lists, the caring nature of the good list and the total opposite of the bad list, a contradictory nature if ever I saw one. What I have not been able to establish is exactly where the line is drawn between someone to care for and someone to screw because it does seem on the evidence I have that there is little in-between. Coming from England, where all citizens are somewhere in-between those extremes, makes this a puzzle worth worrying over. I got to thinking about people in the street asking for directions, this happens a lot at work thanks to terrible signposting of the entrance to Zlote Tarasy shopping centre versus offices and I have been a keen observer of the Polish reactions. In this situation, everybody is a stranger and should therefore be given the finger and told to find it themselves. Quite often they are, not the finger, but they are either ignored, told “I don’t know” or just brushed aside like the trash that they are. However, there are other people who get a lot of help, more than you might expect. What criteria are being used here to distinguish those strangers who should be helped from those who should be ignored? Is this just a tendency to help those strangers who are genuinely in trouble? Get run down by a tram, or a car and you won’t be short of people helping (and watching) no matter how much of a stranger you are so there are limits. But outside of emergency situations, is it a case of if people look like foreigners they are helped and if they look like Poles they are not? I wonder.
All of this is just the product of my own observations. Your mileage may well vary.