The other Warsaw

Any long-term Warsaw resident knows that this city is strangely transformed in the summer months. They will find themselves, as we did the other day, looking around and saying “who are all these people”? You suddenly become a stranger in your own city, surrounded by people who were not there before. It’s as if every “normal” citizen of the city has been sucked up by a giant vacuum cleaner and been replaced by a bunch of strangers. It’s not only the people wandering about but the workers too. You go into your usual shops and suddenly everything is a bit more complicated because the regular sales people have been replaced by summer workers, students and the like. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the summer workers had received a minimum amount of training but they haven’t got a clue. Shops and businesses just drag students off the street and tell them to get on with it while all the normal staff swan off for two months holiday. It’s a bloody disaster!

warsawnormal

Warsaw residents, Oct – May

Obviously, I don’t know everyone in Warsaw so it’s hard to provide strong evidence of the vacuum cleaner theory but if you live somewhere long enough you get a kind of subconscious feel for the place. You become in tune with the vibes a city gives off and you can tell when something’s not right. The population transplant is most noticeable in the shopping centres. M & I were sitting in the Arkadia food court not enjoying some nasty food when had our moment of revelation. We were surrounded by people we didn’t recognise, people who don’t come to Arkadia at any other time of year. I’m not talking about tourists here, they are also summer strangers but they are easily spotted by the disappointed looks on their faces, the white sneakers, the loud voices and the way they move around like a cloud of mosquitoes. These are regular Poles but ones who normally live somewhere else.

warsawzombie

Warsaw residents, June – Sept

There are two schools of thought:

1/ The strangers have actually been here all the time but they were just not visible amongst all the normal people. Now the normal people have left the city, the strangers stand out.

2/ There is a conspiracy by all the shops and businesses in Warsaw to keep sales up during the summer months by shipping in farmers and other country yokels to replace the missing Warsaw citizens. In the dead of the night private trains and coaches bring hundreds of thousands of people from Poland’s villages to the city tempted by the opportunity to take advantage of the summer sales (nawet do 60%!) and take a picture (using the mobile) of Jacek standing in front of the Palace of Culture.

Our money is on the second option. We have seen more than one farmer’s wife in recent weeks.

POLANDIAN would like to point out that, despite comments in this post and earlier disparaging remarks about the countryside,  it really does quite like farmers and their families. We’re sure they are all very nice people who deserve to visit Warsaw as much as anyone does.

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18 thoughts on “The other Warsaw

  1. White sneakers… I forgot to get a pair to go with my beret.
    Good observation, Scatts. You’ve found the division in our society. The Liceum and Uni crowd versus Zawodówka crowd.
    I’ve just located a primary school friend a month ago. He was very surprized at this contact. He said something about two nations meeting – that’s how deep the split is.
    I think that we have succeeded with the wieś, where schools are often better than in cities, but failed with Zawodówka. For 60+20 years they’ve been getting the worse teachers, even considering how bad the liceum teachers are. Too few teachers against rowdy teenagers, it ends up with a bucket on the head. It will have to be addressed, before the split becomes a class society like you know.

  2. During the summer “village-Poles” go to the cities to make money and sell their “truskawki”. And “city-Poles” go to the villages on vacation…

  3. I was hoping for something a little more controversial Scatts, it,s no fun unless it,s enough to get Pawel to comment. That,s when you know you have stirred the hornet,s nest. Looking forward to your next piece…..

  4. scatts – it is always Wieslaw not Jacek at the palace of non-culture

    However the most important element of the summer season is the lack of traffic on the roads around Gothamski City – it makes it seem like a normal place to move around in – I vote to give everybody enough additional vacation days to keep the traffic levels at the rate they are at right now!

  5. DC – interesting perspective and on that basis I’d say the village people should bask in their satellites and do their shopping via the internet thus removing the need to visit Warsaw! ;)

  6. Once upon a time there was two modern Warszawiaki on a bus, ranting about how the City is flooded with country yokels these days. And an old Warszawska babcia overheard them and said loudly: ‘co pan, my tu wszyscy ze wsi’.
    Warschau war zerstoert.
    All the people who live there now come from somewhere else.

    But I guess that I understand more now. The ‘looking down at yokels and berets’ is not about sucking up to the West. West is like that as well. You need to run faster than the crowd before they call you a yokel, too.

    Hmm.
    Do you even know that the mieszczanie are not the second stan in hierarchy? They are not country people at all, so they fall behind chłopi.

  7. steven, actually this post was designed for me to comment;), as Scatts knows I’m one of those holiday Varsavians – having come to Warsaw for a staż LOL

    Just to comment on some issues raised in the comments: In 1989 80% of Poles had basic or vocational education. Most of us are only first or second generation urban people. There is nothing wrong with that. Just look how far we got from our grandmothers and grandfathers most of whom were subject to nearly-feudal conditions of the interbellum. Who worked for dziedzic, lived in czworaki and had nothing. That’s the case of my grandparents.

  8. I make a point of never standing in front of the Patyk, just in case.

    The common theory among my friends and relatives is that it’s the immigrants who leave the town in the summer, so that only the native population remains. Given how the native population has basically grown up living in a huge graveyard, I’m not surprised we bear certain similarities to zombies. :-)

  9. Ania,

    This is very true, there are very few pure Warszawians in this town. My wife is one and I have one other working in my team but almost everyone else is from some other town and ended up in Warsaw for study/work and has not left.

    Even so, these “not quite” Warsaw people are counted by my subconscious as being normal Warsaw people. The summer visitors are different even to these longer-term imports.

    Not sure I understand the rest. I’m not really trying to “look down” on yokels, just noticing that they are different – i.e. they are yokels and not regular Warsaw dwellers.

    Paweł is a strange case as he is one of the strangers but he’s not a yokel. He’s a Torunokel!

  10. Every Friday afternoon exodus = Warszawa jedzie do domu! And then I can finally park my car stress free. Someone told me less than 1 out of 6 Varsovians has more than two generations roots in Warsaw. We all know why and unfortunately this has left a city that rarely knows its neighbor and only cares for itself (unlike people in Krakow or Poznan who have much deeper roots in general). But this is ok and similar behavior could be found in other major cities where many migrate to like NYC, LA, London. Berlin (the other phoenix city) is a great example.

  11. Berlin is different. In Berlin there are still millions of “old Berliners”. They have a typical Berliner accent and (very direct)character. It is called the “Berliner Schnauze”.

  12. There were many old Warszawiaks in the place where I grew up, and there was such an old Warsaw atmosphere. The accent et al. But I moved out to live on my own and now the parking in front of my building gets empty every weekend. It’s not even that people go for holidays. They go to stay with their families. They might leave their kids there for two months and visit them in the meantime.

    I don’t mind migration, but I’d like people integrate more. Their children will though, since integration comes via culture – theatres, concerts etc. So it’s just a matter of time.

    The meta-urban thing in Poland is more than just being born in a town or not. Some smaller towns may get the label of village, while no góral would be called a village man. It’s more a matter of the language one speaks, self-confidence, culture et al.

  13. In a way I think this is a strength of Warsaw. Today I think it acts as a beacon for Poles of lower economic status to come seek their fortune in the “big city”. It has provided a better life for tens of thousands of Poles. For me this is dynamism is what makes Warsaw attractive. If you are seeking big city charm, old neighbourhoods, and deep rooted city history then Warsaw is not the place, rather Krakow, Poznan, or Lublin.

  14. Morever even if one is, say, third or fourth urban generation then the city he lives in is different than his great grandparents used to know. Warsaw subway (the only one in Poland) is just 14 years old. Same goes to fast foods, supermarkets, shopping malls and multiplex cinemas. Naturally they all emerged in big cities, slowly invading other regions. Throw in “mcdonald’s” at Google maps and compare Poland an Germany. It’s not the coolest “restaurant” on Earth, but I think it may serve as a kind of index. I guess that most people in Poland do not have the opportunity of feeling at home in large shopping malls (there are less malls than “mcdos”).

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