Well, it depends what day it is really! Some days it’s brilliant and some days it’s extremely hard.
Poland is definitely not an easy country to assimilate into, it has one of the hardest languages in the world to learn and a very proud & traditional culture. But it offers a very diverse environment and on the whole the people are very friendly and welcoming.
Some things are relatively easy, like food shopping, as you just look at the pictures on the packages but if you need to know what’s in your food (due to allergies etc) then you need to learn at least the basics. I have a severe nut allergy and have had to learn what the Polish words are for various types of nuts. Luckily, they are easier words and I’ve only ended up in hospital once so far!
One of the things I struggle with the most is the lack of driving standards. Whenever you drive here, it’s almost like you have entered some unpublished race on the public roads. Everyone must be front of you and has to go as fast as possible, even if they then slam on the brakes and turn 100 meters later. I drive a Ford Focus diesel, not a Ferrari, but that’s not going to stop the 80 year old guy in his aging Fiat 126p sitting inches from my bumper expecting me to drive at 200kph round this hairpin bend. He will then overtake me just before the bend, with no thought that something may come the other way round that corner at any moment.
Some other things that are just frustrating are, in no particular order; people do not walk in a straight line even though perfectly sober, there is still a huge amount of bureaucracy especially in public offices, the Office for Foreigners does not actually employ anyone that speaks a foreign language, I’m not allowed to cut my grass on a Sunday, and although I can be reported to the Police if I talk too loud after 10pm I cannot do anything about the barking dog that woke me up at 4:30am this morning!
Anyway, that’s enough ranting for today and now onto the good stuff! If you like food, you will love Poland. The quality and freshness of the food is great, and if you get invited to a Polish house for dinner, you will not leave hungry I promise! The pierogi are little parcels of awesomeness and really simple to cook, the soups are really good and the fresh bread is something else. In the UK we class a plastic tasting square as a slice of bread and I’m sorry but the Poles have totally got us beat there! The bread is always freshly cooked, and if there is a public holiday coming up, you’d better stock up in advance!
The kielbasa took me a while to get used to as they have a much stronger flavour than I’m used to, and I do miss the traditional Christmas turkey which is substituted for carp in Poland. I can assure you that carp tastes nasty unless you enjoy the taste of dirt. Even though it was probably swimming around in the bath-tub earlier that morning and is totally fresh. Live carp are sold at Tesco and seeing them on the little conveyor belt, flapping around is slightly disconcerting to say the least!
One of the other benefits that I enjoy about living here is the diverse countryside. I can spend an hour cycling and travel through pine forests, swamps, sandy desert-like areas and oak forests, all within 94 hectares of Niepolomice forest.
photo by Matt Sutton
Go a bit further afield and within an hour or two, you can be deep within the High Tatra mountains, on the border with Slovakia, or you could be walking along a limestone valley or even in the middle of Central Europe’s largest desert.
photo by Matt Sutton
Most of Europe is within easy reach of Krakow, I’ve driven to Prague in 6 hours, will be visiting Berlin later this year and the journey will take around 8 hours and Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia plus many more are within easy reach.
photo by Matt Sutton
The other selling point is that my quality of life here is much better than it would ever have been if I had returned to the UK after my initial 9 month contract. In the UK I was spending around 35% of my monthly salary on rent, in Poland it’s closer to 10%. I’ve also been able to actually buy a house here, which is something I would have never been able to do in the UK. I have much more disposable income here and that allows me to properly enjoy the things I like.
Reading back through this post, I can’t help but feel that I’m not doing a great job of selling Poland, but it’s easier and funnier to write about the bad stuff! The fact is, that Poland is a great country as long as you set your expectations correctly. All the things that really matter, the people, the environment, the food are excellent and well worth coming here for. It’s for these reasons that I’ve made it my home and still enjoy living here. You always have to take the good with the bad, no matter where you live, but in Poland, the good easily outweighs the bad!