Irish Winters temperatures dip to -5°C at worst, so -30°C was quite a shock to the system, add in half a metre of snow and it was a cold introduction to my sojourn. Weather and temperature weren’t the only changes I had to get used to.
Coming from a country where talking is the main hobby, my first impression was that the people don’t talk much and seem very gloomy. On the trams and buses were hundreds of people but you could hear a pin drop, most were staring out the window, lost in their dream, more were sleeping and I felt like I had arrived into a different realm.
Granted, things are much lighter in the spring and summer months, when the weather is better and the days are longer. Not as long as they could be though, still don’t understand why in summer the sun’s up at 4am and it’s dark at 10pm. Firstly it’s a waste of energy and secondly I personally loved walking at 11pm in mid-Summer when I lived at home. I believe it’s because everything in Warsaw is organised to get the most work from the minions, even the time zone is set so as to get them to bed early, fresh and ready for “The Work”.
I am open, maybe too open; an Irish person can sit beside a total stranger and unload their life story to them during the bus ride home. It’s the opposite here, wow, secretive is an understatement, suspicion is rife, my Polish friends tell me it’s debris from the communist era, where neighbor snitched on neighbor. My first taste of this suspicion was when I was having a stroll one sunny spring afternoon near the capital. I noticed a logo on the side of the street, connected with tiles if my memory serves me. I took a photo to record the phone number and website etc. Just as I was about to leave I noticed 3 men running towards me, they were shouting. I stopped even though I felt like running away.
They were pissed off because I took a photo, they demanded I deleted the photo, I have to say I was shocked by the whole experience, seemingly they were afraid I was casing the joint, they had had some robberies in the recent past.
All ended well when they realized I was from a different land with a different ethos, handshakes and warm farewells followed. I learnt my lesson though, I remember thinking “you’re in a different programme now Son”.
Security is so in your face here, it drives me nuts, I remember playing hide and seek with one security guy who insisted on standing at my shoulder in the local supermarket a couple of years back. I lost him after a few minutes and then started playing with him, hiding behind the Cornflakes and ducking behind the spuds. I had a bit of playful fun from an annoying situation. So after all the above:
Because I can relate to their fear and all the sadness, suspicion, cynicism and vulnerability related to fear. That was the instant attraction, the Poles are the polar opposite of the Irish. Now of course I am speaking generally here and I am not painting all Poles and Irish with the same brush. But we Irish can come across as over confident and even arrogant, especially during the Celtic Tiger epoch, when we completely lost the run of ourselves. While the Poles always seem to underplay themselves and their country. I really like modesty and humility in people, in my view these are two of the best characteristics in any person.
Polish people are always surprised and amazed when you say something positive about them or Poland, they think you are pulling their leg and are looking for something from them. If you tell an Irish person something positive, it’s a matter of fact, we believe we are the best at everything. We are good at many things and undoubtedly box above our weight in many areas but we can be conceited sometimes. Which was one trait that led to our great fall from grace and the current situation at home.
Anyway I am settled here in Warsaw for the foreseeable future and look forward to writing about my observations and thoughts on life here and in general. There is always plenty to muse about in this fear filled and fearsome world we live in. Stay happy!
Anthony Kehoe is an Irish expat currently living in Warsaw, Poland. An English native speaker, he is a regular contributor for a number of magazines.
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