A few months ago I had the pleasure to be interviewed by Steven Toaddy – a charming and intelligent PhD student from Louisiana Tech University who writes for an academic magazine called the I-opener. The topic of the interview was teleworking; a subject I (am supposed to!) have some knowledge about. The interview can be read here if it interests anyone:
Last weekend’s post on my initial impressions of Poland seems to have interested some people, and, as I reflected further, I realized that I wasn’t quite finished! So, with the caveats that I made in the last post, here are some more impressions of this wonderful country:
5/ There is great respect for education in Poland
This is something that was alluded to in the comments section of the last post and that a colleague at Cardiff University once said to me, and I have to say that this is also my impression. Books seem to be diffused throughout Polish society and lots of people seem to place a very high value on education for themselves and for their children. Perhaps this is a symptom of a society where (until recently) educational opportunities have been traditionally limited for many people. My grandfather’s description of south Wales in the 1930s and 1940s (he remembers a Miners’ library that was always full) are similar in this regard for example. With today’s developed, consumerist society and the (welcome) increase in educational opportunities this is unfortunately something we seem to have lost in Britain however.
6/ Is/was there a domestic violence problem?
Over the years I have met lots of people from Poland (mainly emigrants around my age), and one thing I have noticed is that quite a few come from broken families. There are even some famous examples. Jakub Blaszczykowski, one of Poland’s best current footballers, as a child saw his father murder his mother for example. There are admittedly people/celebrities from broken families everywhere, but I raise this point for the reason that there seem to be good grounds for thinking this may well be more than just a mere impression. Divorce was in practice very difficult in Poland until recently, and the lower levels of economic development/prevalence of alcoholism amongst men means that Poles growing up in the 1980s may well have been more exposed to domestic violence than Western European kids growing up at the same time. I don’t have any data to back this point up, but it is an interesting reflection on how certain socio-economic factors can potentially combine toxically. It is also one of the reasons why I think religious objections to divorce are so terrible; often they merely perpetuate the misery of women and children.
7/ There is a comparatively egalitarian social structure
This is one of the only positive legacies of Communism, and is refreshing for someone disillusioned with a Britain that is increasingly split between the very poor and anti-social (the un-PC would call them ‘Chavs’) and the very rich. This seems to be changing as Poland gets richer, but for the moment this makes for a society that seems to function without some of Britain’s social problems (i.e. lack of trust, public binge-drinking, social isolation).
8/ Are lots of the people really miserable?
This is obviously the sort of thing that the average UKIP voter would assert, but this is an issue that is worth considering because many Polish people will claim that people in the country are generally negative and miserable! I have in fact met a few Poles who have been extremely savage about people in the country. I guess I would say it (I will after all walk down the aisle with one!), but this is generally not my impression of people here. Some people here are perhaps more reserved than in countries like Spain or Ireland, but one (admittedly quite obvious) thing that I have learnt in the course of my various travels is that there are nice people and not so nice people everywhere (perhaps with the exception of Paris and London – joke!). Accordingly I think that Polish people make up for occasional reserve in other ways…
9/ There is incredible interest in History
This is something I noticed very early on. Poland has obviously been the site of lots of notable (many extremely sad) historical events, and there is an incredible interest in the past that is evident throughout Polish society. Just to give you one example, in the newsagent next to the office where I work of the twenty or so magazines on sale (most of which are admittedly crossword/gossip magazines) three are History magazines. There are also lots of museums and TV/radio programmes that concern History in Poland. This may also amaze some people (it did me), but the most famous living historian of Poland is actually Welsh. Norman Davies (an Oxford historian who speaks Polish fluently and has written some classics on Polish history) is a household name here despite the fact he is far less well-known in Britain. Aren’t the Welsh a talented lot 😉
10/ And equal opportunities?
In many respects this is one area of Polish society that I’m not so keen on. When there is a debate on LGBT rights it is completely normal for raving, sexually repressed priests to come on Polish TV and call homosexuals paedophiles, pedal (best translation is ‘faggot’) and Bolsheviks. This is shocking and very offensive to someone used to liberal British culture. Another thing I notice is that it is common even amongst liberal, well-educated Poles to express frank hostility towards Islam and the capacity of Muslims to integrate into Western society. In fairness this is something many liberal Brits think (but don’t say), and it is at least true that Islam is undergoing something of a crisis in its relations with the West. When this spills over into racist stereotypes (i.e. the belief that all Muslims support terrorism), obviously this is unacceptable and very offensive too however.
Comments welcome as ever. Finally do not come to Poland if you are hoping to lose weight 😉