Broad Brush Strokes: Thoughts after a monthish in Poland

I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but when I first get to a new country, my brain immediately seizes upon my first impressions and makes a big deal of it. My hostel in Germany had huge pillows and I thought “wow everyone in Germany must have big pillows.” (Actually after talking to a German friend, this might actually be true, but if so it’s definitely a broken clock right twice a day kind of scenario.

Therefore it goes without saying that these are just my initial impressions of Poland, more specifically, of Warsaw. Furthermore I have spent most of my time teaching online or walking alone so I’m not pretending to have gained a lifetime of knowledge, just acknowledging that there’s merit to first impressions as well.

It seems like people are chill. I’ve seen people get all of their groceries scanned, check their phones, write a text, put their phone away, take out their wallet, count out enough change to pay, and then leave. This can take 3-5 minutes more than necessary but no one seems visibly annoyed. The check-out lines are always quite long though.

Most people (in Warsaw) speak English well. As is often the case with countries where one language is dominant, I think many are quite shy to speak because they know their English is not perfect. But I’ve been surprised at how fluent people in the shops and my students are.

Polish people tend to be quite attractive. Again with the generalizations, but the tall, broad-shouldered, bearded men look like they could all live in Winterfell and one-in-three women looks like a supermodel.

Nobody jaywalks. Even late at night, with no visible cars, just about everyone waits for the green man to inform it’s okay to cross.

Sundays are not fun days. So it turns out that in Europe many stores are closed on Sundays. This is great from a worker’s perspective, but as a traveler it can come as a big surprise and a bit of an inconvenience.

The Green Frog Rules. I always thought East Asia was unparalleled in terms of convenience stores, but there are more than 8000 Żabka stores in Poland Of course, there are 14,000 GS25s in South Korea, but a third of Poland’s population now lives within 300 meters of a Żabka store. Most are closed on Sundays, but the chain has enacted some sneaky measures to stay open. There’s another chain named after ladybugs (Biedronka) but it’s more of a proper grocery store.

Poles, like many Slavic speakers, like many Eastern bloc nations, have a reputation for being unfriendly. I think the very notion is bs since the very question of what’s rude or not is based on a set of cultural expectations. But anyway even using western norms, people here in my experience are generally quite friendly and happy to help.

It is easy being green. With the possible exception of Melbourne, I can’t think of another city so stuffed full of parks and green spaces. I’ve been to at least a score of parks and there are plenty more to see. There are lots of running trails throughout the city as well.

Public transportation is a bit shit. There are busses and subways and trams a plenty, but it’s a bit hard to figure it all out. When you buy a ticket, it is different based on how many zones you are going but it’s not clear where the zones are demarcated. You can also buy a 20 minute ticket, but it’s not clear (to me anyway) if that includes waiting time or just time on the subway.

Wegański Supreme. I’m staying about an hour out of the city, somewhat close to the airport and at all the Żabka and Biedronka around me have vegan meats and spreads and yogurts and of course fresh fruits and veggies.

Cool cool summer. People complain about the summers but honestly I find it to be pretty great. Often it will get to 30 degrees (90s F) but it cools off at night and it’s not too humid.

I’ll add more if anything else occurs to me. Have you been to Poland? What did you think?

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