Many people ask me how the heck did I end up in Poland, after coming to Germany to do my masters. Simple: because I could choose to. My master was an Erasmus Mundus one, meaning I could have my diploma issued by different universities in the same consortium, if I chose to do at least a semester abroad.
The options were not that many, but they were interesting…Belgium, Denmark, Austria, Poland. I asked myself: which one is, to me, the most different, and therefore the most terrifying to move to? Poland. I knew nothing about Poland. So…it was a no brainer for a crazy one like me.
The experience was surprising, to say the least. I fell in love with Wroclaw, with the food, with the people. I realized that the Poles were not that different from Brazilians in many aspects, and that made me feel right at home.
So, today, I´m happy to share with you some habits that I find to be very polish! With Poland, we end our series of “five very (nationality) things!”, unfortunately!
THE DUBBING OF THE MOVIES IS…DIFFERENT
Since I was living in Germany before, and Wroclaw is only a few hours away from the German eastern boarder, I took the bus there with all of my luggage. Brave and necessary, because I was on a student budget. About 20 minutes after departure, I was feeling cozy with my book when a movie started on the old tv. Hmm, let´s see, maybe it´s interesting! It was actually a movie I like very much: Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray. I closed my book and started to watch it.
I opened it back about 1 minute later, when I realized it was all going to be dubbed in polish (can´t understand a word) and by one man….one man only. Yep, you read it right. One man dubbing all the, I don´t know, 20 characters in the movie, lol. It actually took me some good seconds to believe that, indeed, one dude was going to be the voice of everybody. My first thought was “noooo…..it´s gotta be a documentary about the actual movie, right?”. It wasn´t. I got my book back thinking that the bus company was on a budget like me, and that´s that.
When arriving in Poland, I dragged my suitcases all around until I finally found the location of the rented apartment. First thing I did when I finally arrived, was to throw myself on the bed and turn the tv on. Oh yay, “FRIENDS” is on! My happiness lasted only a few seconds again, when I realized that Rachel and Phoebe were having a very heated discussion in the same voice of the dude in the bus.
This can´t be happening – I thought. I changed channels many times only to realize that all the shows and movies were dubbed, by one person, in the same voice tone. Narrators from National Geographic documentaries sounded happier. Ok….no tv for me in Poland. In a way, it made me a very good student. Thanks, Poland!
HARD ALCOHOL IS, INDEED, APPRECIATED
Nothing wrong there, that is, if you can take it. But it was one of those things I thought was an exaggeration of a cultural habit, as the thought that Brazilians drink caipirinha like water (just to be clear: no, we don´t lol)
To me, it felt like in Poland people do take it seriously the rule that “it´s always afternoon somewhere”, and start drinking quite early in the day. It was also normal to go to a supermarket to buy groceries and see bottles of vodka in many other carts, while mine looked….well, a lot less fun.
But, there, vodka is not just for parties. It´s actually part of polish habits to have alcohol during dinner, and I´m not talking about beer or wine. In fact, hard liquor like vodka, which is produced in the country, is normally used for toasts. Some of the famous national brands are Belvedere, Chopin, Balsam Pomorski, Wyborowa and Luksusowa – to name just a few!
So, if you are invited to a dinner or celebration in Poland….fear not! Though hard liquor will definitely be present, beer is still the most consumed alcoholic beverage in the country! 😉
ALCOHOL IS TAKEN SERIOUSLY…BUT SO IS RELIGION
Ok, there was one thing I knew about Poland before I lived there, and that was Pope John Paul II – considered one of the best Popes the Catholic Church has ever had. I grew up going to a catholic school and to sunday mass throughout the 80´s and the 90´s, and, to us, yeah, he was kind of a big deal. I still remember in 1997 when he visited Rio, and my mom and I waited in the streets for hours together with a huge crowd to see him pass by on the way to a mass in the city center. I was 13, and I remember feeling so emotional on that day.
Actually, just like Poland, Brazil was at that time, and still is, a country that has a majority (by far) of catholics. So, when I arrived in Wroclaw and saw Pope John Paul II´s face in stores and restaurants, it felt almost like seeing a familiar face in a strange new town. May sound weird for people that can´t relate, but this little thing made me feel a connection to the Poles, and it helped me starting to feel right at home there.
In this perspective, catholic holidays and traditions are very much respected. Christmas and Easter, for example, are extremely important holidays. I love some special traditions they have, for example, putting straw under the Christmas tablecloth in order to remember that Jesus was born in a manger. Another one is to put out an extra plate for unexpected guests during the Christmas celebration, because everybody should be welcome during the holidays. How not to love the Poles?
TALKING ABOUT CATHOLIC CELEBRATIONS….
If you are around for Easter….you better watch out! Might be a wet holiday.
I was totally caught off guard on this one. I was walking around the old town once, when I saw many kids running around with water pistols. I didn´t think too much of it – after all, it was only a bunch of kids having fun, right? Yes, and no. It is an Easter tradition to have water battles everywhere, and it can happen when you least expect or want it, also coming in the shape of water balloons from an apartment right above you. No, the balloon episode didn´t happen to me, specifically. But I did get wet from those water pistols….until my friend and I managed to reach a bakery!
The idea behind this custom is that water is a symbol of grace in Christianity. But…I´m not really sure how much of the link still exists. Those kids after us were definitely going more for the kill than for the blessing.
I really did not know much about Poland before, but you do hear stuff here and there. What I heard was that the Poles were closed people, very serious and reserved. So, I basically expected what I already had in Germany: everybody minding their own business, and expats are basically alone to solve their own stuff, if they don´t know anybody locally. I was wrong. Kinda.
My experience at the university was totally different than the one I had out in the streets. At the university, it wasn´t pleasant indeed, but I will leave this to another post. What does matter is that, at the streets, I did experience a lot of kindness and care from strangers – something I couldn´t imagine in many other places of the world.
To illustrate what I mean: on my second week in Wroclaw, I was running late to go to the university, and it seemed like I couldn´t find one godforsaken working machine where I could buy a ticket to board the train. I literally ran all over the city center, from one stop to another. The machines seemed all jammed, and I wasn´t risking riding without a ticket and getting fined…in polish. It was probably the fourth or fifth machine I was trying when an older woman approached me. I said I couldn´t undertsand her. She pushed me gently aside indicating that she was going to try to buy a ticket for me. Unfortunately, that machine was broken as well.
Don´t ask me how I managed to undertsand, but with gestures she told me that many ill-intended people would jam the machines to get the coins people would deposit in trying to buy tickets. She basically took me by the arm to another machine she said was almost always working. And thank God it was! I finally boarded the train while she phoned whatever authority to complain about the machines. I couldn´t believe that woman, with whom I could barely communicate with, going literally out of her way to help me out.
This wasn´t a lonely occasion. Strangers have asked if I needed help with supermarket bags, if I needed assistance when I was looking lost at a corner, and cashiers were always nice. It´s amazing the difference that it makes in your day once people smile at you!