Poland, day 1
After thirteen pleasant days in Slovakia, I am equally happy to have reached country number 25 on my list: Poland. Below is the first article about the country whose citizens have spread all over Europe since Poland joined the European Union in 2004.
Poland?s geographical position has hardly ever been stable in the last couple of centuries. The last major territorial shift occurred shortly before World War II, when Germany and Russia invaded Poland from two sides and cut the country in half. As the war proceeded, Germany managed to occupy the entire territory. Poland suffered great losses during the war. Six million Poles died, half of whom were Jews. Nazi-Germany further used Polish territory for the exploitation of the largest of its destruction camps, with Auschwitz-Birkenau as the most infamous example.
`Many Poles go abroad to work or study. I think all of them miss the Polish food, and particularly the Polish bread.`
Polish troops assisted the Allied forces in liberating Western Europe, but the country itself was liberated by the Soviet Red Army. The entire location of the new Polish state was shifted westward at the expense of Germany and to the benefit of the Soviet Union. Poland was converted into a communist state and remained under close Soviet supervision until 1989.
Today?s Poland has 40 million inhabitants and it is by far the biggest of the ?new EU states? that joined during the last enlargement rounds of 2004 and 2007. The national language is Polish, the main religion Roman Catholic. Well-known Poles include the late pope Jean Paul II, musician Frederic Chopin, scientists Marie Curie and Nicolaus Copernicus.
My first stop in Poland is the southeastern city of Rzesz?w. Ywona (23, photo) was born in Rzesz?w and has lived there for most of her life. She tells me that I should consider myself lucky for having decided to start my Polish adventure in one of the safest and cleanest cities of the country. Like most Poles that I speak to today, Ywona is proud and happy to be Polish. `I like my country, I like our food and I am proud of the achievements of the women`s national volleyball team. I am less impressed by how Poland has been doing in Euro 2008 up until now. That`s more of a reason to be ashamed of, just as much as our politicians. I don`t like to even think about politics because most of them only think of their own financial situation.`
Ywona is happy that Poland joined the European Union: `Travelling is now much easier and many young Poles take advantage of it. Working abroad stands for making good money and collecting some initial working experience, almost regardless of the actual job people are doing.`
`The Polish labour market is difficult to access for people who don?t have the right contacts. Having a good diplome often isn?t enough. First of all, unemployment is rather high, especially in rural areas. Secondly, there are plenty of incapable people who occupy posts simply because they are relatives of this and this important person. Salaries are still low compared to Western European countries, so many young Poles are willing to give it a try. They travel to Ireland, to the UK, the US or anywhere around Europe where they think they can make themselves useful. Many stay for a limited period of time, others never come back. The pattern is changing though. More and more people go away to study rather than work. I did the same ? I just came back from an Erasmus exchange in Portugal. What I missed most was Polish bread. No country has bread like we have it here. Bread in other countries always tastes like supermarket bread. The only good thing about it is that it`s got so much air that you can compress it when you are traveling. It doesn`t take much space once you deflate it..`
Dominik (26) is back in Rzesz?w for a few days of holidays. He lives in Dublin to earn money as a construction worker. `I see lots of changes going on in Poland. I first left two years ago, and everytime that I`m back here, I can tell that the people look happier. They are much friendlier than before. Streets look better, houses look better.. Almost all of the tiny Fiat Polski cars have been replaced by decent German cars like Volkswagens, Daewoos or Opels. I am just waiting for Poland to be one step better again. Then I will return home and stay here. I don`t like having to miss my mother and sister.`
Maciej (28) thinks that Poland is taking Ireland as a good example of how to lift a country to higher levels. `Such is the promise of our politicians`, he says. `The changes are visible even though they are not as obvious as the changes that followed the 1989 revolution. Before then, every single building in this city was grey and filthy. When McDonalds came to town, their building was the first that was painted. Many followed afterwards. Rzesz?w is now a colourful place, especially the part in the city centre.`
`The European Union is providing a lot of support to Poland. Many major infrastructure projects are clearly advertised as `sponsored by the EU`, which in many cases means that they paid half of the required investment in cash. New roads are being constructed, railways are mondernised and language trainings are subsidised. Few people from here spoke English a couple of years ago. Many people are now fluent in English: some because they have been working or studying in another country, others because they have the ambition to do so in the future.`
Gabriela (28) thinks of the Polish white eagle, of storks and of the national vodka Wyborowa as symbols of Poland. Like Ywona, Gabriela thinks that it`s easy to recognise Poles abroad, although she can`t tell how. `They seem to like Puma trainers a lot, but I otherwise guess that it is easy for me to recognise them simply because I am from the same country. Everybody recognizes people from his or her own country. The language also helps a lot.
Kasia (20) thinks that Polish boys are the prettiest of all. `And so are the girls`, she adds. `They pay a lot of attention to how they look and I think that many of them are very stylish in the way they dress and walk.` Kasia and her friend Kasia (20) - `every second girl in Poland is called Kasia` so they say ? both study cosmetics, and like looking at people to see how they present themselves to the world.
In my view, Polish people can be recognised by thin lips and high M-shaped foreheads, especially men. The rest of my observations are so far limited to comparing them to my previous host country Slovakia. I can then conclude that Poles tend to be louder than Slovaks and even `more louder` than Czechs. For the rest, I would like to start off with the suggestion that Poland is a very large country that has lots to discover. Plenty of work for the next 14 days!
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