Click here to Being somewhat familiar with Poland, I was very happy to have the opportunity to come to the country again. There is a lot to see, the people are nice, and I enjoy challenging myself with trying to speak better and better Polish. Of course, there were certain food items that I was excited for as well. Tasty pączki, well-made żurek, all the varieties of kiełbasa, and the many different types of drożdżówki. All of these foods are very good, please don't get me wrong. However, there was one food, or drink rather, that I was the most excited to drink. It was not Książęce, my favorite Polish beer, nor was it Żubrówka, a good Polish vodka. No, the one drink that I was most excited for was woda gazowana. In English we call this carbonated water, but I am of the opinion that calling woda gazowana simply 'carbonated water' does not do it justice.
I know what you may be thinking; don't they have woda gazowana in America? Yes, we do. However, the varieties available across Poland and Europe are only available in specialty stores or markets and they are not wide-spread or common. We do have a popular brand of carbonated water called La Croix. It is o.k. and this company does offer a few interesting flavored waters such as coconut and raspberry. Yet, try as they might, it just does not compare to the crisp, clean, refreshing taste of woda gazowana. My love for woda gazowana is actually a little bit ironic because when I first tried this water, I did not like it. However, one day while in Poland, my friend and I had only one bottle of woda gazowana between us. The sun was high in the sky and it felt like it was 34 degrees Celsius that day. With only the woda gazowana to drink we had little choice. On that hot and sun-scorched day my love for woda gazowana was born, and I have not looked back since.
I am happy that I discovered that there are even different varieties of woda gasowana to drink. Gazowana or lekko gazowana are both good and I drink them both from time to time. Although if I had to choose I would choose normal gazowana over lekko. Throughout my time in Poland I will of course eat żurek, kiełbasa, and the occasional pączek. Yet, the one small thing that I will always enjoy is my dear woda gazowana. Perhaps when I return to America I will have to find a source of some good Polish brands, or else invest in a water carbonator and try and make my own, but I doubt it would be the same.
I am ashamed to admit that I have encountered the problem that many Americans abroad face. It is a small problem that we have made for ourselves, and it really is quite ridiculous. This small problem is that I can't think in the metric system. The metric system is the system of measurement that most of the more intelligent nations in the world use. This system is used for measuring distance, quantity, and weight. The units of measurement for this system are for example the centimeter, kilometer, milliliter, liter, gram, and kilogram. Of course, there are other units such as the decogram and so on, but all of these fall into a nice and orderly system of multiples of ten. For example, 100 cm makes a meter, and 1000 meters makes a kilometer. These are nice and easy numbers to work with. This system makes the most sense because it is intuitive. If you need to know how many centimeters are in a km, you can easily slide some zeros around and you have the figure that you need.
The system of measurement we use in America is completely and totally different from this metric system. We do have some equivalents, but they are completely different measurements. For example, instead of centimeters we use inches. One inch is equal to 2.54 cm. When you have twelve inches, then you have a foot. And three feet equals a yard, which is somewhat simliar to a meter. Instead of kilometers we say miles, and one mile equals 1.6 km. The weight system is also different. We have ounces and pounds. 16 ounces is equal to one pound, and one pound equals 0.45 Kg. But wait, it gets better. Our liquid system is also different. Beer in Poland is usually sold in a half-liter container. However, we stupid Americans sell beer in bottles and cans that are 12 fluid ounces. We also use an ounce for both liquids and solids, so that when you need to distinguish between the two you have to say 'fluid ounce' when talking about liquids and simply 'ounce' when talking about solids. So, that certainly does not make things easier because one fluid ounce is not the same as a dry or regular ounce. Our measurement of fluids adds up to different units of measurements such as cups, pints, and gallons. Such that 8 oz. (ounces) makes a cup and these cups add up to what we call a pint. However, There are 2 cups in a US fluid pint and 2.37 cups in a US dry pint, because it is different if you have a liquid or solid. From adding pints we end up at a thing called a gallon. Gallons are most common for milk, and one gallon is made up of 16 liquid cups. Gallons of milk contain a lot of liquid and most people only buy them if they really love milk or they have a large family with many children. I could go on and on about the finer details of the U.S. Standard system, but perhaps I should just ask this: Are you confused yet?
The non-sensical way that the U.S. Standard system is laid out means that American children spend a large amount of time having these units of measurement beaten into them by their teachers when they are young. I remember many a test on this subject during my time in Elementary School. Now, the good news is that Americans do learn the Metric System in school as well. However, we never use it outside of our science classes. So, most Americans know the Metric system is, but it does not have any real relevance to us. Such that when a Pole tells me that the store is only '2 km away'. I know what this means, that is 2000 meters, but it does not have any relevance to my brain. So, the situation I often find myself in is staring blankly and trying to calculate out the difference between the U.S. Standard System and the Metric System. So, thanks for nothing America! Thank you for using an old and out-dated measurement system that, rumor has it, was based off the measurement of some English Queen's foot back in the 18th or 19th century. If we ever have a vote to change to the Metric System I will be at the polls so fast it would make your head spin!
This past Sunday was Poland's Independence Day celebration. It was an especially important day because it marked the centennial celebration or 100 years of Polish Independence. I was happy to be in Poland for this historical event. Lębork had a nice celebration and the parade, ceremony, and military exhibition were all very interesting. I also enjoyed seeing the Polish flags flying on many homes. Red and white are not my favorite colors but the two go together very well. It was good to see people celebrating 100 years of independence. A small amount of patriotism is a powerful thing and can be used by a group of people to rally together and change things for the better. I do not think that we should blindly be patriotic but we must each decide what it means to be patriotic and express this in our own way. I think the people of Lębork celebrated their patriotism and Independence Day the right way and I was happy to be a part of it.
Many Americans are much too patriotic. They blindly think that 'America is the best' and this is quite frankly not true. In comparisons with other countries there is only one thing that America has recently ranked first in, and that is that we are the fattest nation on Earth, with the biggest population of obese people. This is of course nothing to be proud of and so many Americans must acknowledge their own faults and realize how they themselves can be better. America and Poland certainly have potential to be great places to live, it is just up to the people who live there to make it so. So, whether you celebrate with fireworks and hot dogs like many American do, or with more solemn parades and ceremonies like here in Lębork, be proud to be independent and free. Poland's history is troubled and although the past 100 years have had its dark moments, I truly believe that the future will be bright and joyous both for Lębork and Poland as a whole.
Last week was an eventful one for two reasons. Firstly, on October 31st, it was Halloween. Then, it was Wszytkich Świętych or All Saints Day on November 1st. Halloween is a very popular holiday in America. No-one gets off of work for the holiday and different people like it for different reasons. Children love it because they get to go trick-or-treating and wear costumes. Young Adults love it because they get to wear costumes, have parties, and drink a fair amount of alcohol. Some adults also like the holiday because it is fun for their children or they get in the 'holiday spirit' and decorate their homes and give out lots of candy. I did not miss Halloween very much this year. It was a fun topic for my lectures, but I certainly did not feel like I missed out that much. I guess I don't have much Halloween spirit. I did see some children going around Lębork on the night of Halloween in costumes so maybe it is getting more popular here in Poland. Whether this is good or bad I have no idea.
More interesting than Halloween was the day after or All Saints Day. This day started off very well because it was a day off of work. I enjoy my job, but a free day here and there is much appreciated. I knew that the custom here in Poland is to go the cementery and decorate the graves of your relatives with candles, flowers, and other such-things. Due to this I was hoping to see the cementery during the night of All Saints Day. Being the efficient thinker that I am I had a good thought as to how I should get to the cementery. I knew the cementery was a far distance away from the house, so I figured I would run to a park, work out a little bit, and then continue running on to the cementery. This was a good plan in theory. However, I did not account for two things: One was the rather large amount of people both at the cementery and walking there. Second was the fact that I was wearing shorts and a work-out shirt and I looked out of place with everyone else wearing pretty nice clothes. Despite my feeling a bit out of place due to my attire I pushed on and made it to the cementery. The candles and decorated graves were very very pretty. I stayed for only a little bit and then headed back to the house.
I was very impressed with the appearance of the cementery. I am sad that we don't have a similar tradition in America because I think that it is a nice way to honor and remember relatives who have passed on. However, I do believe that if we did have the same tradition of decorating our cementeries then it would turn into a competition and a fight. For example one person might try and have the biggest candle, or the most flowers, or the prettiest tombstone, and so on. So, the nice tradition of remembering your deceased might be turned into an all-out competition and the intentions of the holiday would be lost. So, I am personally sad that we don't have the same traditions for All Saints Day, but perhaps it is for the best.
Born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan David was raised by his parents with his two sisters and brother.