There are many things that need to go into living in another country. Securing a VISA, making sure that you have the proper insurance, packing everything you might need, the list could go on and on. With all of these more important things, there are many little things that often get looked over. Many of these little things are rather small and unimportant. However, it is my hope today to shed some light on these oft forgotten and overlooked aspects of living in a foreign country.
One small difference between my experiences in Poland and in America has been the showers. You may think, well a shower is a shower, but this has not been the case. In the majority of America, it seems that a wall-mounted showerhead is the most common. This means that the showerhead stays attached to the wall at all times, and it is unable to move from the wall. In Poland it seems that this system is not popular and more common is the showerhead that someone can grab and swing around. In my opinion, this style of showerhead is better. I am a fairly tall man and many times in America I have had a problem with showerheads being mounted too low on the wall, so that when I want a shower, I need to duck down just for the water to hit my head. This is a very comical sight I am sure, but I don't particularly enjoy it. Besides the showerheads, I have also noticed that the drains in the showers are different. I like to think that I know a few basic skills; How to change a lightbulb, how to hang pictures, and how a shower drain works are some things that I considered I knew fairly well. However, the drains in Poland make no sense to me and I have monkeyed around with the one at Adam's apartment, but I still don't know its inner workings or mechanics.
The differences in showers and showerheads aside there is also one small thing that I have noticed in Poland. This is that the sidewalks are different compared to the ones in America. Of course, there are certain cities in America that have their own unique style, but the most common style that I have seen is that of poured concrete. This meaning that the sidewalks are not made of individual blocks, but are instead made with forms and wet concrete. The concrete is poured into a form, it sets and hardens, and then you have a sidewalk. Each of these forms is about one meter long and one meter wide. These sets of forms are laid out one in front of the other, and the end result is a sidewalk. I have noticed that in Poland the sidewalks are not made like this. Instead, they are made with individual small blocks or cobblestones. All of these blocks and cobblestones come together to make up the entire sidewalk. Again, I believe that this style or system is better because if one block breaks, it need only be replaced and then the sidewalk is as good as new. However, in the American system, if one area of a sidewalk breaks, the whole section needs to be removed and then re-poured with wet cement again. This seems like much more work than simply replacing a brick or cobblestone.
Thus there are more tangible things that are different in Poland and America, but one thing that is not tangible is the way items are purchased in a deli. If you would like something in America you must first say how much you would like and then whether you would like it sliced or whole. For example, if you would like some Swiss Cheese, you must first tell the Deli worker that you would like 500 grams, and then he/she asks if you would like it sliced or whole. This was the system that I was familiar with when I went to a deli here in Lębork. At the deli I asked for 500 grams of cheese, and then the deli worker promptly cut off a rather large piece of cheese, wrapped it, and handed it to me. I was very surprised at this and I was hoping that they would have asked if I wanted it sliced or not. However, this question never came and I was left with a big chunk of cheese. Later on, I learned that if you want slices you can simply ask for however many you want and that is that. So, the next time I wanted cheese I asked for 5 slices and that was the end of it. It seemed strange at first that I did not have to say the quantity of cheese that I wanted, but now that I am used to this system, I do think it is better. There is less fuss and it makes things easier. So, now I know how to buy cheese in different countries, but watch out if you travel abroad because I am certain that little things will come up that you never even thought about. I know this has been the case with me here in Poland!
This past weekend I wanted to go on a small day-trip. Since Gdańsk is close to Lębork I thought this would be a good destination for me. It turns out it was indeed a good place to visit, because I had a lovely day there. I took the morning train to Gdańsk, saw some sights, walked around for a bit, and then I went to the Museum of the Second World War. I was not prepared for the immenseness of this massive museum. I had arrived at the museum at around 1300 and I was there until 1930. Even with all of this time there I do not feel like I saw everything that there is to see in the museum. The scale of the museum was truly impressive and I guess next time I go there I will simply need to plan to spend the entire day there instead of just most of the day!
I had a train at 2015 and it was via the SKM train company. I am not sure if I missed the train or what happened, but when I arrived at the train station I saw only trains going to Wejerhowo. I figured Wejerhowow was at least in the general direction that I needed to go in order to return to Lębork, so I hopped onto the train. While in Wejerhowo I had a bit of a problem. This problem was that I had to speak with the Cashier at the ticket office to try and buy another ticket. Now, my Polish is o.k. in these types of situations, but there was an unforeseen dilemma. The problem was that I wanted to buy a ticket for a train, that apparently did not exist. Inside the train station I saw the schedule of trains. On this schedule it was written that I could buy a train ticket for a train that would go through Lębork, on its way to Słupsk. Now, I asked for this train ticket very nicely. However, the cashier firmly told me that this train did not exist and that I would have to wait one hour for a different train. I understood this, but my problem was that what the cashier was saying, was not the same as what was on the train schedule for the day. I told this to her, and she told me again, rather firmly, that I must look at the dates for the train schedule. I did look at the dates, and I was absolutely certain that the schedule was good until the date of December 8th. The date was the 1st of December. Now, my Polish is o.k., but certainly not at the level where I could kindly point out to the cashier that the schedule was not correct and that there was some sort of mistake between what she was saying and what was on the schedule. So, our conversation ended with me buying a ticket for the train she recommended after the fact that she told me I could either buy the ticket or leave her alone and stop bothering her.
I felt better after our discussion because while waiting for the next train to Lębork I saw three other people be confused by the schedule. So, I was happy that it was not simply me who had the problem, and that the schedule posted for the trains was indeed incorrect. While waiting for the train my mind did wander to the problem that many Americans face while interacting with the ticket booth workers across Poland. Unfortunately, in our weak American minds we are too used to the mind-set of the customer always being first. When we go to a restaurant, order food, or buy tickets for something we expect this rule to govern our interactions. This meaning that most Americans expect to be treated nicely and be 'met with a smile'. So, I think that most Americans would have a shock after dealing with the train ticket booth workers here.
I remember a time when I had an American co-worker in Warsaw who was shocked that the ticket booth workers did not speak English, and that they had the audacity to be mad at her for not knowing Polish. She came away from her interaction very angry and frustrated and I had to explain to her that our mind-set of customer service is certainly not the same across all the world. Fortunately, I am used to interacting with the PKP ticket booth workers by now, so I did not take my experience personally. Instead of complaining about how things are different, I instead see a unique opportunity to practice my Polish and see how I can manage. Although I did not have the best time in Wejerhowo I did come away with one positive. Despite having a not so nice interaction with the PKP worker I was in fact right, and that is a small victory that I usually don't have when trying to speak in Polish.
Born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan David was raised by his parents with his two sisters and brother.