I have been running around Lębork here and there since my arrival here. I am not training for a marathon or anything like that, and I probably go for a run at least three times a week. I try and change my running route from time to time, so that I can see more of the town. This has been a good idea because I am able to see more and more of Lębork. I certainly have not lived here for a long time, but thanks to my runs I feel that I have gotten to know more of the town. Very rarely do I see other runners out on the streets while I am running. However, the few times that I do, I am always surprised. Mainly because I usually run at strange times of the day, and I am surprised to see other runners at these times, but also because of what the runners do when they see me.
Every runner with whom I have crossed paths as acknowledged me in some fashion. Sometimes it is a slight nod of the head. Other times it is a wave. On more rarer occasions I have received both a wave and a hello. Each time that a fellow runner acknowledges me, I find it rather nice and pleasant. I had no idea that there was this type of solidarity among runners in Poland. I like it, and I enjoy passing by other runners while I am running in Lębork. The slight acknowledgement that this community gives to one another is a small but meaningful gesture. It is as if they want to say: 'I see that you are out here, yes running sucks, but I recognize that you are here running with the rest of us'. At least that is how I interpret their small gestures
While I was in Warsaw working as an intern, I had a similar experience with runners there as well. I was just as surprised as I am in Lębork. Most of my surprise comes from the fact that I never experienced something like this while running in America. Most American runners keep their heads down and tend not to acknowledge other runners if they happen to meet them while running. Maybe this is because they are more competitive in nature and don't want to acknowledge someone who may be just as good a runner as themselves, if not better. I am not sure about the American running mind-set, America is after all a big and diverse country. However, I can say that I have been pleasantly surprised with the running culture here in Poland. I can definitively say that when I go out running I look forward to passing by other runners, because running can suck, but it is nice to acknowledge and be acknowledged by fellow runners.
I was lucky enough to meet with some fellow Americans over the Christmas holidays. They are working in Spain as teaching assistants, so we decided that we would see some of Europe together. We met in Prague the day after Christmas, went to Vienna, and flew to Gdańsk for New Year's Eve. I could of course talk about Prague and Vienna, but I would much rather talk about my favorite of those three cities: Gdańsk.
I am happy to say that the fellow Americans enjoyed Poland. It was their first time in Poland, so I was curious what they might think. Of course, if you read this blog frequently, you already know that I really like Poland. We flew into Gdańsk late in the night and took a taxi to our hostel. We started the next day with a climb to the top of the bell tower in St. Mary's Church. We enjoyed the view of the city from there. Next, we went to the Hala Targowa and shopped around. I made sure that they tried some sweets such as: Michałki, plums in chocolate, krówki, and szarlotka. They enjoyed them all, but I believe their favorites were the plums in chocolate. After this we tried to go to both the Museum of the Second World War and the European Center for Solidarity,co both were closed. We made due with walking around these areas and I told them as much of the history of Gdańsk as I could remember. It certainly would have been better if they had been able to see the museums, but what to do.
We started New Year's Eve night at a very nice brewery near St. Mary's Church. From there we went to the gate at the beginning of Długi Targ, because we wanted to see the concert there. There were many people and a few bazaar stalls as well. We wanted something to drink and so got some 'hot Christmas beer'. Turns out this was a mistake, because none of us really liked it and we had to force ourselves to drink it. We counted down to Midnight with everyone else and enjoyed the fireworks there. After the crowd dispersed from the concert area one of my colleagues forced us to go to a small bar/club. I did not want to pay the cover to get into the place, but my colleague insisted, so we went. I hope my colleague never reads this, but I did actually enjoy myself there. After the bar we went to bed and had sweet dreams of a rather good and memorable New Year's Eve.
The next day we walked to the Baltic Sea. There we had a late lunch at a fish restaurant and then we walked on the beach for a while. We stopped at a bar for one last drink and then I had to say goodbye to my travel companions. I took the train back to Lębork, and they had one more night in Gdańsk before they flew off to Helsinki. I believe they really enjoyed Poland and Gdańsk and I hope they tell more people how great Poland and the Pomorskie voivodeship really are.
For better or for worse, I was unable to go home for the Christmas break. In reality, this may have been for the best because I was able to spend both Christmas Eve (24th of December) and Christmas day (25th of December) with some very kind and gracious people. I was also able to see the customs and traditions that are typical of these days in Poland.
I generally believe that in our modern times the best part of Christmas is the fact that it is an opportunity for spending time with family and friends and appreciating all that we have. We try to do this in America, even though many times capitalism and commercialism get in the way of this. I was very happy to see that in Poland Christmas time is largely a time for being with friends and family. The tradition of opłatki (Christmas wafers) is a very nice piece of this sentiment, and I think it is a great way to appreciate what you have and also share your best wishes with those who are close to you. Most families don't have anything similar to this tradition in America, and I wish we did because it is a great way to tell those close to you that you care about them. In my family, we did always keep a spot open at our table, and when we asked our Grandma about this, she would often say that it was for a weary traveler who might happen to come by, or else that it was for Jesus himself. As a child, I never really understood this tradition, but I was happy to hear that many families in Poland also keep an open table-setting at their table for Christmas Eve dinner.
Besides the feelings and meanings of Christmas, there was, of course, new and different food to try! Barszcz or beetroot soup is without a doubt very good. Pierogi with cabbage and mushrooms are also delicious. The many styles and types of fish that different families eat was also interesting. Greek-style fish seemed to be the most common and was what I ate on Christmas Eve. In America, we generally eat meat on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but this, of course, varies greatly and depends on the individual families and their traditions. I will say that most families in America have their larger meal on Christmas Day instead of Christmas Eve and most times the main dish is either a large ham or a large turkey, but again this depends on the family. There are many dishes in America that are typical for Christmas dinner, but most families don't have the tradition of twelve dishes, as some families have in Poland. This sounds very tasty as the more dishes, the better, however, it seems like a lot of work for whoever has to cook and prepare the meal!
Of course, we can't talk about Christmas time without talking about Santa and Mikołaj! I was surprised that Santa comes after Christmas Eve dinner in Poland because in America he usually comes in the middle of the night on the 24th of December. I had different opinions about these different times, and I am still uncertain which time is best for Santa to come to the home. For example, in Poland, I do like that Santa comes right after dinner. However, this seems like a logistical problem for the parents because they must send the kids upstairs or outside or somewhere and then quickly have Santa appear. This leaves little time to have things fully prepared and ready to go it seems. On the other hand, in America Santa comes during the middle of the night. So, that the kids are all sleeping and parents have all night to place the presents under the Christmas Tree and get things arranged just right. However, a negative of this American way is that many times children don't sleep at all on Christmas Eve and also wake everyone up in the house very early. So, in America, parents have more time to get everything arranged and all the presents prepared, but then they usually have to wake up very early on Christmas day. In Poland, it seems to be the opposite; parents have less time to have Santa appear and get the presents prepared, but then they are able to sleep in on Christmas Day. I am not certain if I can say definitively that one system is better than the other. I can only say that they are different.
Regardless of when Santa appears the family with whom I spent Christmas Eve made sure that I had a good time. They were very welcoming and hospitable, but they declined to tell me that someone at their dinner would have to dress up as Santa. I tried my best to argue that I am not a good actor and that I could not fill the role of Santa, but they would not hear any of my complaints and forced me to dress up as Santa/Mikołaj! In all honesty, I was at first not very happy about this, but they were very nice and made sure that I looked the part of a real Mikołaj. After getting over my nervousness about having to be Santa, it was actually quite a lot of fun. I was able to hand out the presents to everyone, listen to carols, and even got some tasty cake as a reward for my 'service' of being Santa. It was my first time ever dressing up as Santa and I dare say that I might like to do it again.
So, I spent my Christmas Eve and Christmas day without my own family, but I still felt very welcome here in Poland. There are many good traditions surrounding these days that I was able to observe. I was slightly sad that I was not with my own family, but everyone here made sure that I had a good time and I thank everyone who was gracious enough to welcome me into their homes during this special time of the year.
One could assume that there are many differences between people in one country and those in another. It could be safe to think that due to the differences in culture, geographical location, and many other factors that people across the globe should be entirely and uniquely different. This may be the case for some people, but I believe that we all have more in common than we think. This thought has been proved by my observations of young people in Lębork. These young people or teenagers, if you will, seem to be very similar to their counterparts in America. I have noticed that many styles which are popular or prevalent in America are also popular here. While walking down the street I could forget entirely that I was in Poland because everyone wears very similar styles of clothing. In fact, I would say that the average young Pole is much more fashionable than the average young American Joe/Jane. I don't quite understand the trends in fashion, as I have never been too fashionable myself, but I have noticed that there are many similarities between the young people in Poland and the young people in America.
Besides having similar styles and clothing another thing that I have noticed is music. I have noticed that many teenagers here have some sort of wireless speaker in their bags or backpacks. These speakers play their music for everyone to hear. While this may be better because then they don't need ear-buds/headphones, I will say it is quite different from when I was young. Back in my day, we were not allowed to walk around with our speakers blaring and to be honest I am not sure we even had speakers like the ones that exist today.
Gaming also seems to be tremendously popular with the young crowd here in Lębork. Most of the young kids I have talked to have some sort of gaming console or computer. With these things they play games that I have only heard of, but I know they are also wildly popular in America. For example, many of my students talk about their love for Fortnite or the Sims. I know what these games are, but I have never played them. I believe I have some friends who play Fortnite, but I had no idea that it was such a global phenomenon as it seems to be.
Unfortunately, I have concluded that my lack of understanding of Polish teenagers is not because they are different from teenagers in America. In fact, they are more similar to American teens than I ever would have thought. No, what I have concluded is that I am just getting older. I am 'out of touch' with the young people. I should just accept my new place in life and start calling the kids I teach 'sonny', maybe I can also convince my boss to get me an old wooden rocking-chair so that I can sit there during my lessons and regal the students with my stories of 'when I was young'. So, there you have it. Teenagers are relatively similar across the globe and now I feel like an older man more than ever before, for better or for worse.
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.
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.