Nasi wysłannicy z Londynu i Łodzi - Petter Larsson z City University i Maciej Stańczyk z Gazety Wyborczej - przemierzają kraj w poszukiwaniu największego sukcesu i porażki Mistrzostw Europy w Piłce Nożnej UEFA - Euro 2012.
Yesterday was a learning curve for me as I was put through my paces by students at Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities' campus in Wroclaw. They invited me to attend their campus after the storm which ensued after my blog about racism and wanted me to understand Polish culture and the way most Poles think. It was an eye-opening experience as I was exposed to new customs, superstitions and even sweets.
The two students who did the presentation, Natasza and Joanna who were very fluent in English talked me through the history of Poland and the many changes its endured over the years. They first asked me questions to see how much I knew about Poland and I did surprisingly well, scoring 3 out of 4 in my quick test.
I learnt that after gaining independence in 1918, Poland officially became a multicultural country. The Poles were the majority (65%), followed by Ukrainians (16%,) then Jews (9.5%), Belarussians (5.5%), and Germans (3%). Strangely, this isn't the case any longer as current minorities make up about 2% of the whole society with the majority being Germans (0.4%). They also talked about how important Catholicism is in Polish society and how it has become their national identity even if today's Poland is a lot more secular than the Poland of old. We delved deep into the history of Poland, its many forms and territories, its national treasures including John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) who was an ambassador for Poles and is thought of in very high regard throughout the country.
Other names that were prevelant included racing driver Robert Kubica, pianist Fredric Chopin, astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus and filmmaker Roman Polanski.
I also learnt how a traditional Polish household often includes grandparents living with, and helping raising their grandchildren. Polish families are usually strong multi-generational groups who stay together much longer than Western European countries as I found that 44% of men and 30% of women aged 25-34 still live in their parental home.
Another intriguing observation I made was that Poles aren't very trusting of strangers and you have to earn their friendship and trust. A phrase the girls quoted was: 'You have to eat the whole barrel of salt before you get to know a person well.' However, at the same time, friendship is very important in Poland and where people in the West may have acquaintances and colleagues who we call friends, the term friend here is reserved for those closest to you.
It was clear through my conversations with Joanna, Natasza and Manuela that these reservations was a result of the difficulties Poland had under the Communist regime which had changed the way Poles live their lives. Manuela told me about her grandparents who weren't interested in building and refurbishing their homes because they were afraid the Germans would reclaim Wroclaw and nobody liked to speak on the phone at fear their conversations were being tapped by the authorities. She also told me about neighbours telling the government about each other's acts which caused animosity throughout society. Her father was a very active Political activist who was against the Communist regime and was jailed for his defiance. The family eventually went over the border into Germany to seek asylum as his position became untenable.
I spent last night on the banks of the river Oder with a large group of students who come down to unwind after long days at university and it was a great insight into the younger generation's state of mind. The youth of Wroclaw are like the youth of any other European city; they are bright, fun, ambitious and love their music. There were sing-a-longs, games and general discussions which brought colour and life to the city. As students make up a third of Wroclaw's population, you can see that they're the life and soul of city.
The culture was summed up by one (slightly drunk) student who said that Poland has only been open for 20 years and they still have a long way to go in terms of accepting others. He also drew comparisons to the British Empire and said the Brits have fully accepted other races because they've been working and encountering with them for hundreds of years while ”We Poles have had little access to the outside world.” He was optimistic that things will get better.
The main thing I drew from the experience with the students was the idea of Polish hospitality. There's nothing like it. As they put it, 'A guest in the house is a God in the house'. There are two clear examples of this: one is when I was finding my way to their campus, an English-speaking Polish woman called Elizabeth went out of her way to take me all the way to the University. I was dumbfounded. She cancelled her original plans and even though she was unsure of the location, she asked others and made sure I got there on time (another Polish custom). The strangest thing was when I thanked her for her help she just nodded almost as if to say this is normal around here. It probably is, as I had a similar experience with a young man called Michal who walked me all the way from Wroclaw's train station, got on a tram with me, told his girlfriend to wait as he helped me (I know) to drop me at my hotel. I felt so guilty but at the same time very relieved that the people of Wroclaw are so welcoming and are mindful of their guests. Another norm I learnt was that 'No' sometimes means 'Yes', especially at the dinner table. So if you say 'No' to more food, you'll get some and if you say 'Yes' you'll get some - it's a win-win situation, typical of these kind, generous people.
This, amongst many other reasons, is why Wroclaw has been named the European Capital of Culture 2016.
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"Strangely, this isn't the case any longer as " (on minorities before the war and nowadays.
World changes. It's just that out of ca 35million people in 1939 only about 29 million were still alive (or born since) in 1946, excluding most Jews (ca 3 million). What was left of the Jewish minority mostly emigrated after 1968's reprisals. After the war Germans got deported west, Poles got deported west out of regions with most Ukrainians, Belarusians and Lithuanians who in turn stayed behind the new USSR border. Census of 1946 claimed 23 million people within the new borders (35 in pre-war Poland, remember?). As T.Love sung about Warsaw its a place where "Hitler and Stalin did they turns". It could be said about the country as a whole. That's all that's to understand why word war two is reffered to as "the war" in the common language. So, move along, nothing to see, just history. Old history - but there is little continuety in Poland where ww2 is concerned.
Poland lost about 6 million of it's citizens during the WWII (half of them Jews), and after war there were massive reapatriations, and expulsions, which crated today's homogenic society.
'No' is just like saying 'yeah' in english - a more informal way of saying yes :)
i'm so happy u guys actually get to learn about polish culture! it's essential to understand what we've been through to see what we have now. great stuff saad
Thanks Ela, glad you like it!