Viva La Mexico

Chichen Itza

Another month, another amazing country explored! Have I mentioned how nice it’s been working entirely online? No, but seriously, we’re incredibly lucky to be able to support these explorations as Tucker and I continue to make plans for what we want to do and where we want to be in the future. For the past 30 days, we’ve been in Mexico, sussing out the situation in three amazing cities, and learning all we could in the process. When planning our Mexican adventure (while happily freezing in Canada), we narrowed our focus down to Merida, Guadalajara, and Mexico City. Through online research and word of mouth, we felt that these were the three most likely candidates for a potential future home that fits our particular set of needs/wishes. So we set out to see which city would reign supreme (in our eyes anyways). Of course, we were also very interested in what living in Mexico would be like in general, having never visited any part of Latin America, and also how much tourism we could possibly squeeze into this already packed month of international inquiries! Here’s what we learned:


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Our first stop was the city of Merida, which is the capital city of the Yucatan peninsula. We arrived fairly late at night and were quite surprised when the first restaurant we came face-to-face with in Mexico was a Carl’s Jr. Haha! From that moment on, we were constantly reminded how much the US and Mexico have influenced each other over the years. From the abundance of Coke products to the variety of Christmas songs, there were so many things that made us feel like we weren’t too far from home. Some things, however, were very different. For example, the colors of Merida were unlike any city I’ve ever been to! Every building was painted a different, yet equally vibrant shade: coral, sea foam, cyan, olive; I lost count early on. All the color was even more surprising when we learned that Merida’s nickname is “the White City”! Apparently that has more to do with the traditional clothing than a description of the city itself, because Merida is nothing if not colorful.

Pure art!

Merida was also incredibly clean! Everywhere we walked we could smell the scents of soap or laundry detergent wafting out of the various doorways. I had also (wrongly) assumed that in such a warm climate, bugs would be imminent, but we saw none during our 10 days on the peninsula. We what did find was a lot of extremely helpful strangers. As we stood in front of famous buildings or walked back and forth trying to find the correct bus stop, so many people approached us and gave us advice and information. We learned a lot about the Mayan people from locals who kindly shared what they knew in English, just for us. They didn’t ask for tips or for us to buy something from them, they shared because they’re proud of their heritage and wanted foreigners to also soak up some of their history and culture. Overall, Merida was incredibly laid-back, absolutely unique, and unequivocally friendly.


74469092_10221331106775470_6605481842357305344_nOur next stop was Guadalajara, the capital city of Jalisco (I’m really beginning to think I must have a thing for capital cities…). Anyway, when we arrived in this, larger city, I realized just how much all the negative hearsay (like the number of well-meaning warnings I received before our trip) can really affect first-time travelers. I immediately felt uneasy, like everything was an unforeseen danger. Of course, after only a few hours, that was all wiped away. The people of Guadalajara were just as friendly and carefree as those in Merida. Our Uber drivers, especially, greeted us and patiently listened as we stumbled through Spanish to ask questions or give any necessary additional information. We also noticed that in Guadalajara, and perhaps Mexico as a whole, the timings of things are quite flexible. We often found ourselves checking the hours of one place or another, only to arrive and see they haven’t quite set up yet (even a few hours after opening). We really felt the struggle of coming from a China mindset (up early, asleep by 10pm) to the Mexican way of life, where nothing really gets going until after 8pm at least!

Arco de Zapopan

Once it gets going though, it’s impossible to deny the liveliness of Mexcio! Guadalajara in particular has an amazing bar/restaurant street that has so much activity it would take more than a year to see and do everything just on that one strip! From festivals and live music to pub crawls and lucha libre tours, the people in the city know how to party (even on weeknights, which was incredibly impressive, and something I wasn’t quite able to do). While in the city, I was also surprised by the extreme variety of Mexican cuisine. I love Mexican food in the US, but what we typically see is a list of the same 5-6 items with various customization options. In Mexico, the food-scene is much more diverse. From the taco stands and torta kiosks to traditional Aztec/Mayan dishes that look like they came right out of a Top Chef episode (not to mention all the international options). In 30 days I’ve added countless new dishes to my favorites list, and I can now be absolutely sure that Mexican is my favorite of the world’s cuisines. Of course, my favorite among favorites is still the humble taco, and I feel no shame in admitting that Tucker and I kept track of the 75 tacos we ate in Mexico!

Mexico City

78976206_10221463131596008_7786060591298248704_nOur final stop on this scouting mission was the infamous Mexico City. One of the largest cities in Latin America with about 9 million residents, and easily one of the most welcoming mega-cities I’ve ever been in. Sometimes in cities of this size, the expectations for speed and efficiency can be extremely high, which poses a problem for travelers who are clueless as to how things are usually done. However, I never felt any impatience from the locals in CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico). Things were just as easy-going and friendly as the other cities we visited. Of course, Mexico City is quite big, which does bring about some challenges. For example, it typically took over an hour to get from one side of the city to the other, even with the super convenient (and cheap) metro. A sprawling city combined with loads of commuters, holiday shoppers, and tourists definitely made for a chaotic transportation situation. However, because of that large and diverse group, we were also able to get some Kansas City BBQ when we wanted something a bit different one night. It’s the eternal struggle of city life!

Busy, busy!

Aside from the sheer size and diversity Mexico City (and really all of Mexico) has to offer, I was also really surprised by the openness we saw and felt. Mexico is a Catholic country, and having lived in Poland, I remember the conservative lean that often goes along with that. However, Mexico proved again and again that if it’s not bothering anyone, who cares? We immediately noticed all the pda (public displays of affection): lots of kissing, hand holding, etc. anywhere and everywhere, by all sorts of couples: old, young, gay, straight. We also saw more skin than we had grown used to in China (although that is pretty much necessary when it’s still in the 80’s in winter). And finally, the language used was a bit freer as well. I’ve never seen so many kids shouting curse words as when we went to the lucha libre match (all in good fun though). Ultimately, Mexico had the “anything goes” approach that we sometimes found in China and Poland, but here it was definitely more strongly connected to social issues, and we ultimately found it very refreshing.

Mexico In General

Incredibly lush!

As I’m writing this, I keep thinking of things I want to add. All the information we got in Merida about the Mayan people and the way it influences the modern culture there, all the flowers and fruits of Jalisco that surrounded us even in the middle of a huge city, and all the people in Mexico City, who just like in NYC are trying to make it big in one way or another. As is typical when we travel, we learned so much about the places and people around us, but we also learned more about ourselves: like how strong preconceived notions can be (even in experienced travelers), how many American exports are actually really unhealthy (sugary drinks and fast food), and ultimately, how similar we all really are. We often found ourselves bonding in limited language over traffic, wifi, cute animals, and delicious food: you know, the important things in life.

In short, Mexico was absolutely amazing, and we could definitely see ourselves living there in the future! We felt safe and welcomed, and we had a great time getting to know our southern neighbors a bit better. As it stands now, we’re muddling our way through Canadian immigration, but at least we now have a solid plan B (Guadalajara won out, by the way). Or, who knows, maybe after a few years in the frigid north, the desire to thaw out in Mexico will draw us south of the border sooner than we think!


Re-learning the American Way

Western culture = beer on the porch

Tucker and I eased our way back into Western culture this summer by spending three weeks in Australia followed by almost a month back in the States, and while we happily gorged ourselves on some of our favorite food and drinks, we also noticed some distinct changes in our behavior and perspectives this time around. This phenomenon is typically called reverse culture shock (when you return to your home culture after getting used to a new one), and although we had actually experienced this a bit in the past, this time I was determined to not only experience it but also take note of what things stuck out to us as clear effects of living immersed in a different way of life. As usual, in my head I’ve grouped these things in some arbitrary way in order to more clearly share them, and the three main areas of change I’ve come up with regarded: our eating habits, our annoyance at inefficiencies, and a shift in our manners.


Those tacos tho…

Eating Habits: One large area of difference between American and Chinese culture lies in the food and eating. Upon our return to the US we realized there are a few things that we found it hard to get used to again when it comes to food and drink. Ice in water, for example, is way too cold, and it feels like you get less water (ugh, waiting for the ice to melt – who has time for that?). Another thing we immediately missed upon ordering in an American restaurant was that we didn’t order and eat together. It’s sort of an every person for themselves situation, which now feels a little lonely and much more complicated when the bill comes. Tucker also realized he had picked up some Chinese habits when we were out to eat in Australia one night. In the middle of dinner, he started putting his discarded food items on the table rather than in a napkin or on the edge of his plate. I laughed, knowing his reasoning was because that’s what we do in China, but I’m sure the Aussie waitress was thinking, “what is wrong with that guy!”


Why no WeChat Pay?

Annoying Inefficiencies: Another somewhat general category I identified had to do with the speed/way some things are done in the US. Maybe we wouldn’t have ever noticed if we didn’t spend a year in China, but there were some really obvious points of frustration for us upon our return. First, having to pay with a credit card felt as bad as standing there and writing a check. It’s so much slower than the simple scan of a QR code! We were also surprised at how inconvenient it was to have to drive everywhere. Traffic became much more irritating, someone had to shoulder the responsibility of driving, and without practice, we found that we even forget to monitor the gas situation! The third inefficiency that really grated on our nerves almost as soon as we got back was the ineptitude and inefficiency of lines. Say what you will about the crowds in China, but this place knows how to move people! We waited in much shorter lines in the US for much more time than it would have taken in China. At one point, I was also reminded that Americans are not quite as independent as I had previously thought because the airport staff in multiple US cities chose to herd every single individual into the designated waiting areas (slowly and somewhat apathetically) rather than just letting the masses fill in the available spaces naturally.

Even more difficult when on the wrong side of the road!
Definitely an American…


Forgetting Our Manners: The last bit of reverse culture shock we noticed revolved around our manners. There were several instances where we completely missed our public duty of saying “bless you” because in China (like many other cultures) it’s a bit rude to comment on bodily functions. I was also caught a few times using language in public that perhaps I wouldn’t have used in the same situation a year ago…it’s amazing how being surrounded by people who don’t understand you can desensitize you to that sort of thing! (To the lady I startled in Target with my English swear words, I’m so sorry! And to the people I perhaps gave too much information to on the flight home – sorry again!) Finally, the last difference that completely took me by surprise was the choice of small talk topics. In China we pretty much stay on subjects like family, hometowns, vacations, etc., but immediately when surrounded by those heading back to the US, it was back to politics, the news, and lots of really direct questions that after a year of light, indirect conversation felt super personal and sometimes rude.

Here’s to more Chinese adventures!

Of course, now that we’re back in China I suppose we’re undergoing reverse, reverse culture shock (like forgetting to carry toilet paper with me everywhere I go and ignoring the slight hand cramp I have after using chopsticks for the first time in months), but overall the more we go back and forth, the more I notice about all the cultures with which I’m familiar. It’s a huge part of why I prefer living abroad to traveling abroad – there’s so much deeper we can go when learning about ourselves and all the amazing customs in the world, and lucky me, I get to do it all again with another year immersed in the Far East!


A Tale of Two Cities

Lodz, Poland and Hefei, China are two cities that 1) not many people have heard of and 2) don’t really seem like they’d share many similarities, but I feel it’s my job as a former resident of one, and a current resident of the other to share some interesting information about these two beautiful places, perhaps increasing their notoriety and proving that two very different cities can actually have quite a lot in common.

Putting Lodz and Hefei on the map so to say

Similarities: For me (and Tucker, as I’ve enlisted his help with the following comparisons), the most prominent similarities lie in the locations, reputations, and inhabitants of the two cities.

Train travel in China

Location: Both Lodz and Hefei are somewhat centrally located within their respective countries. They are cities that are not known for their tourist attractions, but are instead used as transportation hubs. All the train routes and major highways, for example, seem to connect through these large, regional capitals. We have absolutely loved this feature in both locations because it has made our travels around Poland and China significantly easier (and cheaper). We have also found that both cities are surrounded by farmland. Unlike the US, which seems to be the land of never-ending suburbs, both Lodz and Hefei have a very clear line between city and countryside. This clear division never fails to amaze me as we ride a train out of the city, and I look down for a moment only to look up and see fields and tractors rather than high-rises. While, we knew both cities were geographically in the middle of their nations, the ease and plethora of transportation options and the stark city to farm transitions were not something we anticipated finding in one, let alone both cities.

Cityscape in Lodz

Reputation: Another similarity we’ve run into is what the two cities are most known for. Lodz was described to us as the Detroit of Europe (or the Manchester of the Continent), a place where industry was king. In Hefei, it is and has always been about business as well; whether the tea or other Anhui specialties from the past or the engineered or technological goods of today, Hefei is also place where industry has thrived. Both cities are also well off-the-beaten track as far as travelers are concerned. Many people travel to Poland and to China, but far fewer have made it to Lodz or Hefei. For that reason, I think the two cities share a sense of undisturbed cultural “essence” that places like Kracow and Shanghai can’t quite advertise. We often joke that we live in “real” China as opposed to places like Beijing or Hong Kong, which have many international residents and conveniences that might not feel that different from any other large city. Lodz also felt like a part of “real” Poland, and no matter which country we’re in, Tucker and I have definitely preferred being one with the locals.

Inhabitants: A third similarity that has appeared in so many ways is in regards to the people. Both Lodz and Hefei, possibly as a result of their lack of tourism, are fairly homogeneous cities. I remember in Lodz feeling like I was missing out on the diversity that, to me, made a city like Atlanta something special. Hefei is similar in that the vast majority of people fit a very similar mold. Even the names fit very specific standardizations in both locations. In one of my classes in Poland I had six students named Marta, four Michals, etc. In China it’s the same but with the last names, I have seven students in one class with the surname Zhang, five with Liu, etc. We’ve also found hospitality to be very highly valued by the inhabitants of both Lodz and Hefei. People in both cities have been extremely welcoming towards us whether we have a connection (via friends or work) or not. From snack offerings and dinner invitations to personal tour guides and assistance with even the most mundane tasks, strangers, acquaintances, and friends alike went out of their way in both cities to be friendly and hospitable to us, the newbies on the block.

The last similarity that I want to mention, which may even be the reason I’m writing this post, is that people from Lodz (Lodzites, as we call them) and people from Hefei (Hefeians) both regard their cities as “nothing special”. When people asked me what my favorite city in Poland was, truly my answer was Lodz, and they didn’t believe me! Now when I talk about all the things I like about Hefei, I’m met with suggestions for other cities to visit in China. Maybe this can be boiled down to the “grass is always greener” adage, or maybe some form of modesty, but really I think both Lodz and Hefei are great places to visit or to live.

Honorable mentions for similarities: Some other things that stick out as oddly similar between the two cities include:

The prevalence of shopping malls, the of ubiquity of uneven pavements (it’s unclear as of yet whether I’ve tripped more often in Poland or in China), the common appearance of cars on these uneven pavements (i.e. sidewalks, store fronts, etc.), and the the popularity of duck (as opposed to other poultry).

Differences: I don’t think my information about the cities would be entirely complete if I didn’t at least briefly outline some of the differences we’ve encountered as well. When thinking about the ways the two cities are not alike, interestingly, I still come to the features of location, reputation, and inhabitants.

Skyline in Hefei

Location: The size of the two cities is quite different. Lodz has a population of about 100,000, while Hefei has between 6-8 million. With the population difference, of course, comes a difference of area. Lodz was fairly walkable; usually we chose to take buses or trams, but if it got too late, we could walk home if we needed to. We were also able to walk to the grocery store, a nearby mall, several parks, etc. In Hefei there is no way to get around solely by walking. It takes us over an hour to get to the other side of the city in the best of circumstances, several hours by bus. In Hefei we end up taking taxis a lot more than we ever have before (cheap, reliable, and fast – can’t be it!). Another locational difference is the fact that Poland is surrounded quite close on all sides by different cultures. Europe, in general, has been mixing the cuisines, festivals, etc. of its various nations for quite a while. China, while also surrounded by other countries/cultures, is much larger and only newly “open” for mixing. The difference these facts have made on the cities is quite evident. In Lodz we could go to an Italian, French, Turkish, German, Chinese, or any other restaurant we might want on any given night, while in Hefei, it’s pretty much Chinese all around. There is variety to be had (Sichuanese, Canton, Beijing-style, etc.), but ultimately to me, it’s still all Chinese.

Skyline in Lodz


Church in Lodz

Reputation: Another difference would have to be the government systems, and perhaps even more than that are the views towards the government systems. In Lodz, I talked about politics more than I ever had previously in my life. We talked about Poland’s history, laws, elections, etc. all the time. I learned that Poland had the world’s second democracy, I heard the word “solidarity” more often than I would have thought possible, and of course, I observed all the negativity surrounding the ideals of communism (which is really no wonder given Poland and Russia’s history). However, now that I’m in Hefei, politics are pretty well avoided. Solidarity has perhaps been replaced with “CPC”, and communism is viewed completely differently, which makes sense, as it is completely different than the former Russian system we’ve all read about. Another large difference in regards to reputation is the presence of religion in Lodz and the almost complete absence of it in Hefei. I took hundreds of photos of churches during my time in Poland, and I think I’ve seen maybe four over the past seven months in China. It’s also interesting to note that in Poland many people loved arguing over the influence the church had/has on the government, but in China that’s just not even possible.

Temple in Hefei
Polish offerings

Inhabitants: Finally, there are definitely some differences among the people of Lodz and Hefei. While I mentioned both populations were incredible hospitable, their ways of showing it are completely different. In Poland people had a motherly way of treating guest: Did we want something to drink? Something to eat? Are we cold? Etc. We were asked over to people’s houses for the holidays, and we had no trouble connecting to people on a casual, friend level. In China, we’re treated more like honored guests. We are given the best seats in the house, gifts, toasts, red-carpet treatment (sometimes literally). While hospitable, occasionally we feel a little isolated by this guest-treatment, which has taken a bit of time to overcome and finally allow us to reach the friendzone. Another obvious difference would be lifestyles. In Lodz it seemed like a quiet life was desired. Most people in the city kept to themselves and enjoyed quiet activities like reading or silently playing mobile games while making it through the day (the great exception to this being when a Polish sports team was on TV). In Hefei, however, I’m not sure there’s ever a truly quiet moment. Cars and buses blast their horns around the clock, people listen to surprisingly loud audio messages wherever they are, and with the singing street sweepers and an abundance salespeople armed with loudspeakers, it’s safe to say people here aren’t concerned with the quiet life.

Honorable mentions for differences: Some other notable differences include:

The amount and importance placed on alcohol as a form of socializing, the ability to regulate indoor temperatures (in Lodz we couldn’t cool down our apartment, and in Hefei we can’t heat it), the emphasis placed on the quality of food, and last but not least, the language (there’s way too much to say about the differences in this aspect, so I’ll save it for a later post).

I’m not sure if anyone really wanted quite that much information about Lodz and Hefei, but when I start talking (or writing) about these two places I always find that I have so much to say! Ultimately though no matter the similarities or differences we’ve found, the most remarkable things we’ve taken away form our time in both Lodz and Hefei are the things we’ve learned, the memories we’ve made, and the people we’ve met. And personally, I can’t wait to find out which city we’ll be adding to the comparison list next!

I ❤ Lodz & Hefei

Cultures in Comparison

Not surprisingly, I am constantly asked about the differences and similarities between Poland and the United States. Luckily, Tucker and I are observing these every day and absolutely love to talk about them! One of my favorite things about traveling is finding out how different people live; there are so many different ways of thinking, solving problems, and simply surviving everyday life. It’s been amazing to get a more in-depth view of some of the differences between Poland and the United States. In my first post, back in October, I gave my first impressions of Poland and its people, which undoubtedly contained some of the differences that were immediately noticeable. However, we’ve now been here a few more months, and have logged many more observation hours. Here is my list of some notable (and fun) comparisons:

There’s always time for a cup of tea!

Timing, scheduling, and decision-making: There is a Polish proverb that says something like “A ‘must’ is in Russia. In Poland, we do what we want.” I rather like this proverb and feel like it is a good representation of the pace set in Poland. In Lodz the public transportation sort of runs on time, meetings start close to their proposed times, and all necessary decisions are made eventually. The pace is a bit slower (quite literally in fact, we’ve seen several tractors riding on city roads), and procrastination is seen as a natural state of human existence. In my experience here, it has been common to have numerous meetings or email exchanges before a solution or a decision is even close to being presented. Poles like to take their time considering all the options and make absolutely sure everyone gets to have a say in whatever the choice may be. That, and it’s always nice to push the responsibility off on someone else! Another difference would be the mealtimes of Poland. Breakfast is about the same – 7-8am (maybe a little earlier because the Polish working hours are a bit ahead of the US standard 9-5). However, lunch or “obiad” is not until around 3-5pm. To me, that’s a little too much like dinner, which in Poland is much later – around 8-9pm. This difference has often resulted in Tucker and I dining in empty restaurants simply because we go to lunch at noon and dinner around 6pm. But if you are wondering how Poles possibly make it from 7am to 4pm without any food, it should be mentioned that they regularly partake in second breakfast “drugie śniadanie”, which I think the US needs to adopt right away.

Look at that variety though!

Food, cooking, and ingredients: The food in Poland is delicious. Restaurants are plentiful, groceries are fresh, and everything is cheap (compared to the US). However, if you aren’t going out, then you have some work to do. Poles typically prefer to make their own everything: salad dressing, soups, desserts, wine, you name it. And while this is extremely cost effective and probably tastier, it is also time-consuming and very different from my ready-made/instant meal life. I intensely miss macaroni and cheese from a box, pre-made Caesar dressing, and cans of soup (particularly Campbell’s). In Poland, some popular foods to eat at home are sausage, ham, bread, dumplings, pickles, coleslaw, sauerkraut, and apples. Especially, apples. Poland is one of the world’s largest apple producers. In fact, quite a bit of the produce you can buy in groceries stores here is grown locally – that’s why it is so fresh and cheap! It’s also generally healthier than what we buy in the US. Poles pride themselves on the simpleness of their products. They like the fact that their bread only has three ingredients total, as opposed to the many preservatives American companies add. Although I will say that without those preservatives (and because of our tiny refrigerator), we are having to shop for groceries much more frequently than we ever did back home – about every 4 days.

Oh yeah, beer is also typically cheaper than water at restaurants!
Blending right in!

Weather and dressing for winter: Right now, it is pretty darn cold in Poland, and we have (quite regularly) been getting significant amounts of snow. I thought I was prepared for this. Obviously places in the US deal with these winter-y things as well, but coming from Atlanta, we are experiencing some differences. For one, winter tires exist, and if you don’t have them, you are a nuisance. We (thankfully) use public transportation, but I have heard Poles on numerous occasions complaining about people who are driving on summer tires! Idiots! (Their words, not mine). Another difference is the amount of time it takes me to enter or exit a building. I generally wear a jacket, a sweatshirt, a scarf, a hat, and gloves, which I feel is quite normal for the current weather conditions outside, but absolutely unbearable inside, right? Not really. In Poland, I find that I am one of the only ones who walks indoors and must immediately shed my many layers. Here, I see people shopping in their coats, sitting in class in their coats, etc. and somehow, they don’t sweat to death! Side note – if you can’t constantly wear your coat or don’t want to struggle as I do, juggling all my outerwear in my hands, every building comes equipped with a coat check. It feels a little like going to a gala or something because you walk in, they take your coat, and give you a ticket – every day. Pretty fancy. The last difference I’ll mention here is the scarf style of Poland. In the US and Norway my scarves totally fit in. They are not too bulky, nor very long, but they cover my neck and keep me warm. In Poland, people wear scarves that could function as blankets.

People – names, attitudes, and diversity: In Poland, names, in general, are quite long. For example, we live off a street called Piłsudskiego and most of my students have last names like Wojciechowski or Gruszczyńska (not to mention the infamous Brzęczyszczykiewicz). Eventually, you hear the names enough times and can imitate them pretty well, but I’ll admit to practicing in my head prior to having to use them. Another interesting name difference in Poland is that there are rarely repeated surnames. Out of my 85+ students I only have one duplicate. However, the first names here are much less diverse – I swear, there are like 9 Martas in my classes. In an earlier post I described Poles as being hardworking and hospitable, and to me these still hold true. However, now I would probably add pessimistic to the list. Poles complain a lot and generally have a bleak outlook on life. This is sort of good news for me because I feel right at home and can now use the excuse “it’s in my blood” whenever anyone calls me on it. Although I must say, sometimes, I feel really American when I catch myself smiling at a stranger. Awkward. Lastly, a word on diversity in Poland: there isn’t much. Luke (another Fulbrighter), Tucker, and I had an amusing conversation once when someone asked about “black eyes”, which was heard as “black guys”. After which, it was decided that black eyes were indeed more common than black guys in Poland. There are definitely some international students at the university, but overall Poland is very white.

The bill usually comes in a cute little box!

Language and speaking: As a linguist, I know all languages are roughly equal in difficulty – some have super complex tense systems, others have difficult/irregular pronunciation, etc. However, as a learner, Polish seems impossible to master! Even Poles feel sorry for me trying to learn the complex case system, three genders, and ridiculous pronunciation. I could really go on for days about the differences in English and Polish grammar, but I know many people would be a little bored with those comparisons. However, some of the most adorable language-related differences are actually vocabulary-based. For example, “capital letters” are called “duże litery”, which literally means “big letters”, and I can’t help but feel like a 5-year-old when asking if I should use a big letter or a little letter. Another cute difference is when you are asked to enter your PIN at a restaurant to pay by card (yes, they always come to the table with the card-reader, and yes, you absolutely have to ask for the check or it will never come), the server will ask you to put in the number and press “the green”. This refers to the green enter button and is adorable! Another larger language difference has to do with the aforementioned case system. Because of the cases, the ends of words in Polish are particularly important, and thus are never shortened or trailed off. This is something I’ve noticed Tucker and I do when we speak (a very prominent feature of American English), which sometimes results in misunderstandings with Poles.

Okay, so I could probably go on to write a book on this subject, but since this is just a monthly blog post, here is a quick list of some smaller differences that we have come across:

A rare sight indeed!

Poles prefer square pillows on their beds. In general, the population has very neat handwriting. Movie theaters have assigned seats. Juice is an acceptable and common drink for dinner, although drinks (in general) with meals are very small. Poles typically avoid using cooking spray and clothes dryers. Many Poles say “goodbye” to the strangers they leave in a train compartment or an elevator. Folders here do not have traditional pockets, but instead have three flaps on one side and an elastic band to keep it closed. Notebooks all use graph paper and are about half the size of an 8 x 11.5 sheet. Almost every female name in Poland ends with the letter “a”. Kebabs are one of the most popular types of fast food here. Discussing political views is a great way to start a conversation. Minimum wage is the equivalent of $3.20/hour. Poles do not like/trust their tap water; therefore, water fountains are almost non-existent. Ibuprofen comes in packs of 12 or smaller. Whole rabbits can be bought from the deli at many grocery stores. And dogs are not forbidden from entering every shop/store.

Of course, I realize (and I hope it is apparent to everyone) that I still have a quite limited realm of experience. Everything I mentioned here is based off of what Tucker and I have seen around us in public places such as restaurants, movie theaters, public transportation, the university where I work, etc. – all in all, a very small scope of Polish culture. This is also absolutely seen and written from my personal perspective, which is not always (or even often) the same as others. While I like to highlight the differences and poke fun here and there, I really think the differences are the best part of cultural exchanges. They allow us to see things from a new perspective, and often also shed light on the enormous amount of similarities we, as humans, all share. I hope you enjoyed my post! Thanks for reading!