A Bit Different, Eh?

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Look how Canadian I am!

So we just spent our first month in Canada, and I can tell you I’ve never been more observant in all my life! Tucker and I are in the process of deciding where we want to live for the next few years, so we’ve been looking into everything from neighborhoods and public transportation options to social interactions and local habits, most recently in Ottawa and Montréal, Canada, but with a few cities in Mexico soon to follow (more about that in a subsequent post, I’m sure). Our reason behind these investigations is that neither of us have actually spent any real time in Canada (or Mexico), and we really just didn’t know what to expect. Would I find it too similar to the US (i.e. boring)? Would Tucker be able to get a job without speaking French or Spanish? What would our lives be like on the whole in any one of these places? To get a clearer picture, we first headed up to Ottawa and Montréal to see what we could discover about life in the Great White North. So far, these are a few things that have stood out to us as uniquely Canadian:

Language Uncertainty Dance

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Aka “stop”

Many people know that Canada has two official languages, but what exactly does that look like? Well, to us it seems pretty clear cut on paper: in Québec, French is the default language, and everywhere else, English is the go-to. Therefore, signs, menus, and the like carefully follow provincial lines. However, people are bit more mobile than that, and the lines aren’t always so clear when speaking is involved. For example, Montréal is a very international city with immigrants who speak many different languages, and Ottawa is located half in Ontario and half in Québec. This all led to a bit of a which-language-should-we-use dance between us and everyone we encountered. Hotel staff, grocery store clerks, restaurant servers, and literally everyone we talked to had to make a choice of which language to use with us, and we, in turn, also had to choose.

We determined that provincial lines do play a role in the choice, but there were other factors of consideration as well, like the supposed heritage of the speaker (Francophone or Anglophone), how we appeared (clearly lost or in-the-know), and what situation were we in (ordering Vietnamese food or buying food from an outdoor market). Even our names seemed to be used as an indication; at all the ticket checkpoints I received “merci”s and Tucker got “thank you”s, and the only reason we could come up with is that my name is Danielle. For me, this process was fascinating, and I found myself eavesdropping on anyone and everyone just to note which language they were using and why. When so many people are bilingual the possibilities are truly much more interesting!

How Cold It Really Is

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Sometimes I wore my hat AND earmuffs…

Canada is quite far north, of course, but when looking at the lines of latitude, Ottawa and Montréal really aren’t that much above what I consider “normal” cities. Łódź, for example, is significantly closer to the Arctic Circle, which began a line of thought that led us severely astray. Because while the latitudes of these two cities are actually well below some well-known (and might I add, temperate) western counterparts like Vancouver or Seattle, their climates are simply different. There’s no large body of water to curb the freezing temperatures, and evidently the “Polar Vortex” is a real thing that starts much earlier than I had anticipated. In short, Ottawa is one of the top ten coldest national capitals in the world, and I didn’t bring my big jacket. Oopsies.

Honestly, even with my big jacket I doubt my small collection of outerwear is actually going to be enough for winter in Canada. Taking a look at some of the clothing stores here, we’ve seen winter gear we didn’t even know existed. Linings for boots, glove extensions, and every possible manner of covering your ears and face. The terminology is also a bit different, as I had to google the word “toque” shortly after our arrival. It’s actually pretty impressive to see the flexibility of clothing in action. Even in October, the temperatures can get below freezing, especially at night, but during the day it can get up to the 60’s. It’s amazing to watch the various pieces come off and go back on throughout the day, sometimes sparked solely because the sun came out from behind the clouds. I vaguely remember the vast temperatures swings of Chicago, but clearly I have yet to master dressing for them.

An Abundance of Animals

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Polite squirrels as well!

With our new-found knowledge of how cold and long “winter” in Canada can be, we definitely found the amount of fauna out and about to be rather odd. Immediately upon arrival to Ottawa (which I will remind you is 200kms from the closest Great Lake and almost 500kms away from the ocean) we were met with the loud, annoying cries of seagulls. Seagulls? There are no beaches here! Sure there are rivers, but it’s cold! What’s with the seagulls? In our first week we also came across squirrels of all colors, bunnies, chipmunks, and so so many birds. And that was in the city proper, skyscrapers well in view! It seems nature really is on your doorstep up here in the North. However, if I see a moose or a bear lumbering down Sparks Street, I might just lose my mind.

French/British Combo

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Her majesty

Another surprising insight into life in Canada is that it seems to be less of an American/French fusion and more of a British/French fusion. As a native inhabitant of a former British colony myself, I just assumed all former colonies were quite distinct from Old Blighty, but evidently there’s more of a scale of “Britishness” than I thought. Here in Canada, we have the Queen on the currency, a Prime Minister and Parliament, Celsius and the metric system, traditional tea and pub cultures, and the distinctive, yet eccentric spelling system with all those extra vowels and not enough “z”s. Additionally, as Americans, especially Americans coming from China, we’ve also found an extraordinary penchant for forming lines in Canada. At the train station we wrapped around the entire hall forming two lines to match the two platforms below the station. It seemed very odd to us, inefficient even, but soon we realized lines are a way of life here; basically if it’s a norm at Timmy’s, it’s a norm everywhere.

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Ah, Timmy’s

Interesting Fusions

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Beyond delicious!

Speaking of combos, we’ve also seen an incredible amount of interesting food fusions in Canada. Early on in our stay I ordered “pierogi eggrolls”, and even after eating them, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the concept. Canada has seen its fair share of immigration throughout its history, and we can definitely see how that has affected the restaurants and their signature dishes throughout the country. We’ve had tandoori nachos, a turducken club, bruschetta mac and cheese, and many other colorful combinations. It seems even their own, native poutine (which is traditionally French fries covered in cheese curds and thick gravy) is also open to interpretation. We’ve tried jalapeño poutine, butter chicken poutine, and Peking duck poutine just to name a few! Stores and other vendors also seem to cater to this preference for food creativity and variety. We’ve seen ph broths and żurek mixes in grocery stores, Italian sausages served in French bread by street vendors, and vending machines with American, British, and European candy choices.

The Use of “Washroom”

This might be a small thing, but I couldn’t get over the Canadian use of the word “washroom”. I’ve lived in several different cities, on different continents even, thus I have heard many things used to describe the place we go to “relieve ourselves”. I’ve heard bathroom, restroom, toilet, WC, lavatory, powder room, even “the john”, but “washroom” is not one I would have listed as a common occurrence. Until Canada, that is. Here it’s virtually the only word they use! It’s on all the signs, it’s what people say, I was even corrected once when I asked about the location of the “restroom”. They looked a bit confused and clarified with, “the washroom?” Which I then went off in search of, quietly contemplating my accent, word choice, and place in the world.

 

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I bet they have the nicest washrooms in there.

Also of interest on the topic of washrooms in Canada is that they all seem to be located in the basement. At the majority of restaurants and pubs we visited, the washrooms were located under the establishment, often down a very long, steep staircase. I tried to look into why that is so common here, and the best I could find is that it had something to do with the building codes at the time of construction. Whatever the reason, I just hope they keep them well-heated in winter. Thankfully, even if the rooms themselves end up being a bit drafty, at least the hot water in Canada is on point. The tap water, we’ve noticed, goes from ice cold to absolutely steaming hot in about 5 seconds – in a pinch, I actually brewed my tea with the sink water in Montréal. Canada really does seem to love their extremes!

And, For Sure, the Politeness

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We even got compliments on our photos!

Finally, the last Canadianism that stuck out to us was, indeed, the politeness that perhaps they are so well known for outside of Canada. At first, we noticed all the “no worries” and “of course”s and other pleasant responses to our many “thank you”s. There wasn’t even that tone of you’re-a-bit-of-an-idiot-and-I’m-only-helping-you-because-it’s-my-job sort of thing that’s so common Stateside. We also heard a lot of back channeling or the words you use when showing someone you’re paying attention. Things like “for sure, for sure”, “oh yeah, definitely”, and “wow, great”. There also seemed to be a great deal more small talk. People more frequently asked questions or shared information than what we have grown used to in the US. For example, when our bus cards didn’t work on the STO line, the bus driver took a few minutes to explain to us how the complicated inter-provincial system worked. He then let us ride for free – so nice! We’ve also been given quite a few tips for places to go and things to do, after various locals asked and discovered that we’re not Canadian. These politeness features have definitely made the big cities of Canada feel not quite as big.

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O Canada!

So these are some of the most obvious things that immediately reminded us that we’re not in the US; however, I have a feeling there will be many more discoveries like this in the future, should we come back for a longer stint. Every country, even long-time neighboring countries with similar back stories have their little quirks. I can’t wait to find out more about what makes Canada, Canada!

 

Living in China: Daily Differences

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Temples in our backyard!

We’re almost three months into our move to China, and something that we’re asked pretty regularly is: what are the differences we notice in our daily lives. Most people are aware of the obvious differences like the language and the food, and, although most daily activities are pretty universal (shower, eat, work, play on your phone, etc.), there are definitely some things that we didn’t really have a need to think about before moving to China. In reality, these are rather small differences, but their regularity and new-found importance have kept them in our minds daily as we shift into a new way of living – the China way!

 

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“Noodles 22” – my favorite!

First is our struggle for food. Of course, as I mentioned, the food itself is obviously quite different. For example, most things are cooked in oil here rather than in butter, and almost everything (from drinking water to what some refer to as a “salad”) is served piping hot. However, something we didn’t think about is how difficult it would be to obtain our food, let alone the foods we actually prefer. Whether at a restaurant or a grocery store we have to put a lot of effort into translating food items. Even then, we’re often not sure what we’ve actually purchased. In the last week alone we’ve gotten translations like “sealed duck palm”, “saliva chicken”, and “fried enema” – I’m sorry, what?!

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“Fruit Parkway”

At the grocery store, things are not only hard for us to read, but they’re often packaged differently or organized in a way we would have never thought of; for example, milk is not refrigerated, but pasta is! On top of these difficulties, there is also a sense of lingering mistrust. We’ve all heard stories about China and the shortcuts they may have taken, so when we see something unfamiliar or “weird”, we’re conditioned to think it’s not healthy or good. The depth of these feelings really surprised me because, although I saw similar things in Poland, I never questioned the hygiene or motives there. This is something we’re really working on by constantly asking “why” and delving a little deeper into these differences. Our Chinese friends have been incredibly illuminating, and honestly, we’ve learned to look at our own way of doing things a little differently as well.

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If this doesn’t scream “weird”, I don’t know what does…
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Do I wear it well?

Another daily difference for us is the general environment that we’re living in. Typically when I wake up, the first thing I do is check the weather. However, in China, I must also check the AQI (air quality index). We live in a city of 8 million people; a city that still uses coal to heat some of its building and has farms just outside the city limits that burn their fields twice a year before replanting. These conditions mean that the air quality in Hefei can have an effect on my day. If the AQI is above 200, I need to wear a mask to ensure that I don’t get a sore throat the next day. Checking the AQI and occasionally wearing masks have become part of our routine. In our (almost) 90 days here, we’ve only had a handful of “bad days”, which we recently found out are about the equivalent of smoking a few cigarettes (and we all know that is not great for long term health).

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An exciting acquisition!

Another environmental issue I was not at all looking forward to was the inability to drink the tap water. I remember last time we were in China, I had a really hard time making sure I had enough water bottles. Something about steaming hot water served in restaurants (even in summer) really just didn’t agree with me. Turns out, although this is a difference, it really isn’t a difficult one to handle. Now that we’re residents of China, it’s pretty easy to get water. We have a water cooler and a weekly delivery that ensures we have plenty of drinking water (hot OR cold)! Another environmental difference, for Tucker, would have to be the height of everything. Doorways, sinks, counters, they’re all much lower than we’re used to, and he (just about 6 feet tall) struggles with hitting his head and constantly bending over at an uncomfortable angle. I (at 5’3”) don’t really have this problem!

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Tucker’s Taobao fail

Finally, the way we use technology has also changed greatly. It seems that in some ways we’re using technology more efficiently, and in others it’s substantially slowed down or non-existent. For one thing, in China you are not allowed to have two people sharing one bank account. Therefore, Tucker and I “share” my card by handing it over whenever one of us needs it, which just feels so strange! Online banking is also not very popular here, and it’s only possible with a monthly fee. Needless to say, Tucker and I have become much more familiar with the “balance inquiry” function at the ATM. While those banking aspects feel less than modern to us, we’re also being ushered into the future by instead paying for everything with our phones and buying most of what we need from an online service that delivers to our door. The saying “there is an app for that” feels so true in China, as we now utilize our phones for everything! Even street vendors use QR codes for payment!

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Love seeing this!

However, possible is not the same as familiar. As westerners new to China, our most valued service is a VPN (virtual private network). As many people know, China is very particular about what shows up on their search engines (or even which search engines are available), and for this reason, we need to use a VPN to access YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and several other favorites. Of course, for nationals and people who have been here long enough, those services are no longer as important as YouKu, WeChat, and QQ (Chinese versions of the same services), but for now, we’re bogged down remembering to connect to the VPN for some things and at times, not having enough bandwidth to do so.

There are plenty of other differences in our daily lives, and some, as we’re beginning to see, are less China-specific and more like everywhere-but-in-the-US kind of things. We find ourselves walking so much more here, watching less TV, meeting with very different groups of people, and taking advantages of opportunities that we would’ve never had at home. There are so many reasons I enjoy my life abroad, but I think none are as great as these small differences that teach us so much!

A Taste of Poland

It’s time for the topic you’ve all been waiting for: Polish food! One of the best things about travelling, living abroad, and life, in general, is the food, and I’m happy to say that even after seven months, we are still loving everything Poland is dishing out. I wish I could send everyone reading this a heaping plate of pierogi or some spicy kabanosy to sample, but as that’s just not possible, we’ll have to make do with the power of description.

Fruit/veggie market

The first thing that must be mentioned when talking about Poland’s food is their produce. It is honestly head and shoulders above what we usually get in the US. Not only is it much cheaper and overall tastier, but it’s everywhere! Good quality produce in Poland can be found at any of the large chains (like Auchan or Real), at pop-up stands in the cities or on rural roadsides, and sometimes even in a local parking lot, out of the trunk of someone’s car. This availability, of course, comes with the season, which is part of why the produce is so good. It’s extremely fresh (mostly grown locally) and only ever includes what’s currently in season. When we arrived in Poland, apples were everywhere (in fact, on one of our first days here, we offered a lady our seat on a bus, and as a thank you, she gave us each an apple). After the apples, came an influx of pumpkins and squash, then the potato section expanded, and now we’re rolling in berries and green veggies.

The quality of produce is very important to Poles because most everything they eat is made from scratch using these ingredients. I’ve mentioned before how grocery shopping in Poland has made me feel more like a lazy American than anything else, and this is exactly why. In the US, I buy soup in a can, croutons in a box, cookie dough in a tube, sauce in a jar, and the list goes on. In Poland people prefer to make all of the components themselves. This is why you’ll hear people raving about the mushroom soup their mom makes when they’re sick, or the ketchup their grandpa made when they were a kid. Every family, every person has a slightly different way of making even the most traditional of Polish dishes.

A traditional żurek

The idea of “traditional dishes” is actually a bit difficult to nail down for Americans. Many of our most “patriotic” dishes are not truly from the US. It’s extremely hard to justify the saying “as American as apple pie” when every culture has a version of apple pie! (For example, in Poland it’s called szarlotka, and it’s delicious). However, Poland is quite a few years older than the US and definitely has some dishes that are both nationally and internationally known, such as: żurek (a sour rye soup), bigos (a stew of sauerkraut and meat), pierogi (dumplings usually stuffed with potatoes), naleśniki (thin, stuffed, savory pancakes), rosół (chicken noodle soup with carrots, generally served on Sundays), kiełbasa (which the generic word for sausage of which there are many, many types – trust me, I can’t list them all without losing a few of you), kopytka (my favorite little potato nugget-dumplings), and surówka (a variety of coleslaw blends) just to name a few.

Chicken caprese with kopytka

While it’s true that cooking at home is the norm in Poland, rest assured they also like to eat out on occasion. Restaurants are quite popular in Polish cities; however, in the smaller towns the options are very limited. Luckily for us, lazy Americans, we live in Łódź (one of the largest cities in the country), and have a huge variety of restaurants to choose from. Just like in the US there are “fast food” restaurants such as McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, North Fish, Döner Kebab, and Solo Pizza. There are also a few of what I would consider “casual dining” restaurants like Greenway (vegetarian cuisine), Mañana (the Polish version of Chipotle – minus the bacteria), and a unique variety of pay-by-weight restaurants. These pay-by-weight places are all around Poland and at first glance look like buffets, but instead of all-you-can-eat, it’s something like 3 żółty (less than a dollar) per 100 grams of food. I particularly like these places 1) because I’m a picky eater and 2) because it allows me to try a tiny bit of everything without fear. Also worth mentioning are the milk bars (bary mleczne) of Poland. These are restaurants leftover from Communist times that look and function like cafeterias. The most authentic milk bars serve mainly dairy-based dishes (hence “milk”) and do not serve dishes with meat, as meat was rationed on and off during the height of milk bar popularity.

Naleśniki with surówka

However, if you come to Poland for the food (and really, why wouldn’t you?) you’ll want to eat at a true restaurant, a sit-down, atmospheric event. In Łódź alone, you can find restaurants that specialize in Bulgarian, Ukrainian, French, American, Mexican and many other national cuisines, but by far, the best restaurants are the Polish ones. Generally, you start your meal with a plate of pickles, bread and lard, and finish with a shot of liquor. Ah, Poland! Another specialty in Polish restaurants is the soup. In most restaurants, many types of soup are offered and are often the reason people return to a given restaurant again and again – you’ve gotta try them all! However, if you’re not into “rustic food”, Poland also boasts some of the most incredible, modern eateries I’ve ever experienced. There is certainly no lack of good food in Poland, no matter what your style or taste.

There’s even a solid option for those days when you don’t want to get out of bed. In Poland, delivery, like all things food-related, is quite cheap. There are the obvious Chinese and pizza options, but in Łódź there are also companies like Pyszne and Pizza Portal, which after you order online, will go to any participating restaurant, pick up the food, and deliver it to your doorstep. This is how I’ve eaten hot wings and bacon cheeseburgers in bed – don’t judge.

Okay, are we all sufficiently hungry now? I really hope that I’ve made each of you consider Poland as your next vacation destination because if you aren’t traveling for food, then you aren’t fully living. Come see me in Poland and smacznego (bon appétit)!

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!