Wednesday, April 1, 2015

AKA: 7 Things I Dislike About Living in Poland

When someone asks whether I like living in Warsaw, I say yes. It’s easy to live here.

I love big cities like Warsaw! I love the nightlife, the ease of public transportation, the café culture, the multitude of parks, the crumbling brick buildings, the creativity of the younger generation seen in the fashion and food scene and here are my other reasons I love living in Warsaw. Life here is easy and much, much less expensive than Istanbul, which we previously called home for three years.

After two years, we’ve settled into a regular routine here in Poland. We know the city fairly well, but are still discovering new restaurants, parks and streets. One of my husband’s Polish colleagues recently told me that I know more about what’s going on in Warsaw than she does. Why thank you!
Well, I certainly can't complain about our view of Warsaw.
But life isn’t perfect no matter where you live. In Nebraska, life was too quiet and boring for me. In NYC, I detested paying nearly 75 percent of my monthly salary for rent. In Washington DC, I disliked the stuffy, political vibe of the city. In Istanbul, I hated the horrendous traffic and planning my daily life around it EVERY day. And in Warsaw, I recently compiled a list of things I dislike about living here.

To my Polish readers, please don’t take my musings personal. No place is perfect!

So what do you dislike about where you live now?

7 Things I Dislike About Living in Poland:

1. High School Hell in your 30s
Expat cliques are probably the number one reason why I had a difficult time adjusting to life in Warsaw for nearly the first year. I shed a lot of tears. For a long time, life among the expat circle felt like high school all over again – the popularity pecking order, the petty feuds, the gossip and cliques. Have you ever seen the movie ‘Mean Girls’? If so, you’ll understand what I mean.
Source: Pinterest
I will say this, the Warsaw expat group is definitely more clique-ish than what I was used to in Turkey. (In Istanbul, I felt like I connected instantly with more like-minded and open-minded people than I have here.) If I only wanted to be friends with Americans, why did I leave the U.S.? At some point, I decided to say f*** it and finally made peace with myself and am happy to  have an international circle of friends now.

2. Healthcare in Poland
We have company-provided insurance, but whenever I’ve called to make an appointment, I’m lucky if I get an English-speaking doctor even though I requested one. Google Translate can only help so much when dealing with important health issues! This seems to be a common complaint among the expats I know here.

Last year, I caught bronchitis, so I was off to the doctor and then an internist. I was prescribed antibiotics as well as vitamins. Then, I broke out in horrible, itchy hives all over my face and chest. Then, I was off to the dermatologist because of the allergic reaction from the antibiotics. Sigh! So now, I avoid going to the doctor via our insurance company unless it’s absolutely necessary. However, even going to private clinics doesn’t mean you will get a decent English-speaking doctor either.

3. Language Barrier
For more than a year now, I've taken Polish lessons. I’m trying to learn Polish, but it's such a damned difficult language and the grammar doesn’t make any sense at all! Do you really need 9 different ways to say each noun? And then don't forget to conjugate the adjective so it coordinates with the noun! Learning Turkish was çok easier! I'm ready to give up!

I make an effort, but sometimes Poles seem not to try at all. For example, for awhile, I tried asking for "kawy z mleko" and nearly every time the barista looked at me like I had two heads.  Well, the correct way to order is "kawa z mlekiem" because the milk is WITH the coffee not AND the coffee.
Can you pronounce these Polish words?
Another example, I went to the apteka looking for a men's multivitamin for my husband since we ran out of our American supply. This may sound like an easy request, but not in Poland. First the guy was a bit of a dick and said no English. Fine.
Mówię trochę po polsku. (I speak a little Polish.)
OK....vit-ahh-min. CodzienneMój mąż. (Everyday. My husband.)
Finally, the guy gave me a bottle of Centrum for men. Really? Was it that difficult to comprehend? I miss having a Walgreens or CVS like in America where I can just walk down the aisle and grab what I want!

Thirdly, I had to go to the doctor for some bloodwork.  I hate doctors and I hate needles, so I tried saying "Jestem zdenerwowany." (I'm nervous.) But I have a difficult time pronouncing all the z words in Polish, and there’s like 100 of them. I tried again, and the nurse repeated it. Then, the two of us laughed together because she got it.

I'm trying here people; so I’m very grateful to the few Poles that appreciate my attempts at their bardzo difficult language!

4. Construction Everywhere!
This seems to be a constant problem not only in Warsaw, but throughout Poland! Can't the city and even the country planners finish one project before they start another one? It seems like bridges, roads, tram lines and sidewalks are always torn up here. Earlier this month, Warsaw’s second metro line FINALLY opened after more than a two-year delay! The line has been flooded, caught fire, leaking and the home to local pigeons.  
When we drove to Wrocław in August, we were on a brand new, 2-lane highway half the time and the other half of the time on a crappy road in the countryside. Ironically, we still could see the nice highway in the distance. I don’t understand!

Then, if you want to drive to Krakow, you’ll deal with some awful single-lane “highways” for half the time. Your trip may take you four to five hours instead of the 2½ hours if you had simply taken the new express train. The normal trains take 3 hours and 20 minutes from Warsaw-Krakow.

Poland seems to slowly be improving its infrastructure, but it still has a looong way to go.

5. Little Old Lady Power
Now, this one doesn't only pertain to Poland. I had this problem in Turkey too, especially from the ruthless old ladies (teyzes). I really have to stand my ground or I will get cut off without a second glance especially when I’m at
Hala Mirowska.

There have been numerous times I've been standing in line and I’m the next person in line when another register will opens, but apparently the person (young and old) behind me thinks that's a great opportunity to cut me off and pounce on the new register herself. How rude!

6. Just when you think you have the right change.
I hate, hate with a passion, the large, chain grocery stores here and usually avoid them! For one thing, you have to pay use the grocery carts. If you don’t have the correct change, forget about it! This fall, I went to a Home Depot-like store and tried to get a cart. Well, I only had two 50-cent zloty coins, so I tried to exchange them for a 1 zloty so I could obtain a cart. Neither the checkout girl or the security guy were helpful. Finally, a good Samaritan in line exchanged my coins so I could get the correct coin to use the stupid cart!
Lesson learned: forget about getting ANY kind of customer service in Poland! And when you do, you can bet you’ll be frequenting that place more often because they actually show that they care about you as a customer!

7. Weigh your veggies or else!
This is another reason why I avoid the large grocery stores and prefer to shop at the smaller markets such as Hala Mirowska and the BioBazar in Warsaw. At the local markets, the sales people are fairly friendly, weigh your produce and give you a price. At the grocery stores, you must weigh the produce yourself – EVERY time. If you forget to do so, you can forget about taking that bag of apples home with you! I’ve left onions, pumpkins and tomatoes at the checkout on numerous occasions because I simply forgot to weigh them.

Recently, I forgot to weigh a package of Brussels sprouts, so I tried telling the checkout clerk, nie, nie ma problemu. However, this was the FIRST time when she actually took the time and called up the produce department to get the code and weighed the veggies herself. Shocking! I just wish there were more sales clerks like her!

Life isn’t perfect no matter where you live, but these are a couple of things that drive me crazy about living as an expat in Poland!

My Traveling Joys

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Julia said...

Like you said, nowhere is perfect and everywhere has its annoying aspects. No electricity all day, all over Turkey, yesterday was just a tad inconvenient when our life is spent online. ;)

Unknown said...

I enjoyed the read as usual ;-)

My comments from almost two years (June will make 2 full years) of living in a Polish small town (Kolo).

1. I can't comment on expat culture in Poland, as I live in a small town. The benefit of that is we are the only Americans, and there is only one other native speaker in town. My wife has started teaching English locally, and so is in high demand. My wife grew up as an expat in an expat-rich city in Thailand, so she identifies with your experiences. ;-)

2. I had a really nice experience at Lux-Med in Poznan when I needed to get some shots before traveling to Africa. The level of English was very good. We also avoid going to the doctor/dentist/etc unless we have to though for the reasons you mentioned.

3. What you say is true ;-) Because we live in a village, there is even less English comprehension locally, so I've taken to implementing a certain approach. (this is what works for me, it may not work in a big city!) 1) Smile, then say hi in English so they know you're foreign. 2) Explain in Polish that I don't speak Polish, and ask in basic words for what I want, or already have the Google Translate app open with the translation. 3) In the ensuing confusion, always be relaxed, compliment them if they do use some English, and smile a lot.

4. What makes me laugh is the lack of pre-warning for construction! I think in 5-10 more years, traveling in the country will be completely revolutionized. I love using the new highways when they are opened, so looking forward to the end of the bulk of the construction projects as well. I'm lucky I'm right off the completed A2!

5. I could also tell some stories. Like the time I decided to take the stairs in a 30 story building instead of try to navigate the 'line' for the one lift available.

6. Yup, you're right again! Customer service can be laughable, and their requests for exact change I answer with, "I'm sorry, I don't understand Polish." I've found that finding a way to compliment and show appreciation for their work usually results in an improvement, and always leave a tip, which of course is not traditional here. Once I make a good connection with employees at some establishment, I always go to them from then on. They enjoy waiting on their 'foreigner' after they get to know me.

7. I'm glad I'm not a vegan. I'd starve here because of all the veggies I've had to leave behind ;-)

Monica said...

I have to agree with you about a couple of annoying things about living in Warsaw. For me the worst ones are: The health system (specially I you have kids), the traffic (polish people are always in a hurry) and the stupid coin for the cart in the supermarket ( I forgot many times). But after all I have to admit that this city is safe, cheap, has a very good transportation. Only with time you learn how to deal with this inconvenient situations!!

Unknown said...

I can totally relate to this, it's like you're talking about Slovenia too. The ex-communist culture has influenced a lot, probably. But you are right, nothing is perfect anywhere! So as long as we are here let's enjoy it!

Andrea said...

This gives a nice balance to my post yesterday where I gushed about Warsaw!

Living as an expat is tough everywhere, especially when you move often and face the same challenges all over again. But it makes you stronger and more adaptable which is always a great thing. :)

jaz@octoberfarm said...

i sat down in the vegetable isle one day and cried my eyes out. and that was in toronto!

BacktoBodrum said...

Fascinating post - I think it proves to me that I live in a country for its people rather than infrastructure or cost of living.

Heather | Ferreting Out the Fun said...

Wow, some of this stuff sounds more like China than Europe. It used to drive me batty when the old ladies would cut in line! The expat crowd in Shanghai was also very cliquey and super frustrating. Once I gave up on trying to fit it I was SO much happier, and ended up making some pretty awesome friends. Thankfully the crowd in Riga is way better.

Joy said...

Yeah, the whole power outage is pretty crazy! I've read a lot of conspiracy theories about it now. Overall, I'm happy in Warsaw now, but I think I'll always have some days where something will drive me batty! ;-)

Joy said...

Hi Monica, I don't know how Polish people deal with the health care system. I've called Luxmed before to get into an endocrinologist and sometimes the wait time is 1 to 6 months. If I have a thyroid problem and need medicine, I can't wait that long! So Luckily, we can afford to go to a private clinic and pay out of pocket for this. I finally found a private doctor that speaks English well AND is nice!

Joy said...

Hi Ana, You're right! I think the whole attitude problem does relate to the Communist years as well as the fact Poland has endured a lot from the wars and its entire history, really. I try to cut people some slack, knowing the hardships they have gone through, but the cutting in line thing is just plain rude. Now, I know to stand my ground and fight back. 😊

Joy said...

Hi Andrea, I liked your post about Warsaw and those are the reasons I like it too, but these are the things that drive me crazy as well.

Yes, expat life has certainly taught me to be flexible and adaptable. You have to be or else!

Joy said...

Hi Joyce, I'm sure some cities we never feel at home at or can adjust to either. My husband's family moved around a lot and his mother disliked Arizona. Thank goodness Pennsylvania makes you happy now! :)

Joy said...

Hi Annie, yes, I loved Istanbul for its food, the markets, the weather and its people. I met so many interesting people there!

Joy said...

@Heather, you are exactly right! Once I found "my people," I gave up trying to fit in with everyone else. I became much happier! I just don't understand how some women can be like that whether they are 30 or 50. Geeez!

Alie C said...

Oh yes, high school mean girls all over again! This is one of the things I hate about expat life, I just wish women would support other women instead of trying to tear each other down Urgh it's been a learning curve for sure.

Sharon said...

When we lived in Copenhagen, the Danes were brutal when you tried to speak the the point of sometimes laughing in your face. Poles seem very appreciative in comparison! We're only here for a few months, so my biggest problem is trying to buy sliced cheese at the deli - LOL! I smile and point and pantomime a lot and use my little handful of Polish words. So far so good. But I do have this niggling fear in the back of my mind that I will get a urinary tract infection during our stay and have to explain it by pointing and pantomiming!!

Joy said...

@Alie, agreed! But once you find a true group friends, then it's much easier to avoid the mean girls!" :-)

Joy said...

@Sharon, Well, I'm glad I don't know any Danes yet. Some Poles are more tolerant than others when you attempt to speak Polish. When I was recently in Lower Silesia, everyone was much friendlier and seemed to appreciate the fact that I was trying to speak Polish!

I would bring a dictionary if you ever need to do with that at the apteka! :) However, the 24hour apteka on Jana Pawła near Kino Femina usually has someone on staff that speaks English.

Sharon said...

Joy - thanks for the tip. I've actually had good luck using the Google Translate app.

AnetaKa said...

I have to say that Warsaw is a one of those places in Poland, which is definitely worth to visit. At the same time, if we need medical care, we should go to the American Clinic. It is a part of Medicover Hospital in Warsaw. It offers a wide range of services, staff is multilingual, and more on the spot, each patient receives a personal tudor, who accompanied him throughout the treatment period, what makes recovery more rapidly.

Unknown said...

Hi! I'm Polish currently living abroad. To be honest I found your blog by an accident. But I got really curious what expats think about living in Poland. I have to say I totally agree with everything you said in here! I've already started to forget how life in Poland might be inconvenient. About the heath care system just forget about the insurance. Private doctors only. Everyone does it. That's a really sad truth... Hopy, despite all of those disadvantages, you enjoy living in Poland. Cheers!

Warsaw expat to be said...

We think about moving to warsaw as a family for a job and we wonder if the warsaw street are children-friendly. We have a 6 years old daughter so we Wonder if she can play in the street of a neighboorhood with little or no adult supervision?

Joy said...

@Warsaw to be expat,
Honestly, I never ever saw children playing in the streets in Warsaw. In a park, yes, or in the yard of their own home or in front of their flats. Also, Poles are quite protective of their children and often the grandmothers are the ones watching them all day or after school. Warsaw is a relatively safe place, but I'd be too concerned about the not-so-good drivers on the streets to ever let my child play in one. All the best in your move!