I’ve been relatively quiet the last week because life is slowly transitioning back to “normal”. We left Zakopane last Friday and spent the day exploring the city of Krakow. On Saturday my mom flew back to the US, Tomek went back to his city and Michal, his mom and I flew back to the north part of Poland.
This week Michal has been working while I’ve been devouring book after book in an attempt to adjust to a relatively uneventful time after a period of several weeks of daily explorations of exciting places. The weather here has been quite chilly. Most days the temperature hovers around 60 and it’s rained almost daily. Michal’s family lives about 20 minutes from the Baltic Sea. We’ve gone a couple of times, but this is not the kind of weather to lie on the beach and go swimming (I miss Greece!).
Since we are in Poland I thought I’d share a little bit about my observations of this country.
Meals and mealtimes here in Poland vary from those that I’m used to. A traditional breakfast consists of several different types of deli meats, bread, butter, parówki (a type of sausage), veggies and sometimes soft boiled eggs. After breakfast the next meal, the main meal of the day, is served around 3:00-4:00 in the afternoon. This is similar to dinner and more often than not, potatoes are always a side dish. Then later in the evening another small meal is served.
Walking on the street is also an interesting experience. In the United States when you walk down the street it’s common to make eye contact with strangers, smile and sometimes even say a greeting. In Poland, it’s very rare to make eye contact with strangers and if by chance you do make eye contact, there is no smile exchanged. Believe me for years I’ve been almost forcing eye contact and smiling. If it’s ever returned, it’s only by small children. While hiking the mountain trails, we noticed that people were very friendly and quick to offer a greeting of “hello” or “good day”. The funny thing is even though Polish people seem unfriendly in passing, once you meet someone I have found that they are more welcoming and open than most Americans. I guess it just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
The currency is also different here. Poland’s currency is the Polish złoty. One US dollar is equal to just over three złoty which works out nicely for us. The cost of food seems to be less than in the states, taxes are incredibly low, but wages are also very low here. The government pays for education so university graduates enter the workforce without tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. However the job market is bleak here and many young people leave to other countries for employment.
Poland has a public healthcare system which has its pros and cons. Private healthcare is also an option but it is costly. I read one article that stated that 90% of women pay for private healthcare to deliver their babies. Maternity leave is much better in Poland than the states. Mothers get 16-18 weeks of full paid maternity leave and can take up to 3 years unpaid maternity leave. Fathers also get two weeks of fully paid paternity leave.
Every mother in Poland is entitled to a government funded program which provides a nurse/social worker who completes six home visits once the baby comes and provides parent education, answers questions on call, and checks on the health of the baby and the mother. My mother in-law does this for a living and I personally think it’d be a great job and it’s such a helpful service for new parents.
Poland has had quite a turbulent history and periods of time when it didn’t even exist as a country. Alcoholism is wide spread here. It seems more generally accepted as part of the culture and it’s not unusual to watch people stumble along the side of the road or pass out in doorways or park benches during the middle of the day.
Another difference that gets me every time is that you have to pay to use public bathrooms. Like bathrooms in train stations, bus stations, restaurants (if you’re not a paying customer), hiking lodges, etc. The price ranges from one to three złoty. There’s often someone sitting outside the bathroom waiting for you to pay them. The worst part of this is that sometimes even when you pay the bathroom is dirty and doesn’t always have toilet paper and/or soap. And if you have no money, well you might just need to wait to pee.
Our time here is quickly ending as well. We have plans to visit the sea, go mushroom hunting (a popular pastime) and eat lots of good food before we begin our long journey home early next week.
It is really difficult having family on different continents. While it provides us with a life rich in adventures some days it’d be nothing short of wonderful if the ones we loved were all within close proximity.