Has my perspective of England changed since Poland came into my life?
Do I see my homeland differently?
And who do I support when it comes to sport?
I am a proud Englishman. I love my country and I love my home. Over the past fifteen years though, I have fallen in love with Poland - it's a bit like having a love affair. I say so many positive things about Poland because I simply think it is a wonderful country with amazing, hospitable people. Sometimes, I feel as though I am 'cheating' on England because I never put posts on Facebook or Instagram about English culture and I don't write blogs about the English language. As much as I love Poland - I am English and when England play Poland at football, I am an England fan. If the Great Britain Speedway team race against Poland at the Speedway world cup, then I support my home country. If Poland face any other country though, I will support them fully. Falling in love with Poland doesn't mean I have to fall out of love with England. We are not exclusive in that sense.
I was asked via my Facebook page to consider writing an article 'to describe the evolution of your perspective of England after the time spent in Poland. Do you see your homeland differently, and what has changed?' - Great idea for a post (thanks Przemek) but how do I put that into words? Well, I'll aim to do that now.
Important decisions and actions - government
Before I met Kinga, I just assumed I'd marry a British woman, live in England and bring up our British kids, eating British food and speaking just one language. I never imagined being married to a Polish girl and having this 'different' culture almost forced on me. Of course, I knew something of other cultures as I had travelled quite a lot. But as a tourist, your eyes are not opened to the inner workings of a country, it's people and their true culture. Having spent so much time in Poland with Polish people, I often find myself thinking (and often telling other people) "In Poland it's different, they wouldn't have dealt with it like that". For the record, I have zero interest in politics (I vote and I have my opinion but I don't talk about it or write about it - usually) but let's take the recent COVID-19 pandemic as an example. Poland was pretty quick to react, close it's borders and quarantine anyone who had arrived in the country. What this mean't was, at exactly the same time Poland was starting to re-open restaurants, hairdressers & swimming pools; Great Britain decided to quarantine any visitors for fourteen days - I couldn't believe it! Just as the airlines were staring to fly again and just as people could see some light at the end of the tunnel, the British government slammed that door in their faces. I found myself asking the same question again "Why have the UK government dealt with the issue in this manner - when Poland dealt with it faster/better?" So in this instance, maybe my perception of England hasn't changed but my eyes have been opened to see things from another point of view.
There are many things that I see in a different light now that I have spent so much time in Poland. When we first moved there in 2017 I thought the education system was superior to the UK and that my children were more likely to succeed if they attended school in Poland. I just assumed then, that the British education system was inferior. Having spent two years there though, I no longer believe this is the case. I'll write a separate post on this another time as school has been the subject of so many emails, YouTube comments and Facebook questions since I started The Super Commuting Dad page. So to partly answer Przemek's question - in this respect, yes, my perception of British schools has changed for sure - but only in a positive way.
Is England really 'better'?
I suppose when I first went to Poland (you can read all about my first trip in a post already on the website) I was a bit arrogant and ignorant, maybe it's more accurate to just say I was uneducated when it came to Poland. I thought of Poland as grey and boring and in a poor economic state - I mean, why else were all these Poles coming to the UK to work? Therefore, to me, Great Britain was somewhat 'superior' - it must have had better jobs, better shops, better food, better cars, better roads and better medical care along with many other 'better' things. Back in 2005 when I first went to Poland, at least some of this was true - well, the roads were horrendous! But it didn't take long for me to realise that the UK was far from superior in all of these ways. So many things in Poland are 'better' than in England - of course, this is just my opinion and everyone else will have their own. So here is a list of just a few things I think are better in Poland and are certainly not superior in the UK: Doctors, dentists, radiologists (X-ray), public transport, beer, restaurants, technology (e.g Vozilla electric cars for hire by the minute), fruit & vegetables (larger, cheaper and organic), food variety, houses, weddings, parties, airports, meat (more choice), small locally owned shops, green grocers, butchers, bakers, delicatessens, off licences, cycle paths and outside spaces (parks, playgrounds etc). Of course, I believe some things in the UK are better than in Poland too but you get my point - originally I thought the UK was superior in every way and now I know that it is not. So, in this respect yes, my perception of the UK has changed a lot.
Respect & good manners
I think we could learn a thing or two from the Poles when it comes to respect. I always thought us Brits were super polite. We say 'please', 'thank you', 'excuse me' and 'sorry' at any given opportunity - other nations wonder why we do this and us Brits see that as rude or bad manners if people don't emulate what we do. Having spent time in Poland though, they don't seem to waste time and effort on unnecessarily apologising to someone. Of course, apologising is important if we genuinely need to. But to say 'sorry', as us Brits do, when two of us are walking towards each other on a narrow path, is simply not needed. Poles on the other hand (generally) don't open doors for each other, unless the next person is a child or an elderly person , they don't put their hand up to say 'thanks' if you give way to them in your car, they don't say 'good morning' to strangers on the way to work and they don't say thank you if you open the door for them (this one used to really annoy me - but now it is normal and when I am in Poland I act the same way). What they do though is to address their elders in a respectful manner, they address each other as 'pan' or 'pani' (sir or madam) if they don't know someone well. It is common for a Pole to give you permission to call them by their first name (if they are a generation older). For example, when I was commuting, my friend's Dad would always drive me to and collect me from the airport. I always addressed him as 'Pan Zbigniew' - after some time though he basically said that I was like family to him and to call him 'Zbyszek'. I was pleased that he had allowed me to do this and I was pleased that I had followed their unwritten rules and addressed him in the 'proper' manner. It is not easy for me I can assure you. Learning Polish means sometimes literally translating something from English into Polish, and in English, I would never say to an elderly gentleman 'Good day sir' or to my friend's aunt 'would madam please pass the salt?' It is not natural in English but in Poland it is normal and it is expected. I remember my mother in law working with another Polish lady, there was a generation age gap between them and she complained to my wife one day that the other lady had not been addressing her as 'pani'. Kinga told me and I couldn't understand what the fuss was about. But it is the Polish culture and I like it. I believe that we should address our elders as sir or madam, I believe we should show a certain respect to the generations who have more experience in this world than we have.
So this is another example of how my perception of Britain has evolved. I thought we were this super polite, respectful society. Which we are most of the time of course, but when it really matters, we are not respectful to our elders in the way that Polish people are.
Where to live - Poland or England?
When I first starting visiting Poland, Kinga and I would visit for a week or two. She would come back to the UK and say how she wanted to be in Poland for longer than two weeks, unfortunately our jobs didn't allow it. I was happy with a two week break and didn't particularly want to stay longer than that. England was my home, I wanted to go on holiday but I always wanted to come 'home'. What's changed is that whilst England is home in terms of it's where my family are, it is where our house is and it's where I was born - I kind of feel that I belong in Poland. If I was asked where I would prefer to live, I am very confident that my answer would be Poland. People will then ask me why we are living back in the UK but it is not as simple as that. We came back for the children's education and because my wife was qualified as a teacher and wanted to teach at a school in the UK focusing on special educational needs - I will write a post about why we returned to England another time. For me, Poland offers a better quality of life, but only if you can afford that quality of life. People have this misconception that wages are low in Poland but the cost of living is also low. Therefore, if you only earn one quarter of the salary you would in the UK, it doesn't matter because everything costs a quarter of the price. Let me tell you, this is not true! A beer in Poland may cost 10zl (£2) but in the UK that beer may cost you £4 (more like £5 or £6 in London) but the average Pole will earn 25% of what an average Brit earns. So, in theory that is one expensive beer for them. For people visiting Poland or those lucky enough to have a good salary, that beer is a bargain. So, for me Poland offers more space, beautiful scenery, mountains, lakes and forests all within a few hours drive of our city. There are more activities for the kids to do and when I see my daughter meeting her friends outside the flat at 10am and not coming home until 7pm, it reminds me of when I was a kid in England. Generally, kids in England don't do that anymore, certainly not enough. We don't know where the future will take us but right now, we will stay in the UK. I have a strong feeling that when the kids are older, we will be back in Poland full time. Again, my perception of my own country being the ideal place to live has changed. I feel safe in Poland, I feel that I am accepted there. I think people appreciate that I try hard to make sure our kids fully understand and appreciate their Polish roots and that I have regular language lessons - I want to be a part of Poland, whether that is four weeks a year or fifty-two weeks a year. I want my kids to want to be in Poland and I want my future life to have Poland in it.
In summary, England hasn't changed and I still love it. My perception of certain elements has changed - some in a positive way and some not so much. Whether we choose to spend the rest of our days in England, or to return to Poland, I just appreciate having that option.
For those of you who have never been to Poland, just go. Pick a city, grab a budget flight and book a hotel. It will surprise you.