Cultural letter #7 Miscellaneous


Dear friends,


Here goes again....Let me examine a few more subjects in light of Polish culture.  This one doesn't deal with any really important spiritual/religious issues--just a bunch of misc. ideas.


General common core of knowledge

In every culture there is a common core of "understood" subjects.  These are things that you don't explain to each other--you just assume that each other knows it.  For example, in America, you know that July 4th is a big day with lots of picnics; Labor Day is off for most people unless you work in a store related profession (or BJU) and the day after Thanksgiving is the largest shopping day of the year. These are things that you know simply by living in America--no one "teaches" you these things.   Other things, like, clerks should smile and be friendly when they wait on people, rich people don't necessarily look rich, and that "blue collar workers" may actually make more money than "white collar workers," are things that everyone knows/experiences.  So what kinds of things do we run into over here like that?  For us, it has been a process of learning--and each year we build upon the core we've accumulated from previous years here.   


Let me first explore some of the things "around the house" that I've run into.


-- Many young people don't know that you shouldn't use a metal pancake turner on a non-stick frying pan/cake pan/cookie sheet.  I've tried to eliminate from my kitchen supplies all my metal spatulas, serving spoons, pancake turners, etc, and yet it seems like they seek the metal one out (I have one I keep for the grill).  Amazing. My kids know to not use bare metal because it scrapes off the nonstick surface.   This doesn't appear to be one of those basic "common core" of knowledge items here.


-- College age young people who have no idea how to open a ziploc bag, so they cut off the top.


-- Young people who've never seen a rototiller, much less used one. Dirt is "turned" by hand--even a large garden--only "farmers" would have a tractor or a horse and plow.


Now for us.... where I've not known something...


--Recently (like 3 days ago) I asked a friend to record on a tape recorder how to feed their dog (so I could play it over and over again with my kids and make sure we all understood it--an idea recommended by a web site I found on language learning--SIL.).  Anyway, as I played it, I expected her to start out with either getting the dry food from the bag or opening a can--but she started with boiling water for the macaroni!  I had totally forgotten that many of the Poles feed their dogs macaroni---mixed with some sort of meat. Feeding your dog macaroni and meat bones is probably actually cheaper than buying the cheapest dog food.


---You should always take your "slippers" with you if you are going to someone's house--at least if your feet are as large as mine. You take your shoes off at the door and they may offer you slippers so you don't have to run around in your socks or stocking feet.  I've forgotten plenty of times!!!  A lady with small feet may offer you her extra pair to use, but a pair too small isn't very comfortable. :)  (Most Polish women have small feet, at least in my opinion.  It is difficult, though not impossible, esp. now with some new shoe stores coming to Poland, to find the equivalent of ladies size 10 here.)


---You don't offer someone ice in their cold drinks in the winter--they think you are weird and they will surely get sick.  They may take an ice cube in their drink in the summer--one cube, MAYBE 2--but in the winter--it's almost an offense. :)  One lady apologized to me for offering Lydia juice "straight out of the refrigerator."  (It was too cold.)  I didn't care to shock with the idea that I always keep my juice in the fridge and we drink it cold--winter and summer.  It was simply too difficult to explain.  (I accepted her apology and let Lydia drink it.)


Here are some more misc. ideas. 


1.  I used to feel sorry for all the Poles as I wasn't sure how they could possibly live on only $150/month.  Not too long ago we had a several people over for Sunday dinner, which included an American married to a Pole, the Polish wife, and the mother-in-law (also, a Pole, obviously).  We had some discussions along this line.  I asked how in the world they could be buying shoes and paying for bus tickets and rent, etc,  when this is all we hear that they make.  She said it simply isn't true.  (This is the older lady talking--she's in her 60's, I'd guess.)  According to her, she said, and these are her words..."Polish people like to complain."  She said, once again, let me take her words, "They like to take one source of income, and it will always be the lowest and tell you how much that is." (She said she does the same.)  I told her I had wasted lots and lots of emotional energy on people before, worrying that they didn't have enough to "make it" and then they took a vacation!  So, I've vowed to quit worrying about financial problems unless there is an obvious lack of food.  I figure that anyone with a car can't be possibly making what the statistics say--gasoline is over $2/gallon--close to $3. There is no way that anyone making that little could have a vehicle and use it--it is simply not enough to buy the fuel, insurance, inspections, etc. that are required (repairs, too)--unless it is a teenager whose existence is financed by his/her parents. 


Abby (my 8-year-old) told me today she is the only one in her class who hasn't bought any "junk" food from the little store at school.  If this is true, there is more money floating around than people like to let on.  There are SOME, who, no doubt, only make a little bit, but they have subsidized housing, live in one room, etc.  For people who live in a house, it simply isn't possible.  Their gas bill, alone, in the winter, would be more than they made--add all the other bills and it just doesn't work.  (You must understand that I am observing here in the Warsaw area as my basis for these comments. I've heard that other parts of Poland are much, much poorer.  It also is true that often there are several people in one household making that much money--or a little more, so that by the time you combine them all, it would be equivalent to closer to $800-$1000/month when you combine all incomes--many people have husband/wife, and their parents all working and living in the same house.)


Once I did discuss this with another Pole, and they said that many Polish people are living off loans from the bank--in hopes that somehow things in the future will be better.  I've never asked a Polish person how much they make, unless it is a university student, just starting out--never have I asked another adult (nor have I been told, except by the people making $150/month). :)


2.  Americans and money....Whether or not we can help it, we are looked upon as rich--if for no other reason than because we are Americans.  Last winter we were asked by two different people within a week for a loan.  Mike and I have adopted a policy (we "borrowed it" from someone in the states) that we won't loan money--if there is a dire need--we would just pay the bill, or go buy food, etc.  Both times when we told these people that, we found out that one of them wanted to borrow the money to pay back another loan, and the other wanted to go to the doctor and wanted the money for some tests they needed to be done.  When we told them that if it was not having food that we would go and buy some right now, or something major like that, both of them said, "Oh no, no, no."  One time we were asked for money and I'm not even sure we even had any in the house except a tiny little bit... One other time a man stood at our gate asking for about $2.50 for "bread."  Mike told me and so I sent out a loaf of bread to him, and he asked him for "butter to go on the bread."  I sent some margarine out too, along with a tract.  (I didn't have any butter.)  What would you do?  Sometimes we don't know what to do--this man has only one leg, but when he left us, he didn't head in the direction of, who knows? 


I think some people think that if you have the money, you are supposed to loan is your Christian duty to do so.  Kind of different to us.  Mike and I instead, would buy food or make up a basket of  necessary items from things I have in the house, as like most Americans, I like to keep "ahead" in supplies. I've no idea if Polish people borrow, (or ask to borrow) as much from each other--this is a matter I really don't ask about--I'm not talking for major big items like a house or even a car--but for paying bills, buying furniture, etc. 


This comment is not to indicate that I believe that most Poles are floating in money. But, as I've met several people at school, I've met the following housewives--husbands who 1. own an optyk that provides glasses' lenses throughout all of Poland--they took a trip to the US, Seattle area and went down to CA, a year or so ago; 2. a financial advisor's wife--they also took a trip to Disney World and stayed there 5 days! (when we went, we got free passes given to us by a girl who works there--a member of Gateway Baptist, in Kissimmee) and are currently building a house,  3. a fireman's wife who, when he's not working his regular job, has his own business which finances their house building project and so on it goes.  I'm not saying they are all rich, but neither are they as poor as you are probably thinking they are.  Many of them live a "middle class" existence, as you know it. (More than I was aware of before I started off to school with the kids) I did just find out that one of the most famous "pop singers" in Poland lives right down the road from us--3 people in a very large house with a very high non-see-through wall around it.


BUT...on the other hand... there are also our neighbors, who don't have running water in the house, have an outhouse, (on one side) and the ones across the street--they have running water, but no bathroom in the house--it's all one room.  Of course, if I were in the same situation, I'd split the one large room into two with the wall unit that they have lining the wall to make private sleeping quarters for the husband/wife, and the children.  But that's me--American mentality...privacy is important....


3.  Driver's licenses

It seems that more men have driver's licenses than women.  Women are more afraid to drive.  The system does appear to have some major corruption involved with it and it costs to 1. practice driving as it has to be with a certified driving teacher, 2. take your test, 3. retake your test, 4. reretake your test....etc. Each time they are getting money out of you.  It does appear if there is only one driver in the family, it is usually the husband and not the wife.


4.   School related

We were asked to donate approximately 25cents (per kid) towards paper for the school so that they could buy paper for the copy machine.  They had no paper.  I was asked to donate about $1.25 towards a present for each teacher for "teacher's day."  I suggested getting her a gift certificate since everyone here knows that "teachers are very, very poor," but apparently that isn't an "elegant enough" idea.  (Unfortunately I'm big on practicality and I still believe it's the best present.)


Have a great day.


Becky Petersen