Cultural letter #1  This and that from Poland


Greetings again.


I thought I'd write a different kind of letter.  November 11 is Veteran's Day in America. Here it is Independence Day, like our American July 4th.  Many people are also taking off Friday because Thursday is so close to the weekend. 


I thought I would take a few minutes to write about Poland and life here.  I will make it a variety of short statements or paragraphs.  This is a for your information (FYI) type of thing.


In every country there are pros and cons in living, right?  i.e., in America, there are opportunities galore and goods are widely available, BUT crime is high.  Got the idea?


*The bread here is excellent.  When Polish people go to the states, their automatic reaction is "to long" for their Polish bread.  I can understand that. We have a bakery about 1/4 mile from our house.  The bread is hot and fresh two times a day (10:15 am and 5:15 pm) and I can get a kind of wheat/sour dough, whole wheat/ or white bread for about 25cents a loaf.  Needless to say, I don't bake it unless I want to make cinnamon raisin bread.  They don't wrap it, and most of it is shaped like a loaf of "French bread."  Some of it is "form" bread, which means, it looks like it was baked in a loaf pan.  It's usually the 100% whole wheat and varieties like that. I can understand why the Poles "long" for their bread.  We experienced that also on furlough.  American bread tastes like "fluff" by comparison.


*Over here I really "cook."  I often make pizza or derivatives (similar to pizza, with dough in various forms, etc.), lasagna, spaghetti, chili, cakes, cookies, etc, from scratch.  My kids were definitely opinionated in the states when I tried using all kinds of "new" things with mixes and prepared frozen foods gotten at great prices. They definitely preferred my cooking "from scratch."  Usually for dinner I make either biscuits or muffins, simply because my family likes them.  We use that good "fresh" bread for eating with a cheese spread, sandwiches, or topped with meat or pickles or tomatoes, or all of the above, later in the day, for our supper. The do miss Kraft Mac  kids do miss Kraft Mac & Cheese, though (the powdered kind, you know--the flea market had it regularly for 3/$1. There is no such thing here.) While pasta and all kinds of cheese are widely available, even luxury kinds in the states like Gouda, Edam, Sokol, etc, I don't think that the Poles normally prepare a baked macaroni and cheese dish.


*The Polish ladies are experts at making soups.  (Of course this is a generality and I'm sure some are not, but I've not heard of any.)  Most of the soups have a very good flavor and are kind of watery. They often put some sort of thin macaroni product in the soup to help make it filling.  Pasta is a big seller, simply because they use it so often in soups.  I'm not sure that they just cook noodles and eat them buttered, like some of you all do.


(I'm not hungry right now but just spent 3 hours doing shopping.)


*Lines are common here and some people do not seem to mind standing in them. Usually I try to avoid them.  Yesterday I was stuck in a line about 12 people long at the post office when I mailed some letters. I considered coming back in the next morning when I figured there wouldn't be anyone. However, I opted out of that since my kids were at a Polish family's house and I had the time, and I didn't want to come back the next day.  So, I found myself in a long line, the like of which I thought I'd never let myself purposefully get in. It took at least 25 minutes to mail the three letters.


*Mondays seem to be a terrible day to do banking and other business matters.  I've not figured that one out.  The lines seem long everywhere on those days.


*You receive bills in the mail, but you have to go to pay for them, either to the office that sent them, or you can go to your local post office and pay them at a special counter with usually only one lady working there. We have no checking account here. Everything is a cash transaction. 


*The banks are becoming very modernized, but yet lack the streamlined efficiency of the states.  So far I've not seen any "drive-through" windows.  For us to get money out, we stand in line to see the cashier, possibly up to 45 minutes and then give our account number to the lady and then our i.d. card is run through a machine then we punch our pin number into the machine. The cashier makes sure the pin number is right and then will give us the money we ask for.  We can deposit our checks into one location only with ease (it takes us a minimum of 45 minutes to do so), but we can withdraw money at any location, I've been told.


*We now have several large supermarkets in Warsaw since 1994. Now we have one, called Geantt, French, I believe, about 20 minutes (my driving, maybe less for someone more aggressive) away.  It is more normal to measure how far it is by "how long" it takes to get there, not how many miles/kilometers away it is.  Today I went and stocked up on basics.  I actually prefer to buy fresh fruits and vegies at our local bazaar (open market) but haven't been there lately.  At the open market the varieties are usually better than at the supermarkets, at least on common items like apples, carrots and potatoes. The prices are not always better.


*Almost everyone buys potatoes "in bulk" for the winter.  We bought some (100 kilos--220 lbs.) potatoes for about 5cents a lb, I think it was.  They sell them in 100 lb. bags.  I parked the van close so the man I bought them from could lug the bags to the van. Mike wasn't with me.  I bought two kinds--some white and some more "reddish".  The most popular way to fix potatoes here is peeled, boiled and then mashed with a potato masher, and sprinkle some dill weed on it.  Some people add butter or margarine.  I don't think most add milk nor do they mix them with a mixer of any kind.  They are delicious the way the Poles fix them.  My kids add the "grass" (dill) at the table.


*Many people here seem very concerned about their health and know about natural medications or home remedies.  Medical care is socialized and almost every one is eligible for free stays (or very cheap) in the hospital if they are sick and almost free medicine (I bought a prescription for 50cents for an allergy Jeremiah had recently--a skin cream. The doctor told me it is "expensive".).  You buy the medicine at a store called an "apteka" where you can also buy bandaids and other things related to your health.  I've not seen Tylenol, but we have Panadol, which is similar and the other day I saw "Icy Heat" in there for sale. There are lots of these drug stores around and they are usually quite small. You stand in line and ask for what you want, sometimes have to go pay at a different place, then go back and pick up what you asked for after you show that you paid, even though the 2 people working are less than 15 feet away from each other.  They do such things as open heart surgery here.  When I was pregnant with Daniel, I had a very modern "ultrasound" which cost me the equivalent of $10, with a no wait and no appointment necessary.  We watched the baby move on a miniature screen while the doctor moved the pointer around. That equipment was very modern. Probably ladies under the socialized system do not have ultrasounds, though I'm not sure of that.  We paid for things as we went along and are not under the socialized system of medical care. We use the same doctors as anyone else can, but we pay for it.  The doctor I saw privately was also the head ob-gyn at the hospital where I delivered. I just saw him in the basement of his house during his private office hours.  I'm relatively sure that money just went in his drawer never to be reported or seen again.  Each visit cost about $10--I went about 3 times I think. Dont' fuss at me--he didn't! :)  He was very philosophical when I apologized the last time I went in after it being so long, and he said, "Well, the baby hasn't been born yet!"  I like that "Laid-back" approach simply because I've had no problems in delivering babies. For others it is very stressful.


*Trains and buses are very much a part of life here.  Many people still do not own cars, though I think the prices have come down on them some since we arrived.  For 50cents apiece, we can take a bus into Warsaw.  We can buy an all day pass around Warsaw, if you care to go, for about $1.50. That will allow you to take any of the trams (trolley cars) and buses that are part of the public system. The train is more expensive, but still quite reasonable to take, and usually is less crowded than the buses.  There are some private buses here in our area that will take you all the way to Warsaw for about the same price.


*The ladies tend to dress up more in public here than in the states.  I've seen people in what appear to be "office" clothes (and shoes) at the open market, shopping.  Often workers will take their clothes in a bag and then change into their work clothes and before they return on the bus, they will change back into their "street" clothes before leaving the place of work.  They don't want to travel in the buses in their work clothes.  That seems to be very prevalent.  Many young ladies/women dress in very short skirts and black hose and relatively high black heels.  It seems to be quite common, but still gives the appearance of the "oldest profession" to us. Prostitution  is legal here and they sometimes stand beside the roads in very short skirts and high heels or florescent colors, usually in groups of 2 or 3. Often they are Russians or other minority group..


*We still have a horse and cart that goes in front of our house every now and then pulling stuff into town.  Some farmer who doesn't own anything else uses it as his mode of transportation or method of carting things around.


*Bartering and trading is common still here, I do believe, at least among friends. We had a dead tree in our yard that Mike cut down.  I asked a lady who lives kind of close if they wanted it for their furnace and she said it would be great, and that later, if they had something we could use, we could have it.  (At least I'm pretty sure that is what she said!)  One of our neighbors regularly brings us eggs in exchange for us giving him some food scraps suitable for his chickens or Mike has given him quite a bit of wood (our property had a lot of trees on it.). 


*Mike has gotten even store owners to come down on prices if the store is small and not one of the big supermarkets. 


*It costs us about $75/month for electricity for our house (that doesn't include heat.).  We have everything electric except heat and will have heat, Lord willing by the end of this month. (We've not had any system of heating other than 1 free standing propane heater and 2 electric heaters if we needed it up til now. There have been times it has been in the 50's in the house :) in the winter. We are looking forward to being able to "turn on" the heat with a thermostat.  Mike is from Alaska and likes it cool in the house but there have been times it has been a tad bit too "cool" even for him.)


*Gasoline and diesel prices have gone up to about $2.00 and $3.00/gallon.  Prices used to be more in line with the states.  I've been told they've risen about 14 times this year.  Each time they go up it is "by the liter" not "by the gallon" (it takes roughly 4 liters to make a gallon).


*Religious holidays here have little difference than political ones.  November 1 was All Saints Day, a very Catholic day where the people honor their dead loved ones.  Thursday is Independence Day. I think possibly that the Catholic ones are even more important and more widely observed.  Most people are Catholic, however, a good number of them do not regularly attend church except during the holidays.  Does that sound familiar?


*Mike will be travelling about 6 hours from here Friday through Monday to participate in a conference here in Poland. He will be going with Jan Tolwinski.  There are a group of 6 or 7 churches over towards Germany who have separated from the Brethren and wish to associate with Jan as being the most fundamental in Poland.  This group is one that has been previously unknown to us. The Polish leader of this group called Mike about 3 weeks ago and requested him to come along with Mike after Mike was at an all-day pastor's conference on a Saturday about 3 hours from here..  Mike is now preparing his sermon/s and would appreciate your prayers.  Needless to say if he is over there for 4 days with Jan, he won't be here, and so we would appreciate your prayers in his absence. The boys are learning to take more responsibilities and so it is helpful to me, especially in Mike's absence.


That's all for now. 


Keep praying for us here in Warsaw.  We aren't "technically" in Warsaw, but we are only about 3 miles outside the city limits, so we say that we are "in Warsaw." 


I'll send you another note in a couple of days.  I wanted this one to be "different."


In Warsaw,