Cultural letter #4  Vacation


 Dear friends,


Back by "popular demand".  Another cultural letter. :) If I tend to be seasonal in my letters, it's because that is what is around me.  As a disclaimer, I do try to be "deadly" accurate because I have at least 4 Polish people who receive these letters and various other "Slavic" people. However, any time you are quoting other people, giving interpretations of 'culture' there will always be those who differ. The main ones who might differ are the ones who have had the most interaction with "the west/ other cultures."


Attitudes towards vacation:

Polish people take their vacations very seriously.  Apparently tradition says that kids must leave the area for camps for at least 2 or 3 weeks of the summer, or there is a major feeling of "deprivation".  (This is after spending some time with some people who live down the street and listening to tone of voice and attitudes about poor kids whose parents can't afford to send them away for camp.)  Unfortunately I feel pretty hard-hearted about their complaints--sending all of our kids would take a good chunk of money--I can't imagine the typical Pole being able to afford it but about half of the ones from Warsaw manage to do it.  (This statistic was given to me by a Polish lady.)  Many times the husbands/wives will take separate vacations.  (That one is STILL strange to me, though people do it all the time here.)  Apparently in times past the government offered free or almost free vacations in a "sanitarium"  (I know to us it sounds like you are mentally ill or have tuberculosis).  If this is offered through work of some kind, it wouldn't be unusual for the woman to go alone, or the man.  Since I've not been on one of these, I can't say first-hand what happens, but if I understood the person right who was telling me about it, it is more like staying in a "bare bones" sports club, with everything offered like massages, exercise equipment, exercise time, meals, etc and lots of free time to do nothing but relax/take walks, etc. (I say "bare bones" because except for the Marriott and other places specifically designed for rich foreigners--which are very plush--most of the places would be classified as 'bleak' compared to facilities as you know them--sufficient and clean, but pretty basic--like a "cheap" motel in the states--with tile floors.)



There are all kinds of camps, from Christian geared for Christians to evangelistic/Word of Life, to totally secular/ English camps, etc. Mike and I went with the young people from the church in Anin several years ago on a "camp" that the young people had that was about 7 hours from Warsaw, and was primarily evangelistic in effort.  We pitched tents and had showers without any curtains!  (YUK!)  (at least there were separate men's and women's showers.) Lydia was still in diapers. (The young people held a Bible club each afternoon in a neighboring town.) However, Mike informed me that most of the camps he has participated in/been to, haven't been quite as primitive in accommodations.  Most of them are in a campground, which could be some place with only a half acre of land and several buildings, usually in a scenic setting, even if the scenery is outside the property. They will serve food and provide meeting rooms for a set price per day per person.  The biggest difference between camps over here and the ones Mike and I have participated in in the states has been the level of activities planned.  Here, for the most part, camps are more along the line of "camping out" as Americans view things, and less of "camp"--in other words, hours and hours of free time per day, walks, etc. and very laid back.


Our camping experiences in the states (AK, WA, FL and NC) have all been rather "full" times with a heavy spiritual emphasis--counsellors in every cabin and such.  This isn't the way it's done here, as we have seen it, as a normal thing.  My kids participated in a Christian children's camp a couple years ago, and in the boy's cabin there wasn't any adult in the cabin to deal with them (there was with the girls). The one Mike is in right now--it is for youth ages 15-30 and because Roger has had so much contact with it--it hasn't fallen in the typical mold (see disclaimer at the beginning of this letter. :) ).   I'm not sure what kids would think of a camp with competition between teams, organized ball games and memory verse contests, etc.  I've no idea whatsoever.  However....camping is a whole ministry in itself.  I know that in the states we are spoiled with camps and full time staff and lovely facilities....  (We had a conference in June here but it was very "American" in style in that there were several sessions per day, little free time to sit around and gab, and you know what? I think the attendees loved it!--it was planned and executed by Polish people with strong ties to the US.)


Summers in Poland:

Weather can be unpredictable.  You can need a sleeveless shirt and a/c one day and 2 days later, a sweat shirt is appropriate.  July has been cool--a good portion of it was in the 50's & 60's, but April and May this year were beauties--even up in the 80's in April.  Favorite things to grow are cucumbers, sunflowers (they eat the seeds), potatoes, beets, dill, radishes, lettuce, cauliflower, red and black currants and other fruits, and lots and lots of flowers--. Many people try tomatoes every year but often are thwarted by the weather.  Many times people take almost their whole yards--which tend to be like a small suburban lot in the city in the states, at least here in the Warsaw area-- and use them for gardens.  One person in the Ukraine told Mike that it was "necessary" that they have a garden so that they could have food all winter.  They put up pickles and pickle other things also, like beans and mushrooms.  The woods are apparently full of edible mushrooms and people are always searching for them.  We have birch trees behind us and I've been told that there are some good mushrooms that traditionally grow where birch trees grow.  (No, I'm not into picking wild mushrooms.)   We can buy these mushrooms from ladies at the bazaar/farmer's market, but so far I've not ventured to.  We can get the white type of mushroom for about 75cents a lb. any time, except when it is very hot, when they are unavailable. Mike prefers the white cultivated kind as he thinks the other ones are slimy.  Polish people love 'em.



Today is mine, so I guess that's why I'm thinking about them at the moment. (I celebrated by taking the kids to McDonalds.)  I've been told that Polish people (nonbelievers) don't like their birthdays and it is a sad time for many of them since it reminds them that they are growing older and closer to death. They, instead, celebrate "name day" which is a Catholic holiday.  Every Polish name has a saint that he/she is named after. There are two name days in every calendar year that correspond to your name. In order to find out your name day is, you look on the calendar and determine which name day is closer to your birthday and that is your name day. (i.e. Your name is Eva--your birthday is November 12.  On any given calendar that you purchase in Poland are listed two names on every little white square.  On November 30 it says Eva, Lech, and on June 20 it says Eva, Dominik [not really, this is only for illustration].  Your name day would be November 30.  This is "your day" and you celebrate it big.)  I've been told that people bring their own cakes to work and really celebrate this by throwing their own party. Of course, to the Christian this is rather "catholic" and they don't celebrate it--at least not if they've been Christians a long time. I've not really seen birthday parties or cakes or much of anything for birthdays. I'm pretty sure they must do something, at least for the children, but it is pretty low key compared to the states. They make up for it with "name day." (This is how it has been explained to me.)


These are a few of the things that I've learned.  There's always more to learn, and its for sure I don't feel like an expert on Polish culture--merely an outsider looking in/participating somewhat.  Sometimes missionary questionnaires that we have to fill out ask very interesting questions like,  "Do the nationals look upon you as one of them, or are you an outsider?"  Well, since we ARE outsiders, I think it would be extremely unusual if they looked on us as anything different.  I'd like to think that they look at us as outsiders, but they love (?) accept us anyway.  :)  I imagine if you live in one culture long enough, you may begin to think like one of them--at this point, I can only begin to know what some of the Polish people are thinking--much less think like that myself.  I know that in some ways I've changed, however, and that was exhibited by some of my reactions when we went back on furlough....but I can save that for another letter.


Have a great day. I'll update you more on the camp where Mike is once it is over.


In Warsaw,

Becky Petersen









Mike and Becky Petersen


Mike and Becky Petersen