living in Warsaw as an expat
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Living in Warsaw as an Expat – Richard Blanks

If I didn’t live in Gdańsk, I’d probably be living in Warsaw right now. I’m fascinated by this city. So when I stumbled across the Youtube channel of a British man from Oxford who now lives in Warsaw, I didn’t waste any time in inviting him to speak to Finding Poland about what it’s like living in Warsaw as an expat.

The name’s Richard Blanks. The Youtube channel is Brit in Poland. And this is Finding Poland back with its first interview since May 2022. A long time indeed. Over to Richard to introduce himself.

 

About Richard Blanks

Hello, my name is Richard and I am a Brit in Poland!

Having moved to Warsaw in 2018, I fell in love with Poland and I continue to find new and exciting aspects of life here every year, whether that be some beautiful city, some fascinating tidbit of history or some interesting cultural realisation.

Moving to Poland has really helped me to discover more about myself and to grow a great deal as a person. Learning about this great country has also become a passion for me and I share my learnings through my website www.britinpoland.com and my Youtube channel Brit in Poland.

If you haven’t visited Poland yet, I highly encourage you to do so. You will find a lot to see here, down-to-earth people and a rich cultural heritage!

 

Living in Warsaw as an expat – Interview with Richard Blanks

1. So why Poland?

I came to Warsaw because of work. My previous company basically moved the work we had from Oxford to Poland. I came to Poland to train the new employees. In the time I spent in Warsaw, I made some really cool friends and really liked the team’s work ethic. 

At the end of my tenure as a trainer, they offered me a position to be an SME [Subject Matter Expert] for the group. Of course, I accepted the role. It was technically a promotion. All in all, I really enjoyed the time I had spent in Poland so far and wanted to see where the journey would take me. Almost six years later I have no regrets and feel living in this country has not only been a lot of fun but has really developed me as a person!

2. Watching some of your videos on Youtube, I understand that you struggled as a child in terms of coming out of your shell and making friends. Would it be fair to say that your time in Warsaw has revolved a great deal around your own self-development and self-discovery?

Definitely. When I was living in the UK, I felt that I wasn’t really progressing much in life. Let’s go back in time a bit. As a kid, I was quite introverted. Then I discovered alcohol and entered the world of work which helped a bit! I came out of my shell further still when I went to uni. I tried to make a go of it in Cardiff, where I attended uni. However, the job scene was terrible and all my friends were gradually moving away to places like London and Liverpool. I ended up moving back in with my parents in Oxford which felt like taking a huge step back. So really, being in Warsaw, it’s the most independent I’ve ever been. It’s forced me to find my own way, make friends and to manage finances more closely.

Naturally, there have been quite a few stresses along the way, such as building a community and learning Polish. But ultimately such pressures and stresses only serve to develop you. In my last job, I gained a lot of confidence. They gave me a lot of better positions as I was going along. Giving me more responsibility helped. I’m now involved in running an expat group called Warsaw Global where I’m responsible for organising a lot of events.

3. Sounds fantastic. Can you tell me a bit more about Warsaw Global and your role within the group?

Sure. I discovered Warsaw Global last year through one of their events on Facebook. It was a trip to Arkadia Park near Łowicz. The park contains all these monuments and architectural wonders based on classical Greece. So we went there on a day trip and I got chatting to the organiser, Paulina, who told me everything about the group. Paulina was doing everything on her own - organising these events and activities - so I offered to give her a hand with running the group. We get together each month and plan events for the month ahead. Every week, we play board games, volleyball and normally go on a hike or a daytrip in Poland. We also do a lot of ad hoc activities. This summer [2023], we’ve got together to drink by the river and also been on camping trips. We try to make the most of every season. Essentially, we create each event in our Facebook Group and also keep in touch with members and those interested in an event via our WhatsApp group chat. Anyone can come along to these events. It’s an English speaking group and we have a lot of different nationalities. For those living in Warsaw as an expat, Warsaw Global is the ideal outlet for people to meet people and get to know something about other cultures.

4. Tell me something about the area you live in and other areas of Warsaw which might appeal to new expats to the city

I live in the Śródmieście district of Warsaw, which is technically the city centre. I’m in the northern part. I live just opposite the Arkadia shopping centre which is quite handy. It’s a pretty quiet area - mainly residential with a few offices nearby. Nearby my building is the Powązki Cemetery which, as cemeteries go, is one of the most interesting in Poland. There are a few parks within a short walk from my flat, while the river is not too far away as well. The public transport is excellent here where I am. Plenty of bus lines and tram lines run up this way. The metro is only 10 minutes away on foot. Very close to me you have the Żoliborz area. This area is a little posher and it’s where a lot of politicians, artists and actors live. It’s a pretty scenic area with a lot of grand houses, a few nice parks and Warsaw Citadel. A lot of my friends live in New Żoliborz. This is actually an estate in its own right that’s basically popped up at lightning speed in the time I’ve been here. Lots of nicely-styled buildings, murals, artworks, shops, bars, restaurants and parks have sprung up there. Overall, it’s a really nice place to live.

Moving on, you’ve got Wola, which has a strongly residential flavour. Originally, Wola was a separate village that was later incorporated into Warsaw. Across the river, you’ve got the very hip district of Praga which has lots of incredible murals on some of the buildings. Most people I know tend to live in the southern district of Mokotów. There’s a vast amount of green space in this area - a lot of nice parks. Łazienki Park and the huge park Pole Mokotowskie also straddle the northern fringes of Mokotów. The rent here where I live isn’t as crazy as it is in the dead centre of Warsaw. However, the rent is always going up so you never know when it might become unaffordable.

5. What else makes Warsaw a top city to live in?

First and foremost, Warsaw has got some lovely parks and plenty of museums. There’s no chance that you’ll get bored here easily. There’s also the Wisła River of course which is absolutely amazing to hang out on in the summer. There really is something for everyone - even escape rooms, laser tag and go karting. There are pool halls - some of which have snooker tables. Warsaw is also a very safe city. The crime rate is very low. I’ve never felt scared walking alone in the streets at night. I can’t say the same about Oxford which actually surprises a lot of people.

The climate here is very good. We have warm summers, proper winters with snow and beautiful spring and autumn colours. The weather feels more stable than it does in the UK, certainly.

Bus and train connections to other parts of Poland are very reasonable. Maybe not as good as they are in Kraków but Warsaw is not really a tourist city. Warsaw is more of a place to live so I’ve never found myself surrounded by hordes and hordes of tourists. All in all, Warsaw is a big city but it doesn’t always feel that way. The hustle and bustle, mad rush and general stress of everyday life is far more noticeable in cities like London. I don’t feel overwhelmed in Warsaw.

6. I’ve been truly blown away by how cheap and reliable Warsaw’s public transport is. Reveal more about your experience with the public transport system in the city

Coming from Oxford where there were a few crappy buses and unreliable timetables, things seem to be far more regulated in Warsaw. You can easily use Google Maps to navigate Warsaw. Google Maps has all the buses, trams and local trains. You can buy tickets using the Jakdojade app which is incredibly helpful. Public transport is also very cheap compared to the UK. It’s very rare that I struggle with public transport in Warsaw, even at night when buses still run. When I’m out drinking late with friends, I often use public transport.

At the moment there are two metro lines in Warsaw. However, there is a plan going up to 2050 whereby another three metro lines will apparently be built. Even since I’ve been here, the M2 line has been extended in both directions by a few stops. All in all, Warsaw gets a little bit easier to get around as each year passes.

7. Which restaurants in Warsaw never fail to disappoint you?

There are a lot of places to choose from. Honestly, I find the quality of food to be amazing. In terms of favourite restaurants, there are a few Polish places I can think of that I really like. The first one is Bazyliszek which is on the Old Town Square. They serve fantastic food and often give you a free shot at the end of your meal. It’s a nice old-fashioned place which is reasonably priced as well.

There’s a traditional pierogi chain I like called Gościniec. I like them because you can get Żurek* soup served in a bread bowl. Overall, the quality is good and the pricing is fair. There are actually four branches of Gościniec in Warsaw. I tend to go to the one on Nowy Świat Street.

Apart from Polish cuisine, you can find national cuisines from every corner of the globe. If you like Indian food, there’s a great place called Guru which is centrally located. Blimey - I even went for Nepalese food recently with friends.

Żurek is an Polish soup that’s made with white sausage, smoked meat, and sour liquid made from fermented rye flour.

8. How do you maintain connections to Great Britain – your home country? I’m thinking  in terms of British-style pubs, traditional British food and so on.

There are a couple of bars in the city centre. You have the British Bulldog Pub which is really a massive tourist attraction. It’s got some symbols of Britain in there, like a red phone booth. For me, it’s a bit of a fake pub and also pricey. There’s also the Legends bar which is actually run by a British guy and his Polish wife. It does the best English breakfast I’ve found in Poland so far. They have proper bacon and brown sauce. They also have Irish sausages - so fairly close to the ‘English’ variety. Legends does get busy because a lot of Brits live in the pub’s vicinity and they go to watch the football and rugby etc there. I don’t go there very often to be frank. There are also a few shops that sell stuff from Britain as well. One is called ‘The British Shop in Warsaw’ where you can get your teabags, Walkers crisps and Lucozade and so on. It’s quite expensive, of course, but I treat myself now and then.

9. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced living in Warsaw as an expat over the past five years?

At the beginning, I was just overwhelmed by the regular day to day life tasks I took for granted living in the UK. For example, shopping. When I first got to Poland, I was petrified about going to the shops because I didn’t speak any Polish. Some of the food items are quite a bit different to those you find in the UK so I sometimes had to pore over the labels to figure out what I was actually buying.

When I first moved to Poland, I had to visit a few local government offices and deal with paperwork related to gaining a residence permit. Unfortunately, not everyone spoke English. So I had all these long forms to fill out - in the Polish language of course. Actually, even though I’m taking Polish lessons, learning languages doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m making progress but it’s a lot of work. Just a few more recollections though regarding my residence permit. After Brexit, Brits just had to renew any residence permits they had. It was all very easy because there was a specific page on the Office for Foreigners’ website for Brits to sign and book an appointment. Moreover, the authorities made sure there were English speaking people at these offices. It’s getting harder for people coming from outside the EU to obtain residence. I have lots of colleagues, particularly those in Warsaw Global, who’ve been waiting for over a year to get their permits. There are so many foreigners coming to Warsaw now so the system is overloaded. When I applied five to six years ago, there were nowhere near the number of foreigners there are now. They have these skills gaps - in IT specifically - and so people are coming in from countries such as India. The situation with Ukraine has also put additional strain on the Office for Foreigners in Warsaw as well.

What else … At the beginning, I also struggled to get to grips with the public transport system in Warsaw. When I first came here, I used Uber to go everywhere. This is not the case now of course unless I don’t have any other choice. As for the metro, it was tricky for me at the beginning to figure out how to get from A to B even though it’s super easy to use once you get into the swing of things.

10. We talked about your group Warsaw Global earlier. Are there any other groups you can recommend for expats living in Warsaw to meet people?

Generally, there are many other active groups on Facebook for expats to meet people. I’m a member of Brits in Poland and Warsaw EXPATS. There are also a lot of language exchange groups. I should also mention another meet-up group - Internations - which you have to pay for. It’s more for business people, though in reality I haven’t been to any of their events so I can’t say much about them. There’s also a Facebook group called Warsaw Friends. They’re mainly a Polish group but I do know one person who goes along to their events. They do speak English quite a lot of the time. A lot of international people tend to drink in bars in the area around Emilii Plater. This is where the British Bar, Legends, can be found. A lot of Americans frequent craft beer pubs. You also have Shamrock which generates a large international crowd.

11. Do you have any ambitions for the near and far future?

I mainly plan to continue what I’ve been doing. I’d like to help develop Warsaw Global further, continue to grow the group and establish it as a dominant group for people in Warsaw to join. As for my YouTube channel, I’d like to continue to grow that. This means I’ll be exploring a lot more of Poland. Warsaw Global helps with that. The channel also encourages me to learn more about all aspects of life here such as history and culture, so I hope to share more and more about Poland as I learn and experience more. I’d also like to further my career so I might start looking around soon for another job. From time to time, I think about teaching English more than I do even though I don’t see it becoming a full-time career because I do not have any formal teaching qualifications. Now and then, I have the odd student. I also signed up to teach for an online language school and I’ve had students with them although work is hard to come by in the summer months. What else - I will persist with learning Polish and work towards acquiring Polish citizenship.

A Thorough Guide to Expat Life in Warsaw

I’ve had a whale of a time cooperating with Richard in recent weeks. He comes across as a very candid, empathic and positive person. 

Clearly, Richard’s found his place in Poland: I love the polish way of thinking. I worry that in the UK we’re too influenced by the US. A lot of their political problems are seeping into British culture. I think Poland is separated from that. I’m surrounded by so many like-minded individuals here and I find it so easy to talk to them.

It seems that living in Warsaw as an expat, particularly one who’s a native speaker of English, affords the said group a great number of opportunities. As Richard stated: Being a native English speaker – it does give you an advantage in Poland, it gives you a slightly special status. You’re a little bit of an oddity, more people are curious about you, people want to talk to you. This makes it easier to meet people.

Food for thought indeed for disillusioned Brits.

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