1. It’s coming up to five years since you initiated your blog “polonization“. Can you tell Finding Poland about what triggered you to start blogging about life in Poland? Have more people reached out to you than you initially expected?
Wow, has it really been five years already?! I hadn’t even realized. I’ve also had two kids in the past three years, so that’s probably why 🙂 Anyway, what motivated me to start blogging was the fact that I just felt like I had a lot to say about my experiences, and I certainly would’ve appreciated more insights when I first moved here. Ten years ago, it was really hard to find any kind of blog or forum with information like that. Nowadays, there are tons of sites and Facebook groups for expats, which is great. Also, I have a background in journalism and love the feeling I get from writing.
What surprises me the most is how many people reach out to me. That makes me think the number of people reading is much greater. And the coolest thing is that most people just find my blog organically while searching for information. I love that I can help people find some answers, and that they feel like they have someone to relate to.
Steve responds: Quite right Leah. I feel the same. I wouldn’t say I’ve got a background in journalism but it was my desire throughout my early teenage years to become a newspaper journalist. I also love the feeling I get from writing.
2. You live in Gliwice, from where you run a virtual English language school – Talkback. Presumably, there are not too many native speakers of English in Gliwice, so is it easy to find students who wish to have face-to-face lessons?
Indeed, most of our lessons take place online. In fact, we have another native speaker here in Gliwice, but she’s got a full schedule and it’s so hard to find someone else! We need people here, but I’ve been trying for years and haven’t been able to find anyone here or in Katowice. A lot of people in Gliwice are interested in having face-to-face lessons and we can’t accommodate them unfortunately.
Steve responds: I believe that committed, savvy and qualified native speaking English teachers could do quite well for themselves in Poland by setting up in cities with over 150,000 residents. Gliwice has around 180,000 residents.
3. You have written about how you’ve been “polonized”. Given your American background, to what extent has becoming “polonized” perhaps confused you and altered your identity? Or, do you feel that you’ve become a more rounded person because you’re now able to pick and choose those elements of American and Polish culture which suit you?
That’s a loaded question 🙂 I feel awfully confused about my identity nowadays. I certainly don’t feel very connected with the “American” in me in a lot of ways, which makes me feel strange when I visit my family there. But then again, speaking/teaching English, raising my kids to speak English in addition to Polish, spending time with my family in America – those are all things which are very important to me. But I love my life in Poland and the many parts of the culture that I feel like I couldn’t live without now – namely traditions, my Polish family, my lovely students.
I would sometimes prefer the American way of putting a positive spin on things. Poles aren’t quite as expressive and “friendly” as we are. They don’t have a permanent smile on their faces. People who do that here appear crazy. Perhaps this seems a bit cold to us, but they’d say we’re insincere pretending that we’re happy all the time (which I do kind of agree with). We just have different communication styles and that’s something I still struggle with. I guess I’ll just always be somewhere in between the American way and the Polish way.
4. I first lived in Poland in 2006 and have, of course, witnessed significant changes over the years in Polish society, infrastructure, climate and so on. Positive and negative, what have been some of the main changes you have seen in Poland since you moved over from the US?
I’d say the biggest changes I’ve observed are just in development in general. Specifically in terms of what’s available in Poland and things like entertainment. When I first moved to Gliwice there were just a few restaurants and things. Nowadays, new, interesting restaurants, cafes, play places for kids, etc. pop up all the time, so I’d say it’s really developing in that sense. Also, I feel like the days of “we can’t get that in Poland” are basically over.
Steve responds: Those days are gone forever. Back in 2006 and 2007, I recall rocking up in a few one-horse towns which could only boast the odd zapiekanka stand, milk bar and grotty pizza restaurant.
5. Apart from the topic of health, what other examples of taboo have you come across in Poland?
Oooh…I have a post in the works about this exact topic that I’ve been thinking about for a very long time. I just haven’t had the guts to publish it yet.
First and foremost, sex is very taboo. In America it’s not taboo at all in conversation among friends. Here, people seem to be extremely uncomfortable with it. Even the gynecologist doesn’t ask you questions about your sexual health, which is certainly detrimental to the health of patients.
LGBT is also taboo. People who are gay are afraid to say so, and for good reason. Even young people seem to be prejudiced against the LGBT community, sadly. I hear my acquaintances saying things that would be completely unacceptable in the States. I guess people just don’t have a lot of exposure and that’s why they don’t accept the community as a whole. It’s a similar story here when it comes to racism.
Poles claim money is taboo but that’s bull. I’d say it’s more taboo in America. People constantly ask you how much something costs, like when you do something at home or go on vacation, etc. It’s totally normal.
6. Finally, what is your favourite place in Poland, and why?
We spend a lot of time in the Beskidy mountains, thanks to my husband’s excellent knowledge of the area and the proximity to our home. We love hiking there and foraging for mushrooms in summer/autumn. Perhaps one day we’ll live there… who knows 🙂
Steve responds: I haven’t been to the Beskidy mountains, but no doubt I’ll visit over the next few years.
As for my favourite place, I’m beginning to feel like it’s the place I live in now – Gdańsk. There’s just so much to do here.