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Letter from Poland

At the beginning of July, I returned to Pittsburgh from teaching English in Gorzow Wielkopolski, a city of 125,000 in western Poland. Here’s an anecdote that sums up, for me, the contrast between Poland and the U.S.:

My friend Marta and I were making a traditional Polish dish called kotlet schabowy in my small apartment kitchen. Preparation involves pounding meat into thin strips with a mallet. “On Saturday afternoon,” Marta said, “you can hear everybody pounding away in their kitchen.”

Imagine — a country where there is so much cultural unity that you know what your neighbors are cooking for dinner. In spite of Poland’s rapid commercialization over the past 25 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, communities and families are bound together by traditions in the home, such as the Saturday dinner.

The first remark of my students on meeting me (after hearing I was an American):

“We all thought you would be really fat.”

Five things that surprised me about Poland:

• Everyone lives in apartments. Everyone.

• When you go to a community park, you see people outside, everywhere, of all ages. It’s common for grandparents to take care of young children while parents are at work.

• Public transportation is amazing. Even in smaller cities, there is reliable public transportation into the city center by bus, train or tram every few minutes. Not to mention trains for longer-distance travel leading all over the country and into neighboring countries. Frankly, you have more options for public transport if you live in a village in Poland than you do living in the North Hills of Pittsburgh.

• But often, you won’t need public transportation because you can walk or bike most places you need to go. Sidewalks are built with color-coded walking and biking lanes. Don’t be surprised to see seniors biking even more often than young people.

• No tipping in restaurants. But don’t expect your server to come and chat with you like in the United States. Servers will bring your food but that’s about it.

Eve Marie Blasinksy lives in Gibsonia.


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