No way, I’ll never learn Polish!

Simon told us what surprises him in Poland, what language challenges foreigners face and how to deal with them...

How did your story with Poland begin?

I was an Erasmus student in Poznań in 2009. Actually, my university department had 3 choices: Japan (out of my comfort zone at that time), Barcelona (No because I wanted to improve my English and not learn Spanish or Catalan), Poznań.
If you had told me in 2009 that I would live in Poland, I would have never believed this 🙂 I met my future wife who is Polish when I came back to Poznan after my studies to visit Polish friends.
We lived in the UK, in Paris and in 2016 we decided to move to Poland with our first child. It was more my decision than hers. We wanted to find a great place to live with our family not too far from one of our respective families. I didn’t see myself working in Brussels (most of the IT jobs in Belgium are in Brussels).

What were your thoughts on Poland prior to moving there and how does that compare to how you see it now?

The funny part is that a lot of European Westerns still see Poland as a cold (snowy) and poor country (at least 10-15 years ago).

Most of them are surprised when they visit the country how well the infrastructure is (motorways, airports, train stations, …). I also believe things changed a lot during the last few years, especially since the Euro 2012). And the second surprise is the polish summer or at least the great season between May and September.
I came to Poland for the first time with these similar assumptions.

What surprised you the most in Poland?

The generation gap. Sometimes I have the feeling that the generation between someone who was born in the ’70s in Poland and someone born in the ’90s is the same as between someone born in the ’50s in Belgium and ’90s. I can’t really explain this, but my feeling is that 1 generation was skipped between people born during the communism period and the post-communism generation. In general, society is really split into a lot of political topics. It’s funny to see for someone coming from a country used to „compromise”.
My first impression after moving to Poland was that I was way more relaxed than in Belgium, UK or France. I think the life balance in Poland is really great and living near the sea, I had a feeling of being on holiday, even during the working days.

How about Polish language?

When I was a student, I had free Polish lessons at the University and after the 2nd lesson when we started with words like „mężczyzna”, I said „No way, I’ll never learn Polish” and I gave up 🙂
After having lived 6 years in the country, I understand quite a lot, but I still don’t feel comfortable  speaking. My level is B1/B2. Polish people sometimes believe I’m stupid when I talk and they don’t know I’m a foreigner. Then they catch the accent or a grammar error after a couple of minutes and they are actually impressed.
I always summarize the language by: 7 cases, 3 genders and complex pronunciations like sz,cz,szcz,ć
If you are Polish and want to have fun with a foreigner, ask him if he sees a difference between książka, ksiądz, książę and w ciąży, or even szczekać and czekać.
My piece of advice: get Polish lessons with a speech therapist to learn your tips to pronounce correctly, then have kids and learn with them for 20 years (I hope I’ll be fluent after 20 years :D)
My most difficult Polish word: Chrząszcz and the full poem : W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie i Szczebrzeszyn z tego słynie… I opened the book a couple of times and every time I said to my kids: not tonight!

How did your family and friends react to your move to Poland?

I think they actually understand why and they really like Poland.

What do you miss most about your country?

Wherever you live you’ll always miss something about your country and like something about the country where you live. If I came back to Belgium, I would probably complain about what I miss from Poland too. I think that’s the problem with foreigners.
But as there is no solution, I prefer not to think too much about what I miss but more about what I like. I’m also in a state of mind where I feel more at home in Poland than in Belgium which is a really weird feeling.

What I miss the most is the friends/family, then of course you have the classic foods/drinks/locations/culture but then you appreciate these, even more, when you come back to your country.

What do you like about Poland?

I really like the family mindset and the hospitality. Polish people look cold at first side, but when you know them, once they trust you (if you’re invited to their home for example), they really know how to treat their guests
On the opposite, dark winters when the sunset is around 3:30-4 pm, this is so depressing for me.

Do you have a favorite dish you can tell us about?

Żurek (polish sour rye soup) is awesome. I like śledź (herring) too.
I think I tried a lot including oscypek (smoked cheese), kaszanka (pork’s blood sausage), smalec (pork fat with onions), flaki (cow’s tripe soup), wątróbka (chicken liver), pickled mushrooms, … Always good experiences
I’m just not a big fan of the fruit soups or zsiadłe mleko (sour milk)

What Polish customs are either incomprehensible or surprising to you? 

Classic, taking your shoes off (even for Christmas well-dressed with slippers). That’s indeed a cultural shock, but the most shocking part will always be the „lektor” (1 voice overlapping the sound on all the film, translating with the same intonation and without emotion). Sorry, I still don’t get this after so many years.

Can you tell us about a few of your favorite places in Poland?

The entire Kashubian region. I really love this region.

What have you learned while living in Poland?

I learned a lot about understanding how shocking you can be to someone else and have more empathy for others.
I learned how to fish, how to shoot… Things I would have never done in Belgium.

What do you think was invented in your country that we don’t have in Poland?

One of the best innovative Belgian stories: the digital id for everything:

And obviously the Trappist beers…