December 24th, thousands of people all over the world clink glasses wishing one another those three things. And the aim of this feature article is to show how these three desires are seen by the person of Italian and Argentine origin who has recently come to Warsaw. Health
The most important thing above all… it is often said: why do you need money if you are not healthy to be able to enjoy it.
I cannot write much about Polish health, as well as about public health service. I can only tell you about my experiences and there were a lot of them, one stranger then the other.
For the foreigner health subject- especially in a country of such different language from the others as Polish- will be a big problem.
Almost three years ago, while I was on holiday in Polish capital, I found out that I was pregnant with Miranda. To the surprise and distress associated with this information joined also the fear of going to the gynecologist and that I would misunderstand what he/she would say.
The gynecologist is a very private doctor for a woman. He/she has to be her confidant and a friend because he/she has a knowledge about parts of woman’s body women cannot take care of themselves and which are so important to them (if I break my hand or leg I can see it, I can touch but if I have problems with a cervix someone else must look at it and tell me what is going on. This person is often a man who obviously cannot imagine how I feel…this is a difficult subject).
We asked around in a pharmacy and to my surprise we found a private gynecologist who spoke English quite good.
The surgery was gloomy, with bluish-grey walls and despite of late hour it was open and a few women were sitting in a waiting room. We didn’t know if we were dealing with a VIP among gynecologist or with an illegal clinic (although it was in the center of the city).
The guy examined me and said: “Congratulations! You are pregnant.. Nature is so wise”. We were looking at the doctor, whose diagnose was an unexpected pregnancy, with astonishment
and we didn’t know what to do….In his opinion I was a few days pregnant.
After that, we went to do some tests to The Central Hospital of the Ministry of Internal Affairs where, if you pay, you can get a decent medical care. The difference between private and public sector was huge and a hospital entry resembled an anthropological excursion. Old ladies in plushy hats, grandfathers with their walking sticks, women in wellies and headscarfs, wasted faces, resigned and motionless. Persistent. No one is complaining. There was no shouting or quarrels. They are just here, waiting. For hours, days, months or years, whatever. Strange way of passive and silent persistence that for me seems to be a characteristic of the nation resistant to everything.
The doctor who examined me, Ewa, was warm, concrete and nice bur she didn’t speak any other languages except Polish, and I have been facing such problem until this day. It was strange to lie on the gynecological chair, with my partner next to me as a translator. She told me that I had been pregnant for a couple of weeks but also that the baby was very big. It was necessary to do USG. In the end, it turned out that I was in the third month! There is only one clinic with bilingual service in Warsaw (bilingual secretaries, doctors and nurses) and it is Damian Medical Center. In all other clinics doctors speak “a little”.
For the foreigner, especially for the foreign Latin American woman, meeting doctors who are distanced, inaccessible to patients, and at the same time, so eager to give out prescriptions and who obviously don’t speak your language, is always a big culture shock.
Some time ago I had to visit several hospitals and I was surprised how private clinics dispose of patients, even more than the public ones (of course they do it in their surgeries). Unexpectedly, I received a very good medical care in Bielański Hospital, where doctors speak English quite good, and they were understandable and nice. A moral: when we pay for something it doesn’t always mean that we get what is the best. Polish well-fare still offers some pleasant surprises.
Critical point of a foreigner in Poland. There is no euro. Only zlotys and grosze. Bills with kings’ faces. Big and smalls coins. Conversions, exchange offices, black and white market. Poland still has a big advantage for a foreigner- exchange rate.
Every price in zlotys divided into euro seems to be dissolving, almost disappearing. Some things, on the other hand, are paradoxically more expensive than they are in other countries. One of those things is coffee (especially cappuccino). Considerably more expensive than in Rome, where cappuccino and cornetto are an obligatory part of breakfast of millions of people and ristretto coffee is the most popular beverage just after mineral water*. In Warsaw cappuccino is a luxurious beverage, more expensive than juice from fresh fruit.
It is the other way round with flowers, taxis, hairdressers and clothes - the prices are still very attractive to foreigners. However, these are transactions that require a major linguistic effort. Numbers were the first thing I wanted to learn during my polish course. To learn whether it is 10, 20 or 100. All the foreigners I know prefer doing shopping in big shopping centers, because they can see the written prices, and even if a saleswomen by a cash desk utters the formula: „sterdishioshiemnnaschezwote yeviendishiongroshi” (this is how it sounds to us) they peep at the number displayed on the cash desk and the language problem disappears.
I usually do that. The problem is that, as a typical Italian, I like markets. I like talking to people, buying fruits, vegetables and fresh fishes, walking loaded with shopping bags. It it’s been very complicated for the time being. It is hard for me to think about decagrams. And when nice, old ladies see my dark eyes and hair they automatically raise prices. Nobody speaks English, you can’t ask questions and bargain. Now I understand better when they tell me how much something costs, but converting is still very stressful. I still play in “say it by a mimic” and go shopping to a supermarket.
I cannot speak about such a difficult subject in the context of the place I hardly know and where I was always with another person. To tell you the truth, I have no idea what love is like in Poland. I can only tell you what I have noticed: people do not kiss on the streets (maybe because it’s too cold?), you don’t see homosexual pairs, and all the rest of people, that barely show their feelings in public, are wearing wedding rings.
Poland is a strongly catholic country. Maybe even more than Italy. Still, tt doesn’t prevent the fact that the only papers scattered on the spotless, clean streets of Warsaw are leaflets advertising prostitutes. I haven’t seen prostitutes yet, and I think there are two reasons, that I mentioned before, for that: it is very cold and Poland is a catholic country. Everything is on the phone or at a particular address. This suggests that there is the other Warsaw, much hotter, which is not visible on the icy streets, that only touches the surface by its leaflets, but which is constantly kept alive. Warsaw “from the back”, with sex-shops (so many of them on the streets), that entertains itself on private parties and which finally closes the curtains.
I don’t know anything about family Warsaw, about Warsaw with pairs with children, about their everyday life. All I know is that I can see a lot of children and infants on the streets. This makes me think that Polish people lead more intensive lives and have more fun than it seems. And that they hardly ever watch TV at their homes.
I know also something about the families of the foreigners who live in Warsaw- the Warsaw Poles with local salaries have difficult access to. Those families move their lives, homes and customs to this country of sad and cold faces. English, Spanish, Italian families that live in polish capital for two, three, five years until they move again, stroll on the streets like on a catwalk. They take advantage of the city but they touch only the surface of it. The language and customs make a barrier that is very difficult to overcome and that is why, weariness often wins. There aren’t many spots to meet: foreign culture institutes, international kindergartens, festivals, restaurants with traditional cuisine. Polish families lead their lives without noticing guests.
The youngest meet on playgrounds and parks, share toys, hammocks and slides, talk to one another using hands, screams, nudges and laughter. It is more difficult for adults to communicate. Overcoming this barrier requires time, and why not, health, money and love.
*in the next article we will talk about Warsaw water...
Text by: Julia Salerno
Translated by: Justyna Bajus-Chmiel