In order for me to give my first impressions of Warsaw through a fair opinion, I had to have lived here long enough. Today, after almost three years of living in Warsaw, I could dare to say my first words based on the experiences and knowledge gained here throughout the years, something that should be taken as a personal opinion only and which does not necessarily reflect what the situation is like for the average immigrant in Poland. Let us then look at the trajectory and make a first impression of Warsaw in my own eyes, the ones of a Peruvian immigrant. What better way to start this text than by presenting my current situation in Warsaw. Unlike in other places I lived in before, when I look deep inside, I feel very happy in Warsaw. I have never been in a more tolerant place towards other nationalities, and skin, hair and eyes colors. Having had collected many observations in Peru, where I spent my first 17 years of life, and a great amount of experiences in the United States and Germany, where I lived 7 years altogether, I came to Poland to witness and even feel myself for the first time in my life a high degree of tolerance among the local people and towards foreigners. From my perspective, tolerance is the first characteristic I would attribute to Polish people, after three years of living surrounded by them. Even if most could claim that this is a consequence of the fact that they have been more excluded than in other times from the rest of the world by the effects of Communism and Real Socialism until 1989, I personally believe other reasons to be stronger.
Poland has a long democratic history that from its beginnings has been marked by the harmonious coexistence of different cultures practicing a variety of believes, traditions, lifestyles, etc. and not always looking ethnic Slavic. They lived under the same rights, many of which were even more advanced and liberal than in other European systems at different times, and even if there were some inter-ethnic conflicts, History has reported their moderate resolutions. Being part of a common land, these different cultures experienced yet another force that brought them even closer together: the constant partition of Poland. Having to live under different regimes helped them recognize what they had in common, on top of which is the Polish language. To that, we must add the fact that the different cultures living in Poland also possessed different methods and systems of education for their people. This may have brought competition at the beginning, however, as time went by it only built and permanently enriched common educational standards that consequently established the understanding of diversity at the very core. Finally, to their long democratic history and to the fine national educational system Polish people still enjoy today, I would strongly give them yet another attribute that personally makes me feel I am not living in a land where people have suffered so much war after war, regime after regime, winter after winter: they are highly emotional!
It is shocking for me that after all that happened to Poland, and the still slightly difficult situation many Poles live in today, they are to me the warmest and most open people I have ever met! And on top of that, I find their hospitality and warmth as honest as I have never experienced before. In the last three years, I have been witness to a display of strong friendships, partnerships, and other kinds of trust relationships, and I have been welcomed and treated by already established groups as if I had always been part of them. Moreover, they are mainly interested about me as a person, and after that my background may or may not trigger curiosity, which makes me feel as one of them by all means. Coming back to the topic of emotions, from my experience, when Poles are having a good day they are the best people to have around, and when they are having a bad one those emotions are very evident and so are Poles mostly open to share their situation, for what friends are very supportive. To that I would add the fact that they are very careful with maintaining and enriching their friendships and other kinds of relationships, something that has no price for me and that I have been lucky to have since the days I met my first Polish friends much longer before moving to Poland.
Given that so far what is written above reflects too good of an image of Poland, I would now and always highlight it because that is the reason why I am still happily living here. No question that problems are around just every corner of the Earth, but it is important for me to give priority to what has been more significant during my stay in Warsaw. However, because everything needs a balance, it is necessary for me to briefly point out what has been a pebble in my shoe from my first day in Warsaw. The first thing and mother of all my headaches has been bureaucracy. Having experienced it in a small degree in Peru, and only up to an expected degree in the USA and in Germany, bureaucracy here has become my terror. I never had to make a line from the night before, like I had to do more than once in the Foreigner’s Office and other state institutions, just to be told to go somewhere else, had the door closed on my face, be treated with much disrespect, to hear a typical “I don’t know,” or not to be attended at all. When the cue has to be done in -15 degrees or less in the winter, this routine could suddenly start affecting one’s health.
Another matter I have found hard to digest and that goes along with bureaucracy are the inefficient services, even in private firms. I never expected to have so much bureaucratic trouble, starting from the long cues, in the private sector. Most of the time, I felt clerks are making me a favor by selling me something. Maybe we Peruvians are used to service providers being very submissive to clients, but a fair level of service provision would not hurt anyone but only make the company more competitive and thus increase its revenues: a basic concept in business. To this matter I would connect the issue of unemployment of highly qualified people. Another basic concept of business: what makes a company grows is the high quality of its personnel. However, it still remains a question why is a great amount of highly qualified people, with a high ethical code and from-the-house values, and with an enormous love their country, still unemployed or underemployed. I rather restrain my personal opinion in this respect, and move to the last one of the few unpleasant things about my stay in Warsaw: hooliganism. It is my right to freely grow my black curly hair as long as I wish to do it. My skin is not the whitest and my eyes are as black as coffee. Though I find Poles highly tolerant and not racist, my skin, hair, and eyes color, together with my Spanish accent, could most of the time be understood as a provocation by Polish skinned-head hooligans. More than a hate group or a racist movement I see in them a group of men who are looking for excuses to prove their physical strength. Sadly, it is difficult to measure that strength because they rarely participate in fair fights, but mostly attack when they are a greater number of people. So that individual strength remains a mystery…
Finally, Poland is my fascination and I am happy here, even when I am technically having a very difficult time finding a stable job to cover my expenses while doing my PhD studies at the University of Warsaw and growing steadily with my rock band, Yoga Terror. The problems stated above are not specific to me but they affect Polish people in the same way. And so, these matters do not compare to the great things I have experienced here and the great friendships I have gained, which only confirm over and over again how great Poland is for spending a lifetime and making a family. I feel here tolerated, I am free to celebrate my cultural values, I am surrounded by educated people with a great understanding of differences and at the same time with a lot in common with me and with Peruvians, I have good friends and a lot more… and there is no price for all that: I love Poland!
Text by Luis Escobedo