You start to realise what your own culture is only when you move to a different one…

April 6, 2020

Isn’t that the way human beings are constructed though? We just take for granted the things that have always been around us and we can only fully appreciate them when they’re not around anymore. That’s also how I discovered what we, Polish people, miss the most about Poland.

“You start to realise what your own culture is only when you move to a different one.” – this quote was said to me, a Polish student at Cardiff University, by my Greek lecturer during the first lecture of the 2nd year of uni. Ever since then, it has been one of my favourite quotes, mainly because of how relatable it is for any person who’s ever moved abroad. To be honest, that quote sums up the whole culture shock experience you’re likely to go through if you move from Poland to the UK or any other country. So what exactly do Polish people in the UK miss about Poland the most?

First of all, and I think any Polish person living abroad would agree on this, cuisine! This is something that Poland can absolutely be proud of – our traditional dishes. Having come to the UK, you can’t help feeling a little disappointed by the fact that apart from the famous English food, such as fish and chips, full English breakfast or beans added to every meal, there’s no specific British food. British cuisine is rather a mixture of all types of world cuisines you can think of. Once you’ve tried different dishes from different cuisines in British restaurants, you start missing food like ‘kotlet schabowy’, ‘bigos’ or ‘barszcz z uszkami’ and this is when you begin to understand the saying “Smacznie jak u mamy” (“Delicious like at mum’s”).

Another thing: means of public transport, although this might not apply to those living in London due to the excellent underground tube system there. Even though all Polish people know that trams and buses in big cities such as Warsaw, Cracow or Gdansk have failed multiple times, we can still argue that Polish public transport system itself is way more reliable than the British one. Buses and trams normally run on time, while the train journeys are fairly cheap and very peaceful. Still, Polish people tend to complain about their home country’s public transport until they go abroad and experience buses that never show up, too expensive train tickets or bus stops without their names visible at the stops.

Also, every Polish person will admit that there is something about Polish towns that British towns simply lack. This is determined by history and the way Polish towns were built centuries ago. For instance, every Polish town has an Old Town square part placed in the centre, which is usually the most picturesque and historic spot in the whole town. It is the aesthetics of these places that grabs the attention of so many tourists. In fact, the thing that you only recognise once you compare Polish towns to foreign ones is that the most representative parts of Polish towns are not tourism-orientated, they substitute falling into commercialism with sticking to their uniqueness.

The last but not least, the traditional Polish ways of celebrating holidays. You would think that the traditions you are familiar with are the same all over the world, however they’re not. For instance, in the UK Easter is not massively celebrated, while in Poland it is – you have a big Easter breakfast with your whole family on Sunday and then ‘śmigus-dyngus’ (‘water-prank day’) on Monday. There are also differences in terms of Christmas.

It seems to be a bigger deal for Polish people who wait for the first star to show up on the dark sky on the night of the 24th of December in order to be able to open the presents waiting underneath the Christmas tree and then sit at a dinner table with 12 dishes to choose from. The whole celebration continues on the 25th and 26th as they are deemed the two biggest family-time days of the year. There are also holidays that are missed by Polish people and aren’t really known in the UK, such as All Saints Day on the 1st of November when all Polish people go with their whole families to the cemeteries and light up candles around the gravestones.

Once again, “you start to realise what your own culture is only when you move to a different one”.

 Author: Wiktoria Lewandowska

Pictures: Wiktoria Lewandowska and British Poles

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