“Americans and Poles aren’t really different”, says Greg, the American who has been living in Katowice for more than a decade now. We asked him about his initial Polish experience in the late 90s and his overall impression of life in Katowice. How has Poland changed over time and what does Greg think about Polish people?
Poland, and in particular Katowice, is home to many foreigners who decided to move here for the long term. Here they work and do business, they have their friends and families. And we’re happy to know them and share their stories with you. Welcome to the first interview from our “Expat Stories” series and meet Greg.
Wellcome Home: Hi Greg! Thanks for accepting our invitation to this interview. How long have you lived in Poland and what do you do for a living?
Greg: I’ve been living in Poland since the summer of 2010. But, I also lived here from 1998 to 1999 when I was working for a large multinational corporation. I had an international assignment here at that time.
Now I’m an English teacher.
WH: Why did you decide to come to Poland? How did you end up in Poland?
G: Basically, I decided to come back to Poland when my former employer had financial problems. I decided it was a good time to leave and start a new chapter in my life. There was the financial crisis at the time and few other job opportunities in the US. I had many friends here and they suggested I come back and teach English. So I got my teaching certificate and here I am.
WH: What were your first impressions of the country and the people and when did you feel you wanted to stay here?
G: Well, my first visit was actually in 1997 before moving here in 1998. I had traveled all over the world for my previous job and experienced many different cultures. At that time Poland was very much behind the West in terms of development. Between the times when I first lived here and now I continued to visit for work and to stay in touch with friends. And I was really able to see how the country changed.
WH: How do you think Poland has changed over this time?
G: First of all, there have been major infrastructure improvements, roads, airports, shopping malls, etc. Secondly, the availability of Western goods dramatically increased, and this combined with the internet and cable TV led to catching up with the West. Also, there’s been a huge increase in the variety of leisure activities available. Especially as salaries increased along with free time.
WH: Why Katowice?
G: I’ve lived in Warsaw and a small town in the east as well. Katowice is a good size city for me. Not too big, not too small, and of course I also have friends here who helped me settle in. Also, when I made the decision to move here, Katowice was well on its way to implementing major projects to improve the quality of life for the residents.
WH: We deal with apartment rentals, so we have to ask you about that: do you live in your own or rented apartment?
G: I rent an apartment here in the center.
WH: What do you like about your apartment?
G: I live in an old apartment house. It’s over 100 years old, but the apartment has been modernized so it’s really nice. It still has the large rooms and high ceilings which are great.
WH: You teach English. Do you think Poles have good knowledge of English?
G: You had asked me before how Poland has changed over time, and I’d also add that the level of English has improved in general. This can be seen especially in shops and restaurants. Ten years ago it could have been difficult to find a restaurant server who spoke English, unless you were in a hotel restaurant. This certainly isn’t the case today.
I also taught at the University level for several years in an English language business program and the students had excellent English skills. So obviously as they were growing up they were learning English.
WH: Do you speak Polish? Do you have any issues when dealing with daily things – shopping, legal issues, appointments, etc.?
G: I do speak Polish, but I’m embarrassed to say it should be better. In my defense, I’m an English teacher and I speak English all day long. But, I do have a weekly lesson because I know it’s important to improve my Polish.
When dealing with most daily things, I have no problems at all. Shopping, eating out, and giving directions to people when asked aren’t issues. However, if I need to go to any government office, I always take one of my Polish friends.
WH: Let’s talk about people: What do you like about Poles? What makes us different from Americans?
G: Poles are VERY hospitable. If I go to a friend’s home for a meal, especially a holiday meal, I’m always encouraged to eat more and more. And it’s hard not to, because the food is so good. I think it also shows they like to have a good time which of course I think is great.
Americans and Poles aren’t really different. Generally people are similar, this is really true for young people. Without stereotyping I think Americans are much less formal and more indirect. Whereas a Pole will be more direct. And without offending my Polish friends, this is especially true when it comes to complaining, which they might admit is something of a national pastime.
WH: Do you have a lot of Polish friends?
G: I do have a lot of Polish friends. I have friends in Warsaw, Kraków, and all around Poland who I don’t get to see so often. But, I’ve got a great group of friends here in Katowice who I get together with on a regular basis.
WH: Are there things you still cannot understand, make you laugh, make you angry?
G: If you had asked me that many years ago, I probably would have had a long answer. But I still think the way I have to register for a doctor’s appointment is silly and the fact I need to see my GP before going to a specialist is a waste of time. And I’m not a fan of no-shopping Sundays. Not that I need to every week, but I miss the convenience when I do need to or want to.
And one thing that makes me chuckle is on All Saints Day I go to the cemetery with friends and I notice many women have put on their best clothes, coat, and maybe even a hat, and they walk around as if they’re on a fashion runway. It’s funny. We don’t celebrate that holiday in the US, but I think it’s a lovely day.
WH: Is there anything you miss? Anything you cannot get here in Poland?
G: Of course my family and friends. In addition to them, well I don’t know if you’re familiar with Costco. It’s similar to Makro, but much better. And the big box store PetSmart. They have a pet hotel, groomers, and a veterinarian all under one roof in addition to the regular pet supplies. It was a really convenient place for me to take my dog.
WH: How are your plans for the future? Do you think about retiring here in Poland?
G: Retirement is still a few years away, but I’m thinking about splitting my time between Poland and Spain. Right now that’s something I’m interested in doing. I know I probably won’t return to the US for my retirement.
WH: Do you think Poland and Katowice are foreigner-friendly places? Would you recommend them to other expats?
G: Yes, of course I think they are foreigner-friendly places. Although I think it’s a status that took some years to achieve. I would definitely recommend Poland and Katowice to other expats. When my American family and friends visit, they’re all impressed with Poland’s natural beauty, rich history, and modern lifestyle. I’ll always be an ambassador promoting Poland.