As a French woman, when I learnt that I would study for two years in Poland, I clearly did not know what to expect. In the western part of the European Union, strangely, we are quite ignorant of what is actually happening in the East. For most of people in my native country, we just have a limited knowledge of this part of Europe, and this is focused on History of WWII and the Communist era.
I have lived in Poland for one year now, so I will try to describe the best that I can the differences I could observe myself when I came to live in Poland,
When I arrived in September last year, I was quite shocked when I walked in the streets. I looked around, surprised to see that all people, me included, looked the same. Do not misunderstand, I was not expecting Slavic people to look differently but in France, we saw people from all around the world: black skin, yellow skin. We are so different from one another: small, tall, black, blond, red haired people. African, Asian, Arabic, and so on! Here in Poland, I was among people who looked the same: medium size, even if I could see more real light haired women and more people with light eyes than in France! And women! They are so well dressed, always wearing skirts, nails done, high heels, perfect make up. Slavic women, you-are-beautiful, and I should admit that I had some trouble to stand next to you. I felt so clumsy and neglected! In France, we got so used to be harassed in the streets that we began to fear to look too feminine. I personally think that this fact is deeply linked to the second point I would like to write about.
Stop thinking France is the country of gentlemen, true romantic love. It may had been real but it was decades, centuries ago. I was so impressed by the way men treated women in Poland. I see regularly men in the street with roses or flowers in their hands, waiting for their partner. I see everyday men who make lifts waiting for the women who are close to them. I see everyday the way men are respectfully looking at women in Poland. No bad words, respect, and distance. In this way, there is no use for women to hold themselves. When I took the train to visit other places, most of the time a man kindly proposed his help for my luggage. This would NEVER happen in France, or if a man proposes it, he is likely planning to steal your luggage from you.
Regarding the personality, I found Poles more modest and less individualistic than French people. In the capital, they are less welcoming but I guess that it is the same in every country. I also had trouble to find people who accepted to speak English. It seems that the importance of English just started to be implemented in the younger generations. I would not blame them, because I am aware than French are the same or even worse. What I could see is that Poles are less ambitious, but maybe I am wrong. I believe they are just focused on enjoying their everyday life and succeed to live peacefully and modestly. In France, people are far more individualistic and competitive. In our educative system, we are taught to fight really hard to survive, and we are even taught to not help our neighbour, because he/she could become our opponent later on: positions are limited, you have to be the best and on the contrary you also have to be formatted in the way they would like you to be. When I started to study in Poland, I was surprised that teachers asked for our own point of view, our own feeling about a subject. It is a totally opposite system and I am glad I have the opportunity to take advantage of both of them.
Regarding the everyday life, and polish culture, I also saw a lot of differences. This is the reason why I wanted to live abroad for a while. I love to travel and I love to experience those changes. Even in Warsaw the capital, people do not run. They know how to take time. It is unbelievable in Paris for example to wait for the light to turn green. Poles have a way to make everything in the everyday life more enjoyable. I was impressed by the food and the way they serve it. Of course, I do not know a lot of Poles, but I had the chance to spend Easter with a Polish family in Gdansk. Polish people know how to preserve traditions, how to preserve their culture. The way they present food, and mostly during important events such as Christmas or Easter is incredible. They cook a lot, too much! But they enjoy being there together. It was really a feeling of joy to be reunited for this period. They know how to welcome people, to take care of their guests. Some friends told me that this way of enjoying meals was an heritage of the communist time where every piece of meat or any ‘extra’ were so rare. They kept the way of enjoying what they have and be grateful. I find admirable of the deep feeling of community and sense of patriotism Poles still share in their everyday life.
When I am thinking about my country now, I feel sad. Sad because I better understand what we lost, what we keep loosing everyday. Is it too late already? When this change started? However, our nowadays way of life also what defines us. We are less conservative, more progressive. Maybe this is the way to the future? Maybe the culture and traditions we lost are the price for the creation of tomorrow’s future? It is too early to know. Balance between preservation and strong change is complex. France and Poland are two opposite examples.
I would like to talk about a last point that is related to the two previous ones. I was really surprised to see how young Slavic people get married and have children. For Poles and other Slavic people, I think getting married and have children young is strongly related to their way of life and their need of a simple enjoyable life. In France, we are so individualistic and ambitious that even the idea of a couple is sometimes out of question, and we mostly just think about engagement when we reach thirty years old, once our career is built, because for most of French people nowadays personal career is more important than a common ideology of a family. In France, we see family as a limitation to our personal improvement, development while in Poland they prefer to use their professional life for the common good of the family they are creating.
Once again, I do not say that in France, we have nothing left. I just have my own experience and this surely does not apply to every family or to every part of Poland and of France. I would have so much more to tell about my experiences as a French living in Poland. To have the chance to live that is incredible. It allows me to better understand what we lost, what is better in our system, and to open our mind. I wish I will carry on this life of experiences, and stay few more years in Poland. We definitely cannot catch a culture’s spirit so quickly. I hope you enjoyed reading me. Have a nice day!
BOSQUET Lucie , August, 2015