Today marks the end of my time in Europe. Over the past year I have taught in Poland and for the most part had a wonderful experience. There have been numerous weekend trips, twenty-six at last count and multiple countries checked off my bucket list.
To that end, the majority of my time has been spent in Poland. I can say living here is certainly different than visiting for a week. While I will be the first to say I have felt welcomed living in this country, I can only imagine what my experience would have been had the color of my skin or my genetic makeup been vastly different. There is a reason why Ukrainians were welcome with open arms and yet war refugees from northern Africa and the Middle East are not. For that matter ask the Chinese man who got hassled on the train yesterday by the conductors as we were traveling from Warsaw to Krakow
While I don’t mean to criticize my temporary home, I can’t help but do so because it feels similar to the United States from thirty years ago. And yet, it is different too. There is a culture that doesn’t allow for much criticism or at least those beating the drum are significantly louder making it appear as such.
Some will say I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I assure you that I do. Should any foreigner speak out or share their perspective, even about the nuances of daily life, it is immediately disregarded and the locals online (those more militant in their demeanor or nationalistic could be a better term) go on the attack. Look at some Reddit threads or even some YouTube videos to see those who feel inclined to comment.
I have seen this first hand. With my attempts at a YouTube travel channel on two different occasions I made vlogs talking about my life in Poland. Let’s focus on the word “my” which seems to mean it’s not valid unless it’s from a Polish man or woman that has been in the country their whole life. It’s one thing to create a travel vlog showing myself roaming the streets or countryside of Polish cities or towns, but it’s another to point out the transition to living here. That’s where this experience has become a mixed bag.
There have been challenges between learning the language, adapting to shopping culture, the lack of personal space and total disregard of it, as well as apartment living, and of course the post office, to name just a few. Some are trivial and others are asinine from this American’s viewpoint. Regardless of what I share, there will always be someone or multiple people who feel that they are the end all of what is right or wrong in Polish life.
Let me stress, I’m focusing on those individuals posting online, not on my colleagues or the friends I have made, who have been wonderful across the board.
I imagined YouTube to be more of an open forum for appropriate discourse, but unless it spins everything in a positive light, this is far from the truth. I know from over 180 videos on my first channel, that only the ones where I was upbeat and mesmerized by the wonder of Poland were my views high and comments constructive. Now shift to a video pointing out how it makes no sense that packages can’t be left in your apartment building door and yet everyone claims the streets are safe to walk at all hours of the night, you are considered too radical. Don’t dare mention your apartment being 12 degrees in the winter or all hell breaks loose.
I don’t get it, but then again I don’t understand why we have a universal online culture where people feel it is their right to destroy others. I know this isn’t just a Polish thing, it’s across the world. Many of these people wouldn’t be able to destroy others in a public forum, but the anonymity of the Internet gives many the power to spew hate without repercussions. I understand this is a larger topic for another day, but it makes me question how many private voices truly feel the same way or if their voices are simply minimized by those who lurk in the online forums, waiting to pounce - to justify their existence.
I wonder about such things and whether when I return to the United States I will face more of the same. And yet, I didn’t expect it from Poland. Maybe that is where I made a mistake. Hate is everywhere and for that I’m truly sorry. Nevertheless, I would hope in the days that come that the culture will shift and even in Poland, foreigners will feel comfortable to share their perspectives and their lives without being looked down upon and shown the door. While I have the luxury to return home, others don’t necessarily have the same freedom.
Certainly some food for thought. Till next time.
Eighteen plus years as a published author, Jonathan has been independent the last eleven. With readers across forty-seven countries and six continents, he has readers around the world. Writing across genres, he loves good dialogue and flawed characters.