Saturday, 25 February 2012

Is it better to live in Britain or in Poland?

A long time ago a dodgy liberal British newspaper ran a series on Poland, and here I gave a link to a number of comments by both British and Polish people regarding living in Poland.

 Like with the animation of Jan Lenica (here a still from "Labirynt") there are many hidden treasures in Poland

Now, a dodgy right-wing British newspaper has ran two articles on the quality of life in Britain and Poland.  This article showed that "lifestyle is better in Poland than in Britain", while this article gives a contrary view, "Poland better than Britain?  That's not what the Poles think".  (Yes, I know, links to the Mail.  It could be worse.)

I found the articles interesting, because they chime with my experience of hearing from British people living in Poland, and Polish people living in Britain.  To summarise, while people in Britain may be richer, they consider themselves to have a low quality of life due to "high crime, violence and the cost of living".  Now, leaving aside the Mail's tendency to exaggerate crime levels in GB, let's compare the quality of life Britain and in Poland.  Here is a summary of what I have heard British people say (bearing in mind of course that other people may have radically different views; in any case the views given may be more self-revealing than anything else):

Shopping:  Like with many things in Poland, the same thing can be both good and bad at the same time.  In Poland one can buy more or less what one needs (if you leave out certain non-Polish specialities), if you are prepared to go outside of town to certain shops, or if you go to more expensive shops.  The average shop in Poland has less selection, the reason being that they are small.  Therefore, you won't be able be buy things like camembert in the said shops.  Now, that's just one example.  You may not eat camembert every day, but when one adds up all the slightly luxury things that one wants to buy, one'll have a lot less choice here, certainly in villages.

However, it depends on your needs.  The brilliant thing in Poland is that supermarkets are less dominant.  In the square mile around where I live, I have a choice between, I would guess at least 10 fruit and veg shops, 10 Bar Mleczny, 3 bakeries and countless convenience stores.  Additionally, there are loads of pharmacies, one cobblers, one bag repair place, and three clothes pressers.  There is also the best beer shop I have ever known.  For basic needs, I don't need to leave the local area.  That is not the case in Britain.

Food:  To add the issue of shopping it must be pointed out that food is massively cheaper in Poland.  The standard fruit and veg (pots, carrots, leeks, apples, etc.) are very cheap, and the slightly luxury foods (strawberries, blueberries, walnuts, apricots) are extremely affordable.  One can eat better, healthier and cheaper in Poland.  Additionally, food in the local shops is fresh and doesn't tend to be massively over-packaged.

Now, owing to the small number and nature of immigrants to Poland, there is deffo a wider choice of restaurants in Britain.  There one can choose between many different variations of British food (Polish people find it difficult to understand that Indian and Bangladeshi food can be British).  Here, non-Polish food often disappoints.  On the other hand, Polish cuisine can be very good.  If one eats normal food, or if one eats meat, the food is largely local and fresh.

Travelling:  In cities, there can be extensive bus and tram networks.  Generally, they are of a decent standard.  If one travels in the rush hour people who have issues with body space will not have a pleasant time.  Getting from one side of the town to the other can be a long and complicated journey on Sundays and bank holidays.

Outside of the cities, travelling by train and bus can be a very mixed experience.  On trains, one shouldn't always expect to have a seat when one travels on weekends/holiday times, or also expect that there'll be water/paper/functioning heating/people who don't smoke/clean toilets.  On the positive side, travel is exceedingly cheap and the views are very nice outside.

A key thing for the British person is that Poland borders many other countries.  Non-British people find this difficult to understand, that Britain feels psychologically far from other countries.  Here many interesting countries are not that far away.  Even the Balkans seems less insurmountable.

Safety: As I said, I believe that violence is exaggerated by the right-wing media.  Here there is no real difference.  Certainly, I hear about things being stolen here.  Saying that, walking in town centres can be a more pleasant affair here on a Saturday night in Britain.

A difference is that, if one has black skin here, I would imagine that one is more likely to be attacked than in Britain.  Another difference is that I believe elderly people to be more openly aggressive here.

People: I have dealt with the subject of making friends in Poland before.  Check out this article to see the views of British and Polish people on this subject.  To summarise: Polish people can be very open, and also very closed.  British people likewise.  The the individual British person in Poland or Polish person in Britain, their view of the friendliness of the other can be dependent on what they expect, and what they understand culturally.

Service: It took me a few years to stop getting annoyed with the "nie ma" ("we don't have them") in shops.  Generally, friendliness and politeness are less important in Poland than in Britain when one is buying something.  Staff can be very unhelpful and occasionally rude.  On the other hand, they can be more likely to say "Hello" and "Goodbye".  Additionally, when they notice that you're a (white-skinned western) foreigner who speaks Polish, they can smile and be friendly.  Occasionally this can be patronising, but it's better than nothing.

Gender roles: If you're a man coming to Poland (leaving aside stereotypes about Polish girls) on the one hand things can be quite cool.  It is less to be expected that you help with cooking and cleaning when visiting places.  You're not expected to make a big effort to look good.  One is generally treated with respect (leaving aside the fact that you may be young).  On the other hand you may be expected to look after the "weak" female, giving any random woman your seat, lifting their bag up.

For women I think things can be harder, as women are kind of expected to be pretty and put make-up on.  Women who do things like lift their own bags can be looked upon as being strange.  Though saying that, I know many exceptions to that rule.  However, compared to Britain, I would say that gender roles in Poland are more fixed.

Religion: If you're a church goer you'll largely like it in Poland, as going to church is culturally accepted, something which is not the case in Britain.  Days off are given to various Christian festivals.  Of course, if you're not Roman Catholic-friendly you may have a hard time.  Even though not all Polish people are believers, things like going to graveyard and lighting candles are mainstream.

 All Saints and All Souls in Oświęcim

In Britain there are some Protestant bigots, but they are small in number and low in influence.  Here there are a higher proportion of Roman Catholic bigots, and they can be high in influence.

Going out: Generally in Poland there is less choice as to the type of place one wants to go to.  It is also the case that it tends to be people in their 20s who tend to go out.  People over 30 tend to stay in.  On the positive sides, places tend to be less standardised like in Britain, and are deffo cheaper.

Civic life: Here Britain is clearly better, as Poland is still facing the hangover from the communist state rule, whereby people left things to the government.  Authoritarianism is such that any state institution received an overt form of respect.  Regarding newspapers, there are few and read by a small proportion of the population.  For that reason, Poland lacks a developed criticism.  For an example, see the fascist marches in Poland last November, supported by many who didn't think to ask about who was organising them.

Saying that, a weaker media means that people are less influenced by the media, something which would have been good in the recent debacle about the allegations towards Luis Suarez recently.

Football: Obviously, the Polish league is not as good as the English one.  The Scottish one is also better.  With a population of 1.8m, only the Welsh league is worse than the Polish one.  Hooliganism is a problem in Poland.  Generally, the football culture in Poland is weak in Poland.  Poland has many wools, people who pretend to be "proper" football fans, but really know nothing of the culture of the English teams they "support".  I imagine there are exceptions to this.

For this reason, watching football in Poland in pubs is not a good experience.  There is a positive, however.  Poland lacks the many gobshites who watch football in pubs in Britain.

Nature: Nature in Poland is excellent.  While there's hardly any coast (and the coastline is flat) there are plenty fields, forests and lakes.  Wildlife is immense.

Saying that, there's loads more litter in Poland.  A river close to me has got tons of plastic and glass bottles and other stuff by them.  Fag ends are also ubiquitous.  And don't ask me about dog shite.

Weather: Poland has more extremities.  This means nicely hot summers, and bloody freezing winters.  If one likes that, one'll prefer Poland.  Here one can see tons of snow, and get something resembling a tan in summer.  The only thing that Poland lacks is a good fresh wind.


For the British person there are many positive things about life in Poland.  While somethings can be bloody terrible here, there are also things that are miles better than in Britain.  

For Polish people living in Britain, the second article I linked to shows a woman who has a well-paying job.  No wonder she's happy in Britain!  The fact is, one earns more in Britain.  I see nothing wrong in Polish people wanting to make the most of that.  Britain has made itself rich and powerful through taking the wealth of other countries in the past.

Generally from Polish people I know, they like the general cosmopolitan lifestyle in Britain (not just in England's capital) and find the nature and rich history (Wales is full of castles) to be very attractive.

All in all, there is no quantitative way to measure which country is best to live in.  I will guess that those Brits who are happy here have a positive relationship to people here (probably a wife) along with being able to experience the best (and worst) of the kind of life one had in Britain over thirty years ago (such as cheap food, local shops).  Seriously, I've heard this many times.

There is no empircal way to measure which country is better to live in.  I know that the birth rate of Polish people in Britain is higher than that in Poland, the reason being the superior children, health and social security provision in Britain.  Apart from that, anything else is dependent on ones experience.  If Polish people have good jobs and have made good friends it is to be expected that they will want to stay in Britain.

Why then, are British people less happy with life in Britain?  Well, as the articles say, British people are quite capable of complaining.  For this reason, I have the theory that British people expect less of Poland, and therefore are less disappointed with the problems here than they would be with lesser problems in Britain.  Polish people on the other hand have lesser expectations and therefore find Britain to be so good (the same Britain that British people complain about).

As I have shown, there is no one thing in Poland or Britain that is better.  Everything has positive and negative aspects to it.  If one is generally happy with life, and is open towards other behaviours, both Polish and British people can be happy in the other countries.

What do you think?  Are you a British person living in Poland?  Do you prefer life here, and why?  Or are you a Polish person living in Britain?  Where do you prefer?

Let us know in the comments underneath.

1 comment:

  1. On the gender roles, what i find (sometimes) funny is that as an English man with a Polish girlfriend, even though i am new and struggle with the language and this fact has been established, often strangers will address me when they are speaking in Polish rather than the person who speaks Polish.