Recently I've been thinking a lot about the power of associations. The Internet is full of trends, people tend to navigate towards certain aesthetics. The best example of that is Pinterest, which is bursting with images with highly saturated colours, white space and natural light. What interests me most though, are associations we make related to certain countries and cultures. Obviously they will be rooted in our experience of people, products, literature, art and cuisine. However I think our perception of certain countries is deeply influenced by marketing, news and media i.e. PR.
I tried to remember what was my perception of Great Britain before I moved here. I remember reading Wuthering Heights, The Importance of Being Earnest, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and of course Jane Austen in high school. Oh, how I loved the descriptions of misty fields covered in heather, cold country houses with high ceilings and dogs lying by the fireplace. Harry Potter books sparked by imagination as I thought they described the life in the famous British boarding schools.
In short, I thought Britain was a very romantic country, where people valued tradition and were very formal in their interactions with others. Was my idea of Britain shuttered when I moved here? No, it wasn't. If anything I was pleasantly surprised by how hilarious the British sense of humour was and slightly shocked by the clubbing and drinking culture among students, but this could be just my naive 18 year old self, who didn't really party that much in high school.
I still think Britain, and Scotland even more so, is a very romantic country. All Scottish people I've met love their country and are very proud of it and the Highlands exceeded my expectations in terms of the scenery. So my associations with the UK were correct, the literature and films (side-look at my Bridget Jones and Harry Potter DVD sets) did it justice.
This brings me to a question for you: what do you think when I say Poland? It's an unfair question, I know. English literature, and culture in general, is much more accessible. The truth is, most people I've met associate Poland with the WW2, and I can't blame them.
^^Tatra Mountains, the last picture is the Valley of Fife Ponds (me and J first talked while hiking up to that point). [Source of the last picture in this set: Phil Evans]
Some will mention how odd our language sounds or that their cleaner/plumber/joiner is Polish. More adventurous will add they really liked the sausages they found on the Polish shelf in Tesco. Or will praise the cheap beer they tasted in Krakow on a stag do.
You will not find blog posts about an awesome slide on a Polish playground, parenting styles in Poland or how to dress like a Polish woman (side-look at bloggers who are convinced that for all things sexy, wise, well-designed and beautiful one should look no further than France and Scandinavia).
What do I see when I close my eyes and think about Poland, I hear you asking.
I see warm summer evenings, sitting on the porch outside our house and looking at the starry sky; me as a child and and my grandma walking to the local bakery to buy fresh bread; families with young children and babies in slings and baby carriers hiking in the Tatry mountains; sitting by the dinner table for hours eating delicious food and chatting during family gatherings. Driving for 7h to the South and skiing with my siblings, then asking dad for change for hot chocolate and sausages in the hut at the bottom of the slope; going sledging in -20 C cold and coming back home for tea with lemon, our cheeks red from the freezing temperatures.
I see the twinkling candle lights, thousands of them, on the cemeteries where everyone goes to visit graves of their deceased family members on All Saint's Day; Zelazowa Wola Park (birthplace of Chopin) where we used to go for long walks when I was little; countless cafes, food-trucks and foodie markets in Warsaw which has changed over the last 7 years beyond belief.
^^Milicz Ponds, Poland
I realise that my associations are both idealised (because I'm writing this feeling slightly homesick in my hospital accommodation room) and nostalgic, but I bet many Poles would find themselves nodding in agreement as they read this.
So. what's the conclusion of this lengthy post? The conclusion is that I wish Poland was better at branding and advertising itself.
We are a beautiful European country, with sandy beaches, rocky mountains, breath-taking scenery, hot summers, cold winters, difficult but incredibly rich language and literature, and people who love life and their motherland yet always seem ever so slightly embarrassed about certain aspects of what it means to come from Poland.
Pictures source: all pictures (apart from 1) are from the Flickr by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland