What do you think when I say....

3 April 2014

... Poland?

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.

^^ Slowinski National Park, Sand Dunes

 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.
^^ Traditional house design for the Tatra Mountains region

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.

^^Afternoon by Vistula, Warsaw

^^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.

^^Suwalski National Park, Northern Poland

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.

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Pictures source: all pictures (apart from 1) are from the Flickr by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland

8 comments:

  1. Poland looks so beautiful! I am visiting Krakow in the summer, but I have just seen the Tatra mountains are quite close, would you reccommend me to visit? Which area is the best?
    I'm glad you like the Highlands of Scotland, that's where I'm from :-) If you are ever going north you should go to Ullapool and a place called Achmelvich beach and/or the Durness Smoo Caves - I think you'd like them! Jenna

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    1. Zakopane (the equivalent of Inverness in Poland) is only 2h away by bus from Krakow - I'd highly recommend it. The paths in the mountains are very well marked, with so many beautiful views. The highest mountain is called Rysy and is 2499m tall. There are many paths in the valleys as well with beautiful views and almost completely fat if you don't fancy climbing. I may write a couple of posts just on Tatry as we used to hike there a lot when I was little and with my husband as well. thanks for recommendations re Ullapool!

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  2. Such beautiful pictures!
    When I think of Poland I think of 1960s brutalist architecture, but also beautiful buildings which seem to be a mix of the Western European combined with the Russian styles - different shapes and colours to the grey of Paris, London and Edinburgh. I think of Polish people as being hardworking (probably from the Polish folks I've worked with!) but perhaps more traditional.

    I'd love to visit Poland - admittedly as a history nerd I'm intrigued by how much it has moved on from the negative history, but also because it's one of the places that I have a stereotype of in my head, and I'd like to see how different it is.

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    1. The architecture style you're describing is actually Italian not Russian. The Queen of Poland in the 15th century was Bona Sforza (from Milan) and she brought her architects to Poland. Most of the Old Towns in Polish cities share a similar layout and design and were built during the golden age of Renaissance. Some of the cities were destroyed during the WW2 and then rebuilt according to original plans but there are still may castles and palaces from that time, with manicured gardens and beautiful interiors (available for sightseeing).

      There are still many examples of brutalist architecture in Poland but I wouldn't say it dominates the city landscapes.

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  3. jako osoba nigdy nie mieszkająca poza krajem, ciężko mi ogarnąć skojarzenie pt. "polska". zwłaszcza że jako dzieciak ne jeździłam absolutnie nigdzie (o co mam żal do rodziców!), a od 10 roku życia raz w roku byłam na koloniach i raz na wycieczkę szkolną: góry-morze, kraków-warszawa itd. nigdy nie byłam w bieszczadach, na podlasiu, mazurach, w ogóle wschód kraju to dla mnie wielka niewiadoma (i własnie ostatnio chodziło mi też po głowie "akcja" typu: przez 1 rok nie wyjeżdżać za granicę, a wykorzystać urlop na zwiedzanie kraju, ale nie łudzę się że będę konsekwentna). ale po to kupujemy namiot własnie, żeby wybywać na weekendy latem: bory tucholskie, biebrza, słowiński park narodowy właśnie, karkonosze. własnie a propo słowińskiego - myślałam że to fotka z bali, taka a propo stereotypów że błekitne niebo i rajska plaża. domyślam się, że to mogło być zamierzone, ale byłam naprawdę zaskoczona ;)

    dobra, pomyślałam chwilę i polska to dla mnie: pola pokryte rzepakiem mijane w drodze do rodziców. warszawa, której unique selling proposition to właśnie ta mieszanka mniej i bardziej powojennej zabudowy. fakt, że mamy i wiele rodzajów gór, i morze, i jeziora, i puszcze. wydaje mi się, że to będzie trend, tak bardzo chciałabym choć raz coś przewidzieć ;d hype na polskę wśród hipsterów z polski,

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    1. Wlasnie ja tez nigdy nie bylam w Bieszczadach ani w zachodniej Polsce. My jezdzilismy duzo z rodzicami ale tylko dlatego ze moja mama byla nauczycielka geografii i zawsze organizowala wycieczki szkolne a my razem z nia jezdzilismy. w liceum bylismy na fieldworku z geografii na Suwakach i nawet nie wiedzialam ze takie piekne rejony sa w Polsce. jedyny problem z podrozowaniem jest taki ze drogi sa bardzo kiepskie w naszym kraju wiec podroz jest meczaca. a hype na Polsce mysle ze bedzie bardzo niedlugo, w jednym numerze magazynu Cereal (lifestyle&travel) byl caly dzial poswiecony Polsce, wlacznie z pierogami. takze my sle ze mozesz miec racje :)

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  4. These photos are perfect. Poland is very misunderstood, especially in British culture. I fully admit to not realising the full beauty of this country and thank you for showing me. It's a place, my bf and I would love to visit but this just makes me want to go so much more.

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    1. I think because of the modern history it's difficult to see Poland as something different than a post-communist country, but it really is a great travel destination. especially if you like mountains and lakes. I will write more about my favourite parts of Poland and easy trips. The best part is that it's really cheap to travel. The not so good part is that our roads and trains are not great but this also adds to the charm of travelling :)

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