Saturday, July 26, 2008


Visiting Poland: A Warning

For business reasons, I’ve spent just about all of July in Poland and have very much appreciated the opportunity to do so. I enjoy it here and would normally recommend others to visit as there is a lot to see and do. However as a service to any liberal progressive readers I may have, I feel duty bound to highlight, in the interest of full disclosure, some of the more unpleasant aspects of modern-day Poland.

One of the perceived great joys of European travel is the chance it gives you to sit back with like-minded individuals and bash America. Alas, I have to report that I’ve not encountered even one instance of anti-Americanism here in Poland (and I’m in Warsaw, their capital city).

And it’s not like I haven’t given them the opportunity. When asked, I’ve talked openly about our upcoming elections, our chance at redemption...and still nothing; not even a gratuitous swipe at President Bush. I’m not trying to judge them but I can’t help but feel that most Poles are just not consumed by the possibility of a Barack Obama presidency. That’s right; I’ve not come across one visible sign of Obamamania. No signal that they recognize how his election would CHANGE everything.

Which is not to say that if he came to Poland, a crowd wouldn’t also show up to listen to him. (Hell, if I was here, I’d probably show up). The faithful in the crowd would understand him because he no doubt would be speaking to them in Tongues. But the rest of us would understand him because he would also be speaking in English. That’s because English is widely spoken here as a second language. I’ve valiantly tried to learn some Polish but it’s not an easy language to learn and an American can probably get around here without any Polish comprehension (this is particularly true in the larger cities). Sadly, though, the people here don’t seem to have any clue concerning just how much of a victim they are of our cultural imperialism; a recent poll showed that 91% of the populace thinks English should be a mandatory subject in their schools. (Mr. Obama’s recommendation of Spanish didn’t even register.)

Another recent survey showed that Poland was near the bottom when it came to cancer care. Unfortunately, that same survey put the US at the very top and some Polish people who pointed this out to me were upset with Poland’s poor showing and admiring of America’s leadership in this matter. I patiently tried to explain to them that their system of nationalized health care was so much better because it meant that their relatively poor cancer care was at least equally available no matter how rich or poor. (Well, except that the richer Poles are usually advised to go to America to take advantage of our superior cancer treatments.) Further, I described how our system, despite the impressive breakthroughs, also risks making some people richer for their efforts, therefore encouraging even more investments into health care innovations and thus…well by that time I had forgotten what my point was but I think everyone was impressed with my obvious grasp of the superiority of a nationalized health care system. Still, such Polish admiration for an American success story is not a good trait and may make some of you world citizens a bit uncomfortable.

And as world citizens, a few of you probably also remember Poland’s role in the downfall of the noble leftwing experiment that was Communism. Lech Walesa and Solidarity were the beginning of the end for the communists here in Europe and the Poles don’t seem too apologetic about it. That’s led to all kinds of outbreaks of Capitalism and improved standards of living but it also decreased the role of government in people’s daily lives. Some of you may be aghast at the acceptance of such tradeoffs.

Pope John Paul II was also an inspirational figure in that time and his image is everywhere – in shops, taxis and even restaurants. This leads me to note another unfortunate aspect of the Polish landscape: just about everyone here is Catholic. Church holidays are state holidays and on Sundays the cathedrals are full. Now Catholics can be useful citizens and all that but as any liberal Supreme Court watcher can tell you, too many of us Catholics in one place and bad things happen.

And so it is here: remarkably, despite this country’s claims to be a functioning democracy, its judicial system has yet to unilaterally impose Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. Sadly, this means I cannot report that that progressive lodestar of individual rights – that of a 14-year old girl to have an abortion without parental approval or knowledge – is respected here.

Yet, outrageously, for the most part, restaurant and bar owners still have the right to set their own smoking rules. Yep, if you want to go into a bar and have a cigarette with your beer - and the bar owner doesn’t object - you can do so. I’ll leave it to you to contrast those examples of an obvious lack of perspective.

Of course the biggest problem Poland faces today is a distressing lack of Diversity. You only have to be here a short while before it hits you: pretty much everyone here is Polish. (Oh sure, their politics runs the full gamut of the political spectrum but we all now know that viewpoint diversity ain’t what’s important.)

As you can imagine, this unfortunate situation leads to all kinds of awkward moments. For instance, I’ve talked to a number of Polish men and none have admitted to the straight, white, male angst that marks intelligentsia membership among U.S. men. What’s more, the Polish people I’ve met seem oblivious to the guilt they should be carrying on account of what some people of similar skin tone did over a hundred years ago. (I don’t even think they have government-mandated US-styled Affirmative Action programs in place!)

Not a pretty picture, I know, but I include all of this to ensure that if you come over, you come over forewarned and forearmed. Of course, as with any place so besotted with problems, therein lies great opportunity. An ambitious young person could spend a few years over here community organizing, perhaps even getting some job-placement center built. Such a singular achievement would obviously then qualify that person for anything – even leadership of the free world.

ROFLMAO! Loved it, and I'm not even Polish.
Thank you for your enthusiam I am standing here in asbolute disgust at my fellow countrymen. The world does not revolve around America. What right do you have to criticize the Polish people for not caring enough about YOUR country? They have their onw lives to tend to, just as we have ours. We certainly don't give thought to other countries, so why should they be so concerned about America?

This is just sad. Sad, sad, sad.

I'm a very liberal person but right now, I am ashamed to be.

Liberalism is not about imposing your beliefs on others and criticizing them when their country doesn't run according YOUR own morals and ethics.
Thank you Casa - I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume your comments were all tongue-in-cheek.

P.S. heh, heh "Liberalism is not about imposing your beliefs on others..."

that's a good one.
You have liberal progressive readers???
~Old Friend
I must say I have read your article with a great interest. Why? Well,I am a Pole and I have spent the last 10 years in YOUR country,USA. I could equally start with a warning against the USA but it is more interesting to focus on your comments. Some of your observations are right on the money; some are totally off.It is true we smoke and bar owners have the freedom to set their smoking rules, just as the bar visitors have the freedom to choose where to go. It is also a true what you wrote about abortion - however would you want your 14 yrs old daughter have an adoption without your knowledge? And it is true that there is a majority of catholics. And why do you find it as unfortunate? I am a catholic, I do not practice; however, I definitively prefer that than having thousands of weird sects and churches available in the USA, institutions that can be established by any individual...where church has become a big business and sends me cool offers and discounts for buing a spot on the local cemetery (I called them and told them that I do not want to receive those offers until I hit 90, I was 20 at the time LOL). I disagree with your comment about imperialism and that we are victims of it. The fact that 91% of population think English should be mandatory is a good thing. It is not even related to the USA. Poland is a part of Europe first. And that means that we, Poles, need to use a common language to communicate with other members of the EU, for many reasons. Russian is not obligatory any more - times have changed. English is equivalent to progress. Why would we want to study Spanish? I have nothing against it, but Poles and the entire EU to be honest, are not troubled by hispanic immigration and a growing hispanic population (which I think adds value to the USA, but that's another issue, many would disagree here with me). So, you guys, Americans, should actually learn Spanish as soon as possible as that may soon become your first language. But, one must say here, Americans do not learn languages. they think they do not need to. Perhaps true. They are too ignorant and xenophobic. Perhaps true.
When it comes to a cancer care - I'll be direct here - you have no idea about polish health care system. The fact that it is a state supported does not mean that it is functional. Besides, many choose to go for a cancer health care to Germany as it is more advanced and cheaper than the American one (many famous Americans went to Germany for treatments - Ted Kennedy, Farrah Faucet to name the few). You see, the problem you may have with not getting a response when trying to talk about the USA is that your problems are entirely different from the problems faced by Poles. Americans complain when they cannot afford a third car; a Pole is happy when he can buy himself just a one. In general,we are against 'the american bragging', and a big show. And so perhaps that's why no one really cares what's happening in the USA. USA is like a big inflated baloon. Your presidents come and go, promise this and that, and that's the extend of it. The fact that Obama won is a great thing - yet, the issue of 'black' and 'white' is such a distant one, that no one really understands it!!! I, for the first time in my life felt white, only when I came to the USA. Before, I'd never even think about it. And why a lack of diversity is a problem? Is it a problem for you? Is America truly embracing its diversity? Deep down not really, you MUST admit that. If it was, there would be no talk about it. It would be natural. Part of the daily life. Let's face it: Obama has really pulled ahead only when the financial crisis had started! That's what panic does - we do what we would otherwise never have done. For as long as it is a talk about' black white and in between' America will have problems with embracing its diversity. To do that, America must learn tolerance and openess first. I would advice you that as well.
Aneta: I could not agree with you more in your assessment of this self-proclaimed progessive...HE is not very open-minded as is the problem with the progressive movement. They like to go around imposing their views on everybody else, including their fellow Americans who are largely much more conservative, and Catholic or at least church going than the average progressive. Thank God they are not nearly the majority, and they do not represent the Democratic party, they are a fringe. They have gained a little power with the election of obama, and then quickly lost it again once America woke up to their antics. Do not underestimate them, they will bring their filthy ways to your beautiful country if they can, in the sneaky way he described at the end of his piece. A quiet little community organizer pretending to help disgusting they are. Progressivism is a disguise for socialism, the progressive hero Saul Alinsky tells them do not present yourself as socialists in a country where they understand that socialism destroys freedom, rahter sell it as social justice or progressivism. Poland is such a country, I wish you luck in your endeavors to make life better for all Poles and I pray the progressives are outed for the socialists they really are! Poland sufferred enough and deserves better than progressivism!
funny. I assume they're lack of giving a crap about affirmative action because black ppl (if any are there) weren't slaves and so why should Polish ppl feel guilty about something they didn't do.
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