Conversations with a Pole in the United States

It was six years ago that I first met Barbara, a medical assistant originally from Poland. Every second year I go for my recommended bone density test, a job she does.

When I first met her I immediately noticed her accent. I knew that her original language was most likely Slavic, but I couldn’t put my finger on which one. When it turned out that it was Polish I told her that I came from Hungary. The immediate result was: Polak, Węgier — dwa bratanki, which almost always follows such Polish-Hungarian encounters in the United States.

Source: pl.wikipedia.org

Source: pl.wikipedia.org

The conversation immediately turned to our own stories. About how we ended up here and under what circumstances. Barbara and her husband had two boys, whom they wanted to make sure would be fluent in Polish. Almost every summer the boys went to Poland to spend time with their grandparents.

As for the Polish situation at the time, she was full of complaints. She talked about the high unemployment, the millions of Poles who went to Germany, Ireland, and Great Britain to work. During one of our encounters around this time I gingerly brought up the Kaczyński brothers, but I quickly dropped the topic because I got the impression that Barbara found the Kaczyńskis to her liking.

Over the years we compared notes on the state of affairs of the two countries. She complained about her compatriots who don’t work as hard as she does and who expect the state to look after them. We talked about the boys; the older entered college last September. They picked a Catholic-run university for him where the education costs a fortune; in return she expects the boy to ace every subject he is taking. I tried to explain that the first year is the most difficult and that she shouldn’t put too much pressure on the boy. However, she is adamant.

But then we began talking about Poland. Barbara is very well informed on Polish affairs because for an extra $20 a month the family subscribes to four Polish television channels from our local cable provider. She admitted that the younger boy who is still at home is not interested in the Polish channels, but she will pay another $20 next year when forty Polish channels are available.

At this point I said to her that as far as I know Poland is doing very well economically. She who until recently was full of complaints admitted that this is the case but mournfully added that it is only because the European Union is providing the country with money which “they will have to pay back.” After we clarified the meaning of that statement I assured her that for the time being Poland doesn’t have to worry. The money will be coming for at least seven more years. However, this didn’t satisfy Barbara who then began worrying about what will happen if the multinational companies move farther to the East in hopes of lower wages. However, all in all, Poland is doing quite well, she had to admit.

And then she stopped and looked worried. “But I hear that Hungary is not doing at all well.” She couldn’t quite understand why. She remembered how well Hungary fared in the 1970s and 1980s and how envious Poles were when they had a chance to visit the country. What happened? I gave her a very short summary of events of the last ten or so years with special emphasis on the last three. The story of the football stadiums especially appalled her. It was obvious that Barbara knows something about football and also knows that Hungary is nowhere in the international standings. In fact, she even came up with some statistics. But the highlight of our conversation was when I got to the stadium in Felcsút, a town of 1,600 inhabitants with a stadium for 3,600. “You must be kidding! But this is crazy! How can the people put up with that?” I told her that I don’t understand it myself but this is how it is.

The history of two countries in the last six years. The always complaining Polish Barbara now feels sorry for Hungary and the Hungarians. I think she also came to the conclusion that there is something very wrong with a prime minister who builds a huge stadium in his boyhood village, right next door to his weekend house.

When it was all over she embraced me. I’ll be curious how our next conversation will go.

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20 comments

  1. Quite a journey, Hungary –
    from the most liberal barracks of communism to the most dictatorial barracks of European capitalism.

    ——————
    According to the Fidesz-created new election law, Fidesz will receive 27% more of the taxpayers’ money than the opposition (MSzP + E14-PM election union) for the election campaign.

    Fidesz will also outspend the opposition, say 100:1 in private and non-official public funds.

    http://index.hu/belfold/2013/12/27/149_millio_forintos_hatranybol_indul_az_egyutt-mszp/

  2. Chicago until just a few years ago had a higher Polish population than any city in Poland other than Warsaw. Numerous Poles have left Chicago for Poland, but these have not been highly trained professionals, but generally skilled tradesmen.So right now Poland is booming,even many Irish are working there because of the banking collapse in Ireland.

    I think Eva’s friend is correct the large firms that have opened in Poland will seek lower wage workers eventually. The upturn has relatively little to do with the quality of Polish governmental structures. Poland is definitely perceived internationally as less corrupt than Hungary. But let”s not forget the Rywin Affair, a corruption scandal involving well-known movie producer Lew Rywin and his attempt to influence legal changes. The right wing Polish Law and Justice Party grew directly out of that scandal.

    Let’s also not forget the Warsaw riot that took place just last month when masked far-right youths who threw firecrackers and set fire to cars when a nationalist march through the center of Warsaw and fought with riot police. Before the violence broke out demonstrators chanted: “God, honor, fatherland!” and waved the red-and-white national flag. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

  3. Istvan, I really hope, that you don’t mean, that those events that you mentioned taking place in Poland would make Hungary any better, do you?
    Hungary screwed up royally, without solution in sight, whatever BS the powers that be feed the populace with, while Poland just moves along and upward slightly with every step.
    In a few years you will see quite a number of Hungarians working in Poland as things tend today, I promise.

  4. Loath as I am to write anything positive about Orbán, and without in any way justifying the millions he is spending on stadia, I feel duty bound to clarify the Felcsút situation.

    Although the stadium in Felcsút is very fancy and no doubt expensive, it is not a particularly large stadium (it would be no good for important senior level national games, let alone any sort of international matches – by serious football standards it is too small to be of much use). It is also part of a large complex of smaller stadia, football pitches, training and medical facilities, etc, rather than just a stadium.

    What Orbán has done (good or bad) in Felcsút, is to set up a football academy, not build a stadium. Had he wanted the sort of vanity memorial I assume Éva has in mind, he could easily have built it.

    Within his own twisted set of priorities he has done what he would no doubt consider a ‘good thing’ – he has established a national academy to train future generations of Hungarian footballers. This is the only way Hungary is ever going to regain its football reputation, and, indeed, exactly what other footballing countries have done or are doing (this was identified as essential in England years ago, and we now have facilities that would put Felcsút to shame).

    We can argue over whether or not this is something a Prime Minister should be spending money on in straightened times, or even if Hungary should be the least bothered about football at all. And we can dispute whether he is doing this entirely out of vanity, or due to one of rare moments of actually caring about his country. But, whatever the pros and cons, what Orbán has done may actually turn out to be one of the very few positive outcomes of his dictatorship.

    Ignore the vanity of building it in Felcsút for a moment, and it looks quite different.

  5. A number of years ago, my wife and I visited Ireland. We discovered a lot of young foreigners working there, some of them were Hungarians. But by and large, most of the foreign young workers were Polish. In fact, the Poles were so well received that a Dublin paper had a midsection of four pages completely in Polish.

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a verdict on Hungarians….2nd rate wherever they are.

  6. petofi, you really are an unpleasant piece of work in this season of good will. Life is too short to dwell on the negatives: if Hungarians are such dreadful people, stop bloody living with them or blogging about them and do something positive with your time. Much as I get exhausted by the unrelenting negativity of this blog, at least Éva wants things to improve and that is the basic motivation of her most of her posts. But you are basically enjoying wallowing in hatred, as far as I can see. And that is not a remotely elevated way of passing the time.

    Get a life!

  7. About utility cuts.

    I added the amounts on the twelve latest heating bills meticulously, and compared this number with the sum of the previous twelve bills from 2012.

    Yes, there was a cut overall: 5.65%.

    On the latest bill, in government mandated yellow highlighting, there is a big lie!

    The amount of money they claim I saved (thanks to our great leader) equals 11.19% of the 2012. heating bills.

  8. Don’t your heating bills vary according to the weather outside? Hasn’t the unit cost of your gas gone down? Or is that not true also

  9. If you go to this link [http://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2013/dec/13/bailout-exit-not-end-ireland-financial-crisis-noonan] you will see that the current situation in Ireland has improved greatly since its banks went into crisis, but the unemployment rate is still worse than Hungary’s rate of 10.1%. Dell a major computer manufacture assembled computers for the European market at plant in Limerick, and once employed about 4,500 people in that country. Dell began manufacturing in Limerick in 1991 and went on to become Ireland’s largest exporter of goods and its second-largest company and foreign investor. In 2009, Dell announced that it would move all Dell manufacturing in Limerick to Dell’s new plant in the Polish city of Łódź. The major reason Irish have moved to Poland, is that they were trained Dell employees.

  10. Paul :
    I don’t know Eva….but I would like to know. What is your opinion about the petition.
    I think it should be supported by as many good willing people who treasure integrity.
    It would be a very powerful signal. And…well…something has to be done!
    http://act.watchdog.net/petitions/2675?r=2199255.b4l4ER

    My uninvited opinion is that internet petitions are worthless. This particular one is authored by an ignoramus who thinks that Áder is the main culprit.

  11. HiBoM :
    Don’t your heating bills vary according to the weather outside? Hasn’t the unit cost of your gas gone down? Or is that not true also

    The heating company, owned by the Fidesz-led municipality can say any number of GJ they claim they spent on the heating of hundreds of thousands of people – I have no way of verifying their number, which is higher in 2013 than in 2012.

    The problem is that the average temperature was NOT lower in 2013 than in 2012, but my actual heating bill went down by 5.6% instead of the propaganda number of 11.2% that was printed on the last bill with yellow highlighting.

    I plan to compare my 2010 bills with the 2013 bills as well.

  12. Istvan, nobody doubts that in other countries in the EU the crisis has hit hard. But the current problems in Hungary are not the consequence of the EU crisis, not even of EU membership (that is instead one source of income). As regards the unemployment rate, indeed in Ireland more people are counted as unemployed than in Hungary, but in Hungary more people are counted as “outside the labour force”. The employment rates (those people with a job and working) in the age class 15-64 was similar in both countries in 2012 (57 % in Hungary and 59 % in Ireland). Source of that is Eurostat (the statistical office of the EU).

  13. HiBoM :
    petofi, you really are an unpleasant piece of work in this season of good will. Life is too short to dwell on the negatives: if Hungarians are such dreadful people, stop bloody living with them or blogging about them and do something positive with your time. Much as I get exhausted by the unrelenting negativity of this blog, at least Éva wants things to improve and that is the basic motivation of her most of her posts. But you are basically enjoying wallowing in hatred, as far as I can see. And that is not a remotely elevated way of passing the time.
    Get a life!

    Save your righteous indignation for Hungary, and for Hungarians…and what they allow and have allowed, into the mainstream of society–I can mention a lot, but let’s begin with the disgusting appellation of “Christian Hungary”. Does THAT sit well with YOU?
    Or, if that does not raise your ire, what about the persistent undercurrent of anti-semitism
    throughout the lifeblood of the country?

  14. Jano :
    petofi: Nice, and Chewbakka is a wookie born on the planet Endor right?

    @Jano

    I’m not up on Star Trek-lingo so your witticism misses me…but I’ll stand for an explanation.

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