No Longer Tourists

Dzien Dobry!

I’ve only been in Krakow for a week, but my roommates agree with me that it feels like it’s been at least a month. I don’t know why, but time seems to be moving in slow motion and I can’t say I’m mad about it.

The group of us are settling in here quite nicely: finding our favorite places to eat, the best lody (ice cream) shops, mastering the public transportation system, and accumulating groceries and home supplies to the point that our apartment actually looks like people live here! We have even started to cook our own homemade family dinners (ok we have made two meals and they were both pasta, but we are proud of ourselves). We have also become regulars at this cute bakery down the street where we stop to try a new pastry every day on our way to school. My biggest complaint is that in all of Krakow, I haven’t found a single box of mac and cheese (the most important food group)! If you know of anywhere in Poland to buy mac and cheese please tell me because I don’t think I can continue living like this.

Week one of my two-week intensive Polish language course was certainly intense, though I’m sure five hours a day of any class would be a lot to handle. I was expecting the language to be tough but it is MUCH harder than it seems. Difficulty aside, I have actually learned a shocking amount in the past five days. In fact, I’m pretty sure I learned the same amount in a week of Polish as I did in a whole year of Spanish. I find myself able to read signs around town, pick out words and phrases from conversations I overhear, and easily make purchases/order food totally in Polish (and actually have a fair idea of what I am getting). I feel confident that by the end of this week, I will be able to have entire conversations with people! Polish may not be the most useful language in the world to know, but it is definitely an accomplishment.

When I first arrived, I was a little surprised to see how similar the culture of Poland is to my own- the same brands, stores, cars, restaurants (Starbucks has finally made its way to the Krakow main square) and a lot of the same music.

The world is a very Americanized place, it’s true, but as time goes on I am picking up on more and more differences.

A little Polish culture 101:
i. You can tell how nice a restaurant is by the quality of their napkins- nice restaurants have regular napkins while regular restaurants have little pieces of tissue paper that actually do more harm than good.
ii. Every meal is an event here- people like to take their sweet time at restaurants. An average lunch takes at least an hour to an hour and a half while every dinner so far has been a two hour+ long process. Your waitress will not bring you the check until you ask for it (“prosze rachunek”) because they do not want you to feel rushed.
iii. Something I am a huge fan of is that establishments with outdoor seating leave blankets on the chairs. Why is this not a thing in America?
iv. Restaurants and shops are all very tiny and cramped. It’s hard to find a table to seat four people anywhere and nearly impossible to accommodate larger groups. Boutiques and drug stores during midday have lines that wrap around the store and aisles that are too narrow to walk through. Frustrating as it can be, it adds a bit of charm and intimacy to everything.
v. Cars park on the sidewalk! I guess whoever designed the city 600 years ago did not consider leaving room for many parking spots. Drivers in general drive very fast and erratically and it takes a few days to figure out how to cross the street while successfully dodging traffic.
vi. Businesses are closed on Sundays. I was expecting this, and it is actually not as common here as in much of Europe but it will still take some getting used to as Sunday has historically been my errand-running day.
vii. You will attract some dirty looks if you are walking down the street smiling, and I have hardly seen a single person wearing headphones anywhere. For this I have no explanation.

viii. I still may not be fully blended in with the Polish way of life but at this point I think we have all stopped being blatant tourists and started to live and act like true Poland natives.

Madison Goddard is a student at Hartwick College an an official API Blogger. Madison is studying abroad with API in Krakow, Poland.

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