We are finishing up life in Poland. I don’t know where the past two years went. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around them. There is so much I’m going to miss about living here. There are a few things that I will be happy to leave behind.
First, the things I love.
Want to know my favorite thing about running here in a Poland? We have miles and miles of forest trails accessible from our home that we use in all seasons, and the scenery is nice. But that’s not it. My absolute favorite thing is that people who are also running SAY HI TO YOU. You guys, I’m from Michigan, and as a midwestern girl it is soul-crushing to pass people by without a “dzien dobry”, or even so much as a smile. Polish people do not make eye contact, and do not say hi when passing in the street. Unless! You are running, and they are running. Then it’s like there is some sort of magical running bond that is formed, because not only will your fellow runner look at you…but you will also likely receive a smile, an actual wave, and, not only a “dzien dobry” (hello, good day) but usually the informal “Cześć” (hi), and sometimes even a downright friendly “Hej!” (hey, ha). Running here is a workout for my body, and exercise for my midwestern soul. Because if you don’t use it, ya lose it.
The cost of living in Poland is real easy on the American Dollar. The Polish currency is the złoty (zwoty) and it fluctuates right around 4:1 on the US Dollar. Overall, the cost to live in Poland is about ¼ of what it is in the States. Our cell phone bill for a month in the USA could cover us for a year in Poland. A two-bedroom Airbnb in central Warsaw is about $70-100 per night. There are an abundance of not-terrible $2 bottles of wine. A child’s dental exam cost $12 US dollars. Dinner out, including drinks, can cost $20 for you and your two small children. If you’re considering a trip to Europe, but aren’t sure you can afford it, look at Poland as your destination. It won’t disappoint, and it will be gentle on your budget.
My induction stovetop
If you know my mom, you know that I come from good-cook genes. I spend a lot of happy time in the kitchen. My induction stove is one of the best features of our Polish home. There are a few things I love about it. An induction stove works by reacting with the metal in your cookware, so your pots and pans have to be real metal or cast iron (trick! if a magnet sticks to your pan, it will work on an induction stove). We actually had to buy a new set of cookware when we arrived, because our Calphalon non-sticks didn’t work. But I love my stainless steel pots pans and our cast irons get more use here.
Anyway, because it heats the actual cookware, the stovetop itself doesn’t get hot. So when you’re done cooking, you’re left with a cool glass top, not an invisible burn hazard. My absolute favorite feature? Unlike gas, or electric stoves, spills and boil-overs won’t burn on to your stovetop. It’s a breeze to clean. We had a glass top electric stove in New York and I hated that thing. The hours I spent with soft scrub and literal sore arms the day after. Woof. Speaking of boil-overs, another thing I love about my induction stove is its ability to boil a pot of water in about 30-90 seconds, depending on size. It’s so quick to boil, that if I have a pat of butter in the water to melt as it heats, the water will often boil before the butter is melted. It’s also super quick to react, which is the final favorite thing about it. If you notice something is getting charred, you can turn it down and your dish can be salvaged, vs. electric which takes time to cool off. My induction stove makes me a better cook.
Kids Clothing Sizes
The learning curve figuring out European Union sizing vs. our standard US sizing was steep. But now that I have it figured out, I much, much prefer the EU sizing of kids clothing. Instead of variable-by-brand infant sizes in months, then toddler sizes 2-5T, followed by little kids XS, S, on up, etc. EU sizing goes by a very straightforward height in centimeters, with new sizes in 6 centimeter (2.36 inch) intervals. This sizing applies to newborn, on up to a 152cm (5 feet) tall child. Since all bodies are different and kids grow at different rates, this makes so much more sense to me. Not to mention the emotional games that are played on a new mother when she has to put her rapidly growing 8-month old baby in size “12 month” clothes. They grow heartbreakingly fast enough as it is!
Right now I know that my five year old is 45 inches tall, which converts to about 114 centimeters. So when I go shopping for him, I know that I need to look for size 116 or 120 for his pants to be long enough. What even is size 4T? The pre-birthday and Christmas conversation with friends and family, when they want to know what size my boys are wearing just sounds silly. Well, he’s 18 month pants with a drawstring, but 2T tops fit. He wears 2T in Carters, but 3T in Old Navy, as long as there are waist cinchers. It’s too confusing. Max is size 92 or 98, Miles is 116 or 120. There you have it. Mom life made easier.
Play areas at restaurants
I’m not talking a Chuck-e-Cheese type place that is the equivalent of a child casino and parental nightmare. No. Many restaurants and beer gardens here have either a small little play area tucked in a corner, or even a playground next to outdoor seating. I know these are common in Germany’s beer gardens too, and I’m already looking forward to spending quality family fun time at them… the boys happily playing, dad and I chilling with a beverage. Ahh, the stuff of parental dreams come true. Here in Poland, often even a nice sit-down restaurant will have a little play kitchen, or playhouse tucked in a corner of the restaurant. We’ve encountered this elsewhere in Europe too. I can think of one, or two restaurants we ate at in Lithuania that had a small kid-corner. I appreciate that restaurant owners realize the challenges that come with dining out as a family, and help parents by considering their smallest, wiggliest patrons.
And, two things that will be nice to leave behind.
Communicating at toddler level
I LOVE languages. I am fascinated with how they shape cultures, learning new words, perfecting accents, and being able to communicate with people who are from a different life than I’ll ever know. But honestly, I’m so tired of every single human interaction outside of the home and my small English-speaking community being at toddler level. You know how easily frustrated toddlers get, simply because they can’t get their point across and they don’t understand social norms? Its like that. I empathize much more easily with my two year old now.
For example, I constantly feel in the dark about what happens at the boys’ school. If a drop-off/pick-up procedure changes, I bear with the teachers as much as they bear with me. Even the little things add up. The little old lady telling me something about my boys as we pass on the sidewalk. . . I just smile and nod and keep moving, craving comprehension and conversation. I wade through foggy translations. Like when the electrician came over to fix something, and Google translate recording our conversation telling me he said, “the lights upon the mountain will go out in six months.” . . . HUH? Picking up the phone to place a to-go order, or make a reservation, or a doctor appointment, and just praying the person on the other end speaks enough English to understand, and correctly write your name, date, and time. If they don’t, sometimes they’ll go find a friend who does. Often they’ll just hang up.
I love Polish. But it’s a lot. Language barriers are exhausting and isolating.
There! I said it! Adorable as can be, but functionally the worst! Have you ever tried wandering through a gorgeous European old town square in date night heels? You’re at high risk for a date night sprained ankle. Or biked down a quaintly cobbled street? You’ll shake your teeth loose and bounce the kids right out of the buggy. Don’t even get me started on pushing (pulling, lugging) a stroller over them. Oy vey. I’ve researched replacement parts for our stroller, for when we break an axel. Nope. Just give me smooth asphalt and boring square cement sidewalks, please.