What is wrong with being Polish?
(«Hva som er galt med å være polsk?»)
Stranger: Where are you from?
Me: I`m from Poland.
S.: (enthusiastically) Oooh Holland! Great!
Me: Oh no, I ment Poland
S: (LESS enthusiastically) Aaa, I see.
Awkward right? The change in voice is always so apparent. I find it funny, many people might find it confusing. And this is just a starter to my post of how it is to be an immigrant from Eastern Europe.
Don’t take me wrong, I have almost never met anyone who would be offensive towards me only because I am from Poland. Well OK, to be honest maybe not anyone from Western states, more like far east, so far you would call it Russia, but it might have been a coincidence 😛
After living for 3 years in Norway I must admit I have covered it all, especially when this summer I worked as a health care assistant and was visiting 15-20 different patients every day. It takes one sentence for Norwegians to figure out that I am not even close to be Scandinavian. (Although some people asked me if I am from Denmark, and this is a tricky one cos everyone struggles to understand Danish people in Norway as they just keep on talking in their native tongue and Norwegians laugh that it’s like listening to a person with potato in their throat. There is some truth in this as well, no offence my dear friends from DK). So once again, not sure if I should take it as a good sign. (As I am positive person I go with the first option)
Usually when I say I am from Poland (in Norwegian Poland is Polen, so the awkward moment with Holland is already ruled out, uff!), Norwegians be like:
- Oh! I had a Polish:
- Cleaning lady (DEFO top of my list)
- Carpenter (still strong 2nd place, but soon plumber will take over)
- Taxi driver
- Some Polakker painted my house last summer!
- Sold me really cheap alcohol\tabaccoo
- Clipped my lawn
- Fixed my car
And one of my absolute favourites:
- I went to Poland once!
Me: Great! Where did you go?
Yes, Poland is one big Aushwitz. Thank God u saw that top attraction, I am sure it scores high on Trip Advisor! I mean ok, I get it, it is about trying to find topics for conversation, I also do it, but if someone tells me he is from Cambodia and I have visited it I will go for: “Siem Riep was stunning” instead of “I went to the Killing Fields and man, those stacks of skulls were spooky!”. U get the drill?
I even heard once: At least you Polish are not black. And of course one of the nicest was: so do you know the other Polish girls dancing in the Go-Go club?
Hell yeah I do! Hang out with them all the time. We are besties. Srsly, ppl. Get a grip.The reason why I even started this topic is because of the latest discussions in Norway about a new tv series, called: “Kampen for tilværelsen”, something like “Struggle for life”. The action takes place in Norway and it pictures lives of Polish immigrants and Norwegians being Norwegians. It raised many questions because it portrays Polish people as crude and dumb manual workers. Creators of this soap opera defends this by saying it is a satire, just to have a good laugh. Well it does make jokes out of Norwegians as well, but in much subtle way. Until now I have watched around 7 episodes, mainly to see what it really is and also it is a great language practise. I wanted to write more about this topic, but it got perfectly covered in article written by a Pole who works at the University of Oslo, unfortunately for Polish speakers only: „Polaczki” kontra „Norki” Actually when I started to write this post it was before I began my new job as a support worker in charity helping homeless, where many are from Eastern Europe. To see on my own eyes what a big problem it is in UK and how difficult it must be for social workers to help people who do not even speak the language. It makes me so annoyed sometimes, why move to another country and do not even try to learn language. And if in Norway they have the same problem with Polish workers as UK have, doesn’t that mean that after all there is something wrong with us as a nation? I wanted to defend all Polish after I saw the Norwegian series about my fellow country men squezzed in basement, drinking vodka, eating second-hand bread, stealing and having all kinds of mental health problems. It is stereotypical, but to be honest – I did meet such Poles in Norway. I also met many educated and smart Polish, but these are the quiet ones, too boring to put into TV series. These are the ones who will take two bottles of red wine on tax free zone, not the ones smuggling a tone of beer into Norway, while drunk driving and causing a car accident on main highway in Norway, killing two people and then escaping barefoot… (true story, happened in Norway two years ago).
As much as I love Norway and I do want to spend my life in that country I find it sometimes disturbing how much this supposedly open nation treats foreigners. Of course it cannot be generalised, but there this is something I and my friends experiences on ourselves, it is cool to be for example and American or Australian in Norway, everyone will ask you, why are you even learning Norwegian? But if you are Polish, Romanian or from Middle East everyone will ask you why you haven’t learnt Norwegian yet. (I do not want to offend anyone, these are just some observations):
So maybe I am an Eastern European, fine, but well at least I am not on the bottom of the list, I am the category number two. This is not a written law, this is something that everyone will silently agree with in Western Europe. When eventually Norwegians come to terms of having foreigners in their country, well then the favoured are the White Westerners, further on there is me, the white Eastern European who at least come from the same continent and “hopefully” share the same cultural value. You probably will have to send a little bit more CVs if you are dark skinned non-European (say hello to category number 3). If you really wanna go into details check out articles like: Immigrants with higher education earn less than Norwegians (article in Norwegian)
Title of this post comes from article about reactions of Polish immigrants in Norway, to the controversial TV series. A Pole whom I am quoting is having his own construction company in Norway and is worried that one day his children will come back from school and ask what is wrong with being Polish… I think that portrays pretty well with the kind of image we fight as a nation. Or are we doomed?
This is probably not the last time I will be writing about this topic. Because the real question is, why nobody wants to go back to Poland? Why there is 100.000 Poles in Norway? Why are they slaving themselves? Not everyone, but considerate number. Why there is almost a million of Poles in UK? When I was applying for National Insurance number in UK two months ago, the officer asked me if there is anyone left in Poland, I sadly smiled and said: “40 more millions, BRACE YOURSELF; THEY ARE COMING”.
And yes, call me sarcastic, but never nationalistic. It does not mean that I am not proud of being from Poland, I am proud of my ancestors fighting in World Wars, I just expect more of this nation than being European resource for cheap labor.
 Statistics: http://www.ssb.no/befolkning/statistikker/flytting/aar