7 Things We Miss About America
1. Fresh air
The number one thing we miss about the U.S. is the clean air. I'm sure it's not super clean in every American city, but it sure ain't as gross as it has been in Warsaw this winter. Smog to us was always a pretty abstract concept associated with Beijing residents in masks. While we were living in San Francisco, we never appreciated how the ocean breeze filled our lungs with fresh air. We should have. Apparently, it's not a given. (Why is smog here so awful, you're wondering? Read Mr's post)
2. Napa Valley Wine
In Warsaw, we learned that Europe’s least known countries – Bulgaria and Moldova – apparently produce a lot of wine, and that wine is rather popular in Poland. If you're shopping at a bodega or the supermarket, wine from those lands (as well as from the much more wine-reputable Georgia) will be one of your main choices. The other choice will be cheap varietals from unknown French, Italian and Spanish vineyards. Most of them are a far cry from anything you can pick up at Trader Joe's. It's possible to find good European wine in Warsaw's specialty shops, but Californian wines are unavailable even at Poland's top restaurants (due, a somelier at the Warsaw's fanciest restaurant NoLiTa told us, to their unwarranted high prices). So if you want Californian in Warsaw, you’ll have to settle for a Gallo or a Sutter Home. Sigh. I guess we better brush up on our Euro wine knowledge.
While the majority of people we interact with in Polish cities speak English better than we’ll ever speak Polish, we still miss knowing what all the signs say, listening in on people’s gossip on the bus, and laughing at our Polish friends’ jokes when they're talking among themselves. Polish is famously hard to learn and most expats living here have given up long ago. Luckily, there are a lot of English-language events and some in other tongues too - a Russian film festival here, an Italian lecture there. But still. We find ourselves cut off from certain language-dependent parts of the local culture and at times sorely miss hearing English around (though not knowing what people are saying does make concentrating at cafes much easier).
We never appreciated the genius of a giant American pharmacy, where besides the obvious personal care items, you can also get medicine (what a concept!), greeting cards, Halloween masks, school supplies and wrapping paper all in the same place… until we moved to Poland. Here, all the aforementioned items are sold in different stores. And while detergent may be easy to find, good luck trying to locate greeting cards, office desk supplies or, God forbid, those sticky little squares to put up posters on the wall (for us, still MIA). And while I appreciate that you can get bread from a bakery and meat from a butcher, this Euro-separation in other departments makes me miss the convenient genius of the giant American pharmacy.
5. Stupid, Happy Movies
So you want to see a local flick? Learn about the culture, see some interesting characters and nice cinematography? You may have heard a thing or two about famous Polish directors. Polanski and all that. Well, prepare yourself for a lot of dead people: dead Poles, dead Jews, dead Germans, dead Russians. All dead. All the time. To this day, World War II remains the hottest topic for local cinematography. And by World War II, we don’t mean the victorious D Day scenes with proudly raised flags and moving string orchestra soundtracks, but more like bleak scenes where everyone dies and everything gets destroyed and it’s all muddy and hopeless and you walk out of the theater thinking that you really need a shot of vodka, or maybe the whole bottle… At a recent movie date night, out of 5 previews (including American and Polish) 2 were about World War II. And that's typical here. So you can forget Polish superheroes flying around in costume. Or banana-peel humor. Or cheesy romance flicks with sticky pop songs. If you want to watch a flick while chewing popcorn, you better stay away from Polish movies altogether. Lucky for us, however, the well-oiled Hollywood machine sends plenty of timely, undubbed American flicks to a theater near us.
6. Smoke-Free House Parties
This is Europe. Eastern Europe, to be precise. And that means everyone here smokes. So if you’re throwing a house party or attending one, the truth is that no one is going to leave the party to walk down however many flights of stairs to light up. Technically, one could insist on a no-smoking house party, but then that may limit the number of Poles attending or at least significantly cut down on their time at said party. So you will need to accept that the windowsills will be peppered with ashtrays and that - if you happen to be the host - your apartment will wreak for days afterward (until you’re able to find a store that sells Fabreeze – see #3 above).
7. Spicy Food
Poles don’t like spicy food. And by spicy food, I don’t mean like Sriracha spicy. I mean like mustard spicy. But you know who likes spicy food? Mister! (He was a Mexican border child). Anyway, after the local mustard failed to impress him, we decided to kick it up a notch by investing in a jar of horseradish. When we opened it at dinner that night, it turned out it was so mild that we ate half of the jar with a spoon. Afterward, we tried going out, but so far none of the Indian or Asian places have succeeded in bringing tears to Mr’s eyes (the fact that brings real, non-spice-induced tears to his eyes, I’m afraid).