Poland is secretly terrifying
“Why would anybody want to go to Poland?”
Without fail, this is what I heard whenever I told anyone where I was going for my last holiday. This surprised me since I hadn’t really heard very much about Poland at all and couldn’t see what was so bad about it.
And while nobody seems to like Poland, people also seem to reserve a special hatred for the country’s capital Warsaw. I even found an online forum where 413 people all agree that Warsaw (or “Whore-saw” as it is sometimes spelled) is a terrible place. Since that was where I was heading at the time, this particularly concerned me.
While nobody could sufficiently explain what in particular was wrong with Poland, everyone seemed to agree that it was a terrifying place. After hearing so many negative things I decided to do some research to find out what it was about Poland that filled so many people with dread. And what I found was…well…strange.
As much as Silvio Berlusconi might disagree, politics and sex are just don’t mix. The thought of middle-aged men and women sitting in a room to argue about tax and stuff just doesn’t get me excited. However in Poland, such a distinction does not exist. In 2011, the candidate for the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), Katarzyna Lenart decided that the best way to encourage people to vote for her would be to strip naked and spin around in an office chair.
In what looks more like a commercial for a strip club than for a political campaign, the 23 year old Lenart awkwardly removes items of clothing while seductively looking into the camera. This is until the end where she takes off her bra and just before the crucial moment, the word “Censored” flashes across the screen, followed by the slogan: “Want more? Vote SLD. Only we can do more.”
Surprisingly in an ultra-Catholic nation like Poland, this tactic didn’t go down too well and the aspiring politician got into a bit of trouble from her party’s leaders – but in my (completely biased) opinion, they are just out of touch with the voters. Lenart tried to justify her commercial stating “My campaign targets young people, and young people are only interested in controversial stuff, unfortunately.”
Before you think this is an isolated incident in Polish politics, think again! A year earlier, a singer named Sara May (real name is Katarzyna Szczolek) did the same thing when she ran for local office.
The film posters
People generally see movies as an outlet. We see films in order to squeeze one or maybe two hours of joy into our otherwise depressing and meaningless lives. We pay money to sit in a dark room and laugh or cry – or if you’re Pee Wee Herman, to do other things. The Poles however have a different tradition and clearly prefer to leave movie theatres feeling far more depressed and afraid than when they walked in.
Outwardly, Polish people seem normal enough but underneath their bored Slavic exteriors they often hide a seething mess of angst. The antisocial nature of Polish people is probably best expressed through their movie posters which often double as a Rorschach test and can tell you more about yourself then they can about the actual film.
Keeping that in mind let’s play a little game called “Can you guess the following movies?”. By looking at the posters only, can you guess the name of the film or even what it is about?
If you answered:
Some movie starring Dr. Zoidberg
Skinny-armed Vomiting man
Then congratulations you are a sane person.
The correct answers are below, highlight them with your cursor to see if you guessed right!
Weekend at Bernies
If you got any or all of the movies correct, then either you have serious mental issues and should seek help immediately – or you are Polish. Congratulations!
Warsaw’s “Old Town”
Something that may go some way in explaining Poland’s nightmare-inducing film posters is their strange concept of what constitutes “new”. A lot of cities in Eastern Europe have what they refer to as an “Old Town” and as the name would suggest, this is usually the oldest part of the town. To confuse matters, many of these cities also have a “New Town” which is often rather old. For example, Prague’s New Town, was founded in 1348 which is not new by any definition.
In this sense, Warsaw – Poland’s much despised capital – is not unique. Like countless cities in the region, Warsaw has an Old Town and a New Town, but due to some unpleasantness in the 1940s, the Old Town is not nearly as old as the name would suggest. In fact the Old Town in Warsaw was completely destroyed and the rebuilding was not completed until 1966. Oh the other hand, Warsaw started reconstructing their New Town in 1954 which, despite its name, makes it slightly older than the Old Town!
Above are pictures of what Warsaw looked like after 1945. Looking at these pictures, it’s impressive to see how much effort was put into rebuilding the city. Although you can see why Warsaw was voted the “ugliest city in Europe“.
The festival of Marzanna
In addition to their sexy politicians and frightening movie posters, there are other aspects of everyday Polish life that are also a little strange. Take for example the way that Poles celebrate the end of winter. Many cultures seem to have their own ways of celebrating this period. Americans have (the bizarre) Groundhog Day where people gather around a hole and wait for a small rodent to come out of it. This practice is to predict whether or not spring will come early that year and surprisingly groundhogs have a 75% to 90% accuracy rate.
Poland also has its own tradition of saying farewell to winter, and as with pretty much everything else in that grey country, it is utterly terrifying. On March 21 each year, families and communities throughout Poland gather together to celebrate the first day of spring by making an effigy of a goddess called Marzanna. This figure is dressed in bright coloured ribbons, beads and pretty clothes before being dramatically set alight and thrown into a river to drown.
Marzanna supposedly symbolises winter and death and murdering her violently is apparently a way of encouraging a prosperous spring with a good harvest. Drowning her may seem to be an extreme response, but if you have ever been to Poland during wintertime, you would probably want to drown somebody too.
Unsurprisingly, in Poland the immolation and violent murder of Marzanna apparently isn’t enough. To make sure that the effigy is truly dead there is one more essential step – this is where children come in. Polish children gather around their drowning victim and chant, boasting over their role in the murder.
“Już wiosenne słonko wzbija się po niebie,
W tej wezbranej rzece utopimy ciebie!”
(“As the spring sun rises in the sky of blue,
in this swollen river we are drowning you!”)
Being Australian, I find it hard to associate with the whole idea of celebrating the end of winter. To us, winter is a very short season that we usually just refer to as “Gee, I think I’ll put a jumper on today”. Having said that, I can understand why, after thee long cold months of winter that you would want to celebrate the end of all that misery.
So after doing a little bit of research into Poland, I was starting to regret my holiday destination. However, after successfully visiting the country without being murdered or set alight I can safely say that it is definitely worth a visit. Sure, some things might be a little strange and sometimes just plain terrifying, but Poland has had an unfortunate history of bad things happening to it, so it should really come as no surprise that the Poles like to do things differently. And whoever at Trip Advisor decided that Warsaw had some of the worst cuisine in Europe has clearly never tried pierogi.