Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Moving on up

I think I've written about Polish yuppies before. A couple of years ago maybe.

I just spent the weekend in Warsaw, visiting my old flatmate* and hanging out with some of her friends. My flatmate moved to Warsaw to work for a consulting company and she rents a studio of a rather similar size and layout to the one I rent in Brussels.

We took the tram out to her friends' place in the suburbs. The sky was overcast, rain threatened, blocks loomed grey and relentless out of the dusk. Then, after about twenty minutes, the blocks thinned out and started to look tidier. Some of them were painted in pastel colours. Sloping gables were added and frosted-glass balconies.

We stepped off the tram and scuttled across the road after waiting several minutes in vain for a green light at the pedestrian crossing. The directions led alongside one of the blocks. There were no pavements alongside the roads, only - in some places - gravel edging rather weedy land which may or may not have been destined for landscaping or lawns at a later date. This was not a place for pedestrians. On the ground floor of the block we passed two banks, a hairdresser, a sushi restaurant, a dental surgery. We crossed another road and walked alongside another block (this one so new that some of the flats still had tape on the windows) until we reached the furthest entrance.

Inside, the block of flats resembled nothing so much as a smart hotel. The concierge was seated behind a smooth, gunmetal grey desk. We called the lifts which - in stark contrast - were still lined with chipboard (my flatmate's friend later explained that this was because people were still moving in heavy items of furniture and they didn't want to damage the inside of the lift).

Inside the apartment was immaculate (although the owners and their kitten had moved in only a week or so before), pre-furnished, fully equipped. We were awestruck.

We ate courgettes with mozzarella, fried chicken, garlic bread. Washed down with Polish beer of course. The conversation touched on the housing market, flat pack furniture, Warsaw, work. The same things that young professionals in London and Brussels talk about. Although in London there's now an undercurrent of tension - young people work long hours, everyone is concerned for their job, their mortgage, their student loans.

Why did this strike me so much? I suppose because in London no-one I know can afford a fully-equipped new build: in London, even half an hour from the city centre is still more or less in the city centre and therefore too close to be affordable. Also all the old-fashioned stereotypes about Poland: that people live in tiny apartments, earn peanuts, are strict Catholics who would never dream of getting a mortgage with someone without the social and moral security of a wedding ring apiece first. Oh and the firm conviction that all young professionals have, that determination and hard work are enough to get you a good job and a comfortable lifestyle and that anyone who can't manage this is just lazy. Rather like the French, back in 2007...

I'm not so sure on this last point. I feel that I'm very lucky finally to be able to do what I've wanted to do at least since leaving university.
- yes, said my flatmate - but you did work hard to get there.

Yes, I did, but I was also born in Sevenoaks, in a country where women are free to get an education, leave the house unaccompanied, wear whatever we like. In a region where there was decent state education in the form of grammar schools. Lucky, right?

* warning: it's in Hungarian. Frustratingly, Google Translate is no use at all...


peixote said...

Sounds like Kabaty. Or Wilanów. Both equivalents of Ruislip or Croydon in terms of accessibility. So the only difference is the size of the city, really.

Plus it`s all mortgaged to the roof probably. So what is really the difference with London?

YOU know the stereotypes are not true and you`ve known it for a while, so what was it really that left such an impression?

pinolona said...

ok, ok, I was jealous of their posh new apartment (albeit mortgaged to the hilt, I have no idea about that though).
And because on the one hand I find these new builds (like in Ruczaj) in the middle of nowhere very strange, with all their convenient little shops and banks on the ground floor, but at the same time I'm hugely impressed by how pretty they look inside and how nice it would be to have one all of my very own...

Jeannie said...

The Polish economy has remained good, though, while a lot of other countries have gone broke or suffered in the global economy--Poland has been insulated. Don't be hard on yourself. You're lucky and you've worked hard. Your day will come.

Sometimes what we wish for isn't what we should have when we think we should have it. Be patient.