Thursday, 30 September 2010

For the Birds

What do Tesco's breakfast muesli, Party Snack shelled peanuts and Happy Little Pig hamster food have in common?

From 2010 09

I can't find wild bird food in Poland. I' ve tried Garden Centres/Shops, Pet Shops, Hypermarket/Supermarket garden and pet sections and DIY Supercentres. Nothing. I was given the bird table for Christmas last year, but what was I to put on it.

Back in England, I looked at bird food there. The Hamster food in Poland looked quite similar, so I have used that with some added seeds - sunflower, etc. Various birds - greenfinches, sparrows and great tits have helped raise their families from the table. The hanging sticks were labelled for canaries, but the tits ate them anyway.

From 2010 08

The English bird food also seemed to have oats and cornflakes, hence the muesli. However, I have only just added some to the mix today so I don't know how well it will work.

Why no wild bird food in Poland? It can't be that no one wants birds in the garden, as bird tables are available in the shops in plenty, at least at the right selling times. Perhaps everyone else knows what other food to give them. Not that I could get any advice - maybe I don't know the right people. I wonder, however, whether the bird table is some sort of fashion or designer item. I've never seen food being put on the one next door and no birds there, for that matter.

However, I did once find a peanut feeder and peanuts in one of the Lidls in Pruszków. The feeder had a flock of tits surrounding it in winter.

I haven't seen unsalted shelled peanuts since. Hence the shelled ones. The feeder is now ready for the winter. I was told this morning that the forecast is for snow in a couple of weeks time and that it will be a hard winter. Given the accuracy of recent short-term weather forecasting, I'm looking forward to something different, but the birds can get their food, whatever happens.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Polish Linguistic Excellence by an English Dunce

A news item on has a link to a pdf document with some interesting eurostat statistics on foreign language capabilities. A posting on Polish for Expats had recently reminded me of a widespread feeling amongst Brits that they are not very good at foreign languages. We may give ourselves the excuse that we do not need to speak anything other than English, with various levels of comfort being gained for this, but we still admire the capability of foreigners to speak our language well: on the dance floor in Spain, in business meetings anywhere in the world, etc. (The fastest English speaker I remember - in normal circumstances - was a Polish guy called Michał Kubisz.)

My early impression of Polish foreign language capabilities was not of how many people spoke English, but the strength of German capability. The people I worked with were selected because they spoke English, which they did excellently, so I did not see this as defining Polish capabilities. However, I was impressed by the number of people who not only spoke German, but expected me to do so as well. The first time I went outside Warsaw to a meeting (possibly in Lublin), the person interpreting for me first asked if I spoke German and then asked "why not?". People, recognising I'm a foreigner, still often speak to me in German. They sometimes speak English, but normally not.

The first Eurostat table shows the % share of pupils studying a first and second foreign language in 2008. I have included the EU average, although the full table needs to be looked at to understand what it really means about individual country capabilities.

_________________Primary (roughly 5-12)_____________Upper Secondary (15/16+)
_________________1st language_______2nd language_____1st language______2nd language

The main languages being learnt in the UK and Poland are unsurprising, although the UK's secondary concentration on Spanish provides an interesting counterbalance to media reports about Brits going to Spain for holidays not bothering to learn the language.

What clearly comes through though is the way in which UK foreign language learning collapses as children get older. Learning at primary level is useful, maybe vital in developing potential, but is unlikely to give many people the capability of speaking other languages as fluently as others speak English.

The second table shows the self-perceived skill % levels in each individual's best known foreign language for adults aged 25-64 in 2007. At least, I think the self-assessment covered each individual's best foreign language, rather than their country's best.

______________Proficient_____Good________Fair/Basic______None known_____Best language

What strikes me here is the unexpected extent to which Poland and the UK have roughly similar levels. Poland has had a much greater 'need' to learn a foreign language than the UK. There is generally greater incentive for Poles to speak a foreign language to communicate with people from other countries, even though relatively few people may need in practice to speak anything other than their own language. During school life, being forced to learn Russian in Poland may in principle be little different to learning French in the UK. However, the impression I get is that Russian was pushed pretty hard. Most of those who went through French lessons in England will find it difficult to believe that the potential Polish emotional resistance to Russian would make much difference. The age group covered will not all have been through enforced Russian learning and there may well have been (and be) teacher capability bottlenecks in Poland. Even so, I still find the detailed results surprising.

I therefore suspect another factor reflecting the self-assessment nature of the data. I have been surprised how many people have said they do not know, or know little Russian who understand reasonably well what is being said or what is written eg on TV. I even remember a dinner party where Poles who did not consider themselves any good at Russian began to speak with very little problem to a Russian guest. A little rusty to begin with, but subsequently pleased with how well they had done - "only 12 years at school". I wonder whether Poles have simply under-estimated their foreign language capability.

What of the future? I have little doubt that Polish capabilities and thirst for self-improvement give the potential for Poland to become one of those countries that give the appearance of being fluent in both their own language and English (and other languages as well). From what I understand, several Scandinavian countries don't bother putting subtitles on or dub English language films. I wonder whether this really masks a a view that people who don't speak English, or whatever, are viewed as less well educated. I can see such perceptions possible in a Poland of the future. However, the language learning pressure in Poland is very wide and the Polish international perspective is very broad - "what language are you learning now?". English and Germany are clearly important at the moment, but Russian may come back into favour, whilst Chinese, Spanish, ... I don't know, but a standard English capability does seem quite possible, assuming it stays as important as it seems to be at the moment.

To give an illustration of Polish language internationalism, I just got called to the television (again) to see a Polish group called Bayer Full singing one of their songs in Mandarin. They are popular in China. My daughter currently wants to learn Japanese, of which she is picking up words and phrases from Manga on the computer. If this was London, I would assume that the fad will pass. Here, I'm not so sure.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Poland's German Death Camps

I mentioned in my last post that Jews were "murdered by the Germans in one of their Polish death camps. Michael commented:
Polish death camps? Like the British death camps on Alderney? Thank you, Michael; right on cue and nicely put, as well.

I first heard about Polish sensitivity to the phrase 'Polish death camps' when the Polish Ambassador in the USA complained about a news article that used it. Whilst I sympathise with the emotion generated by reading about what might be taken as referring to something set up by Poles, the article seemed clearly to use the meaning 'of/in Poland', which is a perfectly good meaning of 'Polish'. The Ambassador demanded an apology, which seemed pretty daft to me: the news company would repeat the statement, explain why the article was in fact accurate and not misleading, and then apologise that they have offended someone who either does not understand English properly or is too hyper-sensitive to accept a valid description of the truth. This seemed to me to be an embarrassment to Poland.

However, I assumed my reaction was itself an over-reaction. On considering this further I was reminded that Poland did not exist at the time and that they were not then Polish in the sense of the country rather than the people. This still did not eliminate the truth of the statement, nor the embarrassment that the Ambassador was unable to recognise this, but it at least gave a two-to-one balance against using the term: not Polish people, not Poland at the time, but Poland now.

However, I recently saw Wiktor Moszczynski's Blog, referenced above. In this, he describes journalists as "lazy unfeeling bastards". Sure. This is one of the standard principles of the trade. However, I can't see why the entire business should reform itself to avoid a truthful description that a few people find politically objectionable. Thank you, however, Wiktor, as it did make me think about the issue again and decide that I was wrong.

I was wrong because Poland did exist at the time of the concentration camps. The great and good (the Allies) declared that the invasion was illegal. Poland had a legitimate government in London. It had an army, part of which operated on its home territory of Poland - the Armia Krajowa, normally translated the Home Army, although National Army would be equally good. Part of the Army oath demonstrated their belief that Poland still existed: "I swear to be faithful to my homeland, the Republic of Poland". The USA Government attested to the legitimacy of this army and demanded that captive soldiers be treated as prisoners of war. Even the Germans gave recognition to the existence of Poland, at least for the camp I mentioned in the last article, in the title of their 'Generalgouvernement für die besetzten polnischen Gebiete' - General Government for the Occupied Polish Territories.

So the place was Polish and it is Polish: even the odds are against the objectors. What seems to be happening is an integral part of today's' Polish nationalist, historical perspective. This eliminates Polish existence from those parts of history that are objectionable from the Polish self-view. Such things as the regularly repeated statement that Poland disappeared for over a century after the Third Partition (when the Tsar became King of Poland), made me wonder how Poland had managed to survive. In fact, it disappeared for less than 50 years.

So I'm sorry Wiktor, whilst I understand your sympathies, you are the one that is intolerant. Indeed, you are wrong. Worse than that, such aggressive attacks immediately generate a strong counter-reaction: arrogant and ignorant criticism of you reinforces the belief that you are right and that you are right to behave in the way you do. On the other hand, I read Michael's comment as being: 'please be aware that this may cause offence'. Quite right, sorry.

So back to Michael's question, which I will rephrase slightly: did the Germans set up 'British death camps on Alderney'? I suspect this gets to the nub of the problem. As I have said 'Polish' means 'of Poland' or 'of the Polish people'. Alderney is, however, a separate self governing territory, whose people can be described as British - whether they would like that or not I don't know. 'British' here therefore only means 'of the British people'. which is incorrect, unless in the context that the camps only housed Brits. They might, however, be described as the only British Commonwealth death camps (set up by the Germans).

As for Wiktor's rant: my Great Uncle Charlie - my favourite Uncle - had the distinction of fighting in both World Wars. For much of the Second World War, he was in Burmese Prisoner of War camps run by the Japanese.

I only used 'Polish death camps' in my last post to see if it would generate a reaction to which I could respond. It was completely gratuitous. I thought about using 'Poland's death camps' and would be interested to know if that would also be unacceptable. Normally, however, I would not use either: I don't want to cause offence (at least, not for anything so trivial as the ambiguity of words).

Monday, 20 September 2010

Poland's Hill of Calvary

It was a fine sunny August day - not too hot - and we were thinking where to go. Looking at the map, I saw Góra Kalwaria (Goora Kalvaria) - the Hill of Calvary. I remembered the place from being stuck in traffic there a number of times, the name itself was interesting and it was near a place I knew something about called Czersk (Chersk), which we could visit in tandem. So off we went.

Coming into the town from the south, we passed two guns outside a rather derelict looking estate. One of the wall columns also had a Polish Air Force symbol on it. It seemed like an old military estate, but there was nothing I could see that gave any indication of what it was. Searching now, I find that it was home to one of the Ministry of Interior's Military Units. This was merged in 2002 into the Government Protection Bureau and the soldiers were moved out.

From 2010 08 Gora Kalwaria

Parking in the town square, we quickly found a tourist route map, which we decided to follow round. Just beside the map stood a Church, with an information plaque.

This tells you that the remains of the Bishop who built the church are inside and that you can see a unique 6th Century wax sculpture. It was closed, but locals told us it is open on Sundays for church services. The small mound on which the church is built is the 'hill' in the town's name. (The word 'Góra' makes sense in Polish, meaning 'a height', which might range from a heap to a mountain.) I only found this out later, so I was looking for the hill all the time I was there.

We then headed up towards the cemeteries on the tourist map, passing a nest of cranes on the way.

We looked in at the Catholic Cemetery, but this was a normal, well known type of place, so we headed to the Jewish Cemetery. Once again, there was an informative plaque telling us what was in the cemetery - obscured by the railing so no picture taken. We could see some of this through the gate, but it was locked.

The first person we asked said it was always locked, but the lady in the shop round the corner - ice cream and water, please - explained that if we went back to town, found the museum, found the man who run the museum, etc. Looking at the telephoto lens enhanced pictures later, I found the memorial to those murdered by the Germans.

Walking along the next part of the route - a road closed to traffic for renovation work - we went past a beautifully maintained peasant-type cottage and outbuildings. Presumably modernised through the years, but giving a good tourist depiction of the change from past times to modern life. (Maybe I'm the only tourist who would care, however.)

Down the road, we couldn't find the museum whose signpost pointed directly between two roads; we decided to miss the signposted monastery (or something like that) on the assumption it would be closed and headed for coffee and late lunch. Having finished that, we walked round the town centre.

There are some nice buildings, although nothing really outstanding. More interesting were the pointers to the state of development of small towns in Poland. The small shops we passed were shabby and the army buildings are empty and starting to crumble. We then passed some well designed, modern medical service buildings - presumably funded by the National Health Fund. Renovation road works were going on, which appeared to be designed to modernise the appearance of the area. Some buildings appeared to be very old, but in a complete state of collapse - danger, do not enter. Facing these are renovated and well-maintained Church buildings. The Palace below may have been on the tourist map, but there was no sign to confirm it. It seems in generally condition, but in serious need of renovation - presumably privately owned.

The town hall has been well renovated.

It was then that we found the primary tourist attraction of the Hill of Calvary.

In the 19th and early 20th Century, the Hill of Calvary was 'a Jewish town', which means that it had a significant Jewish population living alongside the Christian ethnic Polish. The town is especially famous for having being one of the primary centres for orthodox Hasidic Jews. Hasidism developed in modern Ukraine, which was then part of Poland. (Polish Wikipedia actually labels it Polish Hasidism, a national perspective reflected in neither the Ukrainian nor English versions.) The 'Court' - maybe a mistranslation from the Polish - is where the Rabbi, family and students lived and where they studied, with a large meeting room. The remaining Jews during World War II were transferred to the Warsaw ghetto before being murdered by the Germans in one of their Polish death camps. Hasidic Jews now come from around the world to visit.

The Jews in the picture were on a tourist coach from Lithuania. As we were leaving the square, a man came to open the building up - presumably the man from the museum, but we didn't want to intrude on others' religious visit.

So finally, to the last stop on the tourist map: the building where the synagogue used to be. We didn't find it. The position on the map was unclear, one local person said there wasn't one, another thought it was where the Court and House of Prayer were. Looking on the internet after, we had been right outside it, but there wasn't a sign of any sort.

So much for local tourist information. We said goodbye to the town, with a last final impression of its continuous traffic jam through the centre of town before heading south for Czersk.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A Polish Flower Shop - Antonia's

I must have been in flower shops in England, but I don't remember them. They are much more common in Poland and the occasions for giving flowers more numerous. My normal place for buying a bouquet of flowers at the moment is Antonia's Floral Studio.
From 2010 09

Antonia's is in Nadarzyn (roughly Nad-ashin), a small country town of about 4,000 people, with adjoining villages giving a population of about 10,000 in the whole Nadarzyn local authority area (gmina). The town itself has at least three flower shops. The display of flowers in Antonia's isn't therefore as large as in some city shops, but there is enough to make an attractive arrangement.

There are potted plants and gifts as well.

I particularly like places where I can just ask for a nice bouquet to be made for me: for whom, what occasion, how much and then normally agreeing to suggestions made. The lady in the shop, who may be Justyna rather than Antonia, prepared the bunch on the left (her right) for me.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Illegal Kabonosy?

Two posts on one day is a bit too much, but I haven't sat at the computer for a few days.

I did an earlier post about the attempt by Poland to get Kabanosy as a regional Polish product, from which it would be illegal, at least in Europe, to use the word Kabanosy as anything other than the traditionally produced, dried, thin pork sausage. I claimed then that most Polish Kabanosy failed to meet this condition and that Polish Wikipedia had been edited to hide the truth. The last time I went to the supermarket - Tesco in Pruszków (roughly Proosh-koov) - I checked to see if Polish Kabanosy had changed, but I hadn't noticed.

From 2010 09

Salmon Kabanosy above and Fowl Kabanosy - actually chicken - below.

Game Kabanosy - I think from boar meat:

Slightly dried Kabanosy are shown on the label below. The producers seem to have no idea that Kabanosy should be made from pork, so you only find out it is made from chicken by reading the ingredients. They are equally unaware that Kabanosy need to be dry, not slightly dry.

There are pork Kabanosy, of course and I bought chilli flavoured ones from Lidl. Although sold under Lidl's own brand, Pikok, they are made by Madej&Wróbel and may be the same as those shown on their website as luxury dried kabanos. They are one of the better kabanosy for my tastes, but chilli is not a traditional Polish ingredient, so will these be illegal as well?

Whilst for some strange reason, the English language version of the website (but not Polish, Russian or German) has Grandma's Kabanos, which don't even look like Kabanosy:

I hope Polish producers will be given enough time - I think feta taste alike products had two years - and enough notice that they will have to change all the names of these products. However, its strange how much an attempt to support Polish producers is going to negatively, if not primarily, affect Polish producers.

I must be misunderstanding something, surely?

Spiders in Autumn

Back in August I realised that autumn was on its way. It soon became more widely unofficial with snow falling in the mountains in the south and the weather reporters talking about its arrival.

Misty, moist mornings aren't unique to autumn, but they are quite typical. Since this has been a year especially abundant in spiders, these mornings display webs particularly well - these pictures are from three days ago.

From 2010 09

Apart from the traditional spider web shape, there are plenty of densely knitted webs.

They provide a framework across summer flowers.

Whilst autumn flowers are just starting.

There were so many on the lawn next door that it looked as though there had been a frost.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Polish Competitivesness data

A article paints a nicely positive picture of World Economic Forum report on Global Competitiveness. I immediately wanted to know more and was pleased to see that the Forum website has both a 'highlights' summary (not short) and the full report.

Perhaps I have worked too much in the production, analysis and use of statistics, but I treat reports like these as a useful addition to the full range of information available, rather than truth in themselves. If I was still working on such issues, I would go through the complete report to try and understand the assumptions and methods, etc. I would never trust newsmedia reports, as the potential inaccuracy and misunderstanding is too great. The has only four sentences, for example, but one (the last) is untrue, presumably because of sloppy writing.

I have just picked out information on the structure of Polish competitiveness from the report, which is compared below to that of the UK and US. (Sorry that the lines are straight, but I don't know if I can make it better with the writing tools I have on the blog.)


Global Competitiveness Total____________39________12________14

(of which)

Basic Requirements____________________56________18_________3
(of which:)
Macro-economic Environment___________61________56________57
Health and Primary Education___________39________19________42

Efficiency Enhancers________________________30________7_________3
(of which:)
Higher Education and training___________26________18_________9
Goods Market Efficiency_______________45________22________26
Labour Market Efficiency______________53_________8_________4
Financial Market Development___________32________25________31
Technological Readiness_______________47_________8________17
Market Size________________________21_________6_________1

Innovation and Sophistication Factors__________________________50________12_________4
(of which:)
Business Sophistication_______________50_________9_________8

On this breakdown, you can see that the strength of Poland's position depends entirely on higher education and training, financial market development and market size. I hadn't thought about the relative position of Poland as far as financial market development is concerned, but, if I had, I would have thought in terms of comparison with the UK and US. Have a look: you will immediately wonder what this indicator means. The statistics tell me that Poland is roughly equivalent to the US and not far behind the UK. Great, but the US and the UK, generally considered in popular belief to have some of the most advanced financial systems in the world, are well down the league table in this report.

I have a theory that, from a business lobby economist's point of view, Poland's poor public health service currently provides a good balance between social requirements and financial burden for the country's development. It's current inadequacy and its public/private balance gives Poland one of the best opportunities within Europe to develop a future model that maintains this balance. I also think that primary education in Poland is of high quality compared to many other EU countries, including the UK, and other reports support this. The joint result for this in the table isn't bad, but I would have expected higher for a competitiveness report. However, look at the poor rating of the US. I can't help suspect that half the political spectrum in the US would consider this is a politically unbalanced indicator, assuming the benefit of state intervention.

The Forum's full report would probably give me many answers, but I am not interested enough in the detail to go through its 515 PDF pages. It is on the website and free, so that's my problem. Unfortunately for those of us with only general interest, most reports are commercial and have to be bought - sometimes as a wider subscription. We have little ability to find the truth.

There are lies, damn lies and statistics produced by people so that they are interesting.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Geographical Labour Flexibility in Poland

Thanks to Michael Dembinski of W-wa Jeziorki for his comment on the last post:

"Unemployment in the regions where the investment is coming (near Poznan and Katowice) is in low single digits. Like in other SEZs [Special Economc Zones], workers will probably be bused in from a two-hour travel time radius.

Poland's unemployment picture is the mirror of the UK's - extremely low urban joblessness with stratospheric (25%-35%) rural jobless. Did you know that 49% of Poland's unemployed (and some 60% of long-term unemployed) are ze wsi? Not small town, but wieś. How do you mop that up,other then let time and foreign investors' minibuses do their bit?" (Steve - In case its not obvious, Wsi and Wies are rural villages and communities - although it also means the countryside more generally.)

He makes an important point. Although there is urban drift, Polish people tend to stick to their home town or village. A recent survey showed that people who move to the city and take up full time employment normally still return to the place they come from. If you have worked with Polish people, there is a strong likelihood that what they are doing for the weekend, will be "going home". Since, especially on the eastern half of Poland, their are few train lines serving rural areas, commuting has to be done by road, which can take hours and hours. For the rural unemployed, a reliable car is often not available or affordable.

However, I have to disagree with Michael about reliance on foreign investor's minibuses. Despite the above, there is a surprisingly high level of commuting from rural areas to major towns and employment centres. Coaches and minibuses pour into Warsaw every morning from places that are hours away. It used to take me at least an hour and a half driving between Warsaw and Kielce ( a large town) out of the commuting period or travelling in the opposite direction. Even so, early every morning there are a queue of mini-buses outside Kielce railway station for Warsaw workers - it is cheaper than the train. Arriving at the station were feeder minibuses from villages off the main road routes. Another example: I once took a bus from a village outside Rzeszów (Rshe-shoov - a large town in the South-East) to Warsaw - some 3 to 4 hours journey time, which was packed with people on the late worker's shift. (The next bus was normally quieter, I was told, but I had an early, Monday morning meeting - bad idea.)

This willingness of people to spend inordinate amounts of time travelling to get to work, is, for me, an amazing indicator of Polish determination to work. It is therefore, another indicator of the inevitability of Polish economic success. (The result of a bad/good unemployment benefit system?)

There is more... Scattered in and around Warsaw there are large numbers of workers' hostels. Some are urban buildings, but where I live there are large number of rural places offering accommodation used by workers. The workers on this estate come from villages around Rzeszów and live here for two weeks in an 'Agro-tourism' centre, having every second Monday off so that they can go home for the weekend. (Agro-tourism has nothing to do with agriculture, by the way.) Whilst I know there are workers' hostels in England, the number here seems much larger. All in all, the whole system is in place to cater for people moving from the countryside to large towns for work.

As an aside, and I don't want to question the validity the general principle of Michaels' statement about rural unemployment, Poland's largest village (wies) has a population of 7,000, is indistinguishable from Warsaw in terms of urban spread and is within Warsaw's internal tram and bus service. One of the problems of driving long distances in Poland is that many of the main roads go through village after village, where the roads narrow and twist and there is the general need to go slowly. Although there are many truly rural communities away from the main access routes, I wonder how much the statistics of unemployment cover communities with real difficulties in getting transport to work even if people have the willingness to spend their time doing so. I don't want to be convinced by media reporting of the 'useless' unemployed in England, but to the extent it is real, is it this willingness that makes the fundamental difference?

As a final aside, one of the aims of the Communist system - everyone has a job - was to provide employment in or close to rural areas. Most of this inefficiency failed when capitalism arrived. If they had forcibly removed everyone to urban areas, as the hard hearted manipulators we are taught they were, things might be easier today.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Inward Investment Pearl: LG not Tea

Basia called me over to the TV yesterday to tell me that Twinings (pronounced as 'twine' not 'twin'), the British tea company, was transferring its production from England to Poland because the company could not get the workers it wanted in England. This had caused an uproar in the British press based on the principle that tea was fundamentally a traditional British tipple and the idea of it being moved abroad was a blow to national pride (or something like that).

I would have expected her then to start crowing about how much better Polish workers are than English and that Britain is going down the pan, etc. As an immediate reaction, this sounds pretty convincing. However, she was more interested in the Scottish Queen watching the Highland Games with a hole in her shoe and then two naked bottoms. We didn't have a chance to have a heated discussion.

However, how well does this reflect on Poland compared to Britain? I know nothing about Twinings and nothing more than she told me about the move to Poland. On the face of it, however, tea production is basically a matter of shoving tea and empty packaging in at one end of the factory and pulling it out at the other end with the tea in the packing. Most of the detailed work will be done by machinery. Although there will be a few quality jobs, the bulk of employment will be low skilled. Poland is probably the new site because it is a cheap, low cost economy with good subsidies. England is now unsuitable because it is a high cost advanced economy, where only higher value added and higher profit manufacturing processes can suitably be placed. (I have to smile when I think this, but that's the theory.) Whilst the investment is presumably good for Poland, it still labels it as a less advanced economy.

So I tried to tell Basia about the new LG - the Korean company - investment in an R&D Centre in Poland, winning against England. (I think I saw this in one of the Gazeta Wyborcza Polish newsletters - see Gazeta Wyborcza Newsletter Registration, but I'm not sure.) She was focused on other things, as mentioned above, but there was no reason for her to be interested. However, for anyone who has worked on economic development and inward investment issues, this is far more important.

R&D Centres are the Crowns amongst the jewels of inward investment projects. Nothing is certain, but they anchor existing production projects in the country and give promise of preference for further ones. Whilst the company wishes to use the higher level technical capabilities of the chosen country, there is always enhancement of the technical capabilities of the country itself. The knock-on effect of utilisation of local suppliers will generally be expected to be increased, use of local higher value added supplied required and the technical capabilities of those suppliers also increased. So on, and so forth.

Now we, in Britain, used to - and presumably still do - consider ourselves the prime candidate for such projects, with an automatic advantage over other EU countries. English as the international business language; a reputation of having the most flexible approach to business by, and the highest quality of, research institutions; a positive government approach to business, which was equally (if not more) friendly to foreign companies; etc. For Poland to go head to head with England as a site and win is an enormous triumph. This puts Poland fully in the league of the big players in Europe - the most competitive and efficient. Those days when I was daft Brit who loved Poland too much and thought it brilliant and inevitably bound for success have long faded, but its lovely to be right all the same.

Oh and, by the way, anyone who thinks that investments by Twinings and (as I saw today) Mercedes are great because of the horrendous level of unemployment, I'm sorry but I think you are wrong. At 9-10% (about the European average), in an economy that is undergoing rapid structural change, at a time when it's and the world economy are just coming out of the bottom of the economic cycle - the unemployment rate is low. Look out in 4 years to inflationary pressures and (inefficient, of course) severe tightening of monetary policy by the Central Bank.

However, this may be avoided. Poland still is undergoing structural adjustment in the pattern of employment. It is not so much unemployment, but inefficient use of labour resources and under-employment. This is especially noticeable in the small business sector ie most Polish owned businesses, and in the geographic distribution of (un)employment. If Twinings is locating, like Cadbury did a few years ago, in an unemployment black spot, it's direct and knock-on effect is greatly enhanced.

Mercedes is locating at the Katowice Economic Zone. Its years since I've been there. It was not doing as well as hoped at the time, but seems from headline investments to have done extremely well recently. I can't therefore help but suspect that the name of Mercedes is more important than the investment itself. However, for a more positive view get in touch with Elżbieta Bienkowska, Minister of Regional Development. She used to be Director of Regional Development (or some such title) in the Śląskie Voivodeship Office - for some reason I don't like the name 'Silesia'. If you do, please give Steve's best regards. (I'm just name dropping.)

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

(Non-) Jewish Life in Poland

I did the last post as a counterpoint to a series of posts that I want to do on Jews in Poland. The reason for the contrast is that during my 10 or so years here, as far as I am aware, Jewish people have played virtually no part in my life - that is to say statistically 0%. However, I am interested in Jewish influence here because interest in the social history, at least, of Poland - the way people lived - requires knowledge of the two nations who lived here; because the people of Poland are Jewish aware in a way that is strange to me; and because I want to understand more about the foundations of racial prejudice - put most starkly, how can one people (not Polish) set out to cold-bloodily, completely annihilate another.

The occasion was Sunday's annual Warsaw Jewish Festival. We have been once before, but this was an occasion to let Misia see how Jews contributed to Warsaw life. I don't know about Misia, but the festival completely failed to help me in this, but it was an opportunity for Basia to tell her how important the Jewish contribution was.

The festival is held in a small street of derelict tenements.
From 2010 09

Whilst the dereliction may be fine as a memorial to those dead and gone, it gives no indication to me of the way that Jews used to live here. It is within the Warsaw ghetto area, but I don't even know if it looks anything like it looked then. Why derelict - surely it can't stay that way? Someone told me, or perhaps we speculated, that there may be difficulties with agreeing the ownership. However, even if not, what could be done with the buildings to retain them as a reminder to Jewish life and death?

If renovated, they would probably look no different to many other Warsaw terrace blocks. The shops below might be smaller than normal, but would there be any reason for a Jewish flavour to be retained? Although I assume that some of the people at the festival were Jewish, most of the people selling things could easily have been Polish for all I know. Even Basia, on whom I can normally rely to have a good idea about Jewish faces, only said that she particularly noticed one Jew. The occasion was largely a street market with only a partial Jewish character. There was music and dancing on two stages, but this modern style representation of traditional Jewish culture does nothing to impress on me the way life was. Indeed, the 20 or so people dancing on the stage showed such little rhythm and real enthusiasm that they didn't even give the impression of being a not-particularly-good, group of Jewish amateurs. Mind you, since I am interested in the extent to which Jewish life might have been distinguishable from Polish life, perhaps I am approaching the whole thing from the wrong perspective - the assumption that there was a difference.

One picture did catch my eye in the corner of a shop that was largely selling reprints of original French prints - presumably Jews. It was too far away to see clearly, but it looked old and seemed to show a man, I presumed a Jew, in the corner of a well-furnished room. Since many Jews were affluent, I thought this might give me a better idea of their past. My photograph was disappointing: nice painting though.

We did go into the synagogue, although the inside gave the general impression of a normal meeting place. It did remind me of some English Quaker halls in style, but without the beauty of their wood based decoration.

It has a fine front, but, apart from the Star of David, is not exceptional as a Warsaw building.

Perhaps what impressed me most was an indication of the closeness of Jewish and Christian lives in Warsaw, when looking from the steps of All Saint's Church across the building site where the square is being renovated. The statue of Pope John Paul neither looking away from, nor at the Jewish street.

Then we went to the Old Town and had lunch in the Maharaja Thai Restaurant, our regular eating place.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Campaign Against Media Bias

It is impossible to know what real life is like in another country unless you live there. Even then, you only really know your own life. The problem quite simply is that there is nothing interesting for the writer or reader in describing uneventful, non-stimulating, routine parts of your life. Hence, automatic media bias. So, if anyone asks what I do in Poland, my general response starts 'well, nothing much ..." while I try to think what they might like to know. However, what does nothing mean?

My school day morning routine varies little. Today the highlights were:
1. Woke up when Basia's alarm went off at 6:00am. I am usually up before this to prepare for No. 3.
2. Given my morning instructions and got up.
3. Made tea for Basia and myself. This is normally followed by massaging Basia's feet, but I was late - see 1.
4. Prepared Basia's lunch. This was cottage cheese mixed with yoghurt, adding thyme and basil from the garden plus a few other things.
5. Collected cakes from the garage fridge - it is Basia's Name Day on Wednesday and she is celebrating today at the main school where she works.
6. Made Basia coffee for the journey.
7. Put lunch, cakes, coffee and other things she wanted to take to school in her car.
8. Waved goodbye about 7:00.
9. Made Basia's mum tea and coffee for myself.
10. Woke up Misia 7:20 and then soon after made sure she had actually got up.
11. Made Misia's breakfast/mid-morning snack: ham roll.
12. Took Basia's phonecall and reassured her that Misia was awake.
13. Drove Misia to school, 7:45 and then returned.
14. Since it was raining, decided to turn on the computer and check email, news and various Polish English language blogs, sometimes making minor comments.
15. Part way through this took Mika the dog for her walk - normally timed about 10:00.
16. Writing this, half thinking what to write to my cousin Pam in Australia, with whom I haven't communicated for years, but who sent me a nice reply email this morning.

Scintillating stuff - and that's just the highlights.

Here ends the campaign.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Friday, 3 September 2010

Dealing with Polish Flooding

With two extremely wet years in Poland, flooding has been a continuous news item. Whilst this is an appalling experience to go through, there are times when I can't help feel that some people have just ignored the obvious - building a house in a small hollow in a garden that turns out to act like a pond, for instance. However, what seems like good planning can go wrong. What do you do then?

I was considered silly when we first looked at our house in 2008. It was a normal, hot and dry summer, but I checked that the land sloped away from the house before taking any decision. There were two big thunderstorms after we had put down our deposit, which confirmed that the water ran away from us, down to houses near the road.

Through to May, 2009 we occupied the house and work in the garden proceeded. This is a view at the time.

Then the rain started in June. Despite all my forethought, the garden was flooding.

The problem was simply that when the fences were put in and the ground levelled, we were in a dip. The effect of the changed ground slope and its impact on water flow was not an issue I considered. I had already dealt with it and taken it off my mental checklist.

What to do? We don't want a regularly flooded garden. On the other hand, why automatically try and get rid of water when most summers we would want it. Indeed, since the house itself never seemed threatened, why be scared of water. So I decided to make a feature of the water - to create a layout which, when wet, would give us a water garden, but yet could cope with dry weather as well. I started to dig in spring this year.

In the photo below, there is a pond in the bottom right, designed as a water feature whatever the weather. The rest of the dug area is designed to fill with water during heavy rains. There is some further extension planned and we have a pump that can get of excess water. My theory that this will normally only be used a few times a year seems a bit of a joke at the moment.

2010 has also been extremely wet and this night picture shows the lawn flooded with water when the pump stopped working one night.

We recently got some plants for the 'stream' adding to the ones we had in the pond and you can now start to see what the water garden will look like when wet (after 36 hours of incessant rain and quite a bit of pumping).
From 2010 09

Of course, having been a thought a bit crazy about worrying about flooding back in 2009, I am now thought to be a bit crazy about expecting Polish summers to be normally dry: my city ignorance, meteorologists and global warming being quoted at me. I wonder...

That's one part of waterlogging in the garden on the way to being sorted ...