Monday, 6 June 2011

Do I Live in Eastern Europe?

This has been described as an East European Expat blog. Although for a very nice reason, it raised hackles.

That I don't like the term 'Expat' is, I know, just a personal hang-up, probably derived from English TV and films. It gives me the impression of people who go abroad and still expect to live the lives they think they would have done back home, with all the rather strange natives still being foreigners. (I buy English teabags, but for a Polish person.)

I also disliked Poland being described as an Eastern European country. This was primarily because of the attitudes of Polish people themselves, with their view of Poland as being a useless and hopeless place, along with all the rest of the East(ern Bloc), except possibly the Czech Republic. Views have changed dramatically over the past 10 years, although I don't know where the consensus now lies - probably on balance positive, but mood swings based on the latest news feeds make it difficult to tell.

Foreign attitudes were less important, but more obvious because of the continuing implication from the communist Cold War era that Poland was (and, for many, is) primitive, grim, grey and cold. I was asked, maybe 10 years ago, whether a visitor would be able to sell blue jeans - well known not to be generally available in Eastern European - at a high price. (No! Everyone wears them.) A visiting speaker also asked, in the sweltering heat of the Polish summer, whether they needed to bring a thick coat and heavy jumpers. (No!) The dark, grey housing blocks are, of course, legendary and, as I saw written quite recently, who could live in a country where everyone lives in places like that? This latter is the most hilarious (as a hang-over of the political extreme of anti-communist propaganda) for anyone who has also known people living in many British council flat estates eg those I knew in South London. (Aren't the Projects also infamous in the US?)

)My location in Poland - Google map picture from 2009.)

However, I did like the idea of being able to tell people that I lived in Eastern Europe with its potential shock value and conversational starting point. However, I couldn't: I had heard that the centre of Europe was in Poland, but east of me. I thought of either the river Vistula or maybe the Bug as being an easily visible indicator of a dividing line.

(Google map picture from 2008. I am digging up some of the 20cm of solid, compacted earth in the garden where the building site access road went around the house.)

I thought it was now time to recheck, finding that the general view seems to be that the centre of Europe is in Lithuania, making me, rather boringly, an inhabitant of Western Europe. One German comment went so far to say: Many surveyors agree that however you refine on the borders of the continent, the center will be somewhere in Lithuania. But it is not really astonishing that some surveyors try to shift the center to Poland. It seems to be just a question of the "right" borders and a question of political influence and it seems not to be a question of mathematical calculation. Do those Polish western car part and clothes shops sell Polish products?

(Google map picture from 2002. You can see the damp area of ground in the lower left quarter that caused us immense problems over the last two very wet years and which probably flooded every spring thaw and in regular severe storms.)

Wikipedia and other sites give alternatives. Two of these, including Torun in Poland, are west of me, so all I can really say is that I live in Central Europe or, more impressively, the heart of Europe. However, as a conversation starter, I suspect this will link me to Germany, which is not the direction I want to go.

Sorry, however, but this isn't an Eastern European blog. I should resign from the competition really, but I feel it would just be ungracious and supercilious. They are just being friendly, after all.

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