Why Irish men go to Poland
The place is rough and the people are blunt, but I’ve come to accept the multiple problems living in this country presents for an Irishman
Peadar de Burca
Six years ago this week I got off the train in the Silesian region of Poland and thought, What am I doing here? My Polish wife-to-be was studying medicine, and we decided to live in Poland to give her career a fighting chance.
I took a long, hard look around and didn’t feel well. When I met her family, I could read the look in their pitying eyes. It said: how desperate do you have to be, to come 2,000km for a woman?
But what a woman. Like most women here, she’s multitalented. Polish women can buy illegal fruit on the black market and skin a goat for supper, all while finishing their thesis on Dostoevsky. The few Irishmen in southwest Poland are all here for one reason only: a female.
Having gone through the stages of anger, denial, bargaining and depression, I’ve come to accept the multiple problems living in this country presents for an Irishman. The anger came early: my first week here and a priest refused to give me Communion in my hand – he wanted to place the wafer in my mouth. No way, Padré! I came from Ireland to avoid all that. I got angry. I walked away and he denounced me in front of the congregation.
Denial came during my second year. Life in Poland is a constant state of denial. I block out the dog poos; I pretend my neighbourhood is clean, that the trains are not wrecks; I refuse to believe people, for their Christmas dinner, eat carp they’ve kept in their bathtubs for the previous week.
I fell into the bargaining stage after three years of worrying about the number of car crashes here. (Please, God, don’t let one of these maniacs collide with me. I’ll do anything. I’ll learn Polish. Ok, that’s impossible. I’ll learn Urdu.)
The depression came in my fourth year. I took to the bed, and I wondered why the Poles eat so much animal intestines. Why couldn’t my wife be French? I could be in the south of France. But she’s Polish. That means she’s tough and smart, but, unusually, she’s also optimistic. Poland has lots of problems, but problems feed my writing, give life definition and meaning. The place is rough and the people are blunt, but there’s a great honesty to that.
My wife and I are as poor as chickens, but the columns I write for the daily Gazeta Wyborcza are being published in a book, and I’ve a novel in the pipeline. A chocolate café opened in our area. They’ve got a record player where I can play my favourite albums: Abbey Road, Dark Side of the Moon . . . and Exile on Main Street.
This article appears in the print edition of The Irish Times today.