Tasteless bread and the Dutch dislike of chaos
At present about fifty Polish people are studying and working within Wageningen UR. Most of them are women. Both the Poles themselves and those around them are beginning to regard them as a real community.
Marysia Tobor-Kaplan, working at Alterra, likes Wageningen because of its small size. Cracow, where she comes from, has 800,000 inhabitants. She also finds Wageningen exciting because of all the different nationalities living here, and she is learning a lot from other cultures. It's very different from Poland where you can count the number of foreigners on one hand. Anna Piskoviecz at the laboratory of nematology has also discovered a disadvantage to the multicultural environment here. She misses a common spirit and openness. "Sometimes it's hard to express yourself, because there's always the worry that someone will think you are discriminating or that it will lead to an argument."
Marysia finds the Dutch very helpful, tolerant and easy going. But what drives her crazy is the way everything is planned. It's impossible to be spontaneous as it may interfere with social arrangements. The Dutch seem to find it chaotic to do something without arranging it beforehand.
A big difference with the universities in Poland is the almost total lack of hierarchy here. In Poland it's almost like the 'professor is god'. Here you can discuss with teachers, send them e-mails and you get lots of positive encouragement.
Social contacts with colleagues from the laboratory are also good, and people are not formal. A colleague, Andr? van der Wurff, can often be heard remarking to the Polish contingent that they should take it more easy and go home earlier. They work long hours, and often work weekends as well. But he notes that they have a good social life as well.
The Dutch find the Polish names difficult. Agnieszka is called Aga, and Urszula's name is shortened to Ula. Piskoviecz: "We like diminutives, we find them sweet. Lots of people have the same name in Poland; we change them so we can distinguish between them. If you are called Anna you can call yourself Andzia for instance."
If they could be queen of Wageningen for one day the first thing they would do would be to extend shop opening hours. "It's very annoying to have to do the shopping during work hours." In Poland there are always some shops open, even at night. And the first thing we would do is import bread. The bread here is often inedible. What we wouldn't want to change at all is how clean it is here in Wageningen. Marysia explains, "Here I only have to vacuum once a week, in Cracow I have to do it several times a day. Everyone's shoes here are so clean."
The Polish women devote a lot of time and attention to cooking and eating. In Poland a warm meal is usually eaten around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and in the evening something sweet. As they work here throughout the day they eat an evening meal, followed immediately by the sweet things they love, such as cake and sweets as dessert. It is also considered rude to only eat one portion of something, as it gives the impression you don't like it. The only tasty thing they have found here so far that you can't buy in Poland is 'stroopwafels'. "We are all addicted to them."
There are far more Polish women than men in Wageningen, as the life sciences there are the domain of the fairer sex. Their choice of the giant pot for the photo location represents their love of cooking. From left to right: Anna Piskiewicz, Aneta Karczmarek, Marysia Tobor-Kaplan, Agnieszka Doroszuk and Urszula Kluda.
Photo Guy Ackermans