Thinking about living in Poland? Follow our ultimate guide to the food, tourism and culture of living in Poland.
Ultimate Guide to Living in Poland
Scanning the candy and baking aisles thoroughly, I looked closely for a bag of chocolate chips. I was grocery shopping during my time living in Poland for the summer. After a while I decided to ask a cashier where in the grocery store I could find chocolate chips. You might imagine my surprise when the cashier indicated that they didn’t sell chocolate chips. Instead, he motioned me to the row of chocolate bars—saying I should chop one of those up.
The idea of a city not selling chocolate chips had never even crossed my mind before I moved to Poland. Yet, soon I discovered that people cannot always purchase random food items in Poland that are commonplace in the United States.
Turns out Poles prefer pure chocolate bars divided up into small pieces.
Key Tips to Follow When Living in Poland
Below, check out some other things to expect when living in Poland and learn key tips to follow in order to make the most of your time living as an expat abroad.
Tips for All Things Food Related
Buy Different Types of Ingredients
You now know that Polish grocery stores do not sell chocolate chips. I further learned that in Poland, cereal comes in bags instead of boxes. Tofu does not come in a container, but is in a bag sort of wrapping. Eggs are stored on shelves, not in a refrigerator.
I was confused when I first saw eggs stored on a shelf. Should I buy them? Was that safe? It was only later that I learned that Americans wash eggs to strip the outer protective layer. This action prevents contamination outside the shell.
Without that outer layer, eggs have to be refrigerated in order to prevent bacterial infection from inside.
In Poland and other parts of Europe it is illegal to wash eggs and instead, chickens are vaccinated against salmonella. Because the eggs keep their outer layer, refrigerating the eggs would actually cause mildew growth.
Key advice: trust that a grocery store is not trying to hurt you. If something is packaged differently than in the United States, likely there is a reason for it. If you end up living in Poland, it is safe to buy eggs that are not stored in a refrigerator.
Let Google Translate Become Your Best Friend
When living in Poland it is pretty easy to get by as an American who doesn’t speak Polish. However, there is one important place where your lack of Polish language knowledge will become apparent: while grocery shopping.
Most Poles speak some level of English but at grocery stores all food items are only in Polish. Sure, it is easy for people to pick out produce without reading labels.
For more difficult items, however, it can be hard to know what a package is when you don’t understand Polish.
If you need to know the exact ingredients in food items, make sure to bring your phone to the grocery store and use Google Translate. When you stop to type Polish words into your phone, shopping will take longer than usual—so plan accordingly.
If dietary restrictions aren’t an issue and you feel adventurous, forgo the phone and just trust your guts: you may end up tasting a new ingredient that you love!
Be Wary of Paying for Water
Everything in Poland, including the cost of living, is super cheap. If you are looking for a cheap way to live in a beautiful European city, Poland is the perfect place, it is truly a hidden gem of a European city.
Yet, as cheap as everything is, there is one major difference between restaurants in Poland and the United States: water is not free.
If you want a glass of water you will have to pay what seems like an absorbent amount compared to everything else in Poland. This can become exhausting if you spend long days outside and just want to down many cups of water without thinking twice about it.
There are two main ways to avoid purchasing water: one, bring your own water bottle. I never experienced a restaurant that stopped me from drinking out of a water bottle I brought with me. Two, if you forget a water bottle, ask a waiter if the restaurant has tap water.
Sometimes the waiters will tell you they don’t serve tap water. Often though, they will bring you tap water and you won’t be charged.
In Poland tap water is safe to drink but restaurants treat it as if no-one would want it. When they ask if you want water, water means bringing out non tap water in a wine shaped bottle.
Try the Fruit at Local Fruit Stands and the Rolls at Tiny Bakeries
Right down the street from my apartment in Warsaw there was a tiny little bakery that I passed each morning. People did not really sit at the bakery because there was only one small table with two chairs.
Many neighborhoods in Poland have fruit stalls that pop up multiple days a week and small sidelined bakeries. Don’t pass them by.
Not only are fruit stalls and bakeries fun to stop in to on your way to and from work, but their products will be some of the best fruit and pastries you will ever taste.
Plus, most good sized pastries at bakeries cost less than an American dollar. Everything is affordable for an American living in Poland.
Tips for Daily Living in Poland
Make Sure Wherever You Live Has a Drying Rack
As I searched for an AirBnB to rent I noticed that no place seemed to have a drying machine. Under the appliances section on the AirBnB website I checked the boxes that said “washing machine” and “drying machine” and soon, it became apparent that drying machines simply are not really a thing in Warsaw.
While you will find a place to live with a washing machine, you probably won’t be as lucky with drying machines.
I knew when I moved into the apartment in Poland that the place would come equipped with a drying rack to hang clothes on when they came out of the wash. I was surprised however to find the drying rack in the bathroom, high above my head.
The drying rack was made of multiple bars close to the ceiling with a string pulley to bring the bars down to a level where I could reach them. After putting wet clothes on the bars I pulled the string to bring the racks back up to the ceiling.
There, they didn’t dangle in my face and the rack didn’t get in my way. This type of drying rack used space wisely and efficiently.
Not all drying racks in Poland will be this efficient, but many places will come equipped with this style of drying rack.
If not, there are plenty of portable drying racks—the important thing is to make sure wherever you stay either already has one, or, that you know where to buy one during the first week you live in Poland.
Hold on Tight to Public Transportation Tickets
The tram stations in Warsaw do not have any gates for entering or leaving. People can come and go as they please without having to swipe a ticket because people purchase tram tickets on an honors system.
Prior to stepping on a tram you purchase a ticket through an automatic kiosk on the platform. No one mans the system–you walk up to the kiosk, enter your credit card or coins and indicate what type of ticket you want. When you get on the tram you insert your ticket in an automatic machine which stamps a date on your ticket.
But don’t think this means you can get by without purchasing a ticket. Always know where your ticket is and when your ticket expires. Police randomly come on and check that you have a ticket for the public transportation system.
At unpredictable times, at any station, police will enter the tram and walk up and down the aisles with a handheld scanning machine and motion for your ticket.
If you don’t have a ticket the police will make you get off at the next stop and pay a large fine. My heart always jumped a beat whenever I saw a police with a handheld scanner enter a tram—I panicked that I wouldn’t remember where my ticket was.
Prevent that feeling by having one consistent place where you keep your ticket.
Tips for Getting to Know Poland
The Old Towns Are Fun, But They Aren’t the Place For a Night Out
The Old Towns in Poland are a unique charm of the country that we certainly don’t have in the United States. They bring back memories of the European past and are filled with street music, outdoor restaurant seating and colorful buildings.
As fun as it is to spend afternoons walking around and observing the culture of the Old Towns, don’t let the atmosphere trick you into thinking it must be a great place for a night out.
Locals don’t spend too much time in the Old Town in Warsaw except for Sunday afternoon strolls for ice cream. Therefore, the Old Town becomes much quieter at night time when the day’s tourists are gone.
When you live long term in Poland, to find real night life you will want to spend time in more modern parts of the cities.
Experience Modern Day Poland
When people think of Poland they often think of an old, worn down country still stuck under a communist regime. When it comes to food, people think of potatoes and meat. Pierogis are delicious and there are plenty of places you can try them all over Poland.
But, you will quickly learn that Poland is actually a very modern country with lots of international flavors. In fact, my first night in Poland I ate dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant. Warsaw is filled with tons of vegetarian restaurants, including a vegetarian milk bar, a traditional Polish form of a cafeteria, serving traditional Polish food, but vegetarian style.
Make Time to Visit the Green Spaces
Living in the heart of a bustling city such as Warsaw it is easy to get carried away by the sights of tall towers, bright lights and large shopping malls. Remember to make some time to relax at the vast amount of green spaces in Poland. Poland has some of everything, modern cities, old towns, heritage travel and nature.
In Warsaw you can visit Royal Lazienki Park, the largest and most beautiful park in the city. The park also maintains a number of historic palaces.
Who doesn’t love seeing a castle in the middle of a serene landscape? Lazienki Park is a great place to unwind from the noise of the city and go for a walk. In the summer time the park offers free, Chopin music concerts.
You are Ready to Become an Expat in Poland
Living in Poland as an American is a really fun experience. It is important wherever you go to be careful, but Poland is currently one of the safer countries in Europe. If you want to discover firsthand what it means to live in another country, Poland is sure to provide you with a great experience.
Don’t worry so much if you can’t do things the same way you did in the United States. Part of living abroad is to actually live in a different country—not to be a tourist. The best way to live in Poland is to try to live like a local, learn like a local and explore like a local.
If that means trying new ingredients or adapting to a new form of transportation, then go for it! Soon you will discover that by following a few key tips you might blend in with the local Polish crowds faster than you thought possible.
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