After living here and then returning to the States I noticed the difference in what you are exposed to more than anything. On the streets, in the stores, at restaurants. America, the part I am from, is very... sterile, I guess you could say. Very clean, manicured. (In fact you pay money to an association, in your neighborhood, whose sole purpose is to make sure that everyone around you keeps their homes manicured and sterile).
If someone is drinking, in public, in the middle of the day, the police are immediately called. Inebriation happens in your backyard, your living room, or at a bar. Never out in the open (at least not for long).
Old people. Older, like 10 years past retirement age, walking slowly, white hair. Where are these people in America? I rarely saw them as I went about my daily life. I certainly wasn't rubbing elbows with them at the checkout line in Target.
People with physical or mental disabilities. Never. Ok, maybe every once in a while, in a group whose sole purpose is to take people out for an outing and then back to the school or home where they spend most of their time.
It's almost as if, along with our lawns and our appearance, we have manicured who we encounter as we walk out our front door. How? I don't know. Societal pressure. Choice. Money. In a country that prides itself on being diverse and tolerant, America also likes it's special schools, it's special homes, and it's institutions. Visible difference or suffering makes people uncomfortable. A lot of people simply tuck it away or don't deal with it at all. It's easy to do that in America.
So when we had a friend visit us last summer, here in Krakow, he asked us one evening as we were discussing his trip to Europe (including several countries)...
"Why are there so many "different" people?... have you guys noticed that?... so many people with disabilities, or really old, or looking kind of not all put together," ( he was trying to be nice...how does one discuss these things after all?).
Martin and I both kind of chuckled. He had noticed all the "not normal."
Part of raising my kids here is choosing to expose them to all of this life..as I mentioned in my rant against those people in Kazimierz... this WORLD. See, what you get in American suburbs is exactly what American suburbs are serving up... normality. A pre-prescribed normality. An agreed upon normality. A uniformity. A uniformity that money can buy, and one that is increasingly manicured and detailed the more money you have. I grew up in this. Most of my friends grew up in this. Martin, at least in America, grew up in this. And to be able to live in the American suburbs is the "American dream," white picket fence, and all that. Safety, good schools, neighbors who are similar to you in many ways. It's not very far to the soup kitchen for the homeless or the women's shelter for battered women, but you have to make the effort, you have to seek out the suffering, the different.
There's nothing wrong with that. I mean, nothing morally wrong with that. At least I don't think so. It's a very comforting, restful existence. You have to be invited into people's homes to see them live. There are the differences, the struggles, the "not normal". But only if you're invited, if you're trusted. Rarely in public.
So sterile. So prepackaged. So predictable.
Poland, perhaps I should say, Europe, is just so... raw. So real. So unpredictable.
I like that. It's been good for me. To know that this is what life can be like, all the pretty and ugly, together. Being exposed to, on a daily basis, what I normally would have to seek out. I like that my kids get to see all kinds of people living out their lives. ALL kinds of people, not just the ones that are socially acceptable, even if that means they have to see things that are "unpleasant."
If you have always lived here you probably think I'm crazy to talk about this for so long. For sure, I'm talking about your backyard, and it has always looked like that, all of this is normal for you, regular, every day living in Krakow, Poland.
Little by little it is becoming so for me as well. It's a good thing.