Have you ever dreamed of living is Europe? Waking up every morning to the delightful European breakfast of the fresh crusty rolls, soft boiled eggs, a variety of cheese and sausage, sounds great doesn’t it? Well, I had that experience with my husband; I was “The American in Warsaw.” We had an opportunity to live in Warsaw, Poland, for my husband’s job; this was before we had children, so we took the chance and moved. My husband had worked and lived overseas previously and was excited to join his European colleagues once again. I was thrilled with the ability to tour around Poland as well as other European countries. We experienced many things, visited many places and gained a lifetime of memories all within 1 1/2 years.
So, how do you spot an American in Poland? It’s all about the SHOES. I know your first thought was the language barrier, but the Polish people can spot an American tourist a mile away just by the shoes they are wearing.
Our Polish adventure started in December 2001, we flew to Warsaw just days before Christmas, the company my husband worked for wanted him to start in the office before the end of the year, looking back now, we are not sure what the rush was all about. So, before we left Arizona, we celebrated Christmas with my parents. All I wanted for Christmas was a new pair of cross trainer shoes; I knew that I wouldn’t have a car to drive, which was good, since I am HORRIBLE at driving a stick shift, I would be doing a LOT of walking. My parents bought me a new pair of white cross trainer shoes, they were perfect and I was SUPER excited.
The next day we boarded the airplane for the LONG flight overseas. I wore my new shoes proudly; they were perfect for walking through the airports, etc. When we arrived in Poland, we took a taxi to our hotel, dropped off our suitcases, relaxed for a bit before we hit the town. After taking a shower, I got dressed and put on my new shoes; we were within blocks of the Old Town Square, which is filled with shops and restaurants. Since my husband had lived in Warsaw previously, he knew of a wonderful restaurant in the Old Town Square. It was a beautiful afternoon, lightly snowing, but warm enough to walk.
When we arrived in the Old Town Square, I was in awe of so many beautiful buildings; I enjoyed the scenery before we went to eat. The restaurant and food were fabulous, after dinner we walked around some more and did a little window shopping. When we were heading back to the hotel, I asked my husband these questions:
“Why was everyone staring at my feet?”
He laughed, “Didn’t you notice what color shoes they are wearing?”
“No: I said, “I was too busy looking at the beautiful buildings.”
“They knew you were an American even without saying a word because of your white shoes.”
I initially thought he was teasing me about my shoes, until I started looking at everyone else — their shoes were black.
The last thing I wanted was to stick out since we weren’t tourist there, but were going to be living there for a year. The next day we went shopping to buy a new pair of BLACK shoes. That way, I could blend in, that is until I tried to speak the language.
Being “An American in Warsaw” was filled with many laughs, a few tears but certainly an education for this Minnesota born and raised farm girl.
Leah Derewicz is a 15-year Ahwatukee Foothills resident. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.