Friday, August 12, 2005

Observations on Warsaw

I finally made it somewhere. Once again, the unexpected has cropped up in my every move. I have just been the 'lucky' one with all this. I'm quite tired of the excitement, strangeness, and hassle.

Thursday night I met the other American who flew over for the same visa renewal and we go to the "Old town" to walk and have dinner. This is different from Russia, for sure. The people are different, the weather is different, the culture is different, the clothes are different. Of course weather is just that, and changes all the time - and has changed from Moscow to here. Moscow was still pretty warm - and finally looked to get some showers to clean things up. Here it is cool - jacket weather, and definitely showering. The umbrella is the thing - and I put on a t-shirt under my dress shirt, as my jacket is packed in my bike bag and unreachable! The air is very fall-like.

We swap observations while walking, and eventually find a spot that seems attractive enough to both of us. It's a bit hard, as it often seems to be among expats going for dinner. Nobody wants to quite say "This is the spot". A number of reasons for that I suppose. Part of it is a lack of hunger - we just aren't that hungry. Part of it is the unknown factor for the restaurants - which ones are any good, and which will we enjoy. Part of it is a desire to get along and defer the choice to someone else - trying to get a feel for the other person. So deciding on a dinner restaurant can take a little longer than usual.

He has been to Germany before, so has some interesting views of Warsaw. It is also his first time to Warsaw. He sees a similarity here to both places - Germany and Russia. He has spent no time in Moscow, though, so his Russian viewpoint is different from mine. Very soon we will start Chapter two of my Russian adventure - "Away from Moscow". The other American's view of the economy is different from my view from Moscow. This fits with what I've heard from the locals - things are different in the country - and most of Russia is "in the country". Moscow is different, but I hope not too different.

Back to Warsaw, though. We are hoteled on something akin to an "Embassy Row", close to "Old town". The latter is a major tourist attraction. They rebuilt major parts of the old town that was destroyed in WW2, trying to maintain the same flavor. Shades of Memphis, Santa Fe, and Seattle. My viewpoint is colored because I'm in a "good" section of town, but there are still some general observations I can make. My American friend feels more comfortable here - he says it is more like home (States). I think in some ways he is right, but in some ways it is less like the States to me. I feel more different here than in Moscow. Fewer people I deal with speak English, even though I find more of the general populace that speaks English. More speak German. The clothing styles are more different from Americans, and I stand out more - even dressed as innocously as I am, in white button-down shirt and chinos. However, as for Warsaw, I feel like I stand out more as a tourist here than I do dressed the same way in Russia. The locals pick me out more readily, and I can pick out differences in ways local males dress themselves from Americans.

Now (chuckle, chuckle) this would be quite the opposite for American women. They stand out like a sore thumb in Russia, but you would be gambling to pick them out here. This is because the Russian women do have a general style of dressing which is both specific and different from other countries. More high heels, fewer flats, tight shirts or tops that reveal a little midriff, low-waisted pants (hip-huggers), and tighter skirts are the norm here. American women dress in much more masculine styles. Women from other EU countries fall in various other middle grounds. The one thing that is almost always true tho, is that a woman with the midriff revealing tight top and heels will be Russian. I've seen few tourist women adopting these styles.

I've also seen no tourists wearing the pointy Italian shoes for either sex. Some Italian tourists are an exception here, but no tourists seem to wear the pointy shoes. The toes on these shoe may be so long they curl up, like a picture of an 1840's dandy in the US, where at one time young men would sit with the toes of their shoes jammed against a wall so as to make the toes of the shoe curl upward permanently.

Automobiles too, are more a commonality than a difference. The market here is again international. The models are slightly different, and some of the automobile choices are a little different, but more are the same than not, except for the absence of monster SUVs and pickups. Thank you very much.

But, some things are also now apparent. I have been observing this in Moscow, but now it is quite apparent that clothing and styles are now international. Clothing and styles of dressing are far less useful as giveaway details than they were 20 years ago. It is obvious that the same factory is making shirts for Columbia in the States as well as somebody else in Russia. Getting around Warsaw, this is obvious. Local in-country clothing manufacturing is a thing of the past - except for high end stuff, which is also international. I see some difference in styles of dressing, but not so much as I would have seen 20 years ago. In Moscow, it is so universal and international that it is difficult to tell the French and British tourists from the American tourists or the local populace.

Warsaw is only 2 million people, smaller than Moscow by a good margin. Yet the traffic is much heavier, and the automobile infrastructure much more developed. The pollution strikes me as being more prevalent as well. I can taste it in the air, even tho the weather is rainy and windy. Such weather should be clearing the pollution. I am sure it is, but if my tongue and my nose are a measure, the pollution is worse here than Moscow. That may well not be true in a few years, with the rate at which Moscow is growing.

I see street marketers here - just like in Moscow and like I remember in London. The stores and businesses appear healthy, and quite a bit more mature than in Moscow. Perhaps 5 years, or 15 years ahead of where Moscow will be.

In both places it is hard to believe how much has changed since the times of the communists. In so many ways it is almost as it that was just a dream or a nightmare of the past. As a matter of fact, this may present a difficulty in the future for the Russian Federation, as there has been no self-analyzing or self-chastisement such as occured for Germany after WW2. This means that the Communist past may well be remembered more and more romantically by the Russian population. Since at least the Muscovites are operating in what seems to me to be something of a "wild west" atmosphere - where the law has limited impact - this could lead to a politically restrictive change. Actually, I am sure that the law will become more restricted, and this can be good, but it also might not be. It is very dependent on how it all comes about. The wide-openness of the marketplaces is a good thing. The wide-openness of the range of public behavior is not. Many people are upset over incidents of what looks to me like hooliganism. There is also bad feeling about various different ethnic groups coming in and working. If the markets or particular ethnic groups get restricted, this will lead to a
future with a smaller and less successful economy.

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