I took a short business trip to Warsaw earlier this week. It was my first time ever in Poland, and my brief impression of the place and its people was overwhelmingly positive. Up until this week, Poland was something of a mystery to me. Although there are lots of Polish people in Ireland at the moment, I know none of them, and thus I had no reference point.
It turns out that the Polish have a lot in common with us Irish. We are very similar in how we see the world. The Polish people I came in contact with were very friendly and seem to live in a world where people are continually putting up with less-than-stellar service and rules. If there’s a law, a regulation or a proscription, there’s a way around it. The Poles laugh a lot: always a good sign.
Compared to many countries in Western Europe, Poland still has some way to go. That doesn’t mean it won’t get there, however. There are clear similarities with the Ireland of 20 years ago. Back then, Ireland was still a backwater: a peripheral little fiefdom struggling to extract itself from decades of neglect, indebtedness and corruption. Few people could have imagined the social and infrastructural changes that would take place since then. The transition into a self-confident state, where things actually worked, was utterly unforeseen in the 1980’s. And yet, looking back, it now seems obvious that Ireland’s economic success was no accident and that many of the crucial factors were in place.
Well, that’s where I think Poland is now – on the cusp of a major economic and social revolution. It will take time: the current bunch of politicians there would make the Keystone Cops seem super-organised by comparison. The infrastructure is poor (Warsaw has only one metro line for a population of 3 million people), and inefficiency is the order of the day if the airport check-in procedures are anything to go by. But there appears to be a mood for change. The Polish who have left the country in recent years have a reputation for uncomplaining hard, high quality work. They love their country, and there’s a young population there who want their lives to be substantially different than what their parents settled for. In addition, the multinationals are entering Poland in their droves. You only need a few big names to enter to create momentum, and these names are now beginning to appear there, establishing substantial distribution and customer service operations.
My time there was short, but I’ve been given a flavour of the country, and I’d like to get back there again – to see more of Warsaw, the Baltic coast, Krakow, the Tatras Mountains and the Bielowieza Forest. Some day soon, perhaps.