• Adriana McNeil
Location:
Elgin
Date:
Wednesday 22nd October 2008
Reference:
SWI2008/010

Adriana:

So I was saying something about ... I started work at schools and the parents started calling quite a lot because, well, that was an easy information point. There was a certain point that it just became a nightmare because no family life because obviously people phone in the afternoon and in the evening you’re trying to put your kid to bed but there’s ... you know? Ewan started laughing that there’s no way I’m going to speak any English in the evenings and I’m going to be on the phone all the time and I thought: “That is too much now!” So we decided it might be the point of an association and so it seems like once the association was created it actually is less interest than before which is ... I don’t know why. Is it because the people that needed information, they got it already from me and that’s that? (laughs) Or what happened I don’t know because it seems there is definitely less interest. I do get calls but it’s definitely much less than before and ... yeah, so I don’t know how it works but it seems like there is, you know, the new coming ones, they really have loads of things to find out. Maybe they find out already and they just get ... other new ones that are coming now and they find out from the existing members of the Polish community because they are friends or family or whoever, you know? So ...

Simon:

So maybe there’s like an informal ...?

     

Adriana:

Yeah. I think the word of mouth, as it’s called, sort of thing goes and spreads now. Plus also it’s so much easier as well because before there was no ... Now you can go wherever, like to the doctors or something, the surgery, and they will call Language Line for you straightaway. Before there was nothing like that so it was quite awful, how to register with a doctor because they didn’t know how exactly to approach it, you know? What sort of questions will be asked and if they don’t speak enough it’s sort of stressful so even easy things are kind of difficult. But it seems like all this is done, especially with the Language Line. I think it’s a great thing because it’s there straightaway and it works. It’s expensive surely but, well ... what can we do? So sort of like that.

 

Before we were talking as well about the three different types of Poles so there’s the wartime and new generations part of them are like the fathers or grandfathers now. You know, they would come here settle and they were interested in forming Polish associations and clubs and they would go and really have the Polish food and Polish dances and all sorts of things and ... because obviously most of them passed away then that’s no longer existing and I think because it was a bit of an old fashioned kind of club, I don’t think many Poles would be interested in them much now. So then there is the next sort of, like myself, people who came in between ... sort of recently but not that recently, before the 2004 when the borders opened. Then they sort of assimilated ... whatever ... (laughs) You know, good assimilation that happened and, you know, we just sort of adjusted to things and quite a lot of them spoke English because possibly they were married to Scots or whatever, English, you know? So that was maybe not so much need for any groups. Well, there was maybe but I don’t think even five years ago I would be going much for ... There were attempts in Moray before to organise things. I think four years ago there was a big party organised once by someone and they gave away some information about how to ... you know, the first things you need to know. Whichever institutions, it mentions telephone numbers, how to deal with whatever, how to get job, how to get whatever, this and that. So leaflets were distributed and also there was some music and some ... but it was a bit sort of weird and I don’t think Poles do that in Poland much but that’s another aspect. The sort of British ... meetings for cup of tea and stuff like that, it doesn’t happen in Poland so therefore it’s a bit of an alien concept and people are just sort of: “Gosh, what kind of party is that?” you know? It’s not a proper party like you’d imagine with good music or good food or a good group of people but rather sort of randomly taken ones and that is a bit different so I think that doesn’t exactly work very well unless people know that this is the kind of party. And like the ones that apparently happen in Inverness, they are pretty good apparently. I’ve not been so I don’t know but apparently it’s even if it’s the sort of similar idea, that everybody brings what they want or what they can and there’s some music and it’s fun but ... you know, before maybe it wasn’t so good cos some people turned up but they were like: “Oh my God!” And they were sort of leaving, you know? (laughs) So maybe it’s just sort of a difference that it wasn’t required and that was organised though, and maybe sometimes you had one bad experience and then you think: “Oh no, I’m not going because it’s going to be the same,” you know? ... the first experience wasn’t the best and that might sort of make them opinionated a bit, you know, towards a different angle, I don’t know.

Simon:

There’s a Polish deli now in Elgin and there’s a Polish language newspaper which comes from Inverness ... (inaudible) ... so do you feel like things like that ...? What sort of impression do they make on you? Do you feel that the kind of atmosphere ...? They create a kind of atmosphere that feels like there’s more of a Polish culture here? How do you see those, given that you came here at a time when nothing like that existed?

     

Adriana:

I think it’s great. Like, I’m very happy with the sort of food aspect because I remember before there was absolutely nothing that was Polish in the shops. There was just no need for it, no demand, so there was nothing like that and I remember sometimes ... because it’s not like you can’t live without those things and they are mostly the same things, sometimes differently spiced or something and then it’s nice because you remember. It’s sort of habitual, you like something because you have it for ages, you know? But I remember missing certain bits of food definitely, very much, and there are some kinds that you cannot bring or if you bring something you’ll bring a packet of something. You’ll eat it quickly and that’s it and if you go next year, well, you have to wait for a year. So now, because it’s there, you don’t bother buying it much anyway because it’s not like you need all those things but you will buy if you fancy. You’ll go and you’ll have it and it’s great so I think this aspect is particularly great especially if you feel homesick because OK, you can’t go there, you can’t see whoever you want to, or you can’t go to places you like but at least you can make yourself feel better because you’ll eat a bit of what you would have there, so that is nice. And with the newspapers, well, they don’t matter to me cos I’m sort of ... because I’ve been here for ten years then there is ... because I’ve been cut off, quite dramatically at first, for a few years there was nothing going on like that. Because we’ve not had Polish television because it was unavailable before ... because of that and I had a few years of nothing like this I sort of decided: “Well I don’t need it really to be happy.” So I don’t need them and I don’t buy those newspapers in Polish. One: I can read in English and two: I don’t know who the politicians or famous people are anymore. Cos if you go once a year for two weeks or three or even four, you’re not going to all of a sudden go very culturally sort of crazy, you know? You’re not going to go to all the theatres and the Mass and everything and find out because it’s impossible. Plus it’s bizarre and you have a year of starvation again, say, so ... so I am more away every year. Basically, year after year I am more away from the sort of Polish side although I still know certain things but it’s definitely less than, say, the new coming Poles. So I think it’s great that it’s there. They can keep in touch ... But I think some people are quite into certain things and if they are deprived of it because they are away from their country then it has a huge impact on their psychological ... I don’t know, well-being or what ... Because the first year I was here it was quite depressing in a way because you do sort of change your life all of a sudden and thank goodness I spoke English, as I said before, but if not I can’t imagine. I would’ve been depressed! Because it’s not like Scotland ... there was nothing bad in Scotland. I had nice people around me but it wasn’t sort of my life anymore, sort thing, you know? So I think if people come here it’s gonna be still the same experience, even if they are new or old, but then now they’ve got the ... It’s a bit easier for them in this way. They’ve got the deli, for instance. They’ve got their newspapers or whatever. They’ve got ... there’s a lot of stuff on the telly ... in the library you can get things as well. But even if you don’t speak English this might be a bit tricky because you might be a bit scared of going and asking. But there’s also the first thing they do, they get this Cifrowy Polish television thing so they’ve got Polish channels straightaway. They are not like: “Oh they don’t hear Polish,” they do. It’s actually their mistake in a way because if they are trying to learn English it would be useful if they have the English television, you know? Because then obviously sort of accidentally you are learning! (laughs) But it seems like the first thing they do is the Polish telly which is easy to set up. We didn’t bother because, as I say, years and years without it and all of a sudden ... well, I don’t feel the need. And with politics, I’m not interested that much so it doesn’t matter to me but people do listen to the news and things so it’s good that they’ve got access.

Simon:

Do you find that people’s response to you, like Scottish people’s response to you, has changed at all? Because obviously when you came the fact that you were Polish must have seemed quite unusual for people?

     

Adriana:

I think so. It was. Before ... I think straightaway when I came it was sort of like slightly being a wee celebrity sort of, because there was a good memory of the ones during the war and all this kind of stuff so it was like: “Oh, you’re from Poland! That’s nice ... blah, blah, blah.” You know, that kind of aspect. Then once they started coming after the 2004, this kind of started ... because it wasn’t something new all of a sudden. It was: “Wow, they are coming.” So there would be more comments like: “Lots of them everywhere.” Which is fine. And then it changed. In this way it was quite annoying actually because if anybody discovered I was Polish, which ... well obviously I’ve got a heavy accent. You know, I’m a foreigner, that’s obvious but I don’t know if it’s obvious that I’m from Poland. But if, let’s say, I was speaking with whoever in Polish because it happens to be with a friend or something, then they would stick a label on me straightaway, I work in Walker’s or somewhere. Well that was annoying to me because nobody likes to be put in a drawer straightaway, you know, and categorized like that. Well I didn’t like it and I think straightaway it was like classification. You have to work at Walker’s if you’re Polish so you’re either a bit thick or you definitely don’t speak English or something, you know? That impression, that wasn’t ... I’m sure loads of people are quite annoyed because the ones who work at Walker’s, they don’t necessarily have any qualifications but quite a lot of them do. It’s just the language thing, or they are here for a bit, so it’s easier and they work in jobs like that. So that changed definitely and sometimes obviously ... like every nation has nice people and less nice ones or they get into fights or something silly. Then because of that the reputation dropped a bit as well and not to mention the fact that some people from Scotland started all of a sudden thinking like: “Oh, they are taking our jobs!” And, you know, it depended who you talked to but there were people like that as well. Some people knew that it doesn’t really matter because the jobs are lying there anyway so it’s quite good actually that somebody’s taking them, for the lowest pay there is as well so not so bad and they do pay taxes and things so it’s not so bad after all.

Simon:

Coming back to the people who were approaching you, what sort of ... what were some of the commonest issues or questions people had?

     

Adriana:

Well, how to deal with the sort of most basic aspects of life abroad like if you need to ... if you’re moving house you need to change the council tax. What do you do? You know, this kind of thing. Or if you’re going ... you’ve got a particular problem, just normal typical everyday stuff, especially with like a bank or you need to get a house or you need ... you know, this kind of things. Or there is a problem with your landlord or whatever: “What can I do to get them off my back or to help myself somehow?” So they would be typical questions. It varied a lot but more or less the typical aspects of if you go abroad and things are done ... obviously in every country it’s a bit different with institutions so it would be how to go about those sort of things. And maybe later on in time because the community ... Well, obviously I know that there are loads of families that meet up outside work, even if they don’t work in the same place but they do ... or their kids know each other from school or something and, you know, somehow you get to know the other mums or whoever else. Then they do meet up and they do things together but it’s smaller groups. It doesn’t sort of need the association as such, I noticed. I wouldn’t go for it. If I was one of the newcoming Poles, I wouldn’t bother probably myself, I don’t know. But you know, it’s hard to say but I possibly wouldn’t because I don’t need so much and I probably would like to have friends only instead of huge gatherings of people. It depends what people, what they like. I would go for the lessons I’m pretty sure because that’s a handy thing first of all. So you go somewhere and you don’t have to be worried that they are offending you and you don’t even know, for instance! (laughs) Or they are telling you off and you can’t defend yourself or something. I would be keen on being able to deal for myself, you know, with things but the big sort of group of people ... I don’t know if I’d be keen.

Simon:

As a language teacher, are you giving people ... You spoke there about the fact of having English as a way to look after yourself at work. Do you have people who deal with stuff while you’re teaching? Asking for vocabulary to help them?

     

Adriana:

Yeah, because once the classes are done I try to do them as well so they are going to be helpful that way, that if you’ve got certain situations ... and I always ask as well: “Well if you have any problems come up with ideas, give them to me and we’ll do a lesson about it!” You know, as many as possible. So if you have a problem you will have it solved but somebody else might have it as well sooner or later or whenever, you know? But yes, they do ask questions like: “Whatever happened, can you explain what it was and why whatever happened?” And or, in particular: “What would I say if I want to do whatever?” You know, and I’ve got a friend who is kind of depending on me for ages and then finally I was trying ... Cos she didn’t speak English much but then she learned in the meantime obviously, she was learning, and then her English is not perfect, but it is much better than before anyway. And now she is trying to deal with things for herself, but she will call me every now and again, like: “How do you say this?” and whatever she has got prepared. Because I was saying to her: “I can’t be doing this all the time for you, try and do it yourself. I’ll help you but try and do it because you will not learn if you don’t try,” you know? So she is sort of ... she prepared herself and she asks for phrases or particular words and then it’s better because she can say as well: “Well I did it myself. I didn’t have to ask for favours again.” So yes, people do approach that way.

Simon:

Do you get people asking to learn the vocabulary for particular areas of work? For example, IT work and ...

     

Adriana:

Eh, not so much. I didn’t have a chance actually to do anything like that because they do ... because they don’t speak English they go for the lower qualification requiring jobs and then there’s not that much vocabulary needed, you know? And it’s a sort of vicious circle. You don’t, even if you are ... let’s say a paramedic. He’s not exactly asking me because he’s not working there at all and there is a chance he’s going to work but then he works somewhere else, doesn’t seem to have time so he doesn’t really learn much of this English and then it’s a sort of vicious circle that he would like to but he doesn’t know enough to but he doesn’t learn because he goes somewhere else to work and therefore doesn’t seem to have time to learn so ... a kind of vicious circle. But yeah, and they do ask but it doesn’t seem to be that sort of orientated for qualifications so, you know, it seems more everyday things that people will ask for.

Simon:

I was just wondering ... I mean, maybe you might get someone, they’ll come and get quite a basic job initially but maybe because they have skills they move beyond that and would actually actively try and ...

     

Adriana:

Yeah, but I’ve not ... It’s just maybe I haven’t met them, you know? Because it’s hard to say for the general community. I didn’t come across any. I’ve got one ... but I know her personally so she would ask me sometimes, especially like she would fill in application forms for jobs and things so, yes, she would be asking me particular things for that and especially if she’s applying for a job that goes more or less with her qualifications, but it’s not exactly the particular one she would go for because her English is not good enough yet. So it happens a bit but not exactly a lot. Some people learn themselves. Recently I’ve met a woman who is quite shy and doesn’t really go out much or anything like that and she came to this English class and she said that she’s been learning English from a book herself. She’s done quite a good job but the pronunciation could do with some ... but if you’re doing yourself it’s hard, you know, so ... but she’s done quite a good job. She can understand quite a lot from whatever she’s reading or hearing but mostly the reading is better. She’s a bit shy to speak as well, that doesn’t help. So some probably learn at home as well, just themselves. It’s either they don’t know about the lessons or they’re at the wrong time because sometimes, you know, you work at times that ... don’t suit you. So even if they are in the morning or the evening, sometimes in the early afternoon, it just ... but it might not suit you basically. So yes, people try and learn themselves. It’s probably as well towards the things that they either enjoy or they feel they are useful.

Simon:

All Saint’s Day is coming up which is very important in the Polish calendar but it doesn’t really exist ... We have Halloween in Scotland but it’s totally different. So I was wondering ... You are also, particularly with All Saints, it’s so closely tied in to the family. Is that one of the things you miss over here? As more Polish people come have people tried to find an equivalent or something?

     

Adriana:

I don’t know if an equivalent but what happened ... I came here ... Obviously the tradition is kind of nice cos you go there and you light the candles and it looks brilliant, especially at night. Well, it gets dark quickly so it’s dark quickly and then you’ve got the ... every grave has quite a few candles on it so it looks pretty nice and obviously you go ... like the whole family can go at the same time so you got a wee gathering. You can either talk about whatever else or just remember this particular person who is buried there, you know, so it’s kind of nice and then you usually come back home so it’s sort of wee family gathering usually so it is nice. But if you come over here ... One, part of your family is completely somewhere else and, second of all, because it’s a new country you don’t have a grave to go to so you are not going to all of a sudden go to a cemetery. You don’t know these people so you don’t bother normally, I don’t think. I’ve never done, but you would miss the gathering sort of thing ... and depending who you lost as well, if you’ve got close family that died or something you might feel particularly kind of homesick or whatever else because you would like to go but you can’t because you’re far too far away and not many people can afford possibly to go with a whole family because there is ... you know, All Saints’ Day: “I want to go to a grave.” It’s not good enough reason, sort of thing, to go to all the costs and things involved so I think it’s a thing that gets slightly ... not forgotten as such, but because necessities like what you have to do, you go to work and school and blah, blah, blah, all the kind of stuff if you live here ... this is sort of not much of a priority, although I think quite a few people ... I don’t know if they miss it because it’s sort of maybe the wrong word but, you know, it’s something that happens regularly in Poland, then all of a sudden you can’t do it. But I don’t know if you can miss it. It’s a nice sight and nice that you go and see your family but at the same time you go to the graves which obviously means that you’ve lost someone and that is not the sort of thing to miss. Maybe ... No, it’s kind of hard to explain but I think the people here don’t think about it too much because ... well, they don’t have the graves for a start so that’s that and Halloween came to Poland as well a few years ago and it started being quite a sort of ... It’s a fun thing for kids anyway. It’s slightly ... maybe not overshadowed the All Saints’ Day but it’s not like ... If there was nothing like that at all, you know, no Halloween there at all, just the All Saints’ Day and that would be terrible, as in that would be sort of missed more, but because the Halloween came to Poland as well so you sort of do a part of it because you do the Halloween here and it seems more fun because ... I don’t think about it and I don’t think many Poles do. Because the Halloween happens anyway so ... You don’t have the graves to go to, unless somebody recently has lost someone and then they might feel the need. That’s a completely different thing then.