Christmas in Poland: An ambivalent experience

Christmas in Poland is pretty nice, isn’t it?  Whether one is Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant or atheist but with traditional families, one faces a feast of good food and colour.


While I am not the biggest fan of cabbage and wild mushrooms there are plenty good things about Christmas in Poland for me.  Most people here look forward to Christmas as a time of spending time with the family, having good food and perhaps a nice service or two at church.

The thing is, Christmas in Poland is not totally good.  Of course, like anywhere tensions within families can spoil the occasion.  I wish however to concentrate on something else: Behind all the nice things we see on our tables and in our rooms can lie a lot of stress, a stress that leads some to dread Christmas.  A lot of this stress appears to be that which some women face.

Here we are talking about subjective things, of course.  Doubtless there are some women reading this in Poland who find Christmas to be a non-stop time of joy and light.  The experience of one is not the experience of all.*  I have heard from many people of Christmas as being a terrible time that they want to finish as soon as possible.  Or I have heard about many people who enjoy the food and everything, but hate the preparations.  The figure of dread is often the mother, who demands that their children do a lot of work, coming to their parents’ homes early, spending hours in the kitchen.  While the food we eat requires work, it seems that a great degree of pressure is placed upon people by their mothers.  In fact, these mothers also feel under immense pressure.

Here I wish to talk about gender***.  Why are such women under such pressure?  It is to be expected that good food and occasions require preparation.  For some, though, the preparation seems to involve a lot of problems, problems which one really doesn’t have to have.  Here it appears that this pressure has diffuse sources, from individual family members (of both sexes) or generally from society in Poland that expects such work.  If there is pressure, then, where are the men?  I have heard stories of men being unwilling to tolerate the tension at home and meeting with friends and going drinking.  From the accounts of Christmas I have heard men appear to play a little role.

Here some will then talk of male “laziness”.  This may be true with some.  I would go further, though.  I have the impression that some women don’t trust others to do the preparations, and want to either do it themselves or with their (harassed) daughters.  To tell the truth, in my household I didn’t cook anything for Christmas Eve (before anyone starts, it was I who had intensively tidied and cleaned the flat, brought and decorated the tree and then cooked most food alone on Christmas Day, where I cooked a Welsh breakfast and Christmas Dinner), partly because of space limits in the kitchen but also because they (my wife and her mother) knew what they were doing, they trusted themselves and wanted to do the work themselves.  I  can understand that some men do little because their wives prefer it that way.

This issue is more than about Christmas.  It can appear “normal”, or “natural” that the great majority of housework done is by women.  The man is pressured to earn money, be tough and when cooking to barbeque meat (how ghastly).  “Soft” things like cooking and cleaning will result in them looking “feminine” or (a word I often hear here) a “faggot”.

Men are not passive victims of this though.  In her book “The culture of dominance, texts to foreignness and power” (Dominanzkultur, Texte zu Fremdheit und Macht) Birgit Rommelspracher speaks of how while “top-down” abuses (such as apartheid) show dominance clearly, dominance is also shown in the concept of normality.  Societal rules are not accidental but the results of decisions taken by those who benefit from them, which may sometimes mean men, sometimes, people with white skin (of both sexes), people who are Christian or people who are heterosexual.  In many complex ways we, the citizens of Poland exercise power, a power expressed through what we consider to be normal.  Therefore, for example the woman who wouldn’t want to cook Christmas food one year would be seen as being not normal and face bother.  Normality can be oppressive.

That men in Poland are more likely to earn more, to be valued and treated with respect shows that we benefit from some kind of societal rule.  That our wives/girlfriends/family members are very stressed with this shows the flipside to this situation****.  Someone has to do the work.

Where does this leave us?  Men offering to do more?  As I said, some women don’t want this.  No, if, and it’s a big if, if women want less stress, they could delegate some tasks.  (Or even decide to order a pizza and be done with the whole business.)  This would involve women giving up some of their power at home.  (Rommelspacher says such a power is relative.)

Yes, I know that not all women in Poland have stress at Christmas, or that they find the stress to be too much.  Just talking from what I’ve heard.  Those who haven’t complained about stress haven’t of course drawn attention to their stress.

Anyway, what do you think?

* Once in Wales I got talking with a lad born in England who had a Polish-sounding surname, as his grandfather was Polish.  He told me he was bullied at school because of having a “foreign” surname.  I told someone born to Polish parents abroad that I may wish to name my children with “international” names to avoid this problem (should my wife and I move to GB or somewhere) and this person said that I don’t have anything to worry about as they hadn’t had any problems.

** An attachment to tradition regardless of the costs involved results in part, I believe, from historical trauma in Poland, something I plan to write about over a series of articles on my other blog.

*** I don’t mean “sex” of course.  Sex is biological and gender is socially determined.  Of course, the open question arises as to whether sex is also socially determined, and that outside of impregnation, childbirth and breast-feeding men and women are the same and capable of doing the same.

**** As does the greater rates of homelessness, chances of being in prison, possibility of mental health issues and lower life expectancy of males.

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International Men’s Day. Positive male role models.

You probably haven’t heard of this day which happens tomorrow (November the 19th).  With this article I was wondering whether to go down the “justifying International Men’s Day by pointing out shocking statistics of male suicide, domestic violence against men and cancer among men” route, or whether to exhort fellow biological males to find fulfillment not in violence but in a healthy concern for diversity in ones local area, but I’ve written many very serious articles lately, and this is the wroclaw warbler, so I thought I’d concentrate on something less serious and talk about positive male role models or things that I consider to be vaguely male.

For positive male role models are important.  As regularly readers will probably know of me by now, a healthy sense of criticism regarding the self or the social group that one belongs to is important, but a sense that there is a sense of goodness to fundamental parts of identity is also important at the same time.  While it is important to give attention to the excellent things done by many women to overcome the imbalance over centuries, let’s not forget the kick-arse stuff that many men do.

So, for me, three people/things.

First of all, Bruce Dickinson.  He is one of my favourite singers.  Iron Maiden produce a music that provides a good outlet for the aggression that comes from testosterone and watching them live is for me the culmination of evolution (I am not exaggerating here).  He is a singer with an impressive range and excellent technique.  That he is operatically trained leads me to also use operatic methods in teaching singing to my clients.

Secondly, well, not a person but an activity, bird-watching.  Birds are of course both male and female, and an activity or inanimate thing cannot have a sex (despite what various New Age people will tell you).  However, I will offer that men face less pressure to be social, and while bird-watching is better with others it can be done alone.  I find it dead calming to be quiet as I try to watch a bird, trying to work out what it is, just me, the sea, the rocks, the air and whatever this bloody bird is.  Whether men face less pressure to be sociable is true or not, bird-watching is ace.

Thirdly, Kenny Dalglish.  Not only was he an excellent player and manger, but he is also an excellent man.  The way in which he supported the families of Liverpool fans who died at the Hillsborough disaster and their subsequent fight for justice makes him someone in football beyond all others.  He was vilified by various people recently because of his support for Luis Suarez, but for me that showed his character of being prepared to be vilified, as he believed what Suarez had said.  Whatever one thinks of that, he is a man who represents decency, loyalty and support, shown in 1989 and beyond.

What positive male models/vaguely male activities do you have?

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Review of Drip of Lies and Heartless gig in Wrocław

Through the website of the excellent We Are Idols I got introduced to the excellent Drip of Lies, a band from Warsaw.  Therefore when they came to Wrocław this week I had to go along.

They are described as a metal/hardcore/crust crossover.  To tell the truth I didn’t know what crust meant (I associate it with The Levellers) and a brief perusal of the internet tells me that it is associated with being political, badass, non-conformity, vegan/vegetarian, squatting, anti-racism, anti-sexism and wearing black.  So, good things then.  This was made clear by the singers mention of the counter-protest against the “march of patriots”, something which I’ve written about a lot on my other blog.

My political sympathies aside I was very impressed with Drip of Lies.  Their songs possess clear quality craftsmanship and are played by people who are musically accomplished.

As should be obvious, I am a hardcore/crust wool who knows very little about the genre, having been a metal fan since 1988.  How to describe them?  Well, for me they are metal in terms of having different sequences with a song with melodic parts, have a groove that gets the head bopping, and have in addition an abrasiveness that is quite, well, pleasant, if you get what I mean.  One can hear them here.

After the concert I bought their eponymous album from 2010, and plan to review it at some stage (yes, I know, it’s a bit late.  Next in the sequence will be the new album from The Beatles called “Abbey Road”).

The headliners were Heartless, from America.  To be honest, it wasn’t easy to follow after Drip of Lies, especially considering that Drip of Lies are known in Wroclaw, but they did well.  I am not sure how many people had heard of them, but they were heard by an increasingly appreciative audience.

They played a very excellent and heavy set that is nicely aggressive when its quick, and when they slow down remind me just a bit of Pantera in their slower moments, unleashing the head in a reflected and intense headbang.  They are a band to look out for.  One can hear their music here.  If you live in Aachen or Giessen they’re playing there this week.

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Review of Cafe Pestka

Wrocław has seen changes since I moved here over four years ago.  Then there were only two places to get warm vegetarian food, one where one could get vegan food, and only one place where one could buy Fair Trade goods, a place which wasn’t even always open.

Then came Falanster and since then there has been, well not a flood, but at least a decent-sized waves of places opened by people younger than 35 (basically, many of the good initiatives in Wrocław are done by people in that age group) with decent food as well as Fair Trade produce, one of which being Cafe Rozrusznik, and the most recent one being Cafe Pestka (“pestka” means the stone one gets in things like cherries and plums).


It’s on the corner of Wincentego and Trzebnicka, quite close to the Nadodze train station, i.e. it’s easily accessible.  The local area is somewhat run down (though Rita Baum do some cool stuff there) so this is an interesting addition to the area.

The deco is fairly pleasant to the eye and it was a decent size.  I have to admit to not being a big drinker of coffee but enjoyed mine.  I was with someone who had a cappuccino and that tasted good as well.  They had the standard coffees (espresso, americano, latte, white) as well as a few involving different techniques of making coffee.  They also had some (vegan) biccies that I found to be well nice.

The teas (and, if I recall correctly some of the cakes) were Fair Trade products.  Everything else was bought via Direct Trade.

One thing I appreciated was not just the friendly service but also the fact that the staff knew their stuff about coffee.  Many more visited cafes (like in the city centre) have staff who do as much as their jobs requires them and don’t show a love for what they do, but here I felt that they enjoy what they are doing, and this is something which transmits a good atmosphere.  Additionally, the guy serving us spoke fairly slowly and clearly, something I as someone who isn’t fluent in Polish appreciates, as he didn’t jabber his way through the sentence trying to finish it as soon as possible like many do.

I recommend the place.  I prefer going out in that kind of place as it’s outside of the trendy area of town and it’s worth going there, also to check out the local area.

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Review of “Powerless” by We Are Idols

What with the upcoming “Call for Uniteeh” concert in Wrocław this Saturday (the 20th of October) I thought I’d offer you a review of last album of one of the bands, We Are Idols.

Yes, I know, the album came out about eight months ago.  Well better late than never.  As I’ve said before, I discovered them by accident while attending Asymmetry this year and saw them a second time and was impressed so much that I went and bought this album.

But first, a brief (slightly pretentious) reflection on attachments to bands.  You see, I believe that people don’t always like music because of the music itself.  Look at how people in their 30s or older react to songs they knew when they were younger.  They have a good time, but part of it is actually about reliving youthful good memories.  Sometimes the song isn’t good, sometimes it was good but is now dated.  Our attachment to music is more than being about the music itself.  I have seen many young people move to Germany (where I sometimes work, before anyone gets paranoid)  and start liking any old shite band, just because they associate the music with having a good time, and with their friends there who like the same music.

We Are Idols are however a very good band, and one that migrants to Poland should check out; indeed, not just migrants.  I have given then time as they are from Wrocław and this has been time well invested.  They are like for me that which I like in Wrocław that is energetic, hard and fuck-you to conformity (man).  They’re like “Lwówek” or “Amber Pszeniczne”, excellent Polish beers that many people don’t know but should.


So, the album.  It kicks off with the heavy-hitting “Generation Back”.  It starts off at a quick pace, before turning into a Helmet-like heavy slow riffing which I remember got heads moving when I saw them live.  A good beginning.  This is followed by another fast-paced 4/4 song: “Into Despair” which contains some good riffing before turning into a slightly Iron Maidenesque upturn in speed with a solo, before some more crunchy riffs to end with.

“Powerless” starts off with a slow riff before going into classic metal/hardcore territory (Suicidal Tendencies fans should approve).  “Lonesom Freedom” follows that with a mid-paced rhythm and a nicely melodic chorus.  The beginning to the next song”Triangle” reminds me of “Crucify” by the The Almighty.  I doubt We Are Idols have heard of the Scottish rock’nroll’n’metal’n’hardcore outfit, but this song does contain a similar crossover style.

One of my favourite songs by them, “The Eye” follows.  A nicely melodic song that when I’ve seen live goes down a treat.  It contains, like many of their songs an interesting progression within songs, this starting with a rocker before going more reflective towards the end with a nice shouty chorus.

“Modernity and the Holocaust” builds up a nice bit of tension at the start before giving us a nice bit of thrash.  Me being me I like the “Europe was built on mass graves” bit.  “Vanity” is a fastish shouter.  “Weight of Bombs” is mid-paced and contains a nicely melodic chorus.  “Bones of Dogs” is another rocker.  The closer “Guilt” starts off with promise of guitars to come and turns into a noisy rocker, ending the album with a good ol’fashioned guitar solo.

Generally speaking the band contain some quality guitar riffing and solos ably supported by the rhythm section and the singer who manages to be distinctive.  “Powerless” may contain a few songs that don’t stick in my mind, but songs like “Generation Back”, “Into Despair”, “The Eye” and “Modernity and the Holocaust” are excellent songs.  I recommend fans of metal/hardcore crossovers as well as residents of Wrocław to check this band out.  Here you can listen to the album (of course, you know that you will support independent non-commercial music in Poland by buying it :)).

Here you can also listen to their new EP, which contains four covers.  As a fan of Judas Priest I was a bit taken aback by their cover of “Breaking the law” as the Halford melodic line is so strong, but the version is interesting and the “Breaking the law, breaking the law” repeated ending enables We Are Idols to bring out its shouty-let’s-go-and-fuck-the-police (by which I don’t mean sexually) potential.

I hope you see you at the gig.  For only 15 złoty you can see them, as well as other Polish hardcore/metalcore bands, Reality Check, Last Dayz and Sailor’s Grave.

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Review: El Schlong and Guantanamo party program

Last Friday (the 22nd of June) I, distracted somewhat by the Greece-Germany game attended a concert at the Alive club.

First up was Guantanamo party program.  They’re a band who have been described as being “post-metal” as well as “apocalyptic hardcore” (I’ve heard the band described as being “emo-core” as well).  As someone who is a hardcore wool (someone who says he’s a fan but really doesn’t know much about the culture of the thing he likes) I’m not so good on labels; I’ll just describe them as playing heavy slow music with screaming.  Whatever label you wish to put onto them, I found them to be alright.  They play melodic moody music, music to keep the attention.  They play technically well, and I was impressed with their vocalist Dariusz Liboski.

Check out their music here.

The headline band was El Schlong.  I was recommended to attend this concert by a member of the band herself, who wrote on this blog (I’m all for people recommending me to attend their concerts, as long as they’re not some pop shite.  This blog doesn’t have the biggest readership, but every little bit helps).  They describe themselves as being “avant-metal”, a label which they give to themselves largely as they don’t really fit into any label, being a mix of styles.   They have growly-type vocals with occasional singing.  I found them to be very listenable; intelligent music that involved some heavy riffing but also some slower melodic unorthodox sections.  Each member of the three-piece were skillful players.

The atmosphere was fairly OK, they appeared to have had some friends from New Zealand (where they hail from, though they now live in Berlin) who made a bit of noise.  This wasn’t a barnstorming gig.  A brief perusal of their songs live on youtube shows that they are a band which inspires action in a crowd.  I guess that Wrocław’s gig saw them with people unfamiliar with their music and style.  Certainly, all I did myself was sit and nod my head to their music, so I didn’t myself contribute to the atmosphere, lazy bastard sheep that I am.  (Their most rocking-out song saw a man go and stand in front of the headbangers and take ages to do photos, thus providing an unwelcome distraction.  I’ve no bother with photos in gigs, but people can distract from the atmosphere if they block other people or take too long.)

In short, they’re a band worth looking at.  On their well-constructed (like their music) website you can see their biography and listen to plenty of their music.  They have a page on Facebook, something useful for Berliners, seeing as the band live there and presumably do gigs there.

In the end Greece lost to Germany.  In solidarity with Greece I went to Pita Pan and had a pita with feta cheese, black olives and chips; a concoction I put together to avoid meat, and it was very tasty.

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A guide to beer in Poland

Someone who blogs tends to be someone who is angry (and/or arrogant) enough to believe that they should try to influence it in some way.  On my other blog I write about more serious matters.  Here I try to keep things to the fun level.  Now, there’s one subject that is fun for me, that however I am as firm in my views about as I am about the other stuff I write about: Good beer.

Earlier this year I came across an article written for Irish football fans (can’t remember the link), whereby the sentence “Poland is rightfully not well known for its beer” was included.  The article went on to review Żywiec, Tyskie, Warka, Żubr and Lech, going on to say that Tyskie is the best beer of the lot.  Certainly, these beers are the ones most commonly sold in shops and bars and are the ones most commonly drunk in Poland.  Let me tell you though, these beers are some of the worst beers that are drunk in Poland.  There are some bargain-bucket type beers, the type of beers drunk by alcoholics, ones that cost less than 2 złoty; those are worse beers.

However, there are plenty good beers drunk in Poland that are massively better:

From Lower Silesia we have the Lwówek brewery, and they produce a very nice lager called Lwówek.  It’s not a water-with-alcoholic-flavour type of beer like the aforementioned beers, rather, it has a body, and a nice taste.  There are also Lwówek Ksiąźęcy (a slightly sweeter and heavier variant) and Lwówek Ratuszowy (a more ale-like beer).

The brewery also do the cheap but good Wrocławskie.

Ciechan produce a good range of beers, including the standard beer Ciechan Wyborne (fairly tasty), Ciechan Miodowy (with honey, a very nice beer), Ciechan Mocne (strong), Ciechan Porter (a sweet dark beer) and a Ciechan Stout.

From the Fortuna brewery a number of very nice beers can be brought, the Miłosław Pilzner (a light ale, enough to leave an aftertaste.  Slight hint of sweetness, though with a mix of peppery undertones), Fortuna Czarna (black sweet), Fortuna Wiśniowa (cherry beer), Fortuna Miodowa (learn this word, it means “Honey beer”), Miłosław Przeniczne (another word to learn, it means “wheat beer”) and Miłosław Kożlak (a dark beer).

Namysłów is a cheap beer (costs about 2:10 złoty) but is quite good.  It’s a lager with body and a nice aftertaste.

From the Amber brewery (which appears to be in the north, in that the website includes a Kaszubian translation) we have a number of excellent beers that are more or less readily available: Żywe (a very nice unpasturised beer with a strong body), Kożlak (again, a sweet dark beer) and Grand Imperial Porter (a dark beer, though less sweet).  They also do a nice Amber Pszeniczniak:

From Olsztyn we have Komoron.  That’s another dark beer that is lighter than, say, the various Kożlak beers, but still worth a drink.

Okocim is a fairly mainstream lager, but I am a great fan of their Okocim Pszeniczne.  It’s a sweetish-wheatbeer with body.

From Cieczyn we have the excellent lager that is Brackie

It’s a lager with a body and a very nice aftertaste.  Worth trying if you can get hold of it.

Perła, the beer of young people who like to leave the empty bottles lying in nature, is not bad.

Recently I went to a party in a pub where they only had Żywiec.  I stayed clear of the lager, and was glad to see that they also had their very nice Żywiec Porter and their Żywiec Bock (a sweeter heavier darker variant).

Now notice that I didn’t label this article as “Polish beer”.  There are plenty good beers in Poland that one can buy which are not brewed in Poland.  Ignoring the well known good beers like Paulaner Weissbier and Guinness, there are some lesser well known beers:

From the Czech Republic we have Staropramen, a light beer with a crunchy taste.  Kruśovice, one of my favourite dark beers also tends to be available in good places.

From the Ukraine we have Obolon.

Their wheat beer “Obolon Bile” (Bile means “white”, not bile, that’d be disgusting) is one of my favourite wheat beers full stop, really, I’d put if up there with Paulanar and Augustinier Weissbier.  Otherwise Obolon do a fairly nice lager.

Perhaps you know some other beers you’d recommend in the comments underneath?

Where, then, to buy these beers?  Here in Wrocław we are lucky in having the shop Piwosz on Zieromskiego, a shop with loads of selection and also a friendly service.

For bars there are Zakład Usług Piwnych and Academus by St. Elizabeth’s church in town.

In Kraków there’s the House of Beer.

I’d fully recommend that you try these beers out.  Slowly more and more people in Poland are drinking better beers, and this means that even the local small shops is beginning to sell good beers, and not just the big five.

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