POLAND: Stop Staring At Me!

Many Polish people have only seen black people on television or in movies or in other media they are fed. Here, a billboard in Gdansk, Poland. I was actually once asked on the street if I am Jamie Foxx

Many Polish people have only seen black people on television or in movies or in other media they are fed. Here, a billboard in Gdansk, Poland. I was actually once asked on the street if I am Jamie Foxx

I have traveled to a lot of places around the world and I know that even in an interconnected world made smaller by mass communication, transportation and technological advances, in this the 21st Century there are people on Earth who have never laid eyes on a black person.  I accept that I remain “exotic” in many corners of the world. The reaction I get from those persons who are coming in contact with a black person seemingly for the first time ranges from smiles to frowns. Sometimes there’s lighthearted laughter, sometimes visible anger. No matter, all stare, some quietly while others go one step further and make racist comments or gestures. As a person who has been privilege to travel the globe, I can accurately and confidently report that racism is alive and well just about everywhere in the world, thanks in large part to those very same communication and technological advances that have been the engines of the global economy.

In South America, with large numbers of people of African descent, I still got stares, mainly because people could tell I was a foreigner and they were simply curious about me and where I had come from. In Asia, the stares came because I was the exotic one, not them. I was indirectly the cause of a bicycle pileup in Beijing, China, because dozens of Chinese cyclist  transporting all sorts of goods were riding their bikes and simultaneously staring at me. The result, a huge crash involving several bicycles. In some countries and towns more than others, the stares were epic. Some acted as if  they had seen a ghost or an alien. Others dared to approach to chat and ask questions – some of those questions very telling about the individuals themselves, mainly about their lack of education. They were also very telling in general about television and mass media having done a very good job at exporting racial stereotypes to places where masses of people had never seen a black person – at least not in real life. On a constant basis as I travel, I hear and try to dispel generalizations about whole groups of people conceived in Hollywood for overseas consumption. Some are open to hear. Others are unapproachable.

When I came to Europe – and I have been to Europe many times – I never expected to draw stares. It’s simply something that has never happened in places such as London, Paris, Rome and many other cities where they are accustomed to seeing people from other ethnic groups and nationalities. In such cities, people are long over being surprised when they see a black person – or a person of any other ethnicity, for that matter – on the street or on public transport. Most of Europe is enlightened. That’s not the case in Poland.

There is beauty in diversity

There is beauty in diversity

Poland, Poland, Poland. What can I say about Poland? What I can say is that I generally like the country and the people I’ve met along the way. They are travelers and are among a new breed of Poles who embrace and relish ethnic differences. In Poland I now count so many of them among my friends. They are truly the coolest. But they are a minority in a country that not so long ago was closed off to the rest of the world. The communist kept Poland shuttered and sheltered. Travel was almost an impossibility. And visits by foreign tourists was unheard of. Then communism fell and the gates were flung open, and Poles began to travel – and the world began to discover Poland – and while there are black people in Poland, they are very few. You can go for days, sometimes weeks, without seeing a black person in some of Poland’s largest cities. And it is in these cities that Poles seem in shock – stunned, really – by people  they come across who are not white or don’t look anything like them.

I must say I have never experienced anything like what I have been experiencing in Poland for the past 6 months. If you are black and you walk the streets of Warsaw – the capital, Poland’s largest metropolis – the stares are so intense they would burn a hole through your brain if they packed such powers. Poland trumps any place I’ve ever been. It wins the staring contest hands down. Not even China has anything on Poland in this regard. If you look different in Poland, you will be stared at from the moment you leave your home to the moment you return. But in Poland, not all stares are alike or mean the same. Here are the main types of stares I’ve identified”

THE “WHAT THE  F*&^%$#@! IS IT!?”: This most of intense stare is usually from elderly people. They’ve lived long lives in a historically closed country and are beginning to see black people, some for the very first time. Their facial expression is one of pure fright. They look startled and barely blink, eyes wide open, their brains churning a mile a minute with so many thoughts, the first of which is very likely “WHAT THE HELL?!” No matter how you stare back, they will not look away. They are in a trance. Or maybe just in shock. Makes me want to go “BOO!” to force them out of it, but that would be mean. They are scared enough. I can just imagine the first thing they do when they get home is to report the sighting of what they believe was a black person to a spouse or closes kin or neighbor.

THE “I HATE YOU JUST BECAUSE”:  Oh, let’s not kid ourselves. Poland has its share of racists, hooligans, neo-Nazis, skinheads. Call them what you will. I’ve crossed paths with a few of them, but none of them have been gutsy enough to take it to the level of violence. But their brand of stare breathes fire. It’s one that says “I don’t like you…What are you doing in my country?” with a few racial epithets thrown in for good measure. The thing about these types: They are big cowards. They will only act in groups, which means if they are alone, they are not interested in a fair fight. They’d rather beat the crap out of people they outnumber. Alone, all they can muster are nasty stares.

Of all of this type I’ve come across in Poland, the one that has stuck with me is a guy on the metro. He was a big guy, more than 6-feet tall and beefy, but flabby. As soon as I boarded the train he locked his pale blue eyes on me. His stare was filled with such hate, he never once diverted his eyes away from me. Sometimes you feel someone’s staring at you and you look in that direction and sure enough. It was the same with this guy. At first I decided to ignore him, as I do so many of these starers. But then I felt his stares had shifted into high gear and an attempt to intimidate. And so I made the decision to look him directly in the eye with equal disdain. And when I did that, guess what? The mad hater looked away. Still, he from time to time would glance at me, and each time I caught him staring, he’d look away.

World-class cities act like it: Nobody cares if you're pink, black or blue in places such as Budapest and Krakow.

World-class cities act like it: In places such as Budapest and Krakow, who cares if you’re pink, black or blue. Some things are given much more thought, like whether to have your picnic in the park or on the living room floor.

When he brushed past me to leave the train, he gave me one last dirty look. And as the train rolled away, from the platform he telegraphed another mean look. Yeah, whatever, fool!

THE “IS IT TRUE WHAT THEY SAY?”: This from women and men who have sex on the brain. They believe the hype and think all black men have big you know whats. They inevitably are caught shifting their stares from above the waist to below. They usually sport a mild smile, as if to say “I’m cool with you, I’m interested down with it”. To them you are nothing more than a sexual fantasy. And given the right circumstance, you are perhaps their best hope of experiencing something possibly monumental. Seriously. You would not believe to what lengths some will go. Recently, one woman at a Starbucks tried just about everything to grab my attention and when I showed no interest – sorry, definitely not my type – she walked over to my table and bent over to expose her assets.  Oh-kay, got my attention, now what? As she left down a set of stairs with her chuckling girlfriend, she gave one last look with a big smile. Yeah, sister twister, you’re just the sort of girl I would take home to mother. Move along.

THE “ARE YOU JAY-Z?”: Yep, I’m Jay-Z riding a public bus in Poland with you, because I abhor my limo. This stare comes mainly from children, and teenagers to 20-somethings who think you are either a Hip Hop star, an NBA player, or just someone they’ve seen on television, in the movies or on MTV. Their stares usually looks like a mix of constipation and puzzlement, a struggle to recall where they may have seen you before. And don’t start speaking English. Then they will be completely convinced they saw you on BET – late-night.

Okay, so I get that I am the oddball in Poland and as my Polish friends like to gently put it,  “exotic” in a land of fair-skinned society still emerging as a player in Europe. And I understand that if I visit a small village I am guaranteed to draw curious stares. That I get. But that these stares happen in Warsaw, Poland’s capital and largest city, full of well-educated and well-traveled professionals, is beyond me. And it’s not just Warsaw. Many of Poland’s other large cities, same thing, with the exception of  Krakow, which seems comfortable with cultural and ethnic diversity perhaps because it’s a city that draws tourists by the millions and it’s teeming with university students from all parts, including from abroad.

It’s fascinating to me that if I go just across the border into say Berlin, Germany, the staring ceases. It just doesn’t happen there. My most recent trip to Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Bratislava, Slovakia; and Prague, Czech Republic, made this fact clear: Poland may be a member of the European Union, but it is anything but world-class in its behavior. I am told by my Polish friends that in Poland, staring is considered rude. But people still do it. They do it because they are not comfortable with people who look different. How do I know this with such certainty? Because not long ago, I was walking in the center of Warsaw and getting the usual stares. Then I caught up with a woman walking ahead of me. Suddenly, it was as if I did not exist. Everybody was staring at the woman, who was white and Polish. Nobody now seemed to notice  the black guy next to her. The woman was getting all the unwanted attention because she was a “little person”, and stood barely 4 feet tall. Her height difference was apparently more jarring than my ethnic difference. That was the moment I realized  that for the vast majority of Poles, the stares are less about racial differences, and more about people who simply are physically different… I think.

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79 thoughts on “POLAND: Stop Staring At Me!

  1. Pingback: Black Journalist in Poland Breaks Down Trump’s Visit | journal-isms.com

  2. Cullen

    Interesting read. Lived in Poland for a few years and I always marveled at the staring – and felt sympathy for ANY minority living there, but especially black people. I’ve lived in five countries and I met some cool people in Poland, but I’ve also never been anywhere – and I’ve travelled most of the world – with more openly racist, intolerant, and narrow minded people. Just being real.

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  3. Ayiti Represent Meussieu

    I am a black man from Haiti living in Canada and I just started traveling. I met a Polish girl in Portugal and didn’t know one thing about Poland before her. She carefully explain me some of the Polish etiquette and typical Polish stuff from the Kubota to Pierogi miammm delicious. We started talking and I never felt any negative behaviour from her thou she called me “nigga” once then I had to explain her how degrading it is because from a White European perspective or from what I’ve seen so far it is nothing wrong to call a black person that way simply because they see it or hear it over the Internet, only ignorance but now she understands the true meaning of that word. This article can be true as I met some Polish people traveling they are very curious so far I have never experience any racism but mainly stares especially from Woman, it’s not a problem for me anyway I will still go to Poland one day they are really interesting and joyful person really good article thanks a lot.

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  4. KZ

    I am Polish-Lebanese so I am considered Black in Poland. Regardless of speaking fluent Polish I have these “looks” all the time. I’m searching for materials to convince my Black boyfriend to come with me to Poland. He thinks that it’s dangerous for Black people there.

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  5. Harvinder singh

    Man, that was a very bad experience you had.
    I am a Sikh and my concern towards such incidents is high.
    I don’t know how they would take me there whether as Sikh or a mistaken identity(as Muslim).
    But I don’t get it, shy they just don’t come closer to get their doubts clear that we all are made up same blood and bone.
    To hell with the color and race,
    Seriously we are defying the god’s color and creation.

    Harvin sing wazir

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  6. thanks for this! i know a lot of these things are kind of luck of the draw. you had fun in prague while another black blogger i follow had a terrible time. i was fine in italy and a friend of mine will never go back…either way its good to get an idea of what you might encounter! also its truly brave to talk about racism these days. a lot of people don’t want to admit it exists and persists

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    • You are absolutely right. Sometimes it’s all about timing; you’re in the right place at the wrong time and your experience is a whole lot different. Such is travel.
      Mike

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  7. TB

    I’m a 60 year old black female with hazel looking eyes and will be traveling alone to Krakow in 2017. I’m pretty adventurous and want to explore the city and their fancy restaurants. After reading all of the comments about the stares, I wonder if I take photos of people that are staring at me, will that create a problem? I have traveled alone to other eastern European cities (Prague, Vienna, Berlin) and had no problems, not even stares. My main concern is safety, but I wonder should I waste my time in Poland?

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    • As I wrote about Kraków, you will hardly get any stares there. The place is overrun by tourists and locals are used to seeing people of all races. They’re too busy and focused to spend time staring. Having said that, you might be inciting trouble taking pictures of people without their consent, especially in a country with the history of Poland, in which neighbors spied on neighbors. Some may wonder what you intend to do with their photo.

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    • And as for Poland, I think it’s worth a visit. Loads of history there, particularly in regards to WWII and the Holocaust and the fall of communism and the Soviet bloc. Beyond that, it’s just an interesting place with natural beauty, longest this, biggest that, etc; and yes, the people are relatively friendly if you first show yourself friendly.

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    • Górnik

      I think you’ll be fine… just don’t take pictures of people like that. I don’t think that would be OK anywhere in Europe. I found people in Kraków to be so impatient, but such is a big city. Gdańsk was the same. I’m sure you’re used to people being in a rush so Kraków shouldn’t phase you.

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      • Brad

        Not sure if this is still active, but I am African American and traveling with my Polish wife and our son to Augustow? Any experiences there?

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        • I did no travel to that region, and for good reason. The eastern part of Poland is known neo-nazi, skinhead turf. Now, You may go there and encounter no trouble – it’s a gamble. I can’t speak specifically about Augustow, again having never been there, but racist and anti-Semitic incidents in nearby Bialystok are well documented. My Polish friends warned me about Eastern Poland. At minimum you will encounter stares, especially in small towns. My aim is not to discourage. You should do your own research.

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    • In Krakow, ppl hardly stare at any one … unless you are dressed up…. and I hate dressing up. what does hazel eyes have to do with being stared at in krakow? they be staring @ ur eyes… believe me.

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  8. Górnik

    I am of South Asian ethnicity and I just visited Poland for 10 days by myself in various cities north and south. My appearance is fairly neutral, but I have dark skin and I look obviously different, anything from Turkish to Arab to Indian. I was stared at by one guy on the plane there, and the border guard gave me a slight look and didn’t say a word to me despite me greeting him in Polish. I was very tense after my plane journey because I expected these two things to become the norm. But guys, I am telling you, in 10 days and and 11 cities, I attracted hardly any stares at all. In fact a total vacuum of stares. I was even starting to become uncomfortable because of how people WEREN’T staring at me, because I had expected it. It’s like I was invisible. More than that no one at all mentioned it, not even the various Poles who hosted me including a couple in their 60’s. At no point in Poland did I feel like I was being treated differently, not even for a second, and this is something I’m very sensitive about. In fact everyone I came across assumed I was Polish unless I said something, because Poland has very set rules about greetings which I don’t like, people could tell straight away only if I didn’t greet them in the exact correct way, or by my grammar.

    What I did notice overall in Poland was that people are a lot more uniform and homogenous. I don’t just mean ethnically, but everyone seems to dress the same, have the same hair or beard styles, the same overall appearance. Poland is VERY metropolitan but not cosmopolitan, it seems. They seem to be very into conformity. I can see how anyone who looks too different would stand out there. Any sign of homosexuality in particular is a big no-no, despite the metropolitan atmosphere and high fashion standards for men and women.

    I feel good about my experience because I’ve always been a bit odd and stood out from the crowd in several ways, ethnicity being only one of them. It seems ironic that in Poland, a place known for racism (which I’ve seen myself online in abundance), I was virtually invisible and just another one of the crowd. The fact that no one even mentioned my ethnicity is a marvel, because even in native Scotland/UK it gets brought up a lot.

    However I know that black people can have a weird time in Poland. I only saw one black person in Wrocław who seemed just fine, and another black woman in Kraków. I am very sorry that black people, by simple virtue of their ethnicity, experience the largest proportion of racism across the widest geographical locations. It’s really unfair and the world simply needs to get over it. I’ve heard some Poles casually talk about black people in horrible terms which I’ve never heard elsewhere… even gay liberal students from Warszawa. If I live a thousand years I think I’ll never understand why blacks absorb the greatest amount of hatred worldwide, especially in Poland where they have zero history with Africans and thus no logical reason to be prejudiced. I respect any black person which chooses to travel and go through all of this unnecessary nonsense.

    But hey, if you’re black and decide to visit Poland, don’t worry about the stares. I saw little to no evidence of crime or violence in Poland, in fact I felt safer there than I do in my own liberal western country. If someone is staring and it bothers you, just stare back and they’ll stop. The Poles really seem conservative about interacting with strangers in general, and they seem to value order. My advice would be to just act like you belong there, speak a little Polish, and try to relax, because if you are tense then people will around you will be tense..

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joanna

      Górnik, I am Polish and I have just read your comment with great interest and sadness. thank you so much for sharing your observations and thoughts with us. As a Pole, I am very depressed by what you have said about the attitude of some Poles (including some gay liberal students !) towards Black people. I have been often wondering why anti-Black racism is so strong in Poland, and I think that it is at least partly due to the fact that many Poles are very frustrated and secretly hate themselves, and to their inferiority complex towards the West. When a Pole says racist things and others smile, laugh or say nothing, s/he feels more powerful and part of a community … I think that racism of this kind – deep, cruel contempt for Black people – is a socially sanctioned form of sadism. It exists in the US, too (the racist jokes exchanged via e-mail by police officers and court officials in Ferguson are a good example: http://www.vox.com/2015/3/4/8149699/ferguson-police-racist-jokes), but it is less hidden in Poland.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Poor Indian soul spouting non sequitors in order to make himself feel better than the so called “black race”…….listen child, I happen to live in Warsaw and the waves of the “south asians” here has attracted so much hatred and indifference than your childish attempts at empathising with blacks .. First being the fact that they hardly ever learn the language and therefore fail to integrate, something that people frown upon . In addition , they hardly even communicate in good English and have no manners. They shamelessly like to flock together like sheep while speaking on top of their voices in their alien dialects yet we know they are economic refugees like any other person here

      Liked by 1 person

      • Górnik

        Speaking of non-sequitors, your rant seems a bit overly charged…. I am not a platform for your dislike of South Asians, quite simply I’m not invested and don’t care, and you really didn’t add to or extend upon anything I said, you simply ranted. Those are your issues and I suggest you take them up with the people you claim are causing you such problems. Doing it over the internet to random strangers is kind of pathetic, but no worries because I have seen it in abundance from what I can only assume is a bitter, insecure minority of Poles. And also, I am not Indian.

        Don’t worry, I also empathize with all those poor unfortunate Poles. The fact that they opportunistically surged into my country by the millions is enough to label them… what do you call them… “economic refugees” ? At least the South Asians came here upon invitation to help rebuild a crumbling country after the war/s. The Poles are here just to make money and send it back to Poland… not exactly a win-win situation I can guarantee that whatever issues you think you have with a few thousand immigrants is nothing in comparison to the economic and housing detriment the Poles and other Eastern Europeans so inconsiderately inflicted upon Western Europe. I hope that your woes of occasionally passing linguistically-challenged South Asians on the street are over soon, it does sound like such a hardship. And I will also find a way to cope with the fact that housing in my country and city is scarce and very expensive, in no small part thanks to an uncountable number of Poles (yes, the number of immigrating Poles is literally beyond measure, we only have estimates).

        Hang in there you brave soul. I won’t bother to reply again unless you choose to both grow up and grow a pair.

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      • Górnik

        Alright, after some thought I think I can guess that you are Kenyan or similar, and found my comments to be condescending. Maybe you should just say that instead of saying… whatever it is you were trying to say in that backwards way. Just FYI trying to condescend an intelligent person such as myself based on ethnicity isn’t going to work. My self-worth is not tied in to my ethnicity. Next time just state your grievance instead of adding to the problem.

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    • dude, i don’t about that crap. I come to Krakow, katowice, Wroclaw and poznan every year.. Only problems are the one I make by being impatient… i have a friend from oklahoma teaching in Lodz . she is black in every sense… not oreo at all. no problems for her either..

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  9. Bikg_Broda_Mike

    If staring at you bothers you so much and you call it racism, than if a white person comes to Africa and Black people also stare at him, touch his hair etc, would you call that racism? No? If you say no, than you are an ignorant.

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    • Roni

      Bikg_Broda_Mike. YOU are the idiot. What a moronic statement. There are places called schools. You need to begin on the elementary level with a subject called World History. …”if a white person comes to Africa”… Dumb ass, you are still watching Tarzan movies.

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  10. Wow, Mik, thanks for this. My fiance and I plan to live in Poland. I am a black girl currently in Kenya, and my fiance is white British, but was porn in Poland to polish parents who left for England when he was 5. We have a baby on the way and plan to live in Poland as it is hard to go into the UK and my fiance does not like Kenya. Thing is, we plan to live in a small town, not Warsaw, krakow or Poznan or any other big city, my fiance plans to work in a farm in the east, near a very small town called Szczecinek. I wonder how i will be stared at and people will hink am alien as it is a very remote part of Poland.
    Did you ever get to visit the remote villages? How did it go?

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    • I’m Kenyan in Poland (not married though) had a similar case before with a cousin of mine. I can tell you without a twinge of doubt that your marriage is heading for the rocks if this is not solved really quick . Your fiance clearly wants to be close to his family (or ancestors) now that he has been ‘missing’ on the chance and as you can see you won’t deter him from doing whatever even with the Britain thingy (which assumably would be neutral ground for all of you for the multicultural benefits it might have over Poland)-Poles thrive in Britain so do Blacks to say the least .How could he only stand a few years with you in your (my) country and not like it and expect the same of you? Here i smell a rat. He knows you have been staying with your family he feels validated to be to be left to live with his own family too. Worried most about the language barrier , it will be so severe to get around literally anything while in Poland now that you will be going to a rural place. Hospitals, most Government offices speak only Polish. You will get depressed and homesick and your fiance wouldn’t be able to do much about piecing you up together at this stage after losing friendships you have built over the years. After all he will be home. Whatever wrongs you might go through will almost be residually xenophobic this is from my own experience. Have yourself a giveaway of one year to experiment. If it goes well fine but don’t get trapped in this. Best

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jaz

      Well, finding this blog was very enlightening and this helped me understand the staring thing better. I’ve tried asking people about it and they had no idea what I was talking about.

      I’m biracial (Black/White) and from Flint Michigan. My fiancee is Polish and from Tczew. I’ve lived with him for the last year and half in Tczew. Plus we are both pretty awkward as autistic adults.

      I get the stare down every time I go outside. Even small children and babies do it. It is eery. I sometimes I stare back to see what happens, and surprisingly people don’t flinch with the staring. I’ve tried to greet them in Polish with a friendly Dzień dobry and a smile, most still just stare, unfazed. Eye contact is a straining feat as an autistic, no matter how high functioning, so I mostly just pretend I am aloof or reading something on my way to the store. The stares are far more intense when I wear my hair natural and fluffed out, it was a huge mess trying to find hair product because most stores only sell shampoo. Even though they have American brands of hair product, they only carry the shampoo of them most of the time.

      I found a store in the local market that only sold salon hair product and randomly they had this one:
      http://cdn1.bigcommerce.com/server600/gdv8t3h/products/4785/images/5427/31sHGtBz5jL1__57381.1378329087.386.513.jpg?c=2

      Eventually I did find some conditioner in Kaufland that worked out just as well, but I went through easily several months of bad hair days trying to find a conditioner that worked.

      Also being obese as a young person REALLY attracts some stares. When I got here I did weigh 300 lbs., 136 kg, and the stores are always tightly packed and disorganized. There is never any room to stand to one side, even if I was fit again. I have never felt so claustrophobic.

      My partner is actually stared at too, even harassed by his peers and family because he was different. People assumed fully that he acted that way for attention. At least around here, many people are not friendly towards even physical disabilities, much less invisible ones. We tried going to a gaming event that we were invited to just this last weekend and everyone distanced themselves to stare at us with their drinks at hand. That “kill it with fire” kind of stare. Apparently many of them were underaged drinkers and someone went out of their way to mix them up a cocktail. It got noticeably more lively the second he and I left, we were only there for 45 minutes. There are laws against underaged drinking, but they are not at all reinforced. In fact I barely even see police at all, or even traffic stops and people are horrible drivers. It is like playing frogger on hard mode but with your life.

      People are also very comfortable with saying some fairly racist things about black people around here. The logic with that, from how my partner explained it is, “Well we are not beating you up, and words are empty, so no real harm done.” And to some extent I get this, since no one has guns because of pretty strict gun control, unlike America.

      I look like any number of ethnicities, even when I was back in Michigan, and also when I couldn’t talk as well (I had an awkward accent and used to be nonverbal when I was much younger) even people in MIchigan thought I was an immigrant. I can clearly hear that I am described as being mulatto. People think my hair is pretty though, but I imagine it could be very tough to be raised as a biracial Pole in Poland, especially in a smaller town and from the stories my partner told me about him just being different in his schools. Even now he has legitimate PTSD issues that we struggle to help with, and no one can relate to being on the receiving end of the social stigma, making it incredibly difficult to pay for decent help in this regard. Unless you have a problem that Polish people can really relate to, even high end therapy won’t be helpful.

      Sorry this is long winded, but hopefully it is helpful kareenarutto and to others.

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      • Jaz, thanks for sharing your experiences in Poland. Sometimes you just have to ignore the stares. In China I get stares, too, but it’s not anywhere as intense as Poland. I have fun with it. You either embrace it and have fun with it or ignore it. Those are your two options. The third option if it becomes too much is of course just leave.
        Good luck.
        Mike

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jaz

          It actually is pretty fun to mess with them with the staring thing from time to time, my fiancee and I actually gave some goofy looks to a few people when they did this and their reaction was pretty amusing. We were considering moving to a town near Warsaw in due time, would you happen to have any suggestions/tips Michael?

          Liked by 1 person

  11. polak

    Hey im Polish living in America for the past couple years. When I visit Poland people like to stare at me too and im white. I don’t know why Polish people do it but they like to stare at the outsiders.

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  12. kathie

    As a long blonde hair blue eyed female- I get stares as well, especially in countries where black hair brown eyes and darker skin is prevalent. I think people just stare at what is different from them… I don’t think it means anything – just curiosity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathie, I agree that curiousity is the driving force, and the vast majority are just curious. That’s the case in China, where I am currently. But in some countries some of those stares are filled with hate (if you happen to cross paths with the wrong person) and Poland does have its share of hateful elements, there is no denying that.

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  13. victor

    I spent 1 year in Katowice, Poland as an exchange student ( I’m Black) and I loved it so much. True, the stare was constant but in most cases, it was filled with curiousity. I have not experienced any racial attack or racism even if I always go home very late at about when 4am, 5am. My very good friends and girlfriend till date is Polish whom I met in Poland during my one year period. I have been given free beers in clubs, some even payed for me in supermarket in cases where I couldnt pay with card and the shop accept only cash. To win a polish person heart is very simple, just speak little words in Polish and they will be very happy.

    There was a time I was going home from club with my Polish girlfriend at 3am, I was suddenly attacked by a drunk who was angry at me for no reason. He keep following me to gain my attention for a boxing match, I became gradually furious and challenged him in retaliation, suddenly from nowhere, a wellbuilt man ran from my behind and gave him (the drunk) a thunderous blow on his cheek, and he fell down flat like a fallen tree. I felt pity for him as he was unable to stood up for the next few mins, and people gathered and begin to laugh at him, warning him not to harass foreigners.

    Just like Godwin Johnson (Nigerian born politician in Lodz) when Talking to Biuletyn Migracyjny, he said quoted below:

    “I’ve always said and still underline, that in my opinion there is no racism in Poland. There is, however, something that I call low inter-cultural competences. And this can be changed by more contact between different cultures and societal groups. No law can change the mentality of people”

    I really enjoyed my time I spent in Poland, and this is one of the country I felt at home (escept for the language difficulties) and accepted, I guess its due to my openmindedness since I do not construe what most people will interprete as racism.

    Like

  14. Tahir Rana

    Madness, I can’t understand these people. I am planning to do a course at Poznan university and hope that I will be able to blend in being of Asian origin but understand full well the skin heads of the 80’s while living and growing up in London during that period.

    Like

    • Finance Guru

      Thanks for your great comments on Poland. I am currently in Gdansk as we speak, studying for a part time Phd, so need to spend two weeks a year here. The staring was very uncomfortable for the first couple of days, but I now know that people are just curious rather than vicious, but why can’t the Poles here smile a bit more like my Polish friends in the UK? To be fair to the Poles, they are no different from the Italians, the French, the Germans,Turkish and even my own Brits outside of the larges cities. I have only seen 2 black people in nearly one week, that, I have never experienced in my 30 years of travelling around Europe, but then this is my first time in Eastern Europe. The article and your comments are very comforting. I might even venture out on more sight seeing tomorrow. Lol

      Like

  15. Wow! reading this has definitely brought back some memories. Polish people and staring, O the fun!
    I was on a 2 week course in Poland 2 years ago and I kept a daily dairy during my time– which I’m still trying to republish on my blog as a series *shameless plug* > [http://quafel.com/filed/blog/black-guy-in-poland]. Staring was definitely one of defining features of Poland. Second only to guys sporting mullet ponytails, and wearing 3/4 jeans and white socks.

    My approach whenever I was out about was ‘yes, definitely racist until proven otherwise’. Though this made me paranoid of anyone. The majority of people who stared were not aggressive. More surprisingly, the people in the villages were extremely welcoming.

    Then there were the women! I simply didn’t know what to make of their ogling. I’ve always assumed a woman staring at you as a come-hither. However this was often without a smile or emotion. They few who did smile, would then proceed to wave, then requested pictures together (they probably thought I was JayZ lol). One woman who walking with what was clearly his boyfriend turned and waved behind the guy’s back. I almost shat myself! I was like, woman, are you trying to get me killed.

    If only my polish was half-decent, I may have proved very popular. Which in turn would have drawn unwarranted attention.

    Beautiful country though. Can’t wait to visit again properly someday.

    Like

  16. the_p

    You are right that people in Poland stare at anyone who stands out. I usually don’t get much attention but each time I dyed my hair some unusual colors (purple, violet, pink) I encountered so many openly hostile stares!
    I’ve been wondering though; have you been to Poznan? I’ve been working with a very multinational and ethnically diverse crowd and they’ve been telling me they had the best experience – but only in my city, and when they go somewhere else it gets so much worse.
    Either way, I want to apologise for my countrymen -_-

    Like

    • No apology necessary. It is what it is. Yes, I’ve been to Poznan and my visit was okay, perhaps because it’s a university town, more open to foreigners?

      Like

  17. Ella

    Some of it has to do with the fact that staring is a big no-no and uncool in Anglo-Saxon parts of the World much more than elsewhere. I’m sure most – although definitely not all of it – is benign curiosity. And yes – Poland is quite parochial. That said, I’m being stared at in Latin America all the time. In fact, I would be worried if it stopped happening. Talking about boys, naturally 🙂

    Like

  18. PJski

    Superb article. If… it has any merit, I wish to apologize, as a Polish-born male, for the ignorance of far too many in Poland. I left Poland as a child, back in ’86, and have lived all over the world (Canada, Japan, U.S., Thailand, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, and many other places). I’ve felt similar sentiments and stares in some parts of the world being “white” (in Japan, many years ago- not so much anymore).

    Presently, I am considering returning to Krakow, for the first time in about 20 years. The problem is… my girlfriend, is Japanese. She’s tall, beautiful, and gets attention even in her home, Japan. I can only imagine the attention she would get in Poland. And… this worries me. I can’t be with her all the time, so I worry about her safety, in a place where anyone who doesn’t fit the “Aryan” profile will attract instant attention- and loads of it. I wonder, if you- or others reading this post, have had experiences, or heard first hand accounts, of what it’s like, living, or visiting (for extended periods), Poland, as Asian females? I’m sure I’d have no trouble being in Poland, being that I was born there, and still know the language fairly well, but… I seriously do feel concern about my girlfriend’s safety, if we were to visit there for 2-3 months. Presently, I’m on the fence… 50/50, whether or not to spend a few months in Krakow with her, or maybe go somewhere else for a few months, like Croatia, Slovenia, maybe Santorini, Malta, or other parts of Europe that have as much to offer visually, and possibly more- in terms of their ‘cultural evolution’.

    Like

  19. Stewie

    Delighted to have come across your piece, Mike, ‘cos I’ve been in Poland over a year, and the staring is something I can’t get used to; it’s the one thing that annoys me most, so I’m relieved to see it’s not just paranoia on my part! 😉

    I started off in a relatively small city for 9 months (Bielsko-Biała!), and after only 4 days, I wrote in my diary that ‘people here stare an awful lot; I hope it stops soon,’ but has it?? Nope! Even now in Wrocław – which is considerably bigger and more cosmopolitan than Bielsko – the staring is sometimes outrageous! And I’m not just talking casual glances: I’m taking full-on, eyeing-me-up-and-down stares – some of them hostile!!! In my native Scotland, if you catch someone staring, they’ll stop; this is not the case here: if anything, they stare more!

    The thing is: I’m white, so don’t think I particularly stick out or look particularly non-Polish, so I’m baffled as to why so much gawping goes on! I am also gay, however, and I’m thinking that that is the reason. I’m not some screaming queen dancing down the streets, but I think it’s obvious – although, at the same time, so many people talk seriously about my finding a ‘nice Polish girl’ here(‘cos being gay simply doesn’t enter into their psyche!) that obviously they don’t get it, and that leaves me even more confused!

    Either way, they are staring, and that’s bad enough, but I’ve had some idiot spit at me, another hoodlum shout in my face as I walked down the street, a little girl say I was a girl ‘cos I have my ears pierced, and only today a child of like 7 asked me why I was ‘dressed like a girl’ ‘cos I was wearing skinny jeans and a denim jacket!! As far as I’m concerned, that’s ‘normal’ stylish clothing, but here it makes you a girl apparently! Kids or not, if they’re already so small-minded at such a young age, I tremble for the future!

    Poland definitely isn’t as bad as some people think (before coming here, friends were worried about my coming to such a ‘homophobic country’!), but incidents like the above plus the staring show that society here has a long way to go before becoming truly open, and it makes me appreciate Glasgow and Scotland – where I’ve never felt in danger simply because of how I look – so much more!

    Like

  20. grzymislaw

    people in PL usually stare at people of different colour, but it doesn’t mean they’re racist. they’re just curious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Grzymislaw, what do you think is going through their minds when they are staring at someone of a different color/race? That’s what I’ve been really curious about because soon as I cross the border into Germany the staring stops. Is it that Germans just don’t care or are more used to diversity?

      Like

  21. I’m a 23 year old black guy who is about to travel to Warsaw and Krakow with my family for vacation in the next few weeks. I’ve been to Europe before, but I have yet to visit the eastern part of the continent. I know eastern European countries have less diversity, so I did expect that Polish people would react more drastically to my “uniqueness”. It seems to be a very friendly and cool country and I look forward to exploring it. I am thankful that I read your post and I will make sure to be aware of all that is going on around me. There will be some days on which I have the opportunity to explore the cities on my own. Would you recommend against that? Do I need to be concerned about being approached?

    Like

    • Brandon, I spent months traveling across Poland, 95 percent of the time alone, and I enjoyed it. Anything can happen anywhere, including in one’s own country. You just have to be smart about where and when you intend to go. There are good people everywhere and there are also bad people (that goes for anywhere in the world). I spent time in just about every corner of Poland without incident. I was strongly warned by some Polish friends not to go to the Eastern part of Poland, but specifically Białystok, where supposedly neo nazis thrive and will stomp on sight. I don’t know that for a fact. I did not go to have a look myself. I would have gone if I had time, but that’s the risk taker in me. Sadly, the only place in Poland I encountered any violence was one that I love, Krakow. See what I wrote about that incident in a post here: https://miketendstotravel.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/poland-a-beautiful-start-a-violent-end/

      I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and I still believe that Krakow is one of the most welcoming cities in Poland.
      Now. In your forays in Poland you may come across some idiots, usually they’ve had too much to drink, who will approach you with silly nonsense to outright racist rants. That happened to me many times. Most were just innocent…because you stick out like a sore thumb you are the one of all the hundreds of people on the streets that they take interest in. Just smile, play it cool, be friendly, keep walking if your gut tells you to keep walking, and it will all work out fine. At 3 a.m. as I went home from a club in Warsaw, I had two guys approach and asked me a question about where they could find girls. Then their questions grew sillier. They just wanted to have some fun at my expense. So when I was not rattled by them and in fact i joked right along with them, they stopped and said they were impressed that i was not scared, that most people in Warsaw regardless of race would have ran off in fright. We shook hands and they went on their merry way. You have to come with a certain amount of street smarts.

      Like

    • Warsaw is stranger and uncomfortable. Gdansk was the best. They seemed open to diversity. Avoid small towns. They are the worst. Visiting the Castle of Malbork. You will see hateful signs and graffiti. It felt like racial tensions of Alabama in in 50’s or 60’s. It was horrible. We didn’t experience any physical harm. No one said anything to us but…. I don’t know how my ancestors and grandparents got through that.

      Like

  22. You are lucky you did not get attacked, unlike the many black African and Asian students who have to walk around in packs and groups to avoid brainless neo-nazi wannabes killing them on the streets in full view of the cops and other citizens who will say nothing.

    Psychologists said racism was rooted in Poland’s virtually all-white culture. Janusz Czaplinski, a social psychologist at Warsaw university, said: “When many Polish people see a non white person, the shock sets off a psychological mechanism of rejection of everything that’s different.”.

    Even the ones who live in western multicultural societies prefer to change the white people they find there and always wonder why those whites think differently.

    To many polish people, using racist comments is not actually racist, it is just banter and jokes. You have to actually be sent to a gas chamber for some poles to say you suffered racism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ben, you write about “African and Asian students who have to walk around in packs and groups to avoid brainless neo-nazi wannabes killing them on the streets in full view of the cops and other citizens who will say nothing.” Have you ever been to Poland yourself ? The situation you describe makes me think of Russia, not of my own country. What you describe does not happen in Poland; if you disagree, please mention just one example of such a murder. I think that you believe that Poland is just like Russia when it comes to the situation of Black people: I can assure you that the situation is different here. A man has been quite recently sentenced to 10 months of prison in Wroclaw (one of the largest Polish cities) for racist insults and threats towards a Cameroonian man: so it is all but true that racists can kill Black and Asian people in Poland “in full view of the cops and other citizens”.

      I sometimes see here (e.g. in Wroclaw where I work) Black people on buses, on bus stops, on railway stations etc.- Black people (mostly men) who are on their own or with a Polish friend or girlfriend. Once a young Black French woman was travelling on a crowded train with her white French boyfriend. I talked to them and found out that they had spent some days in various places in Poland. If you were right, Ben, this young lady would have never come to Poland with her fiance, or would have immediately fled the country in horror.

      As to what Janusz Czapinski said: racism towards Black people exists everywhere in Europe. If you read Frantz Fanon’s “Black Skin, White Masks” (a very important book – everyone interested in racism should read it), you will see that this rejection of Blackness is definitely not a phenomenon limited to Poland. And I can assure you that there are some very racist people in such countries as Britain, Italy or France, not to even speak of the US (read about Michael Dunn’s trial if you think that I am exaggerating …).

      But you are, sadly, right in saying that some Polish people think that racist comments/jokes are “funny” and “normal”. As a Pole, I am painfully aware of this. But it does not mean that a Black people might be killed here in the street and cops and others will do nothing …

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joannastefamia: I like that. “Give me an example of when and where that happened”. I heard a lot of too, but never saw tht In Poland.I don’t even see packs of Asian or Blacks walking . Africans are alone or with spouse.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Joanna

          I am glad that you like my comment – it really seems that many foreigners are convinced that Poland is not much different from Russia or Ukraine, and that the only places in Eastern Europe worth a visit are Prague and Budapest !

          Liked by 1 person

    • polon

      Wow, can you give me one example of a black or Asian person killed in Poland? There may have been some cases of violence, someone getting beat up, but murder? Also nowadays people can get arrested even for racist comments, granted they are publish, or many wittiness heard them. So while it,s all true about stares, sometimes racist comments, actual violence is very rare and murder of non whites hasn’t happened in years if ever (I have never heard of one, though I did hear of a few serious beatings of blacks Arabs or Indians usually by skins, nationalists etc.). There were however quite e few cases or non whites killed by neo-nazis in much more tolerant Germany.

      Like

  23. Jonny

    Very very funny to read , Im white and I thought it was something wrong with me, I think all polish have an inbuilt device that radiates a signal , only poles pick up this signal , and anyone else who doesn’t sense this signal , gets a message PISS OFF and get out of Poland , you’re not welcome .
    Historically poles hate everyone , they hate germans , they hate russians , they hate communists , they hate Slovakians they even hate americans , but they love your money , the love any currency , they love £ , $ , € even love Russian rubels,
    So if you are looking for a way to DEFLECT their stares , walk around with a 20 zloty note in your hand , and watch how they stare at the pink shiny 20 zloty note in your hand …. Its works every time…. Honest try it … It works … Then they actually start to smile at you….!!!!!!

    Like

    • grzymislaw

      Johnny, if you knew anything about Polish history, you wouldn’t be so surprised about our hatred towards Russians/communists and Germans. I even think ‘hatred’ is not a right word – ‘prejudice’ would be more precise.

      And why we don’t like America? The reason is politics.

      Like

      • Franek

        Grzymislaw don’t get me wrong but I think that we Poles always count on other rather than doing something ourself. John is somehow right, but this is not about street beggar-like mentality, but rather political beggar-like mentality. When USA will not give us $, because we end communism that’s bad. If EU is not as some wish – then we are angry at them. We split on politicians which we choose over the years. We should build our prosperity ourselves, instead of waiting and counting on others. We are good workers, but tragic self-organizers (if not in danger). Just look at solidarity among Poles abroad – it shows something. Worlds not spins around us.
        I would rather say that from those 2 occupants (II WW and after) poles like Germans much better – nice society, technology, welfare – even Germans who know Poles say it.

        Like

    • Awesome post!!! Big breast and zloty notes gets you smiles! LOL

      Like

    • PolON; wow. I guess I have a lot in common with Poles. That’s exactly how I feel.

      Like

  24. maskodobi

    I am black and am currently in Krakow on business and have been experiencing the stares so i decided to search the net to find out whether there is anyone who experienced what I am experiencing. Your article describes the stares accurately. I started noticing the stares on my flight from amsterdam to Warsaw and it got worse at the Warsaw airport and on the flight to Krakow.

    Today I was at the Galeria Krakowska mall and I experienced all those stares.

    Like

    • Well I must say I got stares at that mall as well, but that I expected as it does draw people from other parts of Poland. The stares on the flights, I also got. They are curious why you are traveling to Poland. It is a very complex issue, but fact is there is a segment of the Polish population that does not think too highly of their own country, and it makes them wonder why would a foreigner even come to Poland, when there is, say, Paris, or Rome, or whatever. The most common question I got from Polish people was why was I in Poland, especially in winter, when I could be any place else. Many told me if they had a choice, they would choose a different country, something I do not quite get because I think Poland is amazing place, with beautiful things to see, and is full of nice, welcoming people, despite the stares.

      Like

  25. Mid

    I have been here in Warsaw for 3 days now.Visited almost every place.It’s a beautiful with nice people…Everything has been perfect except for the last 3 days everytime I got out I could’t take out of my mind the fact that I am unable to meet a black person .Not in a restaurant,a metro station,bus stop neither a shopping mall.Not during my flight.Not at the airport…No no nowhere.Almost all the elderly people I came across did stare,frown or smile at me which was fine to me because I have been in that situation a couple of times before in China and other parts of Asia.I recall the first time I visited Shanghai I thought at one point that I was a superstar because of the number of people who asked to take photos with me and how happy and cheerful they were after that.But WARSAW-the capital of Poland!this beautiful country bordering Germany!
    Michael,this is what led me to your magnificently well-written article.Just got back to my hotel and something told me to google “black people in warsaw’ and wow!!!!!I have experienced many things that you said about Warsaw within these 3 days.

    Like

    • You are in Warsaw in the middle of winter. I was there in winter and summer, and for whatever reason, I saw more blacks in Warsaw in summer than in winter. I mentioned this fact to friends. Everywhere I turned during the summer months I met another black person. That was not the case in winter. Too cold for anyone to be hanging out, I guess. In winter, go to La MaMa African Restaurant, a fantastic restaurant that draws Africans living in Warsaw all year round. The food and service are both excellent. And on some nights there is live African music. The address is ul. Andersa 23, 00-159, and the phone number is +48 22 226 35 05. They have a Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/la.mama.africa

      Like

  26. Peter

    I like your article and thanks for visiting Poland. I was not born there (parents were) but I think many people in Poland gave you stares just because, like you said, there are very few black people there. Anyway, I hope that didn’t ruin your trip or image of Polish people as a whole.

    Like

  27. Joanna

    Michael, I have just come across your description of the strange behaviour of many Polish people. I find the description wildly hilarious (though I am a Polish woman myself) and it is also very instructive. I really love your analysis of the various kinds of stares ! I think that it is very true that very many (if not most) of the hostile racists are very cowardly. As to those racists who view Black people as sex objects, I find it astonishing and depressing that this kind of racism does not seem to be considered as racism by most Poles. I would love an African American friend of mine to visit me in Poland this year, and I think that I will send him the link to your post: this will tell him a lot about the reactions of many Poles at the sight of Black people … Thanks a lot for your post and I am very happy that you have met some open-minded Polish people !

    Like

    • Joanna, thanks for writing. I hope it is not lost on anyone that Poland, despite some quirks, is a place worth visiting, not to mention there are some truly very nice people there.

      Like

  28. You should see how they stare at a black woman with natural hair(no chemicals) …………..i swear you could feel they wanted to reach out and touch me……eeekk

    Like

    • Toni, I can imagine

      Like

    • Franek

      I am from Kraków and i don’t have urge to stare at others, but I doubt if I could resist to discreet staring at black woman wearing natural hair, and especially afro hairstyle – because I think this is extremely beautiful. When I first saw that hairstyle in real life I couldn’t resist and “examined it from distance”. 🙂

      Like

    • I agree with you too. The stares are disgusting. I wish the tables were turned so they could get a taste of their own medicine.

      Like

  29. I LOVE THIS!!! This is the most current editorial on being black in Poland. I will be going to Poland in 2014 with my native Polish fiance. I speak some Polish but my only concern is safety for myself being a female and our biracial children. I don’t mind the stares because I’m used to racist Americans giving the stink eye and saying the N word….I am from the
    south so that’s a given.(right??) But thank you so much for the heads up on what to expect. I will post my comments when I return from Krakow and let you know my female with braids and two mixed children perspective ….a black.American female from the south POV

    Like

    • I would be very interested in hearing about your experiences.

      Like

    • polon

      You have probably been in Poland already so you know that it’s not so bad or dangerous. Is there racism in Poland? Yes, but it rarely culminates with violence, especially towards women. Stares, yes, occasional comments, which you probably won’t understand,s o you won’t know if they are very racist or mildly racist but meant to be nice since those those saying them don’t think they are racist – like look at this pretty chocolate. I’d love to see post describing your experiences in Poland.

      Like

    • No.. its not a given. I grew up in Arkansas and never heard “Nigger ” til I moved to Boston. oy vey!

      Like

  30. Mo

    I totally agree with you , I travelled most of europe and Asia and some Africa, and I never been starred at as in Poland, it is so annoying !!
    I have white skin however my polish friends they can recognize me as a foreigner (Arab)

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Robby

    It’s funny because I have a polish friend I met online, and she always calls me Jay Z, and its funny that you said that. They way she acts on webchat and stuff she says makes a lot of sense now haha. But she’s from krakow, so I guess that’s why she’s cool with talking to me, and doesn’t act super weird about it.

    Like

  32. Taryn

    My girlfriend and I are traveling to Germany later this year, and we are taking a day trip to Krakow and visiting Auschwitz. She is white and I am black. I have to admit that I am kinda skittish about going to Poland because of possible racism. Can you expand on your thoughts on Krakow as being a bit more progressive? You gave me a glimmer of hope that I won’t be secretly wishing for that part of the trip to be over.

    Like

  33. Denise, interesting thing is Krakow is *the* most enlightened of all the Polish cities because it’s so overrun with tourists. People there, especially in and around the Old Town, are used to foreigners. Doesn’t mean you won’t get the random stare if you are not Caucasian. Just means you will notice less of it, if at all.

    Like

  34. Denise

    Your article is so true about eastern Europe. My husband and I live in Ukraine and we get stares on a daily basis. For a while people would ask to take photos with us, but this has slowed down a bit. However, we will be in Krakow in August, so I wonder how many requests we will get again.

    Like

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