A blogger, who found his way into BBC correspondant in Rome David Willey`s email, wrote.

“The doubt is whether we Italians have enough sense of the common good to play a team game based on commitment and loyalty after living through two decades (Craxi + Berlusconi) during which craftiness and neglect of the rules of the game was the order of the day.”

“To change from favours for the few to fairness for all of us is a unique chance for our electorate to learn civic responsibility. If we change, politics can change. And at last Italy can change.”

We in Poland should watch with interest.


Poland: a land of wasted opportunity


Yesterday afternoon at two hours notice the class I teach at the Polytechnic was cancelled. The reason given? The administrative assistant who is supposed to open the department door  was going home early. Was her mother dying? No. Her house burning down? No. Toothache? No. She simply had better things to do .


Her boss received her email to me and the students and failed to react. What could he have done? Perhaps he might have suggested we use a room in another department? Perhaps he might have asked why she had to leave early? But no. Nothing.


No consideration was shown for my students, most of whom make a special trip to attend my class. No respect was shown for me whom, I might add, works pro bono. Worst of all was the total lack of imagination of the administration, an administration which prides itself on being on the cutting edge of innovation(!). Don’t cancel the class at two hours notice, for God`s sake find a solution!


How very typical of Poland. Some petty administrator acting wholly self-interestedly destroys an opportunity for the greater good. Poland is a land of wasted opportunity and it simply does not learn, and, worse, I am not sure it cares. Here is the proof.



  After a short pause, the woman came back with a colleague. They asked me to follow them. I was led a cubicle and deposited in front of a delightful woman of a certain age. She told me how her daughter sings in a choir. “Do you sing,” I asked. She didn’t but she had always wanted to. Had she been a man I would have invited her to join my choir, but she wasn’t and we have enough women. In the hands of this mother figure and with the utmost speed and efficiency I was issued with a document that stated I am a long term resident of good standing of Mokotow.  Relief. The first hurdle cleared. Poland really is getting better.

Next on the list of necessary documents was five years of tax returns. I thought they were in a draw where I dump all financial papers. Horror. I could only find last year’s and half of the preceding year. Can I be so stupid? It would appear so. Oh God. Was I about to let myself down? I was.

A request 4

I live in Mokotow, one of the more prosperous quarters of Warsaw. I live in a pre-war block of flats which recently has been clad in polystyrene, painted a pinkish shade of terracotta and pillow and generally cleaned up. A diminishing percentage of the residents are dedicated alcoholics but a growing number of the young men are clean cut, sober types who work for private security companies. 30% of the flats are privately owned, the remainder are still awaiting privatisation from the city.

I am on good terms with most of my neighbours though this has not prevented my bicycles from being stolen on four occasions nor my car tyres slashed ten times. Living here has its costs. 

None the less, close the Warsaw Business School, the self-proclaimed best school in Poland, with the proximity of the park and tree lined streets, Mokotow is not bad to live in unless you have to deal with the bureaucracy.  

“But you have not lived here for 18 months,” said the woman behind the desk. “Yes, I have.” “No. Your card expired 18 months ago!” “So, if I have not been living here, why have I been paying local taxes? Eh?” Got you.

She realised the game was up. And, if you don’t bother to check whether foreigners are resident or not, why are we even bothering to go through this process? Let’s save money and close the whole thing down.

Possibly reading my thoughts, she left the room.

Readers appeal 3

  To begin the process of getting my residence card I had to go to the central government office for foreigners. The office is pleasant enough and the EU department well staffed, even over staffed given the work load.  There was no queue because very few people from the EU seem to want to live in Poland. I sat down in a cubicle and was immediately grilled by a smug, blond bureaucrat. Why was my Polish so poor after (looking at my expired card) five years in Poland? Wrong there. 11. Her fellow workers were enjoying what was clearly a well used technique.  I suggested that since she didn’t know who I was she ought to be more cautious before making personal comments about me. She laughed scornfully. I lost my cool. “Where is your boss?”  Her colleagues suddenly found a lot to do on their desks.  She turned pale. She gave me a room number. “Name, I said. Name! Write it down. Yours too!”


I opened the door. In front of me, behind her desk sat a small, large titted, dyed redhead. My vision of post Communist hell. She was giving a dark skinned couple a gruelling. I withdrew, assessed the situation, ate humble pie, re-seated myself meekly in the still empty chair, collected the documents and left. However, as a parting salvo, I gave the warning that the next time I saw the minister I would tell him how I have been treated. Which minister, I wondered, as I as fumed down the corridor.

Chor Warszawski: a triumph!


I have to interrupt my narrative to mark the singular success of my choir yesterday. In its first competitive action it came third in the Warsaw International Choir Festival held at the Chopin Music University.

Stiff opposition? Certainly, our women are handsome and the men, well, I’ll leave others to judge, but age and intonation were not on our side, though, as one member said,”Given the amount of work we did, we did really well.” I have to agree.


Most of our members lead busy lives. Finding two and a half hours a week for the choir is not easy. And yet, what rewards it brings. There was not one member who did not glow with pride (if those large smiles across their faces I could see from the stage meant anything) as I strode across to collect the bronze certificate.


Who beat us? A deserving youthful Polish group whom, I suspect, put it a lot of extra time, though I may be wrong, and a group from abroad.

Had we not been placed I should have been pretty cross, the other Polish groups were pretty grim. As it is, I have no complaints save one. Given the thrill of the event why is it so difficult to get men involved? “Lazy” said one member, clearly thinking of her husband and son. More likely scared, scared of the culture gap.


A young student from the Polytechnic came to a rehearsal last week. He sat with the basses. He sang heartily but horribly out of tune. He left at the interval. Later he told me that the atmosphere was great, marvellous, entirely new. It just isn’t for him.


I have a feeling that it is much closer to him than he thinks. If only he’d had some positive musical experiences in school. What a loss. Anyway, he’s got his IT start-up to think about, but with more cultural background, how much better he might be able to face the future, to innovate with imagination and originality, to succeed.

Readers appeal 2

  The financial crisis, or rather the inability of the promoters of the single currency, the Germans, the French and a few others, to ensure that the Greeks and Italians did their book keeping properly (surely it is right that they are paying for their negligence?), is about to engulf us all. Some put further blame for the crisis on the bankers, and it is true that they must bear responsibility not only for feathering their own nests too lavishly but for giving many of us financial advantages that we did not deserve through instruments that perhaps no one entirely understands. But, this week, I have nothing but praise for bankers. I’ll tell you why.


During my eleven years in Poland I have made a comfortable living from corporate training. Nothing wrong in that. Much that’s right. It is highly paid and a little work brings rich rewards which allowed me to give time to other things. I should say, that until I came to Poland I had had no contact with the corporate world, in fact, I doubt I’d even met anyone from a corporation below chief executive or country manager level. However, flexibility is the key to survival and if my performance skills could be of use in the corporate world and allow me to get a foothold in Poland, then, why not. That’s how John Cleese became rich, not through Monty Python.


What I have learnt is that the way most training is structured renders it, by and large, useless. Two days are allowed for an intensive presentation course. Money down the drain (a company I worked for charges 14.000 pln for a two day, two trainer course!).  As a long time singing teacher in London’s best academies I know that people don’t learn from short sharp shocks. They need time to absorb and revisit. (Revisiting is something that few Poles ever do unless they are engaged in sports or the performing arts. This is a huge problem for the country.)


Eventually, the moral dilemma became too much and I began to view the people I worked with in a cynical light: good people but engaged in a fraud, perhaps without even knowing it. I didn’t think much of myself, either. Relationships broke down a few months ago and so did my income.

Never mind, I thought. I’ll go to the bank and take a loan.


“Can I see your resident’s permit?” asked the clerk. “Oh, I see it expired 18 months ago!” From which point began a saga.