Book review: A chip shop in Poland. My unlikely year in Poland. by Ben Aitken

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“When I go around Poland my impressions are shallow. They are handicapped by my incomprehension. I’m locked-out from the poetry, from the small print. Being an outsider here is good for some things – I’m curious, unjaded, on edge – but bad for one thing in particular: I can’t hear the people.” (p. 143)

Most people migrate to the West: for a better life, for better opportunities, for better education. And what happens when you move to the East, to Poland? A Chip Shop in Poland is written. Ben Aitken, the author of the book, wanted to experience reverse migration. He moved to Poland for one year to find out why Poles move to the UK. The book is a memoir from his year-long stay in Poland, personal and subjective.

I haven’t lived in Poland for more than 10 years, so for me it was a treat to experience modern Poland through the eyes of an emigrant. I was curious to know more about today’s politics, economy or culture (footnotes are my favourite!). I’m glad I could follow the author throughout his year in Poland and be a quiet observer of his everydayness, sometimes funny, quirky or sad. I particularly enjoyed some of his experiences: when shopping in a second-hand shop, surviving a trip to the mountains in winter, learning idiomatic phrases in Polish (oh, these made me laugh out so loud!), visiting Polish Manchester aka Łódź, going mushroom-picking, trying many different traditional Polish meals (am I guessing correctly that his favourite is smalec?) and finally running a marathon (even though he makes ‘jogging look difficult”, p. 281). But, my most favourite stories were about Christmas and the last days of December.

The book might be an excellent introduction to Poland, unusual and non-superficial. It might be an interesting read for learners of Polish, travellers and migrants to Poland. In some ways, it can be treated as a deeper extension to Xenophobe’s Guide to the Poles.

Have you read any interesting books about your (second) home country? Please let me know in the comments below.

Kinga Macalla

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