Many Polish people who lived or worked in the Netherlands have their own story and reflection upon this country. Here is the story written by Dorota. We wish to thank her for sharing it with us.
The heroine of the story, Dorota Mazur, comes from Lower Silesia. She was born in a small village, in a very poor family so there was no money for the basic needs, not to mention for books. And since she read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain (that was in the first grade of primary school), she was very attracted to the world and to adventures. Lack of money forced Dorothy to earn some as early as possible. She helped her grand-mothers harvesting on the fields, as a high school student she took on various jobs, and after graduating from high school in late 90s she took a job at the poultry farm where she literally had to toil for a few pennies.
At that time I did not expect to ever be able to realize my dreams or to go traveling. I never thought that one day I could go to Prague, Budapest and Paris, whenever I wanted. At this time a trip to the zoo in Wroclaw was really something to me!
Then she married Mariusz (2002), whose family managed to get the German nationality and Europe was open to them. So the young Mazur couple started to look for a job abroad.
In Lower Silesia nobody knew about German passports and there were no job agencies. We used to listen to the radio almost the entire day trying to find a radio station from Opole that mentioned jobs abroad – Internet was not available for us yet. I remember that we learnt about the OTTO job agency in Opole by an advertisement on an international bus ticket. And here begins our Dutch adventure…
Mariusz was the first to leave for the Netherlands – in February 2004. He went there with his brother, literally without a penny and with just a single bag, not knowing the language and not really knowing what awaited them there. Soon he invited Dorota for holidays.
So I went in August to Noordwijk aan Zee and … it stole my heart! Beautiful villas of the wealthy people, beautiful hotels, a beautiful beach, lots of various shells everywhere (I still have some of them today). All of these yachts and boats! Happy, happy people greeting each other on the streets. Courteous drivers always giving free way to the pedestrians and cyclists. When Mariusz went to his work, I wandered around Noordwijk and admired it, sat on the dunes, looked in the windows of houses (which one can do in the Netherlands as most dutch people never close the curtains).
Of course at first I did not feel at ease, I could not speak in any language with the Dutch, I was afraid that someone would talk to me and I would not know how to respond. But what the heck! I loved the constant sea breeze. And there is also a touch of luxury in Noordwijk! On the Oranje Hotel parkinglot I saw – and could not stop watching – the most beautiful cars. I could have a good look at Mercedes, Audi TT and others.
With Mariusz, Noordwijk 2004
One weekend the young couple went to Amsterdam.
How to express it… It is a beautiful old town, especially in the evening with illuminated bridges over the canals, bicycles everywhere, music in the streets. All this delighted me, even though I was a little overaded by the bunch of people playing (having fun) in the streets at night. Every now and then I was offered drugs and other “services”. I was so stunned that I could not believe I was there. I think most of all however I was surprised by diversity of people and cultures. On one location you could see Dutch, Muslims, Chinese, Poles and other nationalities. It was an revelation to me because ten years ago a black man on the street of Legnica or Wałbrzych was a big sensation! And here… all races at the same time! They even got along with each other! This trip to Amsterdam made it clear to me how backward Poland was, how desperately Poland needed the European Union.
The holidays were over and Dorothy returned to Poland. But she came back to the Netherlands in the spring of 2005, this time to Woerden in the province of Utrecht.
In Woerden I paid more attention to the life of the average Dutch. Their small brick houses and their beautiful small gardens just captivated me! And the roads! Even the footways were covered with asphalt. Everything was clean and pleasant. Railway crossings were kept in a very good shape. I had the impression that this country is so perfect that it looks like a model created for the purpose of some presentation. Even when it was raining, I did not get dirty. Despite the fact that Poland has already changed a lot, it was still far from civilized Europe. I don’t mean the facts that almost every ordinary Dutch family possesses two cars, a few bikes, and can buy a boat. The point is that these people have a normal life, smile a lot, that they have money to buy bread, to pay their bills and for the schools for their kids. Older people have access to the best care, they are cheerful, active, ride bikes, walk around in the parks. Neither at home nor in the streets I saw luxury but I have observed how little the Dutch need to be happy. We, Poles, often fall into extremes, either because we are poor, because we steal from each other or feel oblige to spend too much money to show how wealthy we are. Meanwhile the Dutch are wealthy but they are not under any pressure to show it. I learnt about their modesty well during my second trip to the Netherlands. In the picture: Woerden 2005.
I returned home and I was still absorbed by many questions as what way the Dutch go so that they live in such a small country and that there is still enough room for us. I have found answers for many questions when I came to the Netherlands not for holidays but to work.
Dorota was able to come to work in the Netherlands in late 2005, thanks to the job company OTTO. She could stay there as full-fledged immigrant as she got a visum for five years.
We were accommodated in the seaside town, or rather village of Wijk aan Zee in North Holland. A charming town with very polite people. Wijk aan Zee is a good place to stay there with the sea, pier, hotels, dunes, park, Bazaar in near Beverwijk (the largest covered market in the Netherlands). Unfortunately I got a job in Amsterdam, in the clothing company G-Star, so I had to commute 40 km, maybe not far away but with many traffic jams! One of the first things I had to learn was how to survive in traffic. I commuted this way 1.5 years, spending daily 3-4 hours in traffic jams. Work was great, not always light, but the bosses were open to contacts with the employee.
Wijk aan Zee, 2006
At this time we were convinced that we only have to earn a bit more and we would return to Poland, because in spite of a hard life conditions there we just missed our families and the country. As early as in mid-2006 it turned out that our savings had started to grow rapidly. At the beginning of my stay in the Netherlands I was always amazed by that. How is it possible, in Poland people struggle to survive the month and here they not only have enough to pay bills but also to spend money for pleasures. So it turned out that after half a year of our stay in the Netherlands we decided to have a church wedding and a big wedding party. We enjoyed it much. In October we were married, and in November we were back in the Netherlands. Over the winter we only worked, but as soon as the spring came, we started to explore the area. Photo. Wijk aan Zee, 2007.
One day I learnt about the Zaanse Schans, and as it is not far from Wijk aan Zee, we went there the in first nice weekend. This lovely museum captivated me from the first sight! I finally saw real old windmills – some could be seen from the inside. I tried locally made cheeses; saw how they make traditional klompen. We return to Zaanse Schans every time when we are in the area.
Zaanse Schans 2007
In May, 2007 Mariusz became a work coordinator and the couple moved to Koog aan de Zaan.
And it was also a very interesting town, strictly connected with Zaandam and Zaandijk. Charming old town, in a sense united with Amsterdam. Here I learnt the importance of a network of canals in the Netherlands, for industry and tourism. I admired how the Dutch, called by us “twisting windmills”, could themself create a network of canals and highways, and how they make life easier. Writing about Zaandam I cannot forget the local chocolate factory. If a tourist would have a problem with finding the way in this town, it’s easy just following the smell. The scent of chocolate is everywhere and in the summer evenings it is even hard to sleep because of the “chocolate air”.
After the holidays Mariusz with Dorota were, to the great joy of Dorota, were moved to Noordwijk aan Zee!
So again we found ourselves in my beloved Noordwijk. As Mariusz had a rush of work, we had not much opportunities to make trips, but we always tried to get away somewhere for a day – to Scheveningen, where is a wonderful promenade and pier; to Madurodam, where one can see the most important Dutch buildings in miniature, and to the Keukenhof gardens, where the famous parade of flowers is kept in April. For this occasion the Dutch people decorate their cars with flowers, build a flower platform and wander from town to town. Fortunately one of the stops of the flower parade is Noordwijk, so I could always enjoy these wonders.
Flower parade, Noordwijk 2008
The whole area of Noordwijk, Lisse, Sassenheim and Katwijk is strewn with flowers in the spring. The North Sea is dominated by the sea of tulips. Every summer in Noordwijk there is also a festival of sand sculptures held.
In Noordwijk we stayed up to August 2009. In the meantime we managed to make trips to other countries and realize small dreams, like watching the Formula 1 racing in Spa (Belgium). It would simply not be possible without working abroad. The whole stay in the Netherlands has taught me many things: respecting other people, tolerance, modesty, enjoying life. As for me, the Dutch are proving that if you want, you can create a country by your wish, as they themselves have created the Netherlands. Actually one can only regret that this will never happen in Poland because we are different people with a different mentality.
After a stay in Noordwijk Dorota and Mariusz returned to Poland again. They went there with the hope that they could buy some small apartment to renovate and find also a meaningful job. Poland was at that time a green island in a world plunged into a deep crisis. Unfortunately the situation disappointed them much. Money for a flat was spent on other expenses and it was impossible to get a job. After many failed attempts to get any work the couple decided to go back to the Netherlands.
At the end of the year we decided that we want to work only in the Netherlands: there is always a job for unskilled, wages are high, pension contributions much higher, life is normal, without worrying about the bills. This time we did not want to get the job by the OTTO agency, because we did not want to go back to the same people we wanted to stay away from. Happily our friends who lived and worked in Oss helped us to get a job there and, in February 2010, we were back in the Netherlands! This time we went to North Brabant, to Oss…
Oss, a city in North Brabant, near Nijmegen, disappointed a bit. I think it is by far the most boring of all Dutch towns I’ve ever seen. At the beginning it was hard to get used to us. Everything is different here, even the air and water. One cannot easily take a stroll in the evening, because there are a variety of dangers, including murders. What I liked in Amsterdam as tourist – the diversity of cultures and races, here I keep in mind. And native people are also slightly different and their attitude to foreigners is less friendly. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the Poles do not present themselves in a positive way. Well, but I would not be myself if I had not seen the positives. Because I come from a village, I immediately noticed typical rural accents in the area – cows, sheep, horses, goats.
Fragrances are also typically rural, but the most beautiful smell comes from the flowering lime.
Staying in the Netherlands made Dorota to begin to appreciate the achievements of civilization, the health system and education.
Dutch children have access to everything here. They don’t hang around on the streets but stay in the classrooms, gymnasiums, even golf courses. Children and young people just do not get bored. In primary schools each child is treated individually. When it demonstrates some talent, it gets the possibility to develop himself in that direction. Moreover, Polish Radio reported recently that the happiest children in Europe are Dutch children. A Children’s Day is celebrated every day!
It’s all I would like to say about why I like to come and to be here. I love the Netherlands for the fact that it gives me bread, for treating well its inhabitants and foreigners, for the fact that older people have a decent existence and children an excellent childhood. And for being so charming with all those windmills, channels and the North Sea shells…
Dorota Mazur, 2013
In January 2016 Dorota and Mariusz returned to Poland, where, in March, their daughter Liliana was born. But was this return to the homeland successful? You can read about it in Return to Poland.
Photos: Dorota’s archives