Slavic soul

Just to clear things up: I did not get any phone call yesterday. April Fools. ;)

My Slavic soul longs for home. Barcelona being the third big Spanish city in a row, things seem much less interesting now – I can’t quite bring myself to visit Yet Another Big Museum or go to Yet Another Park. Things have definitely slowed down.

I’m not even sure if I should be writing this post now or wait until the journey is over. Screw the rules… this is my blog and I really need to get this out.

One thing I did not really disclose up to this point was the purpose of this trip. Sure, escaping the Polish winter was a good cover-up, but it was not the real reason. It was just a nice coincidence.

The real reason was that I wanted to put myself – and the world – to a test. Lately, many people told me I should emigrate to west Europe, USA or Australia simply because life is somehow better there. I heard that so many times I simply had to check – I simply couldn’t live without checking out what seemed like a big opportunity.

Except that things aren’t as easy as people say they are.

I will no longer bore you with stories about how I found Spain hard to live in. The differences are a personal thing, and what I find unacceptable will be a breeze for someone else; it just doesn’t make sense to point out the specific annoyances anymore. What I will instead present to you is a simple method of assessing the cost of relocating into a completely different country. What I’m going to say will sound obvious due to cognitive biases – but please bear with me for a moment, for realizing it took a pretty big effort from me.

In short: before making a huge life change, consider the financial costs and benefits of doing so. Take a sheet of paper, and split it into four parts: home costs, home benefits, somewhere costs, somewhere benefits. Take your time to fill it out sincerely. Consider the following costs: accommodation, food, partying, public transportation, education, entertainment. On the other side, list the existing and possible sources of income. Now, calculate the balance and see if it holds financially.

Easier than it sounds, right? Now take a second sheet of paper and do the same calculation – but instead of money, list all the important things in life. I don’t know what’s important for you – but things that come to mind include family, friends, home – all the things you have and take for granted.

What’s up, Lassie? Not that easy anymore?

I calculated my money budget before the trip – but didn’t think of making the life one. If I did, I would probably never go, because I’d find the cost of emigrating is so ridiculously high. Here are the things I gained by moving to Spain:

  • Nice weather.
  • Slightly better salary opportunities. (?)

Here are the things I didn’t gain – because after I arrived here I realized I could do them in Wrocław as well if I just stopped spending all time in front of the computer and moved my lazy ass. So, I didn’t gain the opportunity to…

  • Try new food.
  • Meet new people.
  • Improve my English by actually speaking it.
  • Go swimming in the sea.
  • Find interesting places.
  • Make tons of photographs.
  • See scenic views.
  • Climb a mountain.
  • Write a ridiculous amount of blog posts.
  • Get more Github fame.
  • Relax.

The things I pretty much lost (not permanently, thankfully) are:

  • Family.
  • Friends.
  • The capability to easily communicate with people around me. You have no idea how frustrating this is. Besides the frustration, being deprived of basic human contact has pretty severe quality of life & health consequences in the long run.
  • The capability to comprehend the names of food products I’m buying. This is even more frustrating. Suure, it doesn’t sound like a big deal – until you’re hungry and looking at a menu and not understanding a single thing. Even Ukraine was better in this respect.
  • All my favorite restaurants and cafes where I felt at ease. Granted, I would probably find one at some point, but right now I have nowhere to retreat on a bad day.
  • Ridiculous amounts of money. Life is much more expensive here; I pretty much spent most of what I saved during the last few months. I don’t think I even have enough to pay this month’s rent for my flat in Wrocław. I’ll figure something out like I always do, but it’s never comfortable to be eating up the cash reserves.
  • And, most importantly, I lost the place where I felt at ease, where I could be safe, where I could rest after a long day, alone. I lost home.

There is one thing I gained, though: a deep love and respect for the place I live in, for my family, friends, all the places I love – basically, everything my life is.

Someone once said that the real Slavic soul is just born with a longing for Devil-knows-what. I think I just got cured of mine.

As a conclusion of this pretty sad post I’m posting a fantastic Chuck Mangione song which used to play in Vinyl Cafe all the time back when I was in Wrocław. And this is definitely the song I’ll want to play when I come back there.

Without dreams of hope and pride a man will die
Though his flesh still moves his heart sleeps in the grave
Without land man never dreams cause he’s not free
All men need a place to live with dignity.

Writing letters

I’m a big fan of writing letters. If you haven’t received a letter in years, that’s probably because you haven’t sent one either. Here’s what you need to start doing it again.

  • Stamps. If you live in Poland, I’ll be happy to tell you that the tariffs were simplified considerably in January 2013 – right now, almost everything you can stuff in a not-too-big envelope ships at the same rate (normal: 1,60zł, priority: 2,35zł). You buy the stamps at the post office (yes, I’m playing Captain Obvious here) and receive the accompanying PRIORITAIRE stickers if you choose that service. I recommend using priority services – otherwise, your letter can take many days – or even weeks – to arrive.
  • Envelopes. You can get the plain ones at the post office too, but I recommend getting some quality ones. I have my two favorite shops – you can probably find some in your town.
  • Writing paper. Personally, I buy high-density decorative A4 paper and cut it into four pieces, each 10x15cm in size. You can use anything that strikes your fancy here – for example, I have a few sheets of very old paper for special occasions. Generally, everything works – just avoid the plain paper.
  • Addresses of your friends. Try to get them in a non-obvious manner – so they won’t suspect you’re going to send them anything.
  • Optional: quality pen/pencil. Letters are best handwritten – I tried typewriting once, but found it too impersonal; it doesn’t help to have a machine between people.
  • Optional: stationery. Quality stationery is almost impossible to get – all they print today are some roses and puppies, perfumed with rose fragrance. Ugh.
  • Optional: photographs. Writing letters is hard at first – I actually started by sending people printed photographs. The size that fits the standard envelopes is 10x15cm and you can print that in every photo lab for next to nothing.
  • Even more optional: anything you find appropriate. You can put small flat objects in the envelope – pages from a book, bus tickets, leaves, rocks, kittens… okay, photocopies of kittens.
  • Finally: time and courage. These one are the hardest to find.

When you actually succeed in writing a letter, you put the address on the envelope – the way you were taught in school – and toss the letter in a mailbox (the red one on the street, not the one at your front door ;). Then you wait – these days it takes people a while to check their mail – but it does arrive at some day. And then, some other day, you might open your mailbox and find something waiting for you. ;)