Changing Times in Poland and in the World

My 7-year old daughter knows what a CD, VCR or DVD is. She knows how to play computer games, since she was four years old. However, she was very surprised when I told her that I did not have any of these when I was her age in Poland. Even her dad who was growing up in the US did not have access to such items since they were not there, yet!

When I was in the age of my daughter, we had at home the basic necessities, like electricity, heating, running water and a radio. But, we did not have a black and white TV until I was 11-12 (early 1970s). I saw a color TV set for the first time during a trip in Finland in 1975. We did not have a home telephone until early 1980s. I still remember what a big day it was for my mother when she bought our first very small refrigerator. My father thought that this was a redundancy; therefore, he had to buy some extravagantly expensive food this day.

The huge step was the development of personal computers that provided e-mail and internet communication. I was working at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Krakow, and I was probably one of the first to be able to correspond using the e-mail, thanks to the CERN network which connected many scientific institutes around the world. I remember that our first messages to the Institute in Krakow from Germany passed through Sweden. Today, the world seems to be even smaller and more interconnected, since a telephone call overseas cost nearly nothing and traveling to Europe generally lasts less than a day.

Times changed very quickly. My grandmother was very afraid when she heard a train for the first time. My grandmother never really trust electronic media, so she asked to turn the TV set off when she had to change her clothes. She belonged to an old generation born at the end of 19th century. She used to wear the traditional long robes, skirts and kerchief until the end of her life. The photographs show my grandmother (in the middle) with other women during that time. None of her seven children dressed the old traditional way. My aunts, uncles and mother dressed much more closely to today's styles. The next picture shows my aunt Elizabeth (on the left) with her two friends.

about 1918

late thirties or early forties

one generation difference - Katowice, Silesia, Poland
Click the image to see it magnified

Just as the end of World War I changed the social structure of Europe by destroying old-fashioned monarchies, the end of World War II gave people of different social classes even more prospects. Possibly, my parents would not have married, if not for communism that gave free education for all, with the exception of the political enemies.

Nevertheless, the technological progress in Poland was slower than other better-developed countries, like Western Europe and the USA. For example, the polish farming industry was under-funded and split into the small-plot fields, therefore, progress was especially slow. I still remember hearing the horse-hoof knocks each morning when farmers from neighboring villages (we lived in Krakow) were arriving to the nearby farmer's market. Horses were a basis of transportation in Poland, especially throughout the countryside until the end of 1970s. I can remember when I was a guide for tourists we saw a small Polish car pulled by a horse. The tourists were eager to snap a picture, although I felt ashamed of this bizarre situation.

It is amazing how much life has changed from the past generation of my grandmother, who was born at the end of 19th century, to the present generation of my daughter a century later. The communication, travel, education and job opportunities are the reason that young people around the world look and act almost the same. Possibly during this century, we will see a reduction of importance of national languages. Will they survive or will they be gradually replaced by one language, will it be English for all? Nobody knows for sure, therefore it is important to keep memories and traditions alive.

Copyrights Baba Jaga Corner
July 2007

This article was published in the complete paper edition of Polish-American Journal, you may subscribe to it here

Check all the articles in Baba Jaga Column

  • Women in Poland
  • People in Polish History & Culture
  • Polish history - selection of articles

    Check a funny and interesting but also truthful book about Poles The Xenophobe's Guide to the Poles by Ewa Lipniacka (Author)

    Below are two books by Ryszard Kapuscinski - a famous Polish journalist who died in 2007.
    Travels with Herodotus

    Imperium - about Russia and Soviet Union today and through the history of 20th century

    The SITE MAP contains all articles classified according to the topic.