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The Joy of Hypotheticals

What if you weren’t born where you were?
Which nationalities would you rather and rather not be?


Do you ever ask yourself why you were born where you were? Do you ever try to imagine what your life would have been like if you were born somewhere else? Maybe you don’t waste your time asking such questions and/or you’re perfectly happy where you are, who you are. Your life is much easier without a dilemma whose outcome is as useful as yesterday’s newspaper is important. Some of us hate “What if” questions, maybe because they have no single answer, maybe because they see no point in speculating about matters whose only certainty is that they won't happen. But without asking these questions, if no-one had ever thought crazy, silly, unheard of things, the human race would still be living in caves.


Maybe you feel blessed for being who you are. Maybe you thank providence that you're not an awful Frog, stiff Kraut, arrogant Yank or some job-stealing Polack. You fully enjoy your British origin, unburdened with other nations’ flaws. But guess what, we all are stereotyped, boxed, labelled and put on a shelf with a more or less derogative tag. I’m going to skip the English clichés; ultimately, you’re my hosts, my kind readers, and it’d be slightly inappropriate if not rude of me to tell you what other nations think of you. (Please do in a future article; we'd love to hear – Ed). But if you think they don’t have negative ideas and stereotypes about you, well, you’re not entirely right. You only have to look at your record in the Eurovision song contest since the Iraq war to gain a sense of your current popularity abroad.


Born and bred in Poland, the only communist-locked country, I grew up in deepest communist times and entered my adult life at the same time as the Berlin Wall was cracking (and finally falling), and discovered myself during the European continent’s most prosperous years. And yet, a committed European, I ended up living in the least pro-European part of the EU (yes, that would be the UK). Throughout these times I’ve often dared ask myself the terrifying questions: Why am I Polish? What if I had been born somewhere or/and someone else? If I could choose, who would I like to be? Is there any nation worth being exchanged for, swapped to, replaced by, 'renationalised' as?


I consider myself very lucky. I’ve been to almost all European countries. I’d eaten bread from many different ovens, spoken to countless people of various origins and diverse backgrounds. Such interactions make you forget about stereotypes. Be honest with yourself though, admit it: you love stereotyping; it feels so good. So let’s shortlist the candidate-nations we wouldn’t necessarily like to be.


We all know no one likes Germans; for their historic inclinations towards world wars, invasions, Anschlusses, Blitzkriegs and god knows how many other deadly conflicts. We don’t enjoy hearing the German language because it sounds ugly; we don't want to learn it because of its long words, complicated grammar, the verbs at the end of the sentences, the declension of its nouns, pronouns and articles – that is, using its Nominativ, Genitiv, Dativ and Akkusativ cases. Germans are seen as loud people usually deprived of any sense of humour, as Ledderhosen-wearing guys who drink Bier, and excessively so in Oktober. That is, until we meet real life young Germans and are surprised at how peaceful, softly spoken and generally unlike the stereotypes they are.


Poles abuse your benefits (in the UK), make your plumbers jobless (in France and in the UK), steal your cars (in Germany) and always cause the world’s biggest military conflicts (ask Chamberlain and Daladier). Germans have even advertised holidays in Poland with the ugly slogan: "Gehen Sie nach Polen - Ihr Auto ist schon da." (“Go to Poland, your car is already there”). Sadly it was often true in the early '90s when some entrepreneurial – and clearly dishonest – Poles found ways of getting German cars across the border and reselling them to their compatriots.


Some nations are simply jealous of the others. The French, famous for wine making, mock my compatriots for being able to drink more, not only wine but much stronger vodka. They describe our state of occasional tipsiness with an offensive and highly unjust proverb: saoul comme un Polonais (drunk as a Pole). Well exaggerated! Ask my English friends; some of them tried to out drink me. Yes, they tried to. Never actually did. We Poles simply know how to drink. The Russians showed us and, trust me, they can really drink! But given their freezing winters, let’s give them some credit, at the same time as excluding them from the list of potential new nations on that ground alone.


Many Europeans don’t hold the French in too high esteem. The descendents of brave warriors, Gauls are nowadays seen as cowards, hidden behind their Ligne de Maginot, always rude, constantly dirty and yet parfumés. On top of it, they can uniquement speak français – much as the English can only speak English.


So, we've crossed off the Germans, French, Poles and Russians, who else have we got left: the Scots? They’re stingy! The Scandinavians – brrrrrr, like the Russians, too cold! The Greeks – no way! They may have been our civilisation’s cradle but since then they ruined European’s economy! The Hungarians – really? Egészségedre (Cheers)? The Irish, Dutch, Belgians and Spaniards? You’ll find juicy clichés about every nationality.


The truth is, all nations are more similar to one another than dissimilar, with our needs, sweet dreams, bad flaws and great advantages, our good and evil. And as a previous contributor to this magazine said in the first edition, there are all character types in all nations. The world has shrunk, travel times are shortened, relations between nations have become easier. In Europe, we have the common market; we've managed to create a quite strong, if still far from perfect, unified family without wars, hate and killing. We have become more aware of other people with different habits. Stereotypes are fading in the light of experience and open-mindedness. We're quietly starting to admire other nations; these guys are not as bad as we thought or heard they are. We get to know them. What would it be like to be in their shoes? What if you had been born elsewhere, in other times and circumstances? Who would you be? Please enter your comments below.


Let’s open our minds. Let’s see our soul’s depths and read our dreams. Maybe we haven’t always been who we, and others, think we are, both as people and as nationalities.


In my next article I will open up and share. I know which nationality I would choose if I were not Polish. There’s one nation that I haven’t struck off the list, a country that prompts my body to cry: “Welcome home!” every time I cross its borders. Look out for it next month and in the meantime share your thoughts in the comments section below.


To be continued...

Matt Mironowicz

About the Writer


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