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Ben Aitken: English guy who lived in Poland

Ben Aitken: English guy who lived in Poland
Ben with his book in Warsaw. (Credit: Ben Aitken)
Not many Brits move to Poland to work in a fish and chips shop. But back in 2016 Ben Aitken did. And wrote a book about it...
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'I like Polish soups and bigos, pierogi are overrated and Polish girls are hard to impress', says Ben Atkins, the author of book “A Chip Shop in Pozna: My Unlikely Year in Poland”.

You are born and bread in Portsmouth where many Polish people found their new home. What was your view on Poles than and how it changed since your 'Polish experiment', if it changed at all?

Ben Aitken: - We have a small Polish community in Portsmouth, couple of Polish shops but not Polish restaurant, so I didn’t know many Poles. As I doubt everything and what’s presented in the media I take 'with a pinch of salt', I had a feeling they are not the people presented in the media. Part of motivation of going to Poland was to change those views. I knew not all Polish people drank beer in the park or working on the building site. I wanted to come back with a more diverse and colourful picture.

I didn’t expect to be so impressed with the people I have met. They impressed me with their talent, their work ethic, humour, friendliness. I was lucky to share a flat with three Polish people. Friends of my flatmates were coming for drinks and coffee and some chat.

There were incidents, when I wasn't so welcome. Somebody heard me speaking English in the street and said: 'Niech pan mówi po polsku'… but than we spoke in Polish for a bit, talking about their cousin in Glasgow and it all changed.

Ben during his visit at Londynek's office... (Credit: Londynek.net)

Do you think our culture is very different to British one?

- After a year in Poland I have come to realisation we are not so different. Polish people seem quick to remember: birthdays, anniversaries, battles. Memory is important to you. All Saint’s Day is a good example, when you go to the cemetery to think and reflect on the love ones who are no longer with you. I never ever visited my grandfather's grave, because my father never took me there. We don’t have it in our culture.

I recall a statue in K這dzko, where an inscription said: 'A nation’s strength is remembering'. That’s so very Polish.

Why did you decide to go to Pozna?

- I chose Pozna because I hadn’t heard of it and the ticket price was affordable. I didn’t want to go to Warsaw, Krakow or Gda雟k as I knew about those cities and expected a lot of foreigners. I didn’t mind feeling like 'a fish out of water'. Wanted a challenge. Imagine Polish person moving to Scarnborough where are hardly any Poles at all…

I worked for 10 z這ty an hour. I lived of that for about two months. Luckily additionally to my wages from a fish shop I had money coming from my previous book and that made my life quite comfortable: I could pay rent, take a train to Warsaw or Gda雟k and eat in a restaurant. Than I decided to stop spending extra money and survive on 10 z an hour. That’s how I realised you have to work hard and can’t spend money on frivolous things. Suddenly I knew why so many Polish people had few jobs and why the idea of earning in British pounds was so attractive.

Ben in Pozna (literally)... (Credit: Ben Aitken)

What are you working on now? New crazy project on the way?

- I’m writing a new book about travelling with pensioners. They are more interesting. I’m boring. People my age are a bit boring. I’m not complaining – it’s just how it is. We have the same conversation. The more you have in common with them, less you can learn from them.

I didn't live in 50’, 60’, I didn’t see how my country changed and travelling with older people is great way to find out. I must admit it’s also very attractive and affordable holiday. I already experienced travel and entertainment and food for about 100 pounds for six nights.

Some men were concerned about my motivation. Sort of thinking I was looking for a 'sugar mummy' or crazy or desperate. But they were working class people, not rich. Just ordinary people with a great stories, great wisdom. I had a wounderful time, although I didn’t tell them I was writing a book about this travel.

Is your book going to be translated into Polish? What reaction you expect from Poles?

- It’s happening now. I’m not doing this, of course. 安iat Ksi捫ki bought the right from the publisher in UK, contracted somebody to translate it and the book would be released around November next year. It intrigues me how it will be received in Poland. I hope a main story can be translated. It my be controversial as not everything is a celebration of Poland. There is already some reaction about a book 'A Chip Shop in Pozna: My Unlikely Year in Poland': 'This is wrong about Poland' or 'Who are you to come to our country and tell us what to think'. I think part of Polish population might be a little bit too sensitive and ready to be angry with anything. I’m preparing myself for mixed reaction when it comes out. I don’t expect just pat on the back.

Ben used to work at fish&chips shop in Poznan. (Credit: Ben Aitken)

It’s not your first book. 'Dear Bill Bryson: Footnotes from a Small Island' was published in 2015.

- Bill Bryson is an American and very popular travel writer. In 1995 he wrote a book 'Notes from a Small Island' about travelling around UK. Twenty years later I took the same journey. I used his book as a guide: I went to the same hotel, to the same restaurant, the same places, museums and I considered the same things. And the idea was to make a comparison between 1995 and 2015. The project was an American and British perspective of travelling around the UK. As his journey ended at his house, I went to his house but he was mean. I wrote him a letter and his answer was: 'I’m a bit worried about you following me everywhere'.

And that was the last time I heard from him. I sent him a copy of my book but received no response. Maybe he was a bit angry that I was using his ideas.

This book was self published. At that time I was too scared to find a publisher as if you take it to an agent or a publisher, you risk them saying: 'No'.

Ben was amazed by Polish wedding! (Credit: Ben Aitken)

Have you tried to understand Polish politics as I imagine it may be difficult for a foreigner to understand some topics in news from Poland...

- I tried but I didn’t study the political situation in Poland. If I did that would be a full time job and you still wouldn’t understand any of it. I was listening to my flatmates, reading news coverage in English and one thing that struck me was that traditional left wing – right wing, doesn’t work in Poland. PIS – socially conservative and having an alliance with the church, but economically are interested in helping people, which traditionally is associated with left wing. While Civic Platform appeared more capitalistic, American - British looking. I personally support 500+ policy. It’s expensive to raise a family.

You mentioned Poles are very divided. But Brits are divided too. Of course I’m talking about Brexit. What’s your opinion about recent situation?

- David Cameron made that decision, because Conservative Party always had a problem with Europe an European project. During the election the party was split, looked chaotic and messy, which isn’t attractive to the voters. To keep them together he promised referendum but didn’t think he would win a majority. At the best expected coalition again so what he said in the manifesto wouldn’t matter. Undoubtedly the results were a surprise.

However mistaken and stupid the results are we have to honour them. I don’t want to leave EU and I’m not happy about that but also I’m proud about our democracy, so Brexit has to be delivered.

Do you want to win Ben's book? Send an email on: newsroom@londynek.net and answer a simple question: Why Ben chose to move to Pozna and not any other city in Poland? We are waiting for your answers until Thursday the 5th of March.

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