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AN AMERICAN DEV IN POLAND, Part 3

Combination travelogue/dev journal recounting my three-month stint working on DYING LIGHT for Techland in Wrocław, Poland.
In preparing for my first trip to Wrocław, my primary Techland contact shifted from Marcin Chady to people in Techland’s HR department directly.

(An aside regarding Marcin: unbeknownst to my ignorant self at the time, I mispronounced his name on the phone in exactly the way he despises most: I called him “Mar-sin.” I figured “Marcin” would be kind of like the French name “Marcel.” Why did I think that? …Good question. That was before I knew that all the Polish Rs have that hard, flipped sound, and that Polish Cs always sound like “ts.” So his name is much closer to “Mar-tsin.” Sorry about that, Marcin!)

Matylda Siuta became my primary contact, followed by the previously-mentioned Magda Kiąca. Magda’s not in HR – officially, she’s the localization director – but her English is very nearly flawless, so Techland decided she’d wrangle me once I got there.

Anyway. Matylda told me that the flat I’d be staying in was a two-bedroom, and wanted to know if I’d mind sharing it for the first three weeks with another visiting developer: a fellow named Ashley Blacquiere, who worked with Marcin Chady in the Vancouver office. “Ashley spent a month here on another visit,” Matylda said, “so he’ll be able to show you around. If that’s okay with you.”

That was more than okay with me. As I’ve said before, this was going to be my first trip overseas, and while I was excited to go, a part of me was scared witless that I would:

a)     Get hopelessly lost (I hate being lost)

b)    Wind up breaking a law I didn’t know about and get arrested

c)     Offend someone so grievously that I’d get fired and sent packing.

So the thought of having someone there who not only knew his way around, but also spoke English as his native language, offered me a great deal of comfort. Matylda introduced me to Ashley via email, and he very graciously agreed to answer any questions I might have.

I had questions.

I think I wrote Ashley two separate book-length emails, asking him about everything from the quality of the drinking water to whether or not I needed to bring my own toilet paper to how the public transportation system worked. (A guy who worked with my brother-in-law told me that Polish toilet paper was more like wax paper, and that I’d better make sure I took some real TP with me. I don’t know when or how he got his information, but the Polish toilet paper I encountered was indistinguishable from the American kind.) Ashley answered every question and did his best to put my mind at ease.

So, at the beginning of April, with my biggest suitcase jammed full and my trusty laptop bag over my shoulder, I headed to the airport. I flew Delta up to Dulles, and from there switched to Lufthansa for the trans-Atlantic flight.

I would now prefer not to fly any airline but Lufthansa if I can help it.

It takes between seven and a half and nine hours to fly from the United States east coast to Germany, where I was scheduled to change planes again, but I really didn’t mind the time too much. The kind of service you get in coach class on Lufthansa rivals the service I’ve had in first class on domestic airlines. The seats are decently comfortable, they have a huge selection of free movies and TV shows to watch in the back-of-the-seat-in-front-of-you monitors, all the meals and snacks are free, and you get a glass of wine following dinner. Plus, and this made me chuckle, the flight attendant in my section was the most stereotypical (in a positive way) German woman I’ve ever seen. She was tall, fit, gorgeous, blue-eyed, and very very blonde. I never caught her name, but I bet it was something like “Gretchen.” I really felt as though I were getting the whole German-airline experience, is what I’m saying.

I landed in Munich. Over the course of my whole travel-to-Poland experience, I ended up connecting through Munich, Frankfurt, and Dusseldorf. Munich and Frankfurt kind of run together in my mind; they’re both really big, really modern, and remind me very much of shopping malls. Some of the larger American airports are sort of mall-like, in that they have plenty of shops and restaurants in the concourses, but they can’t touch Munich and Frankfurt. I got the impression that someone had built a couple of really big malls, and then said, “Hey, why don’t we let people fly in and out of here, too?” (Dusseldorf is much, much smaller than the other two, but just as modern.)

Anyway. I was supposed to meet Ashley at the gate for the connecting flight to Wrocław. I got there first, and spent a while wandering around and looking at the vending machines that took Euros. I didn’t have any Euros. One of the things Ashley had assured me of was that there were plenty of ATMs in Wrocław, and that I could get Polish currency without any trouble, so I was just relying on plastic until I got there.

Poland is a member of the European Union, but has chosen not to convert to the Euro, for economic reasons that exceed my understanding of economics. (That’s a pretty low bar.) Poland’s unit of currency is the złoty, which is pronounced “z-wo-tih,” except the “o” is like the o in “golf.” It’s got kind of an “aw” sound. And there’s that troublesome “y” on the end. So it’s really kind of like “zwawtih.” A lot of these sounds I’m attempting to explain don’t exist in English at all, so these are as close as I can get to their proper pronunciations. In any case, złoty means “gold,” which is plain enough.

Ashley came sauntering up to the gate about half an hour before we started boarding. He’s a tall, wiry Canadian, and was even nicer in person than he was over email. I had more questions, and probably repeated several I had asked him already, since I hadn’t slept in a whole bunch of hours at that point and was beginning to get punchy. He answered everything readily enough, and in short order we were out on the tarmac, climbing up into a little commuter jet.

Techland wasn’t able to seat us together, but it was only about an hour and a half flight from Munich to Wrocław, so we didn’t bother trying to swap seats with anyone. The guy I was sitting next to was from Wrocław, and spoke pretty good English; he struck up a conversation with me, seemed very interested in my whole I’m-here-to-work-on-a-video-game story, and started giving me tips about how to get around the city. One that he was very insistent about was that I should never tip a taxi driver in Poland. “It’s just not done,” he said. I’m pretty sure he was messing with me. I always tipped my taxi drivers, and they always seemed grateful (and not surprised).

Ashley and I arrived at the Wrocław airport, got our bags, and as we were leaving he pointed out an ATM, so I stumbled through my first-ever European ATM experience. I was not accustomed to dealing with conversion rates, but the US dollar is worth about 2.75 PLN, so any false starts I made were mitigated by the illusion of getting more money than I had asked for. I happily put my brightly-colored 50-złoty bills in my wallet and followed Ashley out.

A line of taxis waited outside the terminal. Ashley confidently approached the first one and asked, “English?” The driver shook his head flatly: no. Ashley grinned at me and said, “Okay, we’ll see how this goes.” I wasn’t too worried, because Matylda had given me the address of the flat, and I was prepared to show it to the driver on my phone. That was soon to become the next thing I’d learn how to say in Polish: my street address. I was like a little kid, prepared to feel all accomplished and grown-up once I’d memorized my address and phone number.

But Ashley knew the address, and said it out loud in Polish, and the driver nodded, and off we went.

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