First Impressions

First Impressions

We don’t know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don’t always appreciate their fragility.
— Malcolm Gladwell

Please don’t let your first impression in Katowice form your opinion of all of Poland,” lamented Anna, our train companion on the six hour train ride from Budapest, Hungary to Katowice, Poland.

Anna, from Warsaw, Poland, speaks three languages fluently (Polish, German, English), lives in Vienna, Austria, was traveling to Warsaw to visit her parents for Easter, and graciously answered a million of our questions including but not limited to:

Why did they check our tickets three times on this train? How to the Austrians feel about that Soviet War Memorial monument in Schwartzenbergerplatz? How many letters do you have in the Polish alphabet? Do you think in Polish, German, or English? How do Polish people feel about the outlawing of references to “Polish death camps”? Why is the Polish language so hard? How do you say “thank you” in Polish? Wait, what? HOW do you say thank you?  Can you repeat it again? What took you from Warsaw to Vienna?

Yes, yes. I know. I have so many questions. For everyone. ALL the time. But it has been so, so rare in our travels here in Europe to connect with someone who 1) speaks English so beautifully and 2) was so willing share!

So I’m thinking this Easter of our pleasant visit with Anna, and I’m remembering my reply to her parting lament: “Anna, our first impression of Poland is you, and it is wonderful!”

It’s true, isn’t it? That first impressions carry real weight? Our first impression of Hong Kong (with the dirty, cockroach-infested apartment and less-than-stellar communication with our host) tainted our perception of the entire country!

And as I sit here in Poland in the off-the-beaten-path city of Katowice where few tourists travel, I’m ever-cognizant that we four represent The United States with every connection — and I hope always to represent her well.

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