Sunday, 11 March 2018

The first trade-free Sunday

I pledge this post customarily has been scheduled to come out on Sunday, yet on account of other, more interesting plans for today, I wrote it yesterday and could not report here the full picture of the first regular Sunday when shops are closed.

The lawmakers’ primary rationale for bringing in the ban on trade on (around half of) Sundays was to bring this day back to the family, to make people spend more time together, or, alternatively to devoid them of choice, whether to visit a supermarket or a church. Changing people’s habits through legislative acts looms as a domain of totalitarian or authoritarian governments (though I do know this assertion is debatable).

The main argument of the new law’s proponents is that shops in most countries of the Western EU are closed on Sundays. I saw this while venturing abroad and I still am in two minds about this. In January 2017, while flying in to Madrid on Sunday afternoon, knowing the trade is forbidden there, I deliberately did not any snacks to make a supper, my companion and I just ventured into town thinking we would easily find an eatery. Eventually we roamed for around an hour searching for an open restaurant. Prompting eatery-keepers to close them on Sunday means depriving them of sizeable turnover, something I do not hold with.

Imposing such solutions will not work miracles I believe. A new legal act will not make customers go to church or spend more time will relatives. It will only change their shopping habits (maybe I make a huge mistake by thinking people go to trade outpost to purchase stuff as I do, but many just go there to enjoy the weekend).

Although I am not in favour of the ban, since many years I strived not to shop on Sundays. I always believed Saturday was the part of weekend dedicated to mundane duties which could not be handled over the working week, while Sunday was a day of rest, relax, recharging batteries, indulging in hobbies, touching the nature, long walks, cycling. I have rarely contributed to thriving trade on Sundays, but coercing others not to shop just because I do is a step too far. Another aspect of the issue is the fate of employees who until now were forced to work on Sundays. The best solution here is… (yes, indeed) the imposition of higher wages on Sundays which will induce some to sacrifice their free time; another option is a voluntary participation in Sunday shift, yet such concept appears less practicable since if too few volunteers would sign up, shoppers could face the problem of understaffing.

Needless to say, emergence of a new regulation naturally turns on ingenuity of those affected by it. Petrol stations, also those state-owned, might sell washing machines, shopping galleries might be turned into showrooms. Traders come up with several ways of circumventing the new, the lawmakers will struggle to tackle it and crack down on loopholes allowing exceptions to the prohibitions.

My observations from yesterday: denser traffic and crowds in nearby Auchan and adjacent gallery.

My predictions for today: hundreds of nieogarnięci, who, despite numerous reminders, headed to the shops and run across closed doors, nearly empty roads.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

All the money in the world – film review, but not only

There is no uniform definition of being rich. Two-third of Poles, earning less than national average salary of somewhat more than four thousand zloty before tax, can consider me rich. While ordinary people bridle at politicians’ five-digit bonuses, for me such handshake, leaving out my dislike for PiS, is imaginable and justified for officials who take on substantial responsibility for the state. KPMG report on luxury goods in Poland defines as “rich” a person who earns PLN 20,000 before-tax monthly. For most people unthinkably much, yet after-tax and after getting into the second tax bracket this converts into PLN 11,000 and if such “rich man” is the only breadwinner of a family with two children, their salary is high enough for comfortable life, but not to accumulate substantial savings.

People come into wealth in several ways. Some inherit it, some set up businesses and work tirelessly to grow it, some quickly climb corporate ladders and after several promotions their base salary grows to several times national average and they become eligible for generous bonuses and other perquisites. The pace of growing rich depends not only on the income, but on your… spending habits and if we talk about wealthy, yet not rich people, spending habits matter the most. Thrifty people whose lifestyle is far from luxurious are, needless to say, more likely to accumulate wealth. But while being prudent with money is considered a merit, it is easy to overstep a boundary beyond which one becomes a skinflint.

All the money in the world, nominated to several awards, including, sadly, only one Oscar nomination, tells the true story of once the richest man in the world, who also was the biggest skinflint in the world (how parsimonious a human being can be, if, being the richest person in the world, he skimps money on hospital treatment of his terminally ill son?). I will write little about the plot and simply recommend you go to a cinema before it disappears from the silver screen (unless it already has disappeared, since it premiered in late January and I watched it in mid-February). I will only share my general thought that the picture is well-shot and advise you look up in a search engine shots with Kevin Spacey whose character, after the outbreak of sexual harassment scandal, was replaced by Christopher Plummer.

The film has made me ponder even more upon the role of money in interhuman relationships. On Friday in the office I had to listen to a conversation about advantages of pre-nuptial agreement and heard several pieces of advice how to move into separate property regime after you forgot to sign the pre-nuptial agreement in the right moment.

But each day brings talks about money:
- A guy who organises a wedding gave his girlfriend a ring some time ago given to his previous girlfriend (why pay twice, everybody knows how resourceful he is, except for his girlfriend) and then worked out how much money they should collect in envelopes so that the wedding reception pays for itself.
- Another guy has told a story of his girlfriend giving him money (he had an employee account with higher interest) which he invested on the stock market (but returned to her with 3% interest, the rest kept for himself.
- Yet another guy has an arrangement with FX dealer who exchanges him currencies at most favourable rates, this guy offers exchange service to other people. The effect is that they split the difference between the favourable exchange office rate and the rate from the dealer and split the profit between the two. The funny thing is that the profit to be split is some PLN 0.30 per EUR 100.
- Talks about tax refunds, discount offers, how to save money in honest or dishonest way, etc are the order of the day in the office.

I am also thrifty and watch every zloty before I spend it, I admit, but life is not a profit and loss account; money, though at times I believe the world revolves around it, is not major (albeit essential) part of life. But the saying “gentlemen do not talk about the money” is something more people could put into practice. Actually I am not in favour of avoiding money as a subject of conversations at any price, yet I am calling for more reasonable proportions.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

South and north, mid-winter journeys

Off to Bielsko-Biała (my first ever trip to the city) to meet my girlfriend’s family (parents, grandparents, siblings). This time refraining from any personal anecdotes (though the visit was enjoyable whatsoever), I will just focus on the sightseeing part of the trip.

We left Warsaw after 8 a.m. in the morning to reach our destination four hours later, meaning the travel time if you drive considerately and economically (after driving 10 thousand kilometres within 9 month I began to appreciate benefits of eco-driving not in town only) is comparable to a duration of Pendolino ride. Also the cost is similar if two people travel (just slightly more than PLN 200).

In late afternoon we headed to the city to roam around. To the right, illumination of Reksio, a classic dog from old-school Polish cartoons serving as a reminder Bielsko-Biała was a home to the biggest Polish “factory” of cartoons, where origins of the famous dog trace back to. Next to the barking, lit-up large dog, a small bronze (or brass) monument thereof.

Although the Christmas tide was long gone (photo taken on 3 February), the market square (one of four in the city, yet the only one not adapted as a car park) was wonderfully lightened by bright diodes. It was the middle of winter school holidays in Silesia province, so hundreds of teenagers were rambling about.

Around the end of our saunter, another classic-cartoon monument, Bolek i Lolek, a statue next to Sfera, the biggest shopping mall in Bielsko-Biała (sadly, a place whose name nearly turns everybody on and trips to which are the main pastime activity of the city’s inhabitants).

As on Saturday the weather was autumn-like (+1C, cloudy), Saturday morning brought snow in abundance. This is the sight we woke up to on Sunday around 8 a.m. By then and over the next hours a nearly 10-centimetre layer of white powder has accumulated (snow ceased around midday). I was frightened the snow would wreak havoc to the traffic and our journey home would last far longer than four hours, but by early afternoon road clearing services have done their job and the return turned out to be smooth.

Undaunted by severe weather, we headed for a short trip to nearby mountains, firstly by a cable car, then we climbed (through the ascent was anything but steep) to Szyndzielnia and somewhere further towards Klimczok. To the right, somewhere more than 1,000 metres above sea level, trees struck by gusty wind around last Christmas.

And yet another trip, towards the land of lakes. To the right, Śniardwy, the biggest lake in Poland, frozen over. The temperature was -6C, the water was frozen solid so that people confidently walked on it or rode quads. We did not venture far into the ice. The view, shortly before the sunset, magnificent in the depth of its gloom.

The major attraction of the next day was a visit to a wildlife park in Kadzidłowo (Park Dzikich Zwierząt) where many species of animals normally living in the woods or not inhabiting this part of Europe are bred (and tamed). A lovely place to pop by, especially if you have small children – in my opinion a far more interesting than visit to a zoo (to the right a flock of... errr, tell me what animals these are).

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Learning to live together

Spent the last two weekends roaming around Poland. Over the first weekend of February I ventured south to meet my would-be in-laws, a week ago into Mazury, to take delight in wintery landscape of the lakes area in the low season. For technical reasons, I will catch up with the photo coverage somewhat later, at best in a week J

The common denominator of the last weeks were ups and downs of living under one roof with my better half. Both of us had never had a chance to get accustomed to cohabit with a life companion under one roof, therefore such major change has been a sort of stressful for both of us. Living together is mainly about fighting some of one’s habits and accepting some of your partner’s habits, where both sides should find some areas where they decide to give in and others where they insist to hold on to what they are used to.

For many couples a common dwelling is not just a turning point that marks moving a level up, but also the end of so-called bed of roses. This regularity pertains mainly to couples whose dating prior to living together confined to going out, spending time together, but without sharing down-to-earth duties. This is unfortunately what daily life is all about and what has brought to an end the carefree periods of my friends’ relationships (they all hark back to times before finding themselves with their life companions under one roof). I need to confess the process of moving and early days in “our = rented” flat have been quite smooth and painless. We both displayed a lot of patience towards each other and held back our emotions for several occasions. The first days went without a major spat, however a few more serious, frank talks turned out to be essential to sort some things out and clear the atmosphere.

I cannot say I am disillusioned, but I am slowly coming to terms with abandoning my dreams of an ideal relationship. Every human, inevitably, has drawbacks, and while spending lots of time with somebody you care for, clashes are inexorable as well. It only takes good manners and lots of composure not to lose one’s temper and to stand up to what you believe, balancing this with a proper dose of respect to your partner and their autonomy. Whenever a crisis hits me, I recall my better half has accepted my several shortcomings and puts up with me which is not easy; this gives me more strength and patience to cope with her idiosyncrasies.

For the time being the biggest challenge are eating habits. My better half is a vegetarian, not a hard-line one, meaning she does not accuse everyone around eating meat of contributing to killing what once has been alive, but as she declares, she had never ever had a single gram of meat (nor fish) in her mouth, while I, in order not to stay hungry, need regular intake of nutrients with animal proteins and I am unwilling to give up on it. For a while it is not a big concern (though cooking a lunch we would both eat is impossible, which makes me kind of sad, in the light of my new resolution to learn to cook after entering this new stage), yet many people have advised me to think it over how it all would look when she gets pregnant and children are born. Coercing would not work (or would rather have the opposite effect), convincing somebody who is very sensitive to any conversation on the topic of their eating habits (after hearing regularly she was weird on account of refusing to eat meat at all) could also work like a red rag to a bull. I can only tell myself nutrition habits and not a fundamental part of relationship and definitely should not become a deciding factor when choosing a life companion (which oddly enough is not as obvious, after I met many people who would declare they would not accept a partner who does not eat meat “as normal humans do”). By the way it gets to the worst, while you are influenced by opinions expressed by several people around to such extent that you fail to distinguish whether your view is your own one of shaped by influencers who whisper beliefs into your ears.

Besides, worth noting this weekend marks the ninth anniversary of blogging. My activity here has been on the wane for a while, yet I have my goal of keeping up the job for one year on, to reach the milestone of round decade of roughly regular writing. Most bloggers from once buoyant English-Polish blogosphere have dropped off quite long ago, so maybe instead of griping about my malperformance I should rather take pride in relatively long record of blogging.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Renting a flat

If there is somebody breaking a record in length of property lookout, I believe I would stand a chance of being in among leaders. I set off to search unhurriedly in late 2015, in 2016 I was giving it up on a few times, while considering moving to another European capital as part of secondment and buying a flat after I return, or moving to Wrocław (this involved a promotion I was doomed not to get). There was a time when my housing needs were met by hotels or time of absolute indifference and little hope for the future when I still hunted, but with not much zeal, nor pressure to buy.

Though I have not bought a flat, it does not mean I have not found any which I had been keen to purchase. After my “relationship status” changed for the better, the search accelerated and after somewhat loosening the criteria I have found four flats I was intent to buy. As it turns out, it takes two to tango, which means if a vendor puts up an advertisement, they do not necessarily aim to finalise the deal.

Without going into details, reasons why I am not a flat-owner are as follows:

Flat #1, the sellers wanted to sell their flat, but expected a buyer to let rent it from the new owner until June 2018, when they would be able to move in to their brand-new flat, currently under construction. Since such transaction would not help my housing needs be met, I gave it a rest.

Flat #2, the one which took my fancy the most. I kept a diary of negotiations… I found the ad directly from the owner (actually son-in-law of owners handling the whole stuff) on 18 July and immediately called him. After three calls I saw the flat on 7 August 2017, then once again with my parents on 12 August, then met the owners on 18 August to discuss details of the deal. Since asking price was quite attractive, there was no room for haggling and potential buyers were expected to place bids and the winning bidder would buy the flat. On 25 August the sellers called me to inform they would keep on letting the flat, instead of getting rid of it and maybe they would return to the market in a year.

Flat #3, quite OK rather than dreamt-up, but attractively priced. I was the first one to visit the flat and place a bid. The process kicked off immediately, but while I asked for a set of documents required by a notary to draw up a notarial deed, they turned out to had been missing, since 2001 when there was some mess with the housing co-operative which went bankrupt upon the completion of that estate…

Flat #4, also good enough and well-priced, with little additional outlays required. I carried on with negotiations, arranging a crew of dab hands to turn the bathroom (which needed a thorough refurbrishment) upside down, finally cheerful and putting faith everything was on track, I did not notice the seller was hanging back on arranging a date with a notary. Soon she called me to notify she had sold the flat to someone else.

I picked up that last call on the last week of November. Sadly, I must notice the number of flats put up for sale has dwindled recently and I blame high rent yields (according to the recent NBP report residential rent produces five times higher earnings than an average bank deposit) which induce several property-owners to let their flats instead of selling them. NBP figures which show number of transactions on secondary residential property market diminished from nearly 2,100 in 3Q2016 to 1,100 in 3Q2017 might support my presumptions.

In 2018 I have not a single flat I would wish to visit and the number of new advertisements is close to zero (this could be put down to winter holidays as well).

In the meantime my girlfriend, who rented a room in a flat, despite several attempts had not had her rent contract, which expired on 31 December 2017, renewed. The flat-owner, who lives somewhere in Poland, was too lazy to come to Warsaw and sign the papers, so from the beginning of this month she lived there without an agreement. On top, just before we headed for Norway, her flatmate told she would move out at the end of the month.

We discussed all pros and cons and arrived at the decision we would rent a small flat together and reside there until I buy something reasonable. After returning to Poland two weeks ago we entered a race against time. We knew the rent market in Warsaw is red-hot and any attractively-priced flat draws in a queue of potential tenants. We knew once we found something which would meet our needs, we would need to make a decision swiftly. In the first two flats we visited we made a mistake by being too sincere and declaring we would not promise to rent for at least a year. The prospect of looking for new tenants in a few months has probably put off landlords and our bids were immediately were turned down. There was a story of a cheap flat to be rented for a short period, until a 104-year grandma, who is formally entitled to reside until death there but reside in a nursing home, deceases, but I don’t feel like recounting it. In the fourth flat we lied we would want to rent for at least a year, but insisted on a just-in-case 1-month notice termination option. Out there, we signed the contract within one day and fended off the threat of my girlfriend becoming homeless.

This marks a new stage in the relationship, but still is perceived by me as a temporary solution, a quick fix before my own flat is found. Until this happens, may we dwell the rented one uneventfully.

Since next weekend we head south so that I meet my girlfriend’s parents and in two weeks we head north to get some well-deserved relax, the last before my girlfriend’s exam in mid-May and the subsequent holidays, the next posting will be due around 18 February.