Sunday, 5 May 2013

Early May long weekend – from sociological standpoint

1 May (Labour Day) and 3 May (Constitution Day) are bank holidays in Poland. This favourable alignment of non-working days almost each year gives an opportunity to extend a weekend preceding or following those days and take longer holidays. The majówka has already become a well-established annual tradition since the Constitution Day was reinstated over 20 years ago, while Labour Day, the paramount festival of the working class in PRL, remained intact as a public holiday.

Customarily, most schools and universities do not hold classes, many offices close, public transport vehicles run according to weekend timetables. In a word, in the first days of May Poland runs into a standstill, or at least is ticking over.

Many people decide to go on holiday at this time, as by taking a few days off they may extend their time off-work for up to 9 days. Many do this because they have no choice, either because they need to look after their children, or because their employer forces them not to come to work. Lucky are those who may voluntarily come to work on working days in the middle of the long weekend. The customary daily routine is that you come slightly later, go for a longer lunch and knock off earlier. Little is going on in the office, nobody pesters you with e-mails, phone calls and at the end of the day it turns out your efficiency rises and within 5 hours your output is equivalent to what you manage to do on a normal 9-hours working day – you can sit back and catch up with overdue tasks. For this reason I hardly ever take days off during long weekends. It simply doesn’t pay off, I even draw a lot of pleasure from going to work on such days. The atmosphere is quite specific and I must say everyone likes this feeling of being laid-back.

If you aren’t at work, there are several popular ways of spending the early May long weekend: going to holiday resorts (seaside, lake district, mountains), spending it in own or friends’ allotments, or on outdoor activities near your dwelling. This year I feel sorry for those who decided to holiday away from home, as the weather, unlike last year, is awful. Temperature below 20C, sparse moments of sunshine, yet rainfalls in abundance. Only today sunshine fought away clouds and Poland was basking in spring pre-heat.

The key outdoor form of entertainment in the last 20 years in Poland is making a barbecue. People from all walks of life keenly indulge in this form of leisure. No matter if you have a big garden, an allotment, a balcony or go to a park, no matter where you live, how much money you have, how old you are, preparing grilled staff and consuming it gives pleasure to almost everyone, except for some neighbours, sick of inhaling accompanying smoke. This year weather has not been conducive, as it settled clement at the end of the weekend, but today I finally bothered to inaugurate the barbecue season…

From what I observed over those days:

1 May 2013 – lots of people working around their houses – painting fences, cleaning cars, tidying up garages, mowing lawns. This is not a Church holiday so nothing holds them back from physical work which is considered inappropriate on Church holidays. Trains run half-empty (I boarded one in Warsaw, after getting sweat during a bike ride – air was very humid and I decided to take a rest and let the train carry myself closer to home). On my way I noticed few people on bikes, those I ran across were usually fathers with children.

On 1 May few people take part in marches staged by leftist organisations. Instead of claiming the rights of the working class, Poles prefer to relax. But if, for ideological reasons, someone would attempt to scrap the Labour Day, they would all in unison stand up for this bank holiday, for their right to have a long spring weekend.

2 May 2013 – traffic is sparse – on my way to work I get fed up with unhurried drivers and… am in a luck not to be caught by a police patrol, or by a speed camera. Having got off the underground I stroll past desolated streets to my office. At half past three I knock off and cadge a lift from my workmate who lives in Ursynów. Thanks to her favour I get to my car within 20 minutes – the traffic is blissfully sparse, although not as sparse as on bank holiday – this indicates shopping generates much of the traffic volume... Then I head for Konstancin and while I’m driving, heavens open. I feel sorry for numerous bedraggled cyclists I spot there.

3 May 2013 – rainfalls cease around midday. In the afternoon I set off to Piaseczno. I pass by few people as I walk to my hometown; traffic on the roads is anything but dense. The humans I come across come basically from two groups – either parents taking their children for a walk, or alcohol addicts on the lookout for a liquid which would quench their thirst. On the market square I observe a patriotic celebration taking place. Runners are getting ready to a Piaseczno – mile race. Most people sticking around are again parents with children. Credit to them – at least they want to familiarise their offspring with the history (40% of Poles don’t know what event we commemorate on 3 May, is unaware of circumstances in which the constitution was passed, or mistakes it for independence day…). The upbeat observation is that almost all cafes and bars are open – if you want to eat out on a national holiday, you won’t have troubles finding an eatery. The downbeat (or, why?) observation is that all off-licence shops are opened and in front of each you can see a gathering of drunkards (I was accosted by one of them, insisting I lent him 2 PLN). Besides – humans almost disappeared, Piaseczno again appears abandoned.

Swimming pool, which I visited three times during the weekend was anything, but full. The better for me, on Saturday morning half of the time of swimming I could enjoy the whole track at my disposal.

Today, while cycling from 10 a.m. until midday, I spotted no more than 20 other bike-riders, including an admirably fit “grandpa”. The man, I estimate no younger than 70, while overtaking me (I cycled some 20 kmph) asked how to get to the [brand] shop with sports stuff and having received instructions accelerated and rushed forward. The chap’s fitness was enviable.

Crowds were somewhere else… The picture which emerges from the jumble of observations above is gloomy. Given that
- an average Pole can’t afford to spend the long weekend away from home, unless at their family’s,
- number of cars parked outside houses and living blocks was no lower than on ordinary weekend,
- few people were out to the streets and traffic was sparse,
- on 1 May and 3 May shops were closed (unless their owners, their families or employees with contracts not governed by the labour code stood behind the counter),
- no crowds could be spotted in the places of leisure,
- half of Poles do not read a single book in a year,
the facts above lead me to a dejecting conclusion that an average Pole spends the long weekend sitting or lying in front of TV (or computer) screen and this gets me down. I’d prefer my nation to be more open-minded and this can be achieved by spending more time outdoors and in places other than supermarkets and shopping malls. I’d prefer my nation to be fitter and without walking, swimming, cycling or working out this can’t be achieved.

Or maybe I’m just picking on. Everyone should rest and relax the way the feel is best for them. Doctors advise people whose lifestyle is sedentary should choose pastime activities involving physical exercises. After spending most of the week behind my desk at work I can’t imagine myself sitting more than I need before my laptop or lying in bed and watching TV (I hardly ever do this). Spring beckons and young body cannot resist it!

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