1. I stopped talking so loud in public.
It’s funny the things you notice when you go abroad. One of the first things I observed was that as an American I spoke loud in comparison to Poles. When I first got to Krakow, a Pole told me that Americans speak at a level of 10 while Poles speak at around a 4. In Krakow, conversations are barely above a whisper, and even at bars it was relatively quiet. I quickly learned to be aware of my voice so to not be labeled as the stereotypical loud American.
2. I no longer had neutral feelings towards vodka.
Back in the States, I always associated vodka with the cheap stuff that left your head pounding in the morning. In Krakow, vodka is an art. There are entire bars dedicated to the spirit, where they have more than 100 flavors to try. I was also introduced to Zubrowka, a bison grass vodka that is dangerously delicious when mixed with apple juice.
3. I learned how to dress better.
In California, sweats and a t-shirt were my usual uniform, but in Krakow wearing that made me stand out and screamed to everyone that I was an American. The local women seemed effortlessly put together with their calf-length boots and pea coats. I quickly followed suit and traded my sneakers for a pair of brown boots and my sweatshirts for sweaters.
4. I stopped depending on an appliance to dry my clothes.
Every apartment in Krakow has a washing machine conveniently located in the bathroom, but never a drier. Instead, clothes are line dried, no mater if it’s summer or the middle of winter. This took some adjusting to, since it took up to two days for clothes to fully dry, and I had to carefully plan my washing schedules around this lengthy process.
5. I stopped eating breakfast at home.
Obwarzanek, a circular ring of chewy bread that is sold from street carts was the easiest way to grab a bite to eat early in the morning. They were also less than a dollar, and therefore quickly replaced my typical morning meal of cold cereal and milk.
6. I no longer relied constantly on public transportation.
Living walking distance from the Main Square, my university, and the main shopping centers, I only needed to take public transportation a handful of times. Having such accessibility made it easier to explore the city on a whim without having to factor in public transportation schedules. It also made me get to know the city on a more intimate level as I got to experience life on the streets play out.
7. I stopped depending on a plane to get somewhere new.
One of the best parts about Krakow is that it’s centrally located so that you can easily visit other nearby cities on long weekends. Dresden, Budapest, Prague, and Austria were all an overnight train ride away, where I could board the train at night, and wake up the next morning in a whole new country. Back in the US, if I wanted to go to Mexico or Canada I would have to take a plane and would have to deal with all the hassles that come along with air travel.
8. I realized that I shouldn’t take the central heating back home for granted.
Central heating is not a common thing in most Krakow apartments since they are so old. Space heaters are the only way to heat these places up but were hardly effective in my drafty room. Wearing my coat, gloves and a warm hat was a necessity to keep myself from freezing on those cold winter nights.
9. I realized I’d never had real hot chocolate.
I never liked hot chocolate in the States, thanks to the packaged mix that is usually brought on camping trips or made during the holidays. Hot chocolate in Krakow completely changed my mind — it was thick and strong and so unlike the watered-down version I was used to. In true Polish fashion, there was sometimes a bit of vodka thrown into the mix to spice it up.
10. I reconsidered my skepticism of fairytales.
In the US, I was raised with a good dose of Disney when I was younger, but naturally outgrew it once I got older. Living in Krakow, you often feel like you are living inside a fairytale city, with an ancient Main Square and Wawel Castle, where kings and queens are buried underneath. It was hard for me not to renew that childhood sense of wonder around the city.
The mascot of Krakow is a dragon, which, as local legends go, was terrorizing the city until one brave knight slain him. As a deeply skeptical American, Krakow made me believe in a bit of magic once again.
11. I no longer gave a lackluster approach to Christmas.
Growing up, Christmas was a holiday that my family celebrated with the usual traditions of a tree, gifts and good food, but nothing over the top. As an adult, I continued these minimal holiday traditions on my own, seeing Christmas in the US as a largely commercial holiday.
In Krakow, where the majority of the population is Catholic, Christmas time is a huge deal and it’s centered around family. The holiday markets in the Main Square, Midnight Mass, and the Wigilia feast on Christmas Eve made a Grinch like me learn to embrace this holiday full on.