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A Chip Shop in Poznań: My Unlikely Year in Poland

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'One of the funniest books of the year' - Paul Ross, talkRADIO WARNING: CONTAINS AN UNLIKELY IMMIGRANT, AN UNSUNG COUNTRY, A BUMPY ROMANCE, SEVERAL SHATTERED PRECONCEPTIONS, TRACES OF INSIGHT, A DOZEN NUNS AND A REFERENDUM. Not many Brits move to Poland to work in a fish and chip shop. Fewer still come back wanting to be a Member of the European Parliament. In 2016 Ben Aitken 'One of the funniest books of the year' - Paul Ross, talkRADIO WARNING: CONTAINS AN UNLIKELY IMMIGRANT, AN UNSUNG COUNTRY, A BUMPY ROMANCE, SEVERAL SHATTERED PRECONCEPTIONS, TRACES OF INSIGHT, A DOZEN NUNS AND A REFERENDUM. Not many Brits move to Poland to work in a fish and chip shop. Fewer still come back wanting to be a Member of the European Parliament. In 2016 Ben Aitken moved to Poland while he still could. It wasn’t love that took him but curiosity: he wanted to know what the Poles in the UK had left behind. He flew to a place he’d never heard of and then accepted a job in a chip shop on the minimum wage. When he wasn’t peeling potatoes he was on the road scratching the country’s surface: he milked cows with a Eurosceptic farmer; missed the bus to Auschwitz; spent Christmas with complete strangers and went to Gdańsk to learn how communism got the chop. By the year’s end he had a better sense of what the Poles had turned their backs on - southern mountains, northern beaches, dumplings! - and an uncanny ability to bone cod. This is a candid, funny and offbeat tale of a year as an unlikely immigrant.


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'One of the funniest books of the year' - Paul Ross, talkRADIO WARNING: CONTAINS AN UNLIKELY IMMIGRANT, AN UNSUNG COUNTRY, A BUMPY ROMANCE, SEVERAL SHATTERED PRECONCEPTIONS, TRACES OF INSIGHT, A DOZEN NUNS AND A REFERENDUM. Not many Brits move to Poland to work in a fish and chip shop. Fewer still come back wanting to be a Member of the European Parliament. In 2016 Ben Aitken 'One of the funniest books of the year' - Paul Ross, talkRADIO WARNING: CONTAINS AN UNLIKELY IMMIGRANT, AN UNSUNG COUNTRY, A BUMPY ROMANCE, SEVERAL SHATTERED PRECONCEPTIONS, TRACES OF INSIGHT, A DOZEN NUNS AND A REFERENDUM. Not many Brits move to Poland to work in a fish and chip shop. Fewer still come back wanting to be a Member of the European Parliament. In 2016 Ben Aitken moved to Poland while he still could. It wasn’t love that took him but curiosity: he wanted to know what the Poles in the UK had left behind. He flew to a place he’d never heard of and then accepted a job in a chip shop on the minimum wage. When he wasn’t peeling potatoes he was on the road scratching the country’s surface: he milked cows with a Eurosceptic farmer; missed the bus to Auschwitz; spent Christmas with complete strangers and went to Gdańsk to learn how communism got the chop. By the year’s end he had a better sense of what the Poles had turned their backs on - southern mountains, northern beaches, dumplings! - and an uncanny ability to bone cod. This is a candid, funny and offbeat tale of a year as an unlikely immigrant.

30 review for A Chip Shop in Poznań: My Unlikely Year in Poland

  1. 4 out of 5

    Carole Edgeworth

    After a recent phase of reading about the holocaust and the Polish people’s dark and troubled past, I was ready to introduce a lighter period of literature into my life and the ‘Chip Shop in Poznan’ was right up my street and a good segway into a glimpse of post war, post-communist Poland. Ben’s journey to discover the relationship between Poland and Britain and why so many Poles were leaving home, which just happened to be during the year of the referendum, was so colourful and witty that I lite After a recent phase of reading about the holocaust and the Polish people’s dark and troubled past, I was ready to introduce a lighter period of literature into my life and the ‘Chip Shop in Poznan’ was right up my street and a good segway into a glimpse of post war, post-communist Poland. Ben’s journey to discover the relationship between Poland and Britain and why so many Poles were leaving home, which just happened to be during the year of the referendum, was so colourful and witty that I literally couldn’t wait to meet the next chapter. It was littered with humour and so descriptive that I could easily believe I was already there alongside Ben (in between peeling spuds and boning cod) as he staked out the various towns, cities, pubs and bars, meeting the queerest and dearest of folks, eating the weirdest concoctions and experiencing all the wonderful and sometimes dangerous (female) encounters along the way. I particularly enjoyed Ben’s stint as an ESL teacher, having personally supported non English speaking students, I found his newly acquired skills and experiences familiar and hilarious! Images previously embedded in my head of a grey and gloomy Poland were wiped out and replaced with colour, humour, a little suspense and a bit of an education, moving it higher up my list of ‘places to visit before I die’. A Chip Shop in Poznan is great value for money if you want a travel guide, a history lesson, a therapy session and a ‘laugh out loud’ turn pager!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Fiona Erskine

    I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging and soul baring book. It's also VERY funny. The premise is brilliant - do to the Eastern Europeans what they do to the Brits - come over legally and work hard at the jobs we don't want. Unfortunately Ben would be the first to admit that his work ethic and time keeping makes the balance a little uneven. And only in Poland would they make him debone whole, frozen cod and peel and slice potatoes in a fish shop. Or dry cows (love that mistranslation). Or teach Englis I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging and soul baring book. It's also VERY funny. The premise is brilliant - do to the Eastern Europeans what they do to the Brits - come over legally and work hard at the jobs we don't want. Unfortunately Ben would be the first to admit that his work ethic and time keeping makes the balance a little uneven. And only in Poland would they make him debone whole, frozen cod and peel and slice potatoes in a fish shop. Or dry cows (love that mistranslation). Or teach English phrasal verbs to infants. Travel writing at its finest, Bill Bryson meets Philomena Cunk meets Mark Lawson.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Katia

    Really liked this. It showed me Poland from a completely different angle, one which I hope to experience for myself one day. Thought it was going to have more detail in certain areas- more in depth conversations etc. Answering the questions asked. But after reading it I think the detail is there it’s just more spread out. Focused more on people. Gave me a good view into modern life in Poland. Political and social standings in Poland. Descriptions and the way he noticed little things and him comm Really liked this. It showed me Poland from a completely different angle, one which I hope to experience for myself one day. Thought it was going to have more detail in certain areas- more in depth conversations etc. Answering the questions asked. But after reading it I think the detail is there it’s just more spread out. Focused more on people. Gave me a good view into modern life in Poland. Political and social standings in Poland. Descriptions and the way he noticed little things and him commenting what he took photos of was cool. Felt like I was there amongst the people and different events. Some bits were cringe. Enjoyed the narrative voice. Funnnyyy. Modern travelling.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lexi

    Terrible. The writer is not as charming or funny as he thinks (the book isn’t funny at all) and it’s indulgent, patronising nonsense. Also boring. Not even the ‘traces’ of insight promised on the cover. If I’d met him while living there I would’ve avoided at the outset.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Deborah-Ruth

    Every year hundreds of Poles move to the UK, but why? What is so special about Britain that they do so? In a strange twist of Immigration, Aitken sets off to discover for himself through moving to Poland for a year. In Poland he recounts his experiences of showing up uninvited to a stranger's house on Christmas, discovering how bad he is at making fish and chips as well as teaching, and visiting Auschwitz. I really enjoyed this book especially as soon I will be going to Poland myself. It was lig Every year hundreds of Poles move to the UK, but why? What is so special about Britain that they do so? In a strange twist of Immigration, Aitken sets off to discover for himself through moving to Poland for a year. In Poland he recounts his experiences of showing up uninvited to a stranger's house on Christmas, discovering how bad he is at making fish and chips as well as teaching, and visiting Auschwitz. I really enjoyed this book especially as soon I will be going to Poland myself. It was light-hearted and a fun read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I was glad of having the end of this book to read on such a shameful day in the UK. I definitely need to seek out his 'Dear Bill Bryson' tour of Britain and I thought it brave of him to admit that he had not, because of the language barriers, been able to get under the skin of Poland and the Polish in the same way. This is one of those engaging rambling, waffling, flaneur-ish books that is deceptively meaningful, quietly passionate. Aitken took his curiosity as the EU referendum approached to go I was glad of having the end of this book to read on such a shameful day in the UK. I definitely need to seek out his 'Dear Bill Bryson' tour of Britain and I thought it brave of him to admit that he had not, because of the language barriers, been able to get under the skin of Poland and the Polish in the same way. This is one of those engaging rambling, waffling, flaneur-ish books that is deceptively meaningful, quietly passionate. Aitken took his curiosity as the EU referendum approached to go and investigate Poland and why Polish people come to the UK, and to do so by living there for a year and doing minimum wage jobs. It was sobering in the acknowledgements to realise he is doing minimum wage jobs back here whilst writing - I sincerely hope he's a more diligent carer than he is a preparer of cod.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nienke

    Mixed feelings on this one. The starting point is super interesting with a Brit going to Poland at Brexit times, forming his own opinion on Poland and trying to live a real polish life. The things he encounters and endeavors he undertakes (the Christmas dinner) are interesting and could be at times hilarious. However it was also not super easy to read somehow, I usually read a book like this in several days, this I read over the course of two months. I could not continue it for many pages at a time Mixed feelings on this one. The starting point is super interesting with a Brit going to Poland at Brexit times, forming his own opinion on Poland and trying to live a real polish life. The things he encounters and endeavors he undertakes (the Christmas dinner) are interesting and could be at times hilarious. However it was also not super easy to read somehow, I usually read a book like this in several days, this I read over the course of two months. I could not continue it for many pages at a time. The writing style was very often too much of an attempt to be funny that the desired light touch became a bit strained. Aggravated by the author using the same type of style figures often; putting people on the wrong foot (when you over do that people start thinking you are arrogant too) struggling through some hardship. Anyway it never felt fully alive. And I also did not like his “preacher” persona when he talks about EU, racism and many other things. Even though I fully agree with him on these points a book like this is not the platform to share your political views and other convictions (do not feed bread to the ducks people, do not!) and show offs on what he has read; at these moments I always put the book away again. Since the idea of the book is nice and the things that happen interesting I would recommend reading this book, however one chapter at a time, and some other things in between.

  8. 4 out of 5

    C.A. Monks

    Most of this travelogue is set in Poznan, a fabulous city I adore and have been to many times, the rest of the book reports from various places in Poland. It's a great book, the enthusiasm the writer has for Poland and people in general really shines through.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    On page 171 the word stationary is used instead of stationery. Normally that would be enough for me to deduct a star, but I'm going to make an exception this time.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Stewart Tunstall

    Interesting and insightful but a bit lacking in depth and description. A bit like this review...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kazik

    A light-hearted read that provided continuous good laughs. Very much enjoyed the footnotes that elaborate on the thoughts had at the time of writing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tessa Moult-Milewska

    Ben Aitken is definitely great at chopping potatoes but he's even better at slicing apart and serving a surprising mixture of stories from the country at the "heart of Europe". A sincere, mischievious and hilariously funny journal of strange and absolutely normal encounters that made me wish to visit Poland, even though I'm Polish.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marietta Milewska

    It's a great pleasure seeing your own country through the beady-eyes of an author who decided to leave a' comfort zone' to gain a true life experience. I couldn't help laughing. His observations are very accurate. Great ready.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mark Williams

    I wish I'd read this before I moved in with a Polish person! haha. No seriously it is a fascinating insight into the Polish pshyche and culture. Although in my opinion I feel like the author could go slightly deeper into this in parts. He does admit this himself however. I found the authors travels quite enlightening and unveiled parts of Poland that you may or may not know about. Set this against the context of the Brexit referendum and the triggering of Article 50 and this does add much needed c I wish I'd read this before I moved in with a Polish person! haha. No seriously it is a fascinating insight into the Polish pshyche and culture. Although in my opinion I feel like the author could go slightly deeper into this in parts. He does admit this himself however. I found the authors travels quite enlightening and unveiled parts of Poland that you may or may not know about. Set this against the context of the Brexit referendum and the triggering of Article 50 and this does add much needed context and colour to the text. Although quite weighty, I did find it easy to read in most parts and flew through it. Would recommend, although because of the context does have the danger of being outdated quickly.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Judith

    This was OK. I really didn't like the writing (or much care for the author as a result) and almost stopped reading it about 40ish pages in. But I persevered and it got a bit better. Some interesting bits about Poland, but not enough.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kasia

    I greatly enjoyed reading this humorous account of Poland. Loved the diary format. It was refreshing to see my homeland through the eyes of a British citizen.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Carol Eastbourne

    I was given a free copy in return for an honest review. The rating says it all.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dominik Moult-Milewski

    Very refreshing view of my lovely hometown Poznan and Poland. Sometimes it requaires a foreigner to point out the beauty of small things all around us.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Oliwia K

    It's off to a good start. Only few pages in but I already find the book entertaining. Also, the list of chapters is a good premise of some laughs to be had.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jess K

    The English 75% of me: I don’t want to be rude about this book, because I am not convinced that the author is really ok, and someone should probably check in on him. It was interesting at times, but frustrating at others, and a bit of a struggle to finish. The Polish 25% of me: Do not trust a word this man says; he doesn’t like pierogi, but you only find out 200 pages in. Poland did not ask for your opinion but I suppose you do acknowledge that at the end.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amory

    A seemingly endless journal of insignificant events of the authors dull tedious experiences. The only way I could finish this book was with 8 rounds of .45acp

  22. 5 out of 5

    Zula Rabikowska

    As a Polish person I think this boom was full of stereotypes. The narrative seemed to emanate a sense of entitlement, which put me off finishing the book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    There is something about a well-written travel book that I do truly love. In time such as now when I don't have the ability to set my feet on foreign soil it allows me an escape. It is a genre of books that I read many but don't tend to review too often. In this regard, I'm not sure why. Anyway, for me this book did add a little something to the mix. It is not simply a book about going to live and travel in another country. The author also looks at what it means to be an immigrant in Europe at There is something about a well-written travel book that I do truly love. In time such as now when I don't have the ability to set my feet on foreign soil it allows me an escape. It is a genre of books that I read many but don't tend to review too often. In this regard, I'm not sure why. Anyway, for me this book did add a little something to the mix. It is not simply a book about going to live and travel in another country. The author also looks at what it means to be an immigrant in Europe at the moment. All to often people especially in England belittle and moan about why so many people choose to come and live in our country from parts unknown to them. But these same people never seem to ask themselves why would someone choose to pick up and leave everything the known and a language that is there own and go somewhere else? When it comes to Ben Aitken he places his feet into the shoes of a great many British travel writers that have come before. For me, I greatly enjoy this fish out of water style. It seems to be something that these English writers do well. Along the way, we get to learn something of the places they go and have a few laughs usually at their expense as they try and sometimes fail to navigate a foreign land. Having been fortunate enough to spend some time in Poland some of what he said rang so true even in my short time there. But for me, he also opened my eyes to what it means to truly submerge your self into the polish culture and world. Because for me I think whilst reading about somewhere else is a great joy you can only really understand by being there and doing it. Whilst for the most part this is a light-hearted look at an English man abroad he does attempt to try and look at the bigger picture not only about immigration but also in some ways what Brexit will mean not only for the British but the Poles in the future. And no matter what side of this partially thorny fence you come down on I feel too many lies were told sometimes with deadly conscience and what is to come is anyone's guess. But here I think he does his best to give a little balance to what is going on. For the most part, though he keeps things bumbling along. It is a book that I was happy to spend time with, almost like a friend has come back from traveling and is telling you about there adventures. It is also worth noting that unlike most Aitken choose to go to a part of Poland that would little register for most planning to travel there. For me, the tourist hotspots no matter the country tend to have a lot in common. You will see the same American shops and an embrace of familiar foods to eat. But at the end of the day what point is there in going somewhere else just to experience the familiar? I suppose I crave new and different, something to keep my brain moving forward and ever learning. So what is there left to say about this book? It was a fun trip to a place and people I sort of know. Much Like Bryson and the others that have come before him, I think his aim is to provide some light-hearted insight into parts unknown possible to the reader. He also goes to show that most people unsurprisingly you will come across will generally be friendly and not all that different from your self. In a world that is determined at the moment to show us our differences, it's a nice thing to see a bit of unity. Its a book that I flew through fairly quickly and would be happy to recommend to you even if you have no intention of going I'm sure it will make you laugh.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Boleslaw

    I’ve loved racing through this sweet, funny, intimate account of the author’s time living and working in Poland, before and after the Brexit referendum. I’ve found myself looking at my neighbourhood streets in London like they were newly exotic, as I’ve picked up the goggles of being an outside observer from reading the descriptions of Poznań. And it has clever jokes and poignant jokes and silly jokes, and lots of lovely tinkly language, and a lot of drinking, and probably the best description of I’ve loved racing through this sweet, funny, intimate account of the author’s time living and working in Poland, before and after the Brexit referendum. I’ve found myself looking at my neighbourhood streets in London like they were newly exotic, as I’ve picked up the goggles of being an outside observer from reading the descriptions of Poznań. And it has clever jokes and poignant jokes and silly jokes, and lots of lovely tinkly language, and a lot of drinking, and probably the best description of peeling potatoes in any book I’ve read. And it’s sort of awful to re-live 2016 knowing all of what is yet to come. Highly recommended.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Oscar R

    A thoughtful, meaningful and very funny read. Aitken is the itchy-footed traveller that exists in all of us, yet none of us would be so bold as to migrate to a obscure part of a unfamiliar country and delve into its fast-food industry in order to inform us of our own nation’s strange position in the world. He’s a public-service flâneur. I received the book in the post, opened it - flicked to the first chapter and stood in the kitchen reading it - before I knew it I’d already got to Chapter 3 and m A thoughtful, meaningful and very funny read. Aitken is the itchy-footed traveller that exists in all of us, yet none of us would be so bold as to migrate to a obscure part of a unfamiliar country and delve into its fast-food industry in order to inform us of our own nation’s strange position in the world. He’s a public-service flâneur. I received the book in the post, opened it - flicked to the first chapter and stood in the kitchen reading it - before I knew it I’d already got to Chapter 3 and my tea was cold.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    I picked this up because nearly all of my Polish and German ancestors are from the Poznan area. Aitken is an engaging companion and guide, although he sometimes writes too much about himself, and some of his adventures seem pointless. That aside, I particularly liked his unannounced visit to a Polish family on Christmas Eve. His reflections on Brexit, Trump, the EU, walls and bridges are particularly pithy and poignant, given his experiences. A wry and funny book, and you might learn a few words I picked this up because nearly all of my Polish and German ancestors are from the Poznan area. Aitken is an engaging companion and guide, although he sometimes writes too much about himself, and some of his adventures seem pointless. That aside, I particularly liked his unannounced visit to a Polish family on Christmas Eve. His reflections on Brexit, Trump, the EU, walls and bridges are particularly pithy and poignant, given his experiences. A wry and funny book, and you might learn a few words of Polish.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Janilyn Kocher

    A Chip Shop in Posznan was an okay read. Ben, a Brit decides To move to Poland. He chronicles his adventure over the course of a year. He Describes people, events, and the few jobs he worked. I found it dry in many places. He whines about working in a chip shop and then spends most of his time in bars and traveling to different Polish cities. Thanks to Edelweiss and Icon Books for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

    Read a review in Geographical that said author was arrogant and lazy and hopeless. Well, all publicity is good publicity because such an allegation got my ears up. I read the first chapter sample, then read the book, then decided not to take that reviewer very seriously again. You can't criticise a lemon for not being a pear.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Shubrook

    Starts with a fascinating idea, reversing the “normal” picture of a Polish migrant in England, and delivers with humour and style. Learnt more about Polish history than I ever expected and demolished a few preconceptions along the way. Looking forward to the next book in September 2020 – Gran Tour!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rufus Plawski

    Being of Polish background I was really looking forward to reading this book. The concept seemed interesting and I found the beginning of the book amusing, especially the chapter on teaching English to Polish students. However, further on the writing got very boring, with whole chapters describing insignificant events, uninteresting characters and too many hangovers. Not funny at all...

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