The emerging markets of eastern Europe are experiencing the rapid entry of multinational organizations into their local industry and commerce as foreign confidence in the regions stability and growth potential continues to rise. A recent visit to three major citiesBudapest, Prague, and Warsawpresented an interesting glimpse of their response to this increased activity and influx of expatriates.
Of all three cities, Prague, situated in the center of the Czech Republic, is the friendliest to foreigners and the most tourist-oriented. Although Warsaw welcomes international commerce, local business people in this conservative society often feel that outsiders do not understand the price that the Polish people have paid in their struggle for freedom.
Although each city has a different feel, all share a big-city look, with old town districts softening the impression in Prague and Budapest. In central Poland, Warsaw presents an image of gray cement, reflecting Russian-style construction that replaced the massive damage inflicted on buildings and infrastructure during World War II. Budapestwith a blend of castles, rolling hills, and a metropolis along the Danube River in central Hungaryoffers its own special ambiance. Architecture is highly regarded in Prague, where tradition is preserved through cobbled streets and narrow alleys, along which one can find hidden gardens, tiny shops, and inviting restaurants.
Sporting the Western Look
Of the countries that have been swiftly westernizing in the last decade, Poland is a prime example. The transition from Communism is characterized by a strong sense of freedom, illustrated by the push to follow western fashion, traditions, and lifestyle. Impression is everything, prompting Warsaw residents to make sacrifices to achieve the right imageregardless of price. Local business people shop in stores that sell international goods, looking for well-known designer names.
Both international and local products are readily available in the increasing number of hyper-markets, wherein one can purchase food, clothing, and household furnishings. Expatriates and locals go to these huge stores for routine once-a-week purchases, while supplementing daily groceries through local shops. Chain stores, also becoming more common, compete with the ever-present open-air markets, especially in Warsaw and Budapest. You can find same-quality items in the open-air markets, but it is helpful to know the products in order to make sensible purchases.
Neighborhoods Pushing Outward
Hyper-markets are not the only structures gaining in visibility. In all three cities, expatriate housing is becoming more available, thanks to the surge in construction and residential developmentparticularly outside the city limits. New schools are cropping up in the suburbs of Warsaw and Budapest, accompanying the expansion of residential areas. In Warsaw, for example, expatriates tend to gravitate south and west of the city, where housing is fairly modern and the neighborhoods quiet.
But quiet does not necessarily mean free of risk. In Budapest and Prague, it is not unusual to see iron gates around a home, and Polish houses often have bars installed on the windows. Overall, however, safety is no more an issue in Budapest and Prague than in any large citywith pick-pocketing, car theft, and home robbery the most common concerns.
The situation is different in Warsaw, where organized crime has become firmly entrenched. The city is known for having one of the highest crime rates in eastern Europe. Car-jacking and robberies on secluded roads are a danger, and you should avoid taxis that do not have a sign clearly identifying their name and telephone number. (In Budapest and Prague, where such taxis do not pose a problem, it is still recommended that you agree on a fare before entering the cab.)
Getting Around and About
Taxis are not the only way to get around these growing cities. Although streets are often congested and parking difficult in all three locations, expatriates do drive. As an option, public transportation is generally goodthough typically overcrowded at rush hour. Trams, buses, and trains are reliable, with trolleys as a charming alternative in Budapest.
For residents in Budapest, Prague, and Warsaw, it is relatively easy, though often slow, to travel between home and work, school, or recreational activities. You are likely to find your international assignment in this region to be a unique challenge, with residents and business colleagues blending eastern and western lifestyles, along with old and new traditions.
Melissa Sudano, a senior international pricing analyst for Organization Resources Counselors international compensation practice area in New York, visited eastern Europe on a recent pricing trip. For more information about ORC, contact email@example.com.
This article first appeared in ORCs Expatriate Observer.
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