‘You’re Polish, right? Could you paint my house?’

kris-florek-greyKRIS FLOREK (34) from Poland came to the Netherlands in 2002 and is an entrepreneur.

“My parents are still young in this picture, around eighteen years old I think. They look like anything is possible still. That’s how I want to remember my parents.

My parents’ lives revolve around alcohol, mostly. When I was young, I made the boy scouts my second home. My parents lived in a different world and it was hard to communicate. I often found them in the kitchen, vodka bottle on the table. I learnt to cope with having no food.

I was a student until I was 22. I couldn’t afford it any more. My older sister had already moved to the Netherlands and said: ‘Kris, if you come over for the summer break you can earn some extra cash here’.

I slept on the floor in my sister’s sunroom. I couldn’t find a job. Poland wasn’t part of the EU yet and I didn’t know any language but Polish. Still, I knew I would stay. I had fallen in love with the Netherlands. The Dutch have a single word for giving or granting someone something out of kindness: gunnen. We don’t have that in Poland.

One day, my sister’s neighbor said: ‘You’re Polish, right? Why don’t you paint my house?’ I thought it was weird, because I couldn’t paint. I watched every single YouTube video that featured painters or was about handymen. I rode my bike past painters in the neighborhood to see how it was done.

My first job wasn’t my best work, but the neighbor was happy. Shortly after that, another neighbor needed help, and another – I ended up painting the entire area. I offered to do carpentry, too, as I had been preparing for that.

The first money I made I invested in tools and a car. It was a rare sight: a Polish guy with a Dutch license plate and quality tools. I always took my shoes off when I entered a customer’s home. They might have found it strange, but at least they trusted I’d do an accurate and clean job.

I started my own home-maintenance company. It expanded rather quickly, and by 2009 I was an LLC. I now have three businesses and I’m starting a fourth in Poland, where I’ll be selling Dutch fries and classic orange ladies’ roadsters.

My parents don’t understand my life. Being sixty-five and having been druk your entire life, you lose your sense of reality. I’ve been taking care of them for years. I pay their rent, electricity, and water bills. I love them to bits. Had they been different people, I wouldn’t have been who I am today. I’m happy.

For a long time, I wanted to show the Dutch that people from Poland can make it, too. That things can be different: it’s me, the Polish guy, who helps Dutch people find a job. Today, I want to show fellow Poles how to succeed. They often think I’m rich because my family must be rich, too. When they hear how I grew up they realize how their lives weren’t so different. If I can do it, so can they.”