Saturday, 28 April 2007

Strange phenomenon

Whichever European city you choose to go to, you can guarantee that some bloody American's got there first and opened a second-hand bookshop.
(typical features include squashy armchairs, a expat bulletin board cluttered with small ads for conversation classes, and a coffee shop selling tray bakes and muffins.)

Pronunciation workshop

Normally 7pm on a Friday evening does not see me in the basement of the language school with six other people seated around a table, trying to read Polish phrases such as 'wszystko w porzadku' from flashcards, with a large and rapidly dissolving cheesy wotsit clenched between my teeth.
Wisely, the teacher advised us to pour out some juice before beginning the exercise.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Eating out

My boyfriend paid a flying visit this week and I went to pick him up at the airport (taking care to stay well away from departures, for the well-being of everyone).
As we sat on the bus, waiting for it to leave, he asked me to fill him in on the basics:
-So what do I say if I bump into someone on the tram?
-how do you spell that?
-P- R- Z-
-Forget it.

We have been experimenting with self-service restaurants: this is a cheap way to eat in Krakow, where you queue up with a tray. If you are Polish, you then order exactly what you want and have total control over portion sizes and so on. If you are an inarticulate foreigner, you say 'big' or 'small' when you get to the front of the queue, depending on plate size, and then point to what you want and hope for the best.
Yesterday we had lunch at U Pani Stasi (at Mrs Stacie's place). I ordered buckwheat porridge with lard, from the vegetarian menu. This was accompanied by a mug of sour milk. I hate to admit culinary defeat (once I ordered the saltiest bloody mary in the world when out for brunch with the BF's family) so I made my best efforts with the milk, but only managed to get halfway down. I can't help thinking that if it came in a sealed plastic bottle with 'pro-biotic' on the front I would probably not have thought twice. The BF ordered pierogi (like tortellini), also with lard. I had never thought of it as a condiment before.

We also tried a well-known vegetarian self-service place. The BF was the only man in sight. He would have had an outside chance of retaining some dignity if he'd not inadvertantly ordered elderflower cordial.

I've been expanding my vocabulary, and trying to come up with phrases I can slip into casual conversation as practice (impossible to remain inconspicuous since anything I say in Polish is enormously entertaining to my Polish student flatmates). Here is a summary, in translation:
-What is that?
-It is dog.
-I have dog.
-My parents have dog.
-I like dog.
-I really like dog
-What is dog like?
-Dog is nice
-What a charming dog!

People with dogs in Krakow, watch out...

Saturday, 21 April 2007

New flat

Last weekend I moved into a flat near Kazimierz with a couple of students. It's not been so very long since I graduated and I have no children/cars/pets/smart shoes so I tend to consider myself in the 'student' bracket anyway (and feel outraged when I can't get a discount at the cinema).
On my first night I came back from a little walk around the Planty at around 8pm, had something to eat and put my pyjamas on. Around ten o' clock my flatmates came back.
-Pinolona! Put your contact lenses back in! We're going to a party!

I am not one to disobey instructions.

On Tuesday night I got on the wrong bus on the way back from the language school. The bus stop was definitely on the road leading into the town centre, but somehow the bus must have veered away to the north east. By the time I realised what was happening (the dual carriageway and houses giving way to warehouses were big clue), it was too late, and I ended up standing folornly between a cemetary and a slip road. It took me four bus and tram rides to manoevre my way home again...

Most of the language is still a mystery to me, although at least now I have learnt to say 'nie rozumiem'- I don't understand. I generally get by by pointing at things, and by saying please followed by the name of the item I want. Although 'prosze, wodka' is a mistake: there are so many varieties I end up playing a sort of 'getting warmer/cooler' game with the cashier: nie...tak tak tak...nie...

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Tram inspectors and absinthe

I love the tram. It's so romantic, especially the old ones. All narrow and rattly, much nicer than the Paris metro or the Underground (no armpit breath in tunnels) and more fun than buses. And then there's that special standing place at the back where you can lean on the rail and look out of the back window and see the world you've just left behind you...
(or the queue of furious gesticulating drivers stuck behind the bloody tram again)

The other day I was quietly sitting on the number 14 (keeping an eye out for old ladies with umbrellas, mercilessly enforcing the Polish custom of giving up your seat to someone more deserving), when a couple of burly worker-type guys with very short hair indeed got on and sat down several rows in front of us. Must be lunch break at the steelworks, I thought.
We juddered on another couple of stops and then all of a sudden the two men hopped up from their seats, donned special backstage-pass-type police ID and kicked off an impromtu ticket inspection!
Now I thought the RATP were scary (and I've only been fined once on the Paris RER), but at least they wear uniforms and badges and hunt in packs. The whole idea of plain-clothes ticket inspectors is somehow very subversive. I wonder why we don't have this in Britain. There is so much scope for it. You could have a plain-clothes waitress to name and shame non-tippers. Or plain-clothes dog walkers handing out pooper scooper bags. Even a special air-purity inspector to check for covert farting in lifts and on the tube. Who would ever suspect them?!

I had my first absinthe the other day, to celebrate finding somewhere to live. There is a marvellous bar round the corner where they serve it with a blazing lump of sugar balanced over the glass. It's very dramatic.
It's also over sixty per cent proof and not a very clever idea on a school night.

Good news: I found a copy of the Whole Count of Monte Cristo (in English) in a language teaching bookshop. Let the swashbuckling recommence...

Monday, 16 April 2007

Woman behaving badly

I have a shameful secret. Normally I am a polite and reasonable English person. But in airports, my behaviour is absolutely shocking.

Now, this is no excuse, but I am sure I can't be the only one who is not especially pleasant company at four o clock in the morning.

It started with the guard at the door to departures when I suggested, quite reasonably actually, that there should maybe be a little sink or sluice or something where people can empty out their water bottles before passing through check point Charlie. Apparently this is a silly idea. My proposal that I down all 497ml before passing said door was also greeted with derision. 'just watch me...' I muttered grimly. Years of practice with a bottle of mango Reef and a straw have not been in vain. 'Don't you have a sense of humour luv?' he called after me. This is something that unfunny men say when girls don't laugh at their jokes.

Of course, the now-routine striptease at security didn't go down so well either. Since I had the audicity to keep my belt on (and quite frankly, I don't fancy hobbling through the metal detector with my jeans around my ankles- apart from anything else, at four in the morning, I don't trust myself to pick a clean pair of knickers) I had to be frisked by bossy woman who suggested I travel by train if I didn't like it. I wondered aloud if she actually knew where Krakow was (it being outside Little Britain), and we parted on extremely poor terms.

Sadly this isn't a unique incidence of temper tantrums at the airport. On a previous trip I have retorted, when asked to remove a good 50% of my clothing, whether they wanted my shirt as well. Fortunately I didn't catch the response. Unfortunately my boyfriend following behind did, and I got a lecture...
And I'm not the only one. I have a friend who took a good twenty minutes over removing a wide belt from tight belt loops at the x-ray gate.
And don't get me started on the loos at baggage reclaim.
Am I beyond help?
I think next time I travel I'll be swapping St Christopher for St Jude: patron of hopeless cases...

Monday, 9 April 2007

weekend at home

When I'm at home the pace of life is so much slower because neither of my parents works (much) and my brother is a student. Plus, they've lived in the same town for more than 30 years, and this can also slow things down.
For example, it takes at least half an hour longer than anticipated to go anywhere at all with my Dad, because it is impossible not to bump into someone he knows, or Mum knows, or his father used to know, or a relative of his nanny, or who is the parent of someone in my/my brother's/my sister's year at school. And after we've stopped and chatted for twenty minutes or so, we say goodbye and move on, and then I ask my Dad who it was:
-Oh what's the name... someone from the Conservatives/the Players/the Playgroup/Tesco in the town on a Sunday/the 8.04 to Cannon Street about ten years ago
Then we continue into town, realise that whatever we came up for is closed, or not to be found nearer than Tunbridge Wells, and we go for coffee.

Kent is lovely in the spring: today, having walked along a bridle path to a country pub for Kentish ale and scampi and chips, we ended up sitting in a friend's back garden sipping leaf tea and nibbling simnel cake in the late afternoon sunshine. I'm keeping this scene safely in the back of my mind somewhere, so that next time I'm stuck in a forty-minute queue at the post office, or trying to do anything complicated involving a French bank, or waiting far too long for my internet connection, or enmeshed in some particularly frustrating knot of Foreign Bureaucracy, I can bring it out and savour it.

My family are still doing the Weetabix diet, so the fridge is full of Weight-Watchers yoghurts. I managed to sabotage this to some extent by making them a fruit tart with creme patissiere, and bringing home a large box of Polish chocolate biscuits. However I have learnt, from my brother and my Dad, that there are 202 kcal in a hot cross bun and 11 per bread stick. There is something wrong with this but I can't put my finger on it.

I am very sad to be going off without my spaniel again tomorrow morning.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

first week

Well I've been in Poland for a week now. It's certainly a lot less stressful than being in France. No crazy flatmate, no RER. And a nine-to-five which is definitely turned on its head, since flat-hunting and settling in have been my missions over the last few days.

As for the language, it's not going too badly, although I'm definitely still stuck a lot of the time. (note to self, must memorize Polish for 'I don't understand').
Here is a list of my linguistic accomplishments (with reservations...)
-I can count from zero to one hundred. Except that I have a mental block with nines. So really I can count from one to eight, ten to 18, 20-28, etc.
-I can talk about members of my immediate family. Add this to my numerical skills and suddenly I can tell people the ages of my immediate family. (this is especially entertaining when my dad starts chatting up the Polish waitress in the local Pizza Express)
-I can ask for a large beer (duzy piwo). Sadly the phrases for requesting a small beer, or even just a lemonade, escape me.
-when asked how I am, I can observe that there's nothing new (given that I've just emigrated, this is something of an understatement)
-I can ask where things are. But I will only be able to find them if they are a) on the corner; b) near to the post office.

I don't think that's too bad for five days. Excuse me, I think there's a duzy piwo that needs my attention.
a to do zobaczenia...