Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Yoghurt, Harry Potter and the Bad Obwarzanki Lady

Earlier in the year I was able to sample the bounty of the French dairy produce aisle. Poland is also relatively unfriendly to the lactose-intolerant. However, here they have a strange custom of letting milk go off and then selling it as a kind of runny mouldy yoghurt (incidentally, the words for 'runny' and for 'rarely' in Polish are the same, so you have to be very careful in certain contexts about doing things 'not often' instead - as I learnt when my flatmates were making scrambled eggs. The potential for misunderstanding- and consequently carnage- is considerable).

On my way back from the airport last Thursday night, I decided to pop into the late-night newsagent across the street for milk and water. Having spent a week in Switzerland, I also decided it would be healthy to have some yoghurt to go with my muesli the next morning, and picked up a carton from the chiller. The sad thing is I actually spent quite some time perusing the various labels and trying to decide between natural or fruit, bits or no bits, etc.

In the first spoonful of cereal at breakfast the unmistakable tang of damp sports socks instantly revealed my error.

Currently my boss is away, so I am in the office all alone, churning out sentence by sentence on my elderly laptop computer and listening to my media library for company. It reminds me of the time when France Info went on strike and broadcast jazz standards for 24 hours to fill the empty airwaves. Or of the good old days when BBC2 used to switch off for the night. I have an irrational fear that when I take the headset off to go for lunch I will step out into a totally mute world.
Or is that just wishful thinking in response to the Peruvian pan-pipe cacophony in the Planty?

Enough of this, back to Food.
The centre of Krakow is crowded with little blue carts selling ring-shaped bread-twists (like a cross between a pretzel and a bagel, but far, far superior). These are called obwarzanki. Uwaga ['watch out', a word much used at the language school]: this is the plural. One single one is called an obwarzanek (I think). I believe there may be different plurals for two and three of them, so the only way to be totally safe is always to buy four or more at a time.
To make matters worse, case-endings are required when ordering food. I am having to learn grammar to avoid starvation: quite literally as if my life depended on it... Not to mention the fact that consumables are weighed in decagrams: so even if I get the grammar right my arithmetic is likely to fail me. As a general rule, I have avoided the meat counter so far, so as not to end up walking home with half a cow spilling out of my shopping bag.
Normally obwarzanki-sellers are perfectly used to stupid foreigners, so all you have to do is point and remember to say thank you.
Yesterday afternoon around five I felt a sudden carb-craving and decided to pop out to the cart across the road.
Tragedy! The stallholder had decided the heat was too much for him and had gone home! I raced down to the underpass leading to the station, where there are always people selling foodstuffs of various descriptions. No luck there either!
There was only one thing for it: I would have to brave the Bad Obwarzanki Lady in the kiosk by the bus-stop. The Bad Obwarzanki Lady has no patience for inarticulate Brits. And pointing does not work: she asks 'what? what?' until I want to slip down between the cracks in the pavement.
Tentatively I approached the hatch.
'Obwarzanek?' I whispered, pointing in the general direction of the window display.
My voice became a little weed withering away in the heat.
And- horrors- the Bad Owarzanki Lady began to pour out a rapid and angry tirade in my general direction (I caught the word 'mowić'- to speak), even as she wrapped the bread-based confection in question.

In my paranoia, I assumed she was berating me for not using the correct ending...

And finally: I have just become aware that a new Harry Potter book is about to be released (I am possibly the last person in the British diaspora). I will not be in the UK until August. How on earth am I to avoid spoilers and post-publication reviews and so on?? I shall have to boycott the BBC website for a Whole Month! Anyone who can procure me a copy before that time will be lavishly rewarded...

Incidentally, I have learnt to recount the yoghurt story in Polish, but it takes two hours and a lot of prompting, and requires a serious amount of liquid refreshment (rather like the fabled Golden House joke which no one would ever tell me).


justyna said...

Next time you meet the Bad Obwarzanki Lady say:

"Pani jest nie miła. Przecież się staram mówic po polsku. Pani psuje mi humor."

Translation: you are not very nice (formal). Can't you see I am trying to speak in Polish? You are putting me in a foul mood.

Hope it helps. Great blog by the way. Found it on expats.

pinolona said...

Thank you!! I'll get practising

Indefinitely Staying said...

Hope you're getting along with the Obwarzanki-selling lady.

Obwarzanek - when you're talking about one

Obwarzanki, yes - is plural, two and more.

So if you're buying one, its fine to say:

Poproszę jednego obwarzanka.

Anonymous said...

"listening to my media library for company"

This blog is a historical document now because of the media library reference rather than an i pod, I really love it though. Is there any chance that you have some writings that you didn't use on your blog that you might consider posting? Trzymaj się ciepło.