Thursday, 30 August 2007

Careers advice for young persons

Up until now I have considered myself to be relatively technologically-ept. I'm not like a certain friend of a friend who gets home drunk and gleefully pounces on all kinds of e-Bay treasures (resulting in surprise presents 24 hours later). The worst I manage is a little tipsy dabbling on facebook, and even then the results are never as bad as I expect them to be.

However, today, stone-cold sober and at three thirty in the afternoon, I was pottering around on FB, replying to an email into which I casually dropped a question about some freelance work.
It takes me on average half an hour to send an email in any case, because even after writing I have to check the spelling, punctuation and correct use of idiom (translating is beginning to go to my head), but all seemed correct and I hit Send.

Horror of horrors, I had replied to all, and this guy is facebook friends with my boss.

This meant that on his return from lunch he would discover the following about me:
i) I use FB compulsively (a friend refers to it as 'face-crack' for its addictive properties. Try not to think of the anatomical connotations)
ii) I'm working for 'the competition' (a competitor, for heaven's sake, as if they were even in the same market/specialization)

Immediate panic set in. I eyed the open window (we work five minutes from the main railway station) and wondered how long it would take me to clear my desk and flee the scene.

The next twenty minutes passed very, very slowly. But not slowly enough for me discover how to withdraw or delete sent mail.

Now, hopefully, I will be dramatically fired, PetiteAnglaise-style, and receive millions of złotych in compensation, as well as a lucrative book and film deal. Tales of a crummy linguist in Central Europe anyone? No, I thought not.

[Any other tales of Facebook woe out there? What's the story on moonlighting anyway? Feedback would be greatly appreciated....]

Kids: Don't Go To University. It is NOT WORTH IT.
Here are some alternative ideas on how to educate yourself For Free (not necessarily in order of most commonsensical):
- Go back to your parents' house (they usually have a bigger fridge). Work at Starbucks. Save money. Become a property magnate in Central Europe.
- Do a PA skills course. Become PA to Someone Very Powerful (preferably in Hedge Funds). Become so useful that they pay you to do an MBA (or, better still, an MSc in Economics)
- Do a CELTA course (it only takes a month for heaven's sake). Teach abroad. Learn exciting languages. Become a property magnate in Central Europe
- Get a job in a lapdancing bar. Be very, very good. Get hired by Russian mafia dons. Be recruited by MI6 to eavesdrop. In ten years time, be head of the Joint Intelligence Committee. (then retire early and become a property magnate in Central Europe, if you can manage to keep a low profile, without an old foe slipping a bit of Polonium 210 into your herbata z mlekiem).

The Bad Obwarzanki Lady is finally back, but working half days to ease herself back into the swing of things. I didn't get a chance to check out her tan. It's got to be better than mine, acquired whilst rollerblading in shorts last Saturday.
It would've been fine had I not been wearing knee pads, resulting in a pale stripe beginning at the top of my calves, causing a strange 'muddy welly' effect...

Monday, 27 August 2007

Serious Whinge

Now, while I appreciate that Starbucks, Costa coffee and the like are the Dark Angels of Globalization, at least a girl can go in on her own and drink a coffee undisturbed.
Why is it that I cannot simply sit peacefully on a bench in the Planty and eat my sandwiches without some fat old drunk assuming that I require his company? Piss-artists of Poland: Go Away! I vant to be alone. [melodramatic flounce].

Things are looking bad, very bad: even Harry Belafonte is not helping. I have had to break into my emergency HMS Pinafore supplies. I haven't yet resorted to the double Iolanthe CD, but it's coming, I can feel it.

In almost five months, I have managed comprehensively to ruin both my personal finances and my romantic life, and I still don't understand more than about the first three words that anyone says to me. And the food is Awful. Sorry, but I'm never going to be a fan of kielbasa and potatoes.

Dearly though I love the British higher education system (ahem) it is grossly overpriced for the returns you get on it. As a consequence I now spend over a third of my take-home pay on loan repayments. This hurts especially because almost all the other the British expats I've met so far are buying up land (even if only a parking space) as if it were on two for one at Sainsbury's. I can barely afford to eat meat, let alone invest in property.

A friend back in London says she looks forward to seeing me in the orange-painted EasyNursingHome in fifty years time when our scant National Insurance contributions have finally become obsolete...

Right now, I fail to see how being in Krakow is furthering my career or indeed bringing me any benefit at all. Except that I finally learnt to use the brakes on my rollerblades. But this was more a question of survival (not to mention saving face) than anything else.

Can anyone give me a decent reason not to hitch a lift (or indeed skate) back to Katowice and jump on the next WizzAir to London where I can live out of my parents' fridge and earn a fortune (in fat shiny British pounds) as a French PA to a hedge fund manager in the City??


It is now about six hours later. Things are ever so slightly better. I have realised that, however bad a day I am having, it can't be nearly as bad as that of the grumpy girl with the tattoos in the ex-commie grocer's (sorry...) next door. If she's not bailing yet, then I have no excuse.
Next time she's out for a fag break in our yard I'm going to strike up a conversation. I can't wait to see the look of abject horror...

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Warning! Subversive content!

Well who knew?! It seems my blog is blocked by the Chinese authorities. Me and the BBC both, so I'm in good company. I wonder what I said that was so controversial. Maybe my plot to reinstate the Dalai Lama. Or my anti-Maoist propaganda campaign. Or possibly because, underneath my demure and conservative-with-a-small-c exterior I am a closet raving Trotskyite...

Last year I shared a uni flat with a Chinese girl. Actually several Chinese girls, since she sub-let for most of the year, with casual disregard to the HMO [Houses of Multiple Occupancy] by-laws. It's not until you move out of the UK that you realise what a huge joke these must be to the rest of the world. Back in April, I read ads seeking 'third girl to share middle bed under kitchen table, 'Stare Miasto' - read 'within the ring road', - 200zł pcm'. So much for regulation common space per occupant.
Living in postgrad halls was a lot less fun than undergrad. All the bedrooms had fire doors and people largely avoided eye contact in the corridors (possibly because they were hiding from the housing inspectors). Also, due to abovementioned lack of communication, the little things would build up, day after day, into Major Diplomatic Incidents. Such as, for example, pans of oily seaweedy goo rotting on the stove top for four days consecutively; brackish water allowed to drip off draining board into cutlery drawer; Some Else Finishing Your Milk; and, worst of all, lack of proficiency with toilet brush.

Typically, the rage boils and bubbles within you for days, spreading its dark tentacles throughout your being, so that you can be sitting calmly in the library or language lab and suddenly find yourself furious because you imagine your kitchenmate has almost certainly used Your Mug again and left it to fester down the side of their bed, leaving you with inadequate tea-drinking equipment when you have a huge translation to do and three shifts at the pub this weekend.
At a certain point, you realise Something Must Be Done.
You decide to write An Angry Little Note.
Yeah- that'll Really show them.
You spend the rest of the afternoon in the library crafting your missive. Generally it will begin: 'Would the person who ... kindly make sure that...' and so on.
Upon your return, you bluetack this note to the kitchen door, or leave it slap bang in the centre of the table. Then you go back to work in your room, but you can't stop thinking about The Note. Was it too strong? Will the drippingly sarcastic mock polite tone simply bounce off a non-native English speaker? Are you Absolutely Sure that you didn't just leave the mug down the side of your own bed?
After half an hour of anxiety and unproductiveness at your desk, you leap up, dash to the kitchen, tear up the note and throw it in the bin. Then you extract your mug from underneath the bathroom sink, where you left it half-full of Barcardi Gold and lime two nights ago when cleaning your teeth after spending the evening in the company of America's Finest (CSI Miami), wash it up and replace it in the communal cupboard, to demonstrate trust and good faith.
Two hours later, your fellow tenants return from the library beaming, blissfully unaware of your crockery-related agonies. Racked with guilt, you are charm personified to them for the rest of the evening.

Next morning, the cupboard is bereft of tea-vessels.
You eventually manage to improvise some sort of brown infusion in a stolen pint glass, with considerable burn damage to fingertips, before staggering uphill to the library, suffering severe caffeine deprivation.
Halfway through the morning, you remember that you were definitely the last person to buy loo roll, and the whole cycle begins again...

Friday, 24 August 2007

The Storm

Last night I was woken up by crashing and thundering outside. I woke up and thought bleary thoughts for a few moments before drifting back to blissful slumbers, vaguely pushing the fact that I had left both the kitchen and the loggia windows open from my mind.

This morning I walked to work as usual, turning right into the Planty where Starowislna meets Sienna. It occured to me, walking a different route to avoid tree trunks and various other foliage that were blocking the path, that the gardeners had been pretty busy pruning since yesterday morning.

Hmm, silly me: the storm yesterday was pretty major stuff. So it transpires. Voila voila, pics of the carnage:

Tuesday, 21 August 2007


Around lunchtime saw me standing by the checkout of the Kefirek [chain of small supermarkets] near the office, waiting for a Faktura VAT for the coffee etc. that I bought yesterday. Looking around, I noticed a new set of those barcode detector barrier things that you get in libraries to stop people running away with L-Q of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. There was a small group of foreign students including one blond girl with a very red face. The elderly security guard was making her pass through the barriers again and again. Watching him, I realised that this was the same guy who tried to force a basket upon me (the fact that I was only going in for a pint of milk notwithstanding) several weeks ago, thus providing my only conversation for the whole day since both my boss and flatmates were away at the time.
He searched her jacket, and then took her bag, rifling through for barcoded items before triumphantly pulling out a box of tampons. The girl was now blushing a lovely Polish shade of beetroot soup.
- I bought it in another shop! she protested in English. The guard didn't understand, ignored her and marched off to check for suspicious-looking gaps in the feminine hygiene aisle. Of course there were none, and eventually he let the mortified girl and her friends go.

Ten minutes later (it takes a long time to print a VAT receipt in Poland), the barriers went off again and the security guard bustled up importantly. This time, it was a British couple, laden with shopping bags. The self-important old fart made them pass through a second time, before taking one of their bags to the booze counter to be checked.
- Oh crap... I thought.... someone'll have to butt in and my EN>PL isn't anywhere near up to random acts of tourist rescue...
Fortunately the guy behind the counter had an ounce or two of common sense and told the pompous old security guy just to let them go.

So, Brits back home, when you're complaining about the floods of Polish plumbers, security staff, checkout girls, and so on, do bear in mind you've got all the best: these are the people who are working to save up for law degrees/learning English so they can work in international banking/saving to build a huge house in the mountains back home. These are the people customer service did not leave behind. And they pay UK taxes, which, I might add (as a Polish taxpayer, why, God, why??) is an extremely sensible thing to do.

Could you send one or two of them back to us please??

Still behaving badly

I'm still not cured of the singularly irritable mood which comes over me- like a miniature cumulonimbus trailing its leaky way above my head- as soon as I step under the 'Departures' (or 'odloty') sign.
This time it hit me in Edinburgh, as I was queueing to go through security. Just seconds before, I had been calmly listening to some soothing Harry Belafonte and slouching towards the x-ray machines (with just the tiniest of hip wiggles).

- Belt please. And the scarf. And the jacket.

And suddenly I was fighting the urge simply to keep going: to continue beyond the boots and the hair clasp and the cardigan, casting off the shackles of passive decency to march triumphantly and pinkly through the security arch as naked as a hippy commune, all the way to the appalled front page of the Scotsman on Sunday.

Fortunately, my middle class inhibitions remain too deeply ingrained.

Speaking of cumulonimbi, I became far more closely acquainted with one than was really necessary whilst on the final leg of my journey between Frankfurt and Katowice. Now I'm no physicist: I have absolutely no idea how all those tons of metal get into the air, and I certainly have no desire to think about what makes them stay there. So when I'm sitting in a window seat and they judder right into the midst of an electrical storm, it makes me just a little nervous. Worse still, there was a worried-looking little girl sitting next to me, so I had to maintain a calm and normal demeanor, even though inside I was about as tranquil as a screaming flock of headless chickens.
When the drinks trolley came around, I asked for red wine, trying to hide the note of desperation.
- How old are you? asked our teenaged stewardess.
There were fireworks, chorus girls and marching bands celebrating in my head. I am twenty six years old.
Somewhere in an attic there'll be a portrait of me which looks dreadful...

In Scotland, the BF and I decided to go our separate ways.
Being a True Gentleman, he let me keep the sweater.

Thank you and I'm sorry for this.

Monday, 20 August 2007

St Andrews

English food! Spot the ex-pat. (OK, chocolate spread is French. And peanut butter is American. And then there's the soy sauce...)

I used to live two minutes away from the beach here... (very useful for getting to somewhere warm in a rush after impromtu swimming).

The North Point Cafe. Highly important for scones, muffins, disgusting hot chocolate with many sweet things embedded in whipped cream, and griddle melts. And they wonder why Scotland is in the grip of an obesity epidemic...

View from the end of Butts Wynd (no sniggering at the back). See, I actually did go to Hogwarts.

And that's ten to nine in the morning. Urgh...

Jolly Hols

I was jolted out of my doze on the train to Katowice when some guy got on at a provincial station and started lurching up and down the aisle with a large hold-all crying:
- 'Cold beer, ladies and gentlemen, cold beer!'
It was nine thirty in the morning.

Travelling in Poland is fun: I've now got to the stage where I can ask questions and understand an average of one word in every seven. My current strategy is to say of course, yes, fine, and smile and nod to give the frantically spinning cogs and gears in my head time to fill in the rest of what the sentence might have been. Then I march off following the approximate trajectory indicated by the ticket lady, faking an air of confidence. This usually wastes about half an hour based on the time it would have taken me if I'd simply asked in English.

I flew Lufthansa again and changed in Frankfurt. This time was not nearly as satisfactory. No Toblerone or Bombay Sapphire gin. But, bizarrely, sparkling wine. Again I had to run to catch my connection: not because of any misunderstandings (or alcoholic stupor), but because I was just getting to the exciting bit in Harry Potter and my hearing suddenly became selective.

Given the amount of trouble that book has got me into so far, I thought it expedient to leave it in capable hands in St Andrews.

Walking around the town early on Thursday morning, I had to agree with the school of opinion which reckons St Andrews has a decent amount in common with Hogwarts. Did I really attend the School of Modern Languages? Or was it the Faculty for Tongues and Incantations? How much easier would my life be now if I'd only taken a module or two in wand-flicking:
Textboxium auto-formattiarmus!
Recordio vocabulem slavonicus!
Accio synonym-for-'in terms of'!
It would also go some way towards explaining why I always walk into pillars at Kings Cross Station (or any station for that matter). Even without a nine thirty cold beer break.

Oddly, while in St A, four and a half months of being landlocked in Central Europe hit me, and I found myself demonstrating premature mad-old-biddy behaviour on the beach. An oddly physical need for the sea and water (as if we didn't get enough of it in Krakow last weekend) found me inhaling the scent of the stones on the pier (and then pretending to be scrutinising them for a lost contact lens to avoid embarassment in the face of early-morning dog walkers) and sloshing through the breakers on West Sands, under cover of drizzle. Thank goodness there are plenty of places to get hot chocolate and scones in town.
And thank goodness for my sister's oh-so-normal lovely flat in Edinburgh, and bad Chinese takeaway and home-made sex on the beach (there's a reason- I had forgotten- why I haven't touched Archers since I was seventeen).

My beloved spaniel and I were briefly reunited: I was assigned to the sofa on Wednesday night and she considerately curled up at around the level of my knees, forcing me to fold myself into a sort of zig-zag position, like someone trying to sleep across the armrests at Stansted Airport (now where did that image come from?).
Still, for a fellow neurotic old bitch I'm prepared to make some allowances...

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Travels with my Spaniel

Last night I stayed over at my sister's flat in Edinburgh. Me and the spaniel had to share the sofa:

Me with the Love of my Life...

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Translation: The Truth...

These are some of the useful things you learn in translator school:

- Maintain consistency of register
- Always, always reference the European Commission Style Guide (even if you didn't use it)
- Have at your disposal a little drop-down menu of At Least Four synonyms for each noun, expression or adjective, from which you can then select the most appropriate
- Specialise in Finance, for this (logically) is where the money lies
- Buy a Thesaurus and always carry a copy of The Economist and/or The Financial Times (even if you don't read them)
- Start bullet points with a capital letter and Never punctuate them, [!]
- Develop a habit of talking very slowly in order to choose the most appropriate expression

And here are the things they don't tell you:

- You will become intimately acquainted with the mysterious wiles of Microsoft Word.
- Translation software is NOT your friend
- You will spend more time jiggling text boxes and re-formatting images than actually translating
- Your fingers will acquire a muscular memory for typing the phrases 'In terms of' and 'With regard to'
- You will stay up late working to deadlines, but you will never be as glamorous as the journalists
- You will end up proofreading Everything written in English by a foreign person, from a friend of a friend's CV to the neighbour's kid's homework, but you won't quite have got it right
- Everyone in the world will assume they can do your job better than you.

Rant over. Hols tomorrow.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Rainy days and Mondays

Our first Polish teacher was not a native Krakowian. When we were learning 'what to do at the weekend', she pointed out that, everywhere else in Poland, Galerias were for art. In Krakow, they are for shopping.

I'm going to Scotland in two days time, and I've missed two important birthdays (mainly thanks to Amazon not accepting my Polish bank card. As for my English account... ahem... let's just say that paying your Career Development Loan off in złotych is not the way to avoid getting a stomach ulcer. Don't try it at home, kids).
Furthermore, the footwear issue was starting to become ridiculous, and I decided that it was Perfectly Reasonable for a Responsible Adult to buy shoes once in a while when the need arises.

So, after mass, I trotted along to Galeria Krakowska, by the station. From this innocent beginning ensued a hellish day of traipsing from mall to mall, elbowing my way through the Sukiennice, deafening myself with countless CDs in Empik (not to mention trying to work out whether you can switch the Polski lektor off on a Polish DVD) and trying on tiny-waisted clothes whilst attempting to imagine myself in my sister's proportions (with considerable help from extra socks).

When it was all finally over, I headed for the doors with immense relief, only to be greeted by a solid wall of water slicing down the glass facade of the Galeria.
I was dressed in trousers, sleeveless top and the inevitable Birkenstocks.
Something inside me snapped. It was already seven thirty, I had wasted the entire day enslaved before the altar of consumerism and all I wanted to do was curl up with a duvet, a cup of tea and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And, for heavens' sake, what's a little bit of rain to a seasoned British girl?
I virtually had to swim through the underpass.
When I finally arrived home, slipping perilously up the stairs in my sandals, I resembled something that had been drowned at birth, but I felt an exhilarating sense of liberation. No-one else had seen the rain pooling under the benches in the Planty or lit up like sparks under a street lamp; no-one else had felt the water swirling between their toes.
No-one else was liable to contract pneumonia unless they got themselves into a hot shower pronto...

Last night I dreamt I met one of the best interpreters from our year at Bath (one of the ones who went Straight Up after graduation, like penitents in a Jubilee year). Sitting cross-legged in a garden full of lilies and waterfalls, she asked me a question in Chinese.
I didn't understand.
She looked concerned:
- I'm surprised you haven't learnt the symbols yet! What chapter are you on?

Suddenly I realised that it was four in the afternoon and I had forgotten to return from my lunch break. I clattered back down the ornamental steps to the office (by a rock pool) where my boss pointedly reminded me that, since he was paying my salary, I did in fact work for him.

At that point my alarm went off and I hit snooze, wishing I hadn't stayed up til one reading Harry bloody Potter.

Friday, 10 August 2007


There seem to be plenty of young foreigners hidden away in Krakow, and not just tourists and stag parties. The other girl in my (dwindling, now that the grammar is starting to get hardcore) Polish class regularly meets up with a group of assorted non-Poles for a spot of Ultimate Frisbee on the Błonia.
I know this is something that Polish kids do not do, because when I told my flatmate about it he simply laughed. Sometimes I wonder whether my adult life is just one long 'Auberge Espagnole'-style continuation of my Erasmus year.

'Błonia' means meadows and describes a large wedge of common land, like a dusty, grassy slice of Edam, between the student neighbourhood and the river. It is circumnavigated by cycle paths. I decided to join my classmate, and, since I was about an hour late already and had missed the warm up, chose running as my method of transportation.

I have no idea what possessed me.

The game was already well underway, and I was unable to catch my friend's eye, so after watching them wistfully for about fifteen minutes (shades of the school playground back in 1988 any time my best friend was off sick), I decided the most productive thing to do would be to continue with my run. What on earth was I thinking?!

The Błonia seems like a wholesome enough green space. Do not be fooled. The paths around it are the Rollerblading Equivalent of the M25. I found myself checking imaginary wing mirrors every time I pulled out to overtake. Did I mention the vicious competitive streak that this particular overcrowded public concourse brings out in the mildest of athletes? I powered along, straining to pass other joggers, and swerving to avoid oncoming rollerbladers with prams, shopping trolleys, mobile phones and all manner of encumbrances.

As an Erasmus student I tried to learn snowboarding. You can imagine the carnage. At the top of the chairlift was a small supermarket, and hearty Alpine gentlemen would descend on skis with shopping bags, phone clamped to ear: 'Ciao tesoro, arrivo subito'.
But not half as subito as I used to find myself, regularly, on my back at the foot of the slope staring at the sky with stars flashing in my eyes, wondering what exactly had just happened.

The Błonia turned out to be larger than I thought. Luckily, I knew a short cut home along the river, which added a good twenty minutes to my journey. I realised that I had just inadvertently run almost half the Krakow marathon.

Two days later, I am just about able to limp from my desk to the kettle and back.

I'm still very excited about the past tense. Currently I am planning my weekend to avoid doing anything which might require an irregular conjugation. This is not as easy as it sounds.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Tenses and Tense-facilities

The Bad Obwarzanki Lady is taking her revenge by going on a long, relaxing holiday somewhere sunny. I can just see her now, stretched out by a mountain lake, or on a beach in Bulgaria, sipping pina colada from a coconut. Her kiosk remains smugly closed.

Meanwhile, I am speechless in the face of the new vistas spread in front of me last night.
At the language school, finally, we have learnt the Past Tense.

Był rewelacja...

Now, at last, I can tell people what I did at the weekend, what I did yesterday, what the weather was like this morning, what You Did Last Summer, what he, she or it did in the Planty the Friday before last, whom Ewa Nowak met in the lobby of the Hotel Bristol, and so on.
Kraków watch out! Now I'm supplied with conversation for all situations!
Of course first I actually have to do something at the weekend, starting with leaving the house without getting my heel stuck in a patch of melting asphalt in the path of an oncoming tram. Panic all round.

On the subject of tenses, what is the matter with British phrasebooks? Do I really need to use the conditional to book sushi for two at eight thirty? (complicated enough remembering to book it for 'half to nine' rather than 'past eight': up until our arrival I was certain that we would be either an hour too late or too early). Is English the only language where you need to pussyfoot around with 'I would like to...' or 'could I please?' or 'should I?'? I'm sure for the first few weeks of my first ever trip to France (nervous British Council language assistant in deepest, dampest Brittany), the French were snickering through their Gitanes at my insistence on taking half an hour to order anything. I blame my A-level French teacher, who decided we were going to get A grades one way or another and made us squeeze extra subjunctives into our oral presentations until they were bursting at the seams with 'quoique' and 'pour autant que je sache'.
In Italy, you can happily lope across the road to your local bakery and demand Two Rolls and a kilo of schiacciata from the fornaio without anyone batting an eyelid (except possibly at your gargantuan appetites. But trust me, the schiacciata is worth it). If you start babbling out conditionals, they will assume you come from the North (or the South, depending on which end of the country you are in), or worse still, that you are taking the proverbial. Very dangerous to do in small, family-run bakeries in Sicily...

Why complicate things for us, Mr Berlitz? Especially in Polish, where you really don't need to...

And finally: we are starting to adjust to the new office equipment. There is a vast printer in the corner squatting sulkily on a fragile-looking Ikea bedside table. I have remembered how frustrating administrative tasks can be. This morning, the inky beast stubbornly refused to feed paper from the paper tray. My boss consulted the manual aloud:
- 'To clear paper jam...
- hmm?
- Please pull jammed paper out of tray.'

Easier said than done, and definitely better to watch...

[the author of this blog would like to apologise, wholeheartedly, for the awful title. She wanted to call it 'Tense and Tent-stability', but didn't have any good tent stories handy. Maybe another time]

Monday, 6 August 2007


An old friend from home came to visit this weekend. I offered bed and exposure to Polish food in exchange for New Technologies from abroad. As well as Harry Potter, this involved my finally learning how to use the ceramic hair straighteners that have been in the back of my top drawer for the past four months. I had no idea it was so complicated being a girl.

Incidentally, I am now inundated with copies of Harry Potter, and am going to have my work cut out on the lavish rewards front.

Being a girl apparently also involves wearing high heeled shoes, very suitable for a night out propping up dingy bars in Kazimierz. Now normally I am only to be found in running shoes or Birkenstocks (I was particularly worried in Wrocław for the people sitting next to me in the cinema: one of the films was nearly two and a half hours long). But I decided to put my newly-regained girliness into practice.

I had reckoned without road surfaces in Kraków.

Grilles, cobblestones, even just small ordinary cracks in the pavement, you name it, this weekend I got my heel stuck in it. I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen and those with a well-developed sense of smell, but in the interests of my remaining upright, the Birkenstocks are back. If I'm going to put my foot in it, I want at least to be able to get it out again afterwards.

The second strange phenomenon of the weekend was our discovery of the special nature of Polish salad. Ravenously hungry after a trek up the Kopiec Kraka, we staggered into another dingy bar in Kazimierz for a late lunch, and ordered pierogi and Salade Niçoise respectively. When it arrived, the salad appeared rather more yellow than usual. To my horror, I realised that the whole thing was buried under half a kilo of grated cheese. It was as though, instead of picking up the oil or vinegar shaker in the pub kitchen, the chef had reached for the cheese sprinkler. Thank heavens he hadn't missed altogether and ended up with that other essential element of Polish cuisine, the potato shaker. Or the lard drizzler.
- How is it? asked my friend from behind her plate of pierogi. I was about to answer, but got distracted chasing a glimpse of lettuce underneath the general sea of golden dairy product.
- Marginally less healthy than Domino's pizza.

I sincerely hoped that it was not a tacit comment from the bar staff on my choice of footwear.

This morning, a different delivery man arrived. I let him in, fully aware that I still had neither stamp nor passport, and asked him for a minute to phone my boss. No problem. He went out to get the rest of the parcels, leaving me with a delivery note to sign.
- anything else? I asked when he had come back in.
- yes, where's the loo?
I showed him, and he went to wash the dust off his hands and splash about generally (weather is hot this week).
- and there's nothing else?
- no, I'm in a hurry, bye!

No stamp! Maybe I was right about the prosciutto e funghi. No, on second thoughts, it must have been quattro formaggi...

Wednesday, 1 August 2007


My boss is away this week, and we are expecting an important IT delivery. I have been tracking it online: an addictive pastime in the absence of an office television. The equipment was dispatched from Ireland last Tuesday. On Friday it landed in the Netherlands.
I suggested that maybe it was hitch-hiking its way east. The response was lukewarm.

And then on Monday, a miracle occurred: the telephone rang.
me - Słucham?
- [something Polish... DHL... komputerowego... something else Polish]
me - Czy pani mowi po angielsku?
- uuhhh nie za bardzo uhhh moment [asks colleague in Polish how to say 'your parcel will be delivered tomorrow morning' in English]

I have reached a frustrating point in my Polish-learning endeavours. Generally when the person on the other end of the phone knows only a little English, they know the same few words that I know in Polish, so we just mirror each other without widening our common vocabulary in any way. My most recent solution is just to bluff my way through the conversation- trying to insert 'tak, dobrze' in the right places- and to figure it all out by process of elimination afterwards. [This method has been thoroughly tested and is not recommended for consecutive interpreting exams.]
The next day, the phone rang again, the delivery was announced, and I hurried outside, trying to look businesslike and professional in a manner appropriate to someone receiving an important IT delivery. As a student in London I temped behind a lot of reception desks, and signed for any number of parcels without the faintest clue who they were for or what they contained, so this should have been an easy task.

I had reckoned without Polish business bureaucracy.

- Pieczątka?
This sounded near enough to the word for 'mushrooms' to be momentarily very confusing. I wondered if I was about to sign for a large prosciutto i funghi.
But no. He was referring to the company stamp: an indispensable piece of equipment which identifies any firm, and which is used on a constant basis to Make Things Look Official.
- sure, two seconds
I ran inside to get the stamp from my boss's desk. It wasn't there. I checked the drawers. No stamp. Similar searches of his in-tray, the fridge, the coffee jar and the cupboard under the sink also proved fruitless.
I ran back outside, slightly flustered.
- Nie ma. [For a reminder of the meaning of 'Nie ma', please see your local corner shop, post office or pharmacy]
- Dokument?
I ran back inside again, realising as I did that my passport and driving licence were both safely tucked away in my underwear drawer at home. I found an official-looking letter with the company address on it, but this was no good.

The man from DHL sighed, loaded the delivery back into the lorry and drove away.

I am starting to become concerned about the Bad Obwarzanki Lady. Her kiosk was closed today. I hope that things are as they should be. Perhaps the cosmic runes on the till told her to take the day off and howl at the moon somewhere.

And finally: Pani Stasia is serving blueberry pierogi at the moment. Quick, go, before she runs out.