Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The Foreigner's guide to Faking It in Poland

Suddenly I've become very popular. People are coming to visit me! Why they've all waited until the coldest months of the year is a mystery to me, but then Brits seem to be in blind denial when it comes to weather, probably due to the fact that in the UK we don't actually have any (unless you count rain in various settings: rain, some rain, more rain, pissing down, etc.). Personally I'm terrified by the prospect of not seeing daylight until March, but then again I've never lived in Glasgow.
There are a proliferation of guide books to Kraków (of which I like the Thomas Cook guide best- it has pictures and ghost stories, which is all it takes to keep me entertained), not to mention phrase books: but on the latter point don't even bother. You'll have just worked out how to pronounce 'excuse me' and it'll be time to go home.

So, on the basis of my broad experience so far, I've decided to write a short guide to faking it in Poland, for stupid foreigners like me. Please read, learn and inwardly digest before blithely hopping up the orange-painted Easyboardingsteps.

1/ Diet: If you are female, practice inhaling enormous plates of lardy stodge- such as pierogi, placki ziemniaczane and zapiekanki without batting an eyelid (or gaining an ounce). Douse liberally with extra lard or kefir (sour milk) for good measure.

2/Liquid refreshment: In the run up to your trip, reinforce your constitution by ordering your drinks in two separate components: spirit in a small glass, mixer in a large one. Gulp the spirit and sip the mixer. Naturally this will unbalance your consumption rate somewhat, but you'll get used to it. N.B. the one exception to this rule is gin and tonic. Don't do it. Ever.
Girls: learn to drink pints. For extra authenticity, add raspberry-flavoured ice-cream sauce.

3/Complain: About anything you like. Be loud and enthusiastic. Some good topics to get you started are- the weather; public transport; the government; the price of an obwarżanek.

4/Road safety: Practice waiting patiently at the pedestrian crossing, even if there is nothing coming, until the green man appears. Do Not on any account jaywalk, even if the road appears to be completely clear. I made this mistake a couple of times when I first arrived. Don't do it! Cars will coming flying around the corner out of nowhere and they won't even be looking for you (they're probably on the phone or listening to Radio Zet). Equally, do not step onto a zebra crossing unless you are Absolutely Certain that it's ok. Wait until a Polish person starts to cross. Better still, be a nun. Even trams stop for them.
Finally, remember that cars can come round the corner from the left when the green man is flashing, and that trams (with the law on their side) stop for no-one. Woe betide the innocent foreigner who gets her heel (or her rollerblade) stuck in the rails...

5/Chivalry: If you are under the age of 60, regardless of gender, practice the following move on the bus or the Tube in preparation for your trip to Poland:
When an elderly lady steps through the sliding doors, stand up, step to one side and offer her your seat. Be particularly aware of very mature females armed with umbrellas, sticks or large handbags.
This manoeuvre could Save your Life.

6/Conversation: In most areas you are likely to visit (i.e. the Rynek, the centre of town, McDonald's) people will speak English. However, should a Polish-speaking Pole engage you in conversation (this may well happen: watch out for fragrant gentlemen lurching towards your bench in the Planty and tiny batty old ladies sitting next to you at the bus stop), here are one or two useful fillers you can drop in at random, based on my experiences of Faking It In Polish* so far. All you have to do is gauge the tone and pick the appropriate category:

- 'no' the all-purpose. Meaning 'yes'. Naturally. Don't forget to nod. It will stop feeling weird after a while.

- 'naprawdę?!', meaning 'no kidding?!' Used by your tandem exchange to raise the tempo when you've just taken 15 minutes to tell him you like to watch TV at the weekend.
- 'Serio?' as above. Or below, I can't remember.

- 'na pewno' meaning 'damn straight'. Can be good or bad, depending on Polish sarcasm- I haven't fully worked it out yet.

If the tone seems positive:
- 'świetny!' meaning 'great!' (warning, often also sarcastic)
- 'rewelacja!' meaning 'fantastic'.
Probably best not to refer to this section too often however. You are far more likely to need the next one:

If the tone tends towards the pessimistic:
- 'Straszny!' meaning 'bloody awful'. This is used All the Time.
try also:
- Tragedia!
- Katastrofa!
- Fatalny!
- Koszmar!
- Jesusmarya!

All fairly self-explanatory (say no. 4 out loud and think of 'nightmare' in French). Your ability to sympathize on the Woes of this World will help you to make friends in no time at all and your stay should be a rewarding one (provided you avoid jaywalking and always offer your seat on the tram. I Mean It.)

*As usual please correct me. It may help explain a few discrepancies in my social interaction on a day-to-day basis.


Anonymous said...

I like your blog.Its like a mirror
for us,poles.


"Girls: learn to drink pints. For extra authenticity, add raspberry-flavoured ice-cream sauce."

Czy wiesz,że dodając soku do piwa,
stawiasz się w jednym rzędzie
z bandziorami,którzy chrzczą



pinolona said...

Adding syrup puts you on a level with chavs who spike their beer with petrol??

But loads of perfectly respectable Polish girls drink beer with syrup! I agree that it renders the beer virtually unpalatable, but I'm doing my best here!