Thursday, 17 January 2008

Return to Normalcy

So Wyspianski Unwinding tagged me in this thing known as 'meme'. I'm still not sure what this means actually: generally it seems to consist of answering arbitrary questions on facebook when it's not even your lunch hour.

The rules are that you have to reveal Seven Random Facts about yourself which are Strange but True.

The problem is I'm fast learning that most things about me seem to be verging on the somewhat odd. Being English is the big glaring one, not to mention enjoying rain and Marmite and thinking that Polish grammar is cool. And naming a blog after a family pet.
Apart from that, finding out strange facts about other people is often not as interesting as you'd hope. "Oh so your toenails curl inwards? That's uh... nice..."
It'd be much more of a challenge to think of seven normal things about me.

(You saw this one coming, didn't you...)

1. I like cake. Everybody likes cake. The only time I've been unable to finish cake was in Balice airport waiting for my brother's plane to land in the snow. This particular slice of cake was beautiful, appetising, with layers of chocolate sponge, cream, pastry, pretty much everything- but after two forkfuls it became mysteriously and incontrovertibly inedible. It was the cake you go home with after ten pints and then chew your arm off trying to get away from in the morning. Even Car Guy didn't like it and that's pretty telling. I'm willing to bet my dog wouldn't have touched it.

2. Going by the last time I checked, I'm pretty certain I have two of everything that I'm supposed to have. Actually you can almost see them in the Christmas post below. Y a peu de monde au balcon. Hélas.

3. I don't like to put together flat-pack furniture at two in the morning. Neither will I do DIY, test crash helmets or hold tap-dancing classes for baby elephants at this time of night. If you happen to be my upstairs neighbour and you have any vestiges of a survival instinct, you would be wise to follow my example.

4. I have brown hair. About 60% of people in Europe have brown hair. Contrary to popular belief, the hair-colour map on Wikipedia shows a higher concentration of blondes in the UK than in Poland. Clearly I fit in here. That doesn't fully explain why Polish people keep asking me for directions though. Today, some very spacey-looking babcia in a mohair hat asked me for something like 'great street' or 'garden street', or possibly 'great garden street' and for the first time I had absolutely no idea where it was. Shame on me. Normally I know exactly what they are talking about: the main challenge is to get them there. Sometimes I wake in the night and have visions of bewildered non-Krakowian Poles circling the Aleje in their Fiats, repeating to themselves: 'But she looked so trustworthy...'

5. Just like everyone else, I lose everything that isn't tied on. The mohair beret is now doing the rounds on the number 132 from Nowy Kleparz. Sorry Maria...

6. I'm a coward. This is a very normal human trait. It is what makes me afraid of the Bad Obwarzanki Lady and all other purveyors of ring-i-form baked goods. It is possibly why I am sitting at a desk translating stuff instead of leaping around in dungarees saving the world. It probably explains why I am not earning pots of money like my friends in London. It definitely explains why I haven't been upstairs to help my neighbours with their DIY yet.
The unfortunate thing about cowardice is that it is often combined with curiosity e.g. "I wonder what will happen if I rollerblade down this apparently gentle slope without using the brakes"; "Hmmm do you think I could get across Basztowa before that tram comes around the corner?"; "What would it be like to move to a Central European country where I don't speak the language and don't know anyone?"
The sad result is a life spent in a state of continuous downhill rollerblading terror.

7. My dog is called Hodge One. OK, I made that one up.

And seven blogs to tag, without any obligation at all to faff about with meme (which is quite difficult to make into a decent blog post, actually), just purely cos it's the rules and it would be rude not to and I want to excrete this increasingly-tiresome post from my system and get onto the next thing: - hilarious and scarily well-informed about climate change.

Polish blogs:

Random selection from the Guardian Abroad:

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Super powers

Everyone has a special super power. My special power is punctuality. I am able to deflect the forces of punctuality. If it's really really important, I'll be there on time, but, then again, I've never really got over that extreme reluctance to get on the school bus in the morning (not to mention duvet separation anxiety).
But I have a perfectly good excuse. I'm actually using a Hermione Grainger-style time machine to fit in all the super-woman tasks and studying that I do. It's hardly surprising there's a little glitch every so often. Plus there's always a drowning squirrel to be rescued at the last minute. Nothing to do with the fact that I have to check my bag twice or three times to make sure that I remembered both mobile phone and cash card. Nor that I may be known on occasion to run back into the flat and check that I really did turn the gas off ...

Car guy's special power is communication with motorized vehicles. When, for example, I go back to the car to fetch a book I left on the passenger seat, I take the key, disable the alarm, unlock the passenger door, take the book, shut the door and lock it and reset the alarm. Not a peep. When Car Guy so much as raises an eyebrow at the vehicle, the alarm goes off and the entire neighbourhood is roused. Dogs start to howl at the moon. Babies wake up and begin to bawl. In Sri Lanka. Tremors start at the San Andreas fault line.

I think it likes him.

On Saturday I had the dream-like (koszmar would be an appropriate lexeme in this context) experience of interpreting from Polish... I trotted along to French class at the school only to find, to my horror, that they were going to interpret into French. Not from English then? No.
- Actually it's really good practice to interpret from a language you don't understand; said Car Guy, sort of crumbling my confidence in the entire profession in one fell swoop.
When I was at uni in the UK, we were taught to wait until you understand something before starting to speak. I waited. I waited a little longer. Finally I snatched up one or two words I understood and made up what I hoped was a plausible sentence around them.

This kind of improvisational power will be invaluable to me if I ever fall into the hands of the Colombian police or qualify as a barrister.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Doctor, Doctor, I feel like a pair of curtains...

... Just pull yourself together, man!

I had to visit the Polish doctor again. There's a high demand for horse tranquillizers on the Kraków narcotics market, and I needed to restock.
Unfortunately Car Guy inconsiderately came down with winter vomiting flu, so I was on my own. I tried the "Jestem Angielką i nie mowię dobrze po polsku..." line (guaranteed to prompt English-speaking in even the least articulate burger-flipper). Sadly it didn't work here. In the majority of cases I'm longing to meet a Pole who will simply continue speaking slowly and repeating or explaining stuff until I get it (rather than trying to switch into English, which is just frustrating). However, when medical examinations are involved, no thanks, I want things to be Absolutely Clear from my side of the stirrups.

The Polish health system terrifies me and this is because it consolidates and intensifies all my natural tendencies towards hypochondria. They do like to give out drugs. It's like sweeties at Santa's Grotto.

- Oh your back aches? Hmm you're standing a bit wonky. I'm referring you for an x-ray.


- Hmm you look a little peaky. Here are four different kinds of antibiotics. And come back for an MRI scan when you've finished them. And ... don't panic... but... have you ever been in contact with leprosy?

The terror is such that I actually start to feel more sick than I did before: cold sweats, shallow breathing, anxiety...

And what's the deal with czopki, hmm? I know what these are: our Polish teacher brought some in, with a gleeful grin on her face, telling us how fantastic and fast-acting they are. But would it really not work just as well if I simply put it in my mouth? That end is strictly a One Way Street. No Entry. Maintenance Personnel Only.
You come out of the pharmacy and it's like putting together a flatpack from Ikea: A goes in slot B, C goes in your ear, D up your nose, E cover it in jam, F stick it in a badger*, and so on.

The good old UK NHS simply gives you a pat on the back, tells you to 'buck up old thing' and sends you home with a box of aspirin. Unless you are aged between 15 and 25, in which case they give you a box of aspirin and then test you for chlamydia:

- Ingrowing toenails, eh? ... Would you mind lying down on the bench for a moment? This may feel a bit cold...

* With apologies to Mr Izzard.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

W przyszłym roku...

I read in my copy of Polish Glamour (it's good for vocab, ok? Full of pictures with labels: 'bag', 'shoes', 'dress', 'how to do that thing he wishes you weren't wishing he wouldn't ask you to do that's illegal in 15% of EU member states and certain third countries' and so on) that 2008 will see the arrival of Starbucks in Poland. By the end of the year, there will be 100 of them- presumably at least half will be opened in bookstores, shopping centres, the toilet of an existing Starbucks, and so on. The yuppies will be delighted. I hate to say I told you so.

I have yet to consolidate my New Year's resolutions in writing cos they're huge and they scare me.

But one thing I know for certain is that I simply must change the music on my mp3 player. I'm sick of bloody Snow Patrol. Why, oh why, did I not raid my sister's laptop when I had the chance?

Friday, 4 January 2008

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Images of the Festive Season

An English 'szopka'

Christmas crackers: dreaded by the other dog because they contain real gunpowder

The pudding! Normally we pour hot brandy over it and set it alight (like crêpes, but denser), but I think the flames have gone out here.

The spaniel, reclining with a nice glass of chilled Chenin Blanc

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Ma che "di colla"?! E di ferro...

I'm too tired to behave badly this time around.
By some strange act of cultural metamorphosis, everybody in Stansted Airport is Italian. When you walk through the sliding doors at check-in, some invisible screening system assesses you for potential Italianness (75% automatically if your shoes and belt are coordinated). The second set of doors coats you with a temporary Italian wash (you can choose the region).
Passengers go in 'awright mayte?', 'Och you numpty', 'ohne sahne, bitte' and come out 'ciao biondina...', 'mamma mia'.... 'mangia da pizza'...*
Grungy-looking backpacks are transformed into Versace leather, ordinary bleary-eyed British boys become sultry sloe-eyed southerners. Instantly, a pair of Armani sunglasses is perched on top of every pristine haircut.
Cultural crisis reigns supreme at the pastry counter: is it brioche? is it croissant? what on earth is a mocha light?.

Wouldn't it be good if this transformation applied to the personnel as well?

Instead of 'I'm sorry we can't let you through with that', it'd be 'Avanti, avanti!'; instead of ' I'm going to have to search you' you'd hear 'Dopo, dopo' ('Mah.... devo chiedere a mia moglie...')

We're about to board! I'm trying to contact my inner Italian now... Pass the brioche...

*Disclaimer: the author of this blog has Done Her Bit for Italo-British relations and is perfectly entitled to a little gentle leg-pulling. Ditto the French, Welsh, Scots, (anyone else??).