Friday, 22 February 2008

Cechy charakteru

At the moment, the language school is teaching us traits of character. This involves listening to, and reproducing, somewhat articificial versions of standard office-photocopier chat. At least, as I imagine it: we don't actually have a photocopier.

It ranges from:
- I don't understand why you're still seeing Monika. She is shy and self-contained.
- I disagree with you! She is a great girl! And she works very hard!

- You can't say a bad word about Jacek! He's so tall, intelligent and handsome!
- But he's always late for meetings! And he irritates me!

There's potential for a lot of fun here. My flatmates are away this weekend, so I'm going to have to find other Poles to practice on. The Bad Obwarzanki Lady may be in for a surprise.

To help get the ball rolling, our Polish teacher brought out a sort of board game, with questions on each square.

We started with 'What sort of person do you like to work with?', and from there things began to get heated.

My turn came.
'Describe someone with character traits that you don't like'.

- This person (I thought for a moment) ... is disorganized...
... disorganized, and scatty, and uhhh not punctual and arrogant and thinks they know everything and untrustworthy and unreliable and... and... can't cook and never cleans and...

I paused for breath. The windows had begun to steam up.

My Polish teacher and my classmate looked somewhat taken aback:

- Humm. Okropna osoba!

- Uhh... nie zupełnie. Miał zalety... ale nie pamiętam...

NB: I find it extremely hard to pronounce the title of this post. In English it's sort of like 'tse[x]y [x]harakteru', where [x] is like 'loch' but more so. Must eat more cheese.

Language geek link of the day:

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Ordnung muss sein

Today, crossing Szpitalna to get a coffee at lunchtime, I noticed a long queue of cars stretching back towards the Mały Rynek.

And at the head of this queue?

Waiting for an interminable stream of opportunistic pedestrians to dive across the zebra crossing was a single car...

... with a German numberplate.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know

There's nothing worse than trying to study on an empty stomach, and believe me, Polish requires more brain-calories than most subjects.
So on the way to my Polish class after work last night I stopped by the obwarzanki stand over the road from the office.

(In case you were wondering, they look a little something like this)

It was a dark, wet evening and I was surprised to notice a different lady hunched under the tarpaulin that is usually thrown over the back of these things in winter.
- Proszę, ssezamem, I lisped.
The signs were not good. Grey greasy strands of hair were slipping out from under her beret. There was a plastic cup of murky brown liquid at her left elbow, which I took to be coffee because of the coarse grit* swirling around inside. A strange music, sounding suspiciously hymnal, issued from a tiny tinny radio under the canopy.

- Złoty twenty.
After much digging around I triumphantly produced the correct two coins.
- Another ten grosze please.
- What?! -I was mystified- 'aren't they one złoty twenty?'
- Yes.
- Look, one twenty, there
- No no no. You've given me one ten
- I don't think so: look, that's a twenty, see, 2 0
- No no. That's a ten, look. This is a twenty. I need another ten.
Her tone was starting to get aggressive. I feared damage to person or property.

Unable to believe that I was about to get involved in a squabble over what was basically four pence, I feigned looking in my purse again, and brought out two 10gr coins.

- There! said the old woman, pointing to the twenty grosze coin that had been in the palm of my hand all along, "That's a twenty".

I handed over the money and scarpered.

The Bad Obwarzanki Lady has nothing on this woman.

*NB: The traditional and sacred way of making coffee in Poland is to plonk a heaped tablespoonful of coffee grounds into a mug, pour boiling water on top and stir until it starts to turn brackish.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

An Ode to Woad

Winter has returned to Kraków. On Thursday morning the yard behind our building was coated in white, while itsy little fluffy flakes were floating down past the window.

It's tights under trousers weather again.*

Which brings us nicely round to the subject of clothes. Specifically, extra clothes. The ones you don't need in England. The ones I've been shedding in a woolly trail around Kraków since October.

Let's take a break for some vocabulary, since this is a linguist's blog and since I have some avid English readers back home who are both dying to know more about Poland and the Polish language.

czapka: a hat (of the knitted winter sort). Warning. Do not confuse with czopek. Consequences may be painful, and Poles will laugh at you.

szalik: scarf. Sounds like 'little shawl', so is easy to remember. From October to May, do not even think about leaving the house without one. Some days you may need one just to get out of bed.

rękawice/czke: gloves. Not easy to remember. I very rarely go back to look for gloves without a dictionary handy.

At first I enjoyed wrapping up against the cold. It's sort of satisfying- after years of permeating damp and biting wind on the east coast of Scotland- to be able to shuffle through the Planty swathed in layer upon cosy layer and resembling the Michelin man's metabolically-challenged cousin.
However it quickly becomes apparent that once you've put all these layers on you're going to have to take them off again sooner or later.
And once you've taken them off, at some point you'll have to put them back on again so you can leave the pub and go outside. Yes, I did say leave the pub.
It began at the tandem evening: I was so intent on improving my Italian** that I left hat no. 1 under the table. No amount of searching could help me locate the thing. It had clearly decided to make a linguistic journey of its own. My money's on the Swedish table.

Then I had a brief flirtation with mohair which ended in tragedy on the no. 132 bus. In my haste to alight before ending up in Nowa Huta I contrived to leave the thing on my seat (my theory is it recognised its natural habitat and made a break for freedom). I haven't given up hope though: from time to time I embark on reconnaisance missions in and out of the stalls at Stary Kleparz, in the hope of spotting the suspiciously snug-looking babcia to whose sartorial elegance I have inadvertently contributed.

Hat no. 3 was borrowed and left on top of the television at my parents' house over Christmas (replacing the star that was too heavy for the top of the tree). Hat no. 4 I don't remember losing at all, but it's certainly not where it was. I think the Starowiślna fairies took it. Hat 5 is still with me- for now- but there have been several near misses, notably when I had to wait around for someone to unlock the language lab so I could retrieve the thing, not to mention the time I left it under the seat in Pod Baranami and had to shimmy to the middle of the row and grope around between everyone's knees while the trailers for the next film rolled somewhere above my head.

As for gloves, I've given up and started buying the so-cheap-they're-virtually-disposable-knitted-by-leprous-infants-in-Cambodia variety from H&M.
And I've learnt to curb my naturally violent reaction to any male voice calling out after me. Generally they are letting me know that I've shed some stray item of knitwear...

But it's only since my arrival in Poland that I've been experiencing this involuntary striptease. In Britain we don't need all these fripperies! Wool is for sheep! We have WOAD***.

Woad's the stuff to show men!
Woad to scare your foe men!
Boil it to a brill-yant hue,
And rub it on your chest and your abdomen!

Ancient Britain never hit on
Anything so good as Woad to fit on
Neck or knees or where you sit on...

We interrupt this transmission with a warning that if you should happen to come across a raving feminist with Boudicca delusions sitting peacefully on the tram wearing only blue paint, it is probably the blogger formerly known as Pinolona. Please deliver her home and give her something hot to drink...

*NB: now, unfortunately, those pretty white flakes have become slushy damp rain. And it's still freezing. Gah I hate Poland!
** Hussy.
*** As modelled by Angelina Jolie in the new 'Beowulf' film.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Power of Prayer

This morning the sunshine was blinding.

- See?
said the Sacristan as I tiptoed across the nave at St Giles: 'It's warm now. Warm!'

- Not for me: I'm always cold here, I said, hiding my sunglasses furtively in my bag and hoping he wouldn't notice that I was wearing a skirt under my ski jacket.

I think he spoke too soon. Thick clouds have gathered and there's a bitter wind. I predict more snowfall.

Talking of miracles, I have to make the flat look habitable before my flatmates get back from their end-of-sesja holidays...

Thursday, 14 February 2008


Oh ok, ok, I'll write a post on Valentine's day in Poland. And it won't be about drinking vodka and singing along to Bridget Jones' diary.

All day long I've been noticing beaming young girls tripping about the streets carrying a Single Red Rose.

That's awfully cute. But guys, come on.

Don't you think it's just a little bit mean? I mean, could you not splash out on a dozen just this once? Or even a half-dozen?

Now where was that Rioja Reserva...

We need a miracle

Now that I know I might have to leave soon, I'm stepping the whole Polish language thing up a gear. It's not as scary as I imagined. If you try and practice French with native speakers, you are very likely to be greeted with a pitying smile, a raised eyebrow and general Gallic scorn. It's terrifying. You are aware every single minute that your mouth is simply not the right shape for all those nasal vowels and uvular fricatives and you'll never have the casual elegance of expression of the insouscient native speaker.

And you know, instinctively you know that that particular French person has also watched Tony Blair's congratulatory speech to Nicholas Sarkozy on YouTube and that that typical schoolboy British accent is exactly what they are reminded of every time you clear your throat.


Polish is another matter. I know I'll never speak beautiful Polish. I'll never be trying to work into Polish or to give after-dinner speeches or to impress someone with my eloquence and wit. I have a hard time getting the right case ending, let alone using a pretty expression or developing a harmonious accent.
And nobody here expects foreigners to even try. They certainly don't expect perfection. If you can get the message across in spite of perfectives, imperfectives and a case system of Byzantine complexity, it's already little short of a miracle.

So I've started diving right in. I engage in conversation with everyone. I don't just go to the pharmacy for painkillers: I ask for precisely the perfect kind of painkillers for a splitting headache and I prefer ibuprofen not paracetamol and do you have something like that? Oh fantastic, how often can I take them... i tak dalej ad infinitum.

I am a perfect pain in the derrière.

Today, after a chilly half-hour shivering in the organ gallery of St Giles at lunchtime, my fingers gradually stiffening over plagel cadences and counterpoint, I threw in the towel* and took the key back to the Sacristan.

- It's too cold up there! I said, as conversationally as I could through my chattering teeth.
- Where? In the church?
- No... up there. Uhhh... in the mountains (my Polish is not so hot)... no, no, up the stairs.
- Ah. Well, we'll think of something. We'll have to think hard.

I crossed my fingers, hoping he was about to offer me a spare electric heater for the organ loft.

- We'll pray to God that it gets warmer soon.

- Na prawdę...

*jeter l'éponge- isn't that cool? They chuck out the soggy sponge while we choose to finish washing and get out of the bath before calling it a day. Now what does that say about the Franco-Brittanic collective psyche...

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

A bad idea

Approaching the bar in Pauza last night I realised I only had small change in my purse and not an awful lot of it.

- I've only got 6 złoty 50- I said to the barman- Can I get a beer for that?

- Żywiec or Pilsner?

- Uhh how much does it cost?

- 7 złotych

- You know I only have 6,50?

- I know

- Żywiec please.

And to think I considered leaving the country...

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

A sensitive type

Ok, ok, not all Polish men are heartless and awful. There I was, sitting in yet another doctor's surgery, crying with frustration because the guy was on the phone and checking the computer and doing everything other than communicating with me. He noticed my imminent wobble:

Now you're going to cry! - he exclaimed, and smiled-
Don't cry: because then I'll start crying and then where will we be...


Saturday, 9 February 2008

Glass half empty

At a bit of a loss with no work or school on a Saturday, I decided to try and repeat last week's activities: as far as I can remember it was a pretty happy day.
I've always wanted to see the Manggha Centre in Kraków and it seemed like as good a time as any to do it. I recommend the historical Japanese Art gallery (the one upstairs) but not so sure about the contemporary one downstairs. Although this may have just been because it was on the quiet side of the river and the concrete and clouds meant there was too much grey around.
The miso soup saved my life (not so sure about cherry-flavoured green tea, but at least it's healthier than Wiśniowka). If in doubt, go for the food.

Massolit was the next stop on the list. Culture first, then bookshop. I like Massolit because there's a series of back rooms with old-fashioned armchairs, where you can hide out. You can pretend to be in the library of an Edwardian townhouse rather than alone in a foreign country: it's very soothing.
On Sundays, they have a group which reads children's books out loud in English. I'm secretly longing to go but a) At 11am on a Sunday I'm usually more occupied with Sanctuses and Offertory Hymns and b) I'm probably too old for this sort of thing and I don't have a convenient child to borrow.
And the first title on display on the front shelves?
'How to get married after 35'
Oh God, get me out of here...

Last Saturday, I really enjoyed Reserwat: a sort of pretty cheesy film about a photographer who splits up with his posh girlfriend and has to move into the dodgy end of Warsaw. Naturally he makes friends with all the local drunks, takes the local tearaway in hand (after first rescuing the kid from a hit-and-run) and drinks vodka with the local tough-talking tart-with-a-heart. Of course his gritty images of the district are a major hit.
Pod Baranami are showing another Polish film with English subtitles, so I thought I'd continue with my forays into the Polish film industry (this all started with a pessimistic film in Wrocław back in July- I hope you haven't forgotten, there's a test later...)

Now right now, I really want to see upbeat, lighthearted, feelgood films. It's February. I think you can see where I'm coming from. This is precisely why I've been avoiding the Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It says 'uplifting' but it sounds pretty terrifying to me.
I approached the ticket kiosk somewhat anxiously:
- This film - I gave the name - is it positive? Happy? Good? (again my vocab isn't all that specific)
The guy smiled, and shrugged.
- Haven't seen it. It's good. (I suppose he had read reviews or something)

I bought a ticket.

The (almost) first line of dialogue:
- My girlfriend just died. Can you refund my plane ticket?

Fortunately the film was short.

Here's a brief overview (Spoiler alert!):
- Boy's girlfriend has died
- Boy gets knocked down on bicycle
- In hospital, Boy meets cute blonde
- Boy and Cute Blonde hang out for the day (we discover that Cute Blonde is one of those annoying whimsical heroines in the Amelie Poulain vein)
- Boy remembers that he has been kicked out of flat
- Boy and Cute Blonde stay the night in a posh hotel with the money from the ticket (by the way, the girlfriend wasn't dead: she moved to New York and fell in love with someone else)
- In the morning, Cute Blonde won't wake up
- We discover Cute Blonde has advanced stage leukaemia
- Boy visits Cute Blonde in hospital
- Cute Blonde asks Boy to put her out of her misery ...

Aargh! Enough of this Polish pessimism, stop it now!
Place your bets: which will happen first, February ends or I hurl myself into the Wisła??*

*To re-emerge in a salt mine in Hungary, enclosed in a giant ring (... no-one got that ... never do that one again ...)

U lekarza - Part Deux

Doctor: I can't find anything wrong with you. It must be the drink.
Pinolona: Ok, I'll come back in the morning when you're sober.

P: Doctor, doctor, I keep stealing things!
Doc: Try these pills. And if they don't work, bring me back a DVD player.

P: Doctor, doctor, I keep seeing double!
Doc: Just take a seat
P: Which one?

Still feeling pretty awful, I decided to take on the Polish health system once again. This time, no nice appointment at the swanky private clinic. Oh no, I pay my ZUS and it's about time I started getting my money's worth.
Unfortunately, this means presenting yourself for registration at seven thirty in the morning.
I actually had to call back to check:
- Hello, I just called a minute ago. Sorry, was that 7.30 in the morning? ... It was? ... oh. ok. thanks.

What they don't tell you is that clever Poles know the system, and so when you slink in, blinking and yawning, at 7.31am, there are at least nine people (most of them women of the 60+ beret-wearing variety) who have already had their backsides firmly planted on the wooden benches in the corridor since 6.58.

Queueing in official places in Poland requires special strategies and constant alertness. On arrival, you have to mark your presence by first by asking the room if everyone is waiting for room 101 (or whichever). You then consolidate your position in the queue by checking who is last and making sure that they are on-side to pass the baton on to you on their exit from the hallowed halls. Eye contact and gaining sympathy is key here. If they should move seats, be sure to move yourself too so that the others remember that you are next.
I am not normally so assertive, especially in Poland, where formal interaction confuses me and I am not familiar with the system. Fortunately, the person in front of me was a sympathetic non-beret wearer who clearly took pity on stupid foreigners.

We all got out books and crosswords and waited. An hour passed. One or two people left. At around half past eight, the magic door opened and things started to move.

After two hours of waiting, it was finally my turn.

- Hmm, said the doctor, after I'd showed her all the old prescriptions and boxes that I'd been through since the beginning of January.
- You know what, you're not sick, just run-down. You don't have any infections or anything. But you have been taking a lot of medication. Stop taking the drugs. Take probiotics and eat vitamins and use non-scented soap.

- I'm sorry: do you mean finish the drugs, or stop taking them?
I have some trouble with details in Polish, and it's always worth checking.
But this time I hadn't misinterpreted: a Polish doctor actually told me not to take any medicine!

What's more, there was no mention of magnesium, hot milk with garlic, tea with raspberry syrup or any of the other traditional Polish elixirs.

I was astounded, but not for long. The doctor was pointing something out to me: a postcard of a rather brutal urban landscape photographed from the other side of a wide estuary.
- You're English. This is where my son lives. Do you know this place?

The caption read 'Dundee'...

Thursday, 7 February 2008


This is a word that's been coming up consistently on the weather forecast for the past couple of days: overcast.
Kraków is unseasonably warm and damp at the moment, with no sign of the long, cold winter we were warned of.

This morning I meant to write a blood-and-guts post reminiscent of some tortured adolescent's poetry (stand back now, protective clothing may be required).
I wanted to explain how you can wake up and for the first instant not remember where this tight pain around your chest comes from; to describe the effort required to step out from under the shower and to force mushy cereal not to stick in your throat, the rising nausea induced by the sight of a simple cup of tea.
I felt like telling you about the sense of desolation you feel realising that all the dimensions and colours and light that another person brought into your life are closed off to you now: the doors are shut.
And walking across the city centre into work you pass places where you liked to have coffee and streets where you lost the car and that gallery that was always closed when you meant to visit it, and you are constantly reminded of what you have lost.
You try not to re-play that scene where he comes to the door and says:
- I'm sorry, I made a mistake, I miss you. Come here.

But nobody likes a sissy.

Instead, I thought I'd tell you about the BBC's 'A Touch of Polish' initiative. This is a Polish soap (do follow the link, it's brilliant: right-click to open in a new tab, clever, eh?) about the adventures of Bogdan the Builder and his English sweetheart, Sarah the divorcee, whom he meets when doing repairs to her home (I like to think she answered the door in her negligée, gin and tonic in hand).

It's honestly almost as good as the Gold Blend adverts. With some Polish phrases thrown in as well: result!

Each week, they send you an email inviting you to guess (from a multiple-choice list) what the caption means, and then, best of all, they ask you what you think should happen next, from a selection of three possible scenarios.

However, there's only one episode a week, and sometimes you just don't want to wait for the next installment. So, in case you're hankering after an extra dollop of Polish soap, I've created my own:

Pinolona (International Pine-Nut of Mystery) finds out that Car Guy no longer has space in his passenger seat for her. Bravely she immerses herself in her work and her new-found love of west-Slavic philology, but, with the contract on her flat about to end and the debt collectors clamouring at the door, she is forced to consider her next move...

What happens next? You decide:

1) Pinolona goes back to her parents' house in London and scrapes a living proofreading translations while practicing as a volunteer interpreter for Senegalese* immigrants with no access to Legal Aid.

2) Pinolona stays in Kraków and keeps her office job until the end of the academic year so that she can continue to learn Polish and attend the interpreting school, but she has to sleep on other people's floors for two months.

3) Pinolona tries to initiate a lesbian affair with Car Guy's upstairs neighbour in a desperate attempt to keep him in her life (I told you it was soap). She quits her job and becomes apprentice to the Bad Obwarzanki Lady.

Come back next week when the story will continue on the basis of your vote...

(And then I promise no more about Car Guy or about the relative desirability of different demographic groups in Poland. Enough now. )

*No particular reason to pick on the Senegalese. But they do speak French.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Simple repairs for common household items

Occasionally I get really incensed hearing men constantly droning on about how gorgeous Polish girls are: hence the slight diatribe at W-Wa in the form of a comment on an earlier post. Generally one thinks, well, women have other qualities apart from the ability to look decorative. Like designing buildings, curing illnesses, sitting in a little box and turning one language into another and back again in a matter of seconds. Why focus on prettiness? It's not something that any of us can do very much about.

However, as a rule I have to admit I agree. When you walk down the street in a Polish town the other women are much more likely to be attractive and slim than in the UK, where I am increasingly surprised by the size of everyone.

There's a quote from Family Guy where the teenage daughter asks Death to kill all the girls that are prettier than her: 'Well that would just leave England'. Ouch. And secretly, I'm proud of being asked for directions, not because I look like a local but because it implies- as a Pole suggested- that I don't look stereotypically ugly enough to be a Brit. Thanks. I think.

Well, I'm afraid I'm letting the side down something chronic at the moment.

Yesterday morning I hauled myself out of bed several minutes before the alarm (which I forgot to set anyway) and staggered into the bathroom, apparently via Switzerland and the hanging gardens of Babylon.*
The face in the mirror looked as though it had been punched by the back end of a bus through a hedge backwards.
Several hours of vodka and bawling your eyes out is not the ideal way to stay young and beautiful. Salt water is most terribly dehydrating to the skin.

Students of interpreting often practice with speeches which describe a process. These are easier to remember because they have a logical progressive sequence. For example, the process of making a cup of coffee or of ironing a shirt.

For students then, here are some key English expressions to use in the process of breaking off a relationship. Anglophones, repeat with me- I think we know them by heart by now:

- This is going to be one of those difficult conversations (good opener)
- It's not you, it's me (classic)
- I think you're a really great person (but:)
- I really, really like spending time with you (this is pushing it)
- If we'd already been together twenty years, this would be fantastic (you should be so lucky)
- My friends will tell me I'm an idiot (aims to flatter but generally ineffective)
- Actually there's this other girl (wait for it...)
- Nothing's actually happened
- Can we still be friends?

Szanowny Państwo, dziękuję za uwagę.

This time, I gave back the jumper (didn't suit me).

I kept the 1999 Rioja Reserva.

*Mr Izzard: sorry yet again.

Monday, 4 February 2008


It's universally true that Polish men are more polite than English ones. At first this seems cute and exotic. After all, who in the UK kisses us on the hand instead of simply shaking it?! 'A kiss on the hand may be quite Continental', right, girls??

And who indeed, in England, opens doors for you without even questioning? In the UK, this would be a good excuse for a smack in the face:
- Whaddya think I am?? You think I can't get through a door by myself? You think I'm pregnant??? (officially the worst offence against weight-concious Hollywood-aware Brits)

A week or so ago we took our Polish teacher out for a drink or seven (it being the end of semester) and grilled her on Polish customs. She revealed that neither she nor her friends would go anywhere near a guy who refused to open the door for them. No way. Nada. That guy is Officially Out of the running.

The thing I hate most is the Coat-holding thing. Last week, Car Guy had a parapetówka* at his new (currently minimally-furnished) flat. At the end of the evening, one of the girls, unaccompanied, handed her coat over to one of the guys so he could hold it out for her to slip her arms into. Now, this is the kind of mock-chivalrous behaviour I hate-loathe-and-despise more than anything. For heavens' sake. How hard is it to put your own coat on? It simply reminds me of staying at my Granny's house when I was small and unable to work out technical complications such as sleeves.

Just for the record, Car Guy's friends thought him an asshole for several months because I insisted on putting on my coat By Myself.

Just for the record, Car Guy most politely over tea this evening informed me that he has no sentimental connections with me whatsoever.

Thank goodness, I shall be able to put my coat on in peace from here on in.

*House-warming party: 'parapet' is Polish for 'windowsill' cos there's no furniture so that's all there is to sit on.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Rainy Saturday

What is there to do on a rainy Saturday in Kraków? Other than spending hours thumbing through the linguistics section* in Massolit and going to the cinema?

I was standing in the passage under Pod Baranami, reading the listings, when a young British guy approached and asked me, in very careful Polish, if I knew where the Camera Cafe was. He was not wearing a coat and he carried a huge triangular paper packet with rose stems poking out of one end.
- In English? I said - and then pointed him in the right direction.
- By the way... when talking to an unknown young woman you should say 'Czy Pani zna', not 'Znasz'- I called after him.**

He looked slightly nervous: I bet those roses were for some gorgeous Polish girl. Cute.

The cinema listings revealed that I was a good forty-five minutes too early for Reserwat (Pod Baranami show Polish films with English subtitles: I recommend), so I slipped into Tribeca downstairs for coffee and to drool over my language-geek candy. Yeah ok, to use the loo.

Tribeca is a special place. Situated on the Rynek Głowny, the main square, it was Kraków's first shot at a Starbucks-style coffee bar. Unfortunately -I believe I've mentioned before that customer service is on its way to Poland via the scenic route- they haven't quite got the same split-second snap timing going behind the bar. The result is that you order, pay, and then sit and wait for half an hour until the girl at the end of the counter shouts MAłA CZARNA I CAPPUCCINO PROSZE BARDZO.
And then you can go and collect it.

Coming out of the panie/panowie my way was blocked by at least fifteen Italians who had just ordered espresso all round. I elbowed my way through and took up a vantage point in a bay window, right by the business end of the counter.
Sure enough, after about ten minutes, fifteen tiny saucers appeared on the end of the bar. They were joined by fifteen tiny cups, fifteen tiny spoons and fifteen little glasses of water.
The Italians swarmed in on them.
And here's the thing: Italians don't sit down to drink espresso. They slouch about, they lean on the bar, they gossip, they compare the coffee with the stuff back home and they generally mill about. Then they down the shots of coffee and put the cups back on the bar straight away.

This confused the poor baristas completely.

I sat back and enjoyed the mayhem, and was pretty disappointed when my cappuccino appeared and I had to go and find somewhere to sit and drink the thing.

*Yes, I did, it's about the history and phonology of English borrowings in other European languages. Seriously sexy.
**Ok, I didn't, cos I'm too polite (see previous post) but I was thinking it.

Friday, 1 February 2008

pinolony nie ma

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. But the longer I put off blogging, the less the idea of writing appeals.

I'm sorry: it was January, the weather was rubbish. Only one snowfall, and that only lasted an evening.

What have I been doing with myself? Uh... working - there's only one thing less fun than translating and that's hearing a translator talking about translating.
Being ill is another, and having all kinds of adventures with both private and public doctors, with and without interpretation. Not to mention finally getting my ass to the optician.
- Can he come in to help? I asked (Car Guy looked up for a moment and then went back to glossary-writing 'sorry, was that "gas-permeable"?')
- No... no problem, the optician speaks English.
(Car Guy visibly disappointed)
Yeah, he spoke English... like I learnt some German in school once. But we managed to work it out, and I can see much better now.*

Yesterday was a special day for doughnuts, to mark the beginning of the end of Carnival season. Although to be honest I haven't seen much of a party going on so far. The streets seem empty and everything is grey.

The restaurant Pod Aniolami had organised free doughnuts (in Polish: Pączki, easy to remember because over-consumption leads to development of paunch) and hot drinks on the Mały Rynek. When I walked past on the way back from work, the queues didn't seem too bad, so I lined up and soon I was sinking my teeth into sugar-glazed dough with a somewhat surprising rosehip-flavoured filling. Unfortunately this was not accompanied by tea, thanks to my least-favourite Polish tradition. As I stood at the hot drinks stall, an elderly gentleman pushed in front of me. Then a young-ish man with a little girl. Then a mohair-clad babcia. What could I do but let all of these worthy citizens pass?

Finally I was standing at the front.
- Can I have a cup of tea? I asked

- Sorry, we're closed now.

I hate Poland.

*By tilting my head slightly to the left and squinting.