Tuesday, 1 April 2008


I speak good the Polish. I learn heem from a book.

The problem is, I don't always understand heem very well.

And this is where we enter the Denial Phase.

The Denial Phase comes when you've spent a year living in a place and making all the effort in the world to learn the language. You learn to like the food, you get hip and hang with the local kids, you drink your tea with raspberry syrup in winter, you laugh at that stupid advert with John Cleese... You can do languages. You are the interpreter (heaven help us).
You come to hate it when people speak to you in English. It makes you feel like a stupid foreigner, who hasn't been working their little cotton socks off all year to get their head round what is actually a mind-bogglingly complicated language. You don't understand everything, but you're damned if you're going to let them know that!

Below are two classic examples of the Denial Phase in the process of linguistic acquisition.

Scenario 1:
On Saturday a friend asked me- if I happened to be passing through town- to book tickets for the evening screening of The Bucket List* at Ars cinema.** I duly queued up and asked the guy for three tickets. Usually the trailers give the film's original title, so I always have to check the Polish title on the listings before I book. I hesitated a fraction of a second too long, and my pronunciation was just a little bit too dodgy, and the guy answered me in English:
- How many?
I snarled at him.
- Dobrze rozumiem po polsku!
He looked at me, taken aback, and continued in Polish (in spite of my mistakes), albeit very cautiously, as one does when there are only a few inches of reinforced plastic to separate one from a raving madwoman.
And he gave me a student discount: another bonus- everyone assumes young foreigners are here to study...

Scenario 2:
I sneak home for lunch on Monday and decide to pick up an obwarzanek from the stand on the corner of Starowiślna and Westerplatte. I order, the lady goes to fish out the required baked item with that metal prong thing, and as she bends down, she asks me a question, to which I give a neutral reply, having not caught what she said. She puts the bare pretzel in that little dish thing on top of the stand, and I go to fish out a plastic bag from the packet next to it.
- Ah, but I already asked you if you wanted a plastic bag.
- I know, but...
- Ah ha, you didn't understand (she looked so smug at this point)
- Actually I understand perfectly well! I said, crossly. 'There was a tram passing at the time and I didn't hear!'
- ah you didn't understand... (she was still tutting away to herself)
- There was A TRAM!

And the obwarzanek was stale. Which was somehow very fitting.

*A very sentimental film. But not as bad as Mała Wielka Miłość. From now on I am only going to see movies where people get stabbed violently. I have high hopes for Nadzieja.

** Pronounced the way you think it is. Sometimes hard to suppress the urge to follow it up with 'Feck! Drrrink! Gurrrls!'.


wiosanna said...

To na pocieszenie może komentarz po polsku :)
Wczoraj 3 razy probowałam i jakoś ciągle miałam jakiś błąd
Kolejny polecany fryzjer, tym razem na Kazimierzu tak jak chciałaś
ul. św. Wawrzyńca 38
Prosić pana Jarka. 42zł - strzyżenie i mycie :)

Moja przyjaciółka tam była w zeszłym tygodniu, bo jej siostra poleciła :)

Anonymous said...

I am Polish and I often do not understand the Poles ,too... because they speak too fast or not clear enough.
It is nothing to worry about.

Shaunj said...

I commend your drunken Irish priest impressions....:)

Justyna said...

I've heard you speak in Polish. It is mighty impressive. Powinnaś być z siebie dumna.

pinolona said...

Ale spokojnie, nie martwić się o błędy po angielsku (myślę że twoj angielski jest lepszy niż moj polski... przeprazam za moje błędy...).
Dzięki za polecenie, następne raz idę patrzeć tam.
I 42zł to nie zle...

Anon: thanks. sometimes I don't understand English either (particularly when spoken by Glaswegians or Texans...for example).

Shaun: Drunken priests taught me everything I know. Actually I made Pinolona up. My real name is Father Dougal (the rollerblading is a dead giveaway).
I heard your missus is teaching this weekend - are you coming to rock up the English Bs on Sunday?

Justyna: wow, thanks! uhh... it always seems easier after beer...

Baduin said...

What about speaking German as a compromise choice?

Anonymous said...

Found your blog while looking for ex-pat info for Krakow. Hilarious ! If you were published, I'd buy the book. Reminded me of A Year in the Merde. I last visited Krakow in 1990 and I imagine its changed a lot since. Would welcome the opportunity to pick your brain a little on the practicalities of setting up as an expat in the town. If you're agreeable email is mrw1 at hotmail dot co dot uk
Thanks and thanks for the laughs ! Mike

pinolona said...

JaWohl!!! Ich spreche sehr gut der Pidgin Deutsche!
Ich will ein erdbeereis essen. Ohne sahne aber mit apfelsaft, bitte.
Ist hier in die nahe eine taksihaltestelle?? Ich habe wiele zutrinken und ich bin auf mein face ge-smasched.

Wie ist deine Leiblingsgruppe? Hast du Lust mit mir kaffee zutrinken?

Kaffee und kuchen mit milch, bitte. Ich habe meine Handschuhe im bus vergessen. Liebe Gott! Was machen wir jetzt?!

Mir ist kalt. Und die Prinzessin liebt der Gartner!

Guten Morgen. Ich bin Norbert.

Zuper Party!

[And they say UK secondary schools don't know how to teach modern languages...]

Anonymous said...

Don't apologize for your mistakes, as long we understand everything is alright. I wanted to write you in Polish because of you write that people acted like you wouldn't be able to understand you.

wiosanna said...

It was me just another way of signing in :)

Shaunj said...

Stop showing off with your flashy languages, you make some of us mono-lingual mongoloids feel very inadequate.Never made it to rock the B's today.... another time to bedazzle them...

island1 said...

So you're just at the denial phase?! Jesus, I'll come back in about 4 years.