Friday, 30 May 2008

Shipping forecast

I don't know how they do it. Somehow, shoes, clothes, and particularly books, manage to multiply in a positively-rabbitlike manner over the course of just fourteen months.

There's no way Easyjet will let me take this lot on board. Even if I wear Every Item Of Clothing I Own, plus the rollerblades. Imagine how long it'd take me to get through security (possibly slightly quicker than expected if I manage to wear the rollerblades).

Nope, I decided I'd pack up all the heavy things in a nice cardboard box all safely taped-up, and ship it off home to the UK while I relaxed in orange-painted comfort at high altitude with old SqueezyJ.

The traditional Poland to England shipping company is called Eagle Freight or something similar, and their website says they've been carting people's worldly goods between here and Blighty since just after the war (presumably with a cheery wave to my Grandad, who was employed by the British Army to try and cart them back again). Early in the week I sent an email to their UK office. Then I sent another to their Polish office.
No dice.

Now my polski przez telefon isn't as hot as I'd like, but needs must when the devil drives (and on Polish roads you'd never know the difference).
In any case, I find now that if I breathe slowly and concentrate very hard it's actually a lot more understandable than I expected (unfortunately sometimes the slow breathing makes me sound like a pervert).

- Oh... sorry... Pani jest too late for this week's delivery

I resisted the urge to point out that if they'd answered my email in the first place I wouldn't have been. Instead, I took a deep breath and asked if they could recommend someone else.*

Desperately I scrabbled around in boxes and cases for a pencil while she started to read out the number.

Two phonecalls later and I had booked a courier to pick up my box on Monday afternoon. All I had to do was send my details in an email and wait for their confirmation.

I sent the email.

No confirmation.

Thursday morning: still no confirmation.

I called again.

A woman answered.

- Ah... czy Pani ma kłopot z polskim?

- uhh... I replied... 'Czasami...'

I asked to speak to the same guy as before.

- Ale ... *tutting sound and slow sucking in of breath through teeth* Wie Pani Co? On jest bardzo zajęty w tym momencie...

Uh oh.

We continued like that for a while: me trying to spell out my name and address, she trying to put me off.
The whole thing was punctuated by more sucking in of breath and doubtful-sounding 'Wie Pani co...' s

There were a lot of things this Pani nie wiedzała.

Later that day, I got the original confirmation email.

I only hope they don't send me two couriers...

*n.b. this is freelancer instinct. "Can you do it?" No. "Do you know someone who can?". It pays - literally - to be popular...

Monday, 26 May 2008

Kraków Soup Festival

Miss out on free food? Are you kidding?!

The Polish art of queueing

Don't miss that last drop...

It's tricky to do standing up


Sunday, 25 May 2008

A Song for Europe

Congratulations Poland! You know you are one of the grown-ups in Europe when you come joint last in Eurovision! Welcome to the club! Come in, sit down, have a scotch.
Have you met our fellow loser, Germany...?

We watched the whole thing on a big screen in the student halls out past Galeria Krakowska. Incidentally, students in Poland have one bathroom per ten people and you have to keep a close eye on your own toilet paper...

The problem with watching Eurovision abroad is that you miss out on Terry Wogan's brilliantly sarcastic commentary. Worse still, you find yourself trying to substitute your own gags, which seem extremely funny at the time (halfway down 50cl of Lech and a bag of paprika crisps), but which are completely lost on your non-British fellow spectators.

Mind you, it's almost exciting if you watch it with people from countries which might actually win (Croatia, Turkey, Romania...).

Depressingly enough, if I were an alien landing in Europe on Eurovision night, I would think that humans all spoke a single tongue: English, with a heavy Slavic accent, darlink. You may have won the competition, but language is power: take that, Mother Russia!

And the quality of the music?
As one of the girls remarked dryly:
- You hear 'combination, imagination, excitation' ... and then you like the song...

Friday, 23 May 2008

Ten (ish) reasons why Polish men are lovely

There have been complaints about my attitude to the Polish male demographic.

So I racked my brains and - eventually - came up with ten or so examples of Polish men being kind, polite, all-round good sorts.

1/ The Sacristan at St Giles, who is a complete sweetheart and always tells me I should wrap up warm and not catch cold. And who started saying 'Danke Schon' to me because he thinks it's English;

2/ My old flatmate, who helped me move in, ordered my contact lenses on Allegro and helped me put my flat-pack furniture together;

4/My current flatmate's boyfriend, who bought us all tulips for Women's Day on March 8;

5/ The random middle-aged rollerblading dude, who gave me an impromptu lesson in November and showed me how to get from the Wisła to the Błonia without getting squashed by a tram (although he invited me to lunch afterwards, so come to think of it, it was probably just a pick-up attempt);

6/ Justyna's husband, who rescues backpackers

7/ G's neighbours at żuławskiego, who helped me when I got locked out of her flat and lent me money when I couldn't get in to get my purse and phone;

8/ Car guy's colleague who helped me with my CV and with note-taking and who didn't get offended when I put my coat on by myself;

9/ Peixote, who showed me around Warsaw and bought lunch;

10/ The boys from the band, who are so cute. If I were eighteen years old again, I'd have a serious crush;

11/ This guy,
who - ok - is a Polish Brit (or a British Pole) rediscovering his roots, is also a dżentelmen and has some entertaining stories to boot;

12/ Car Guy
Even the infuriating bits.

Disclaimer: Pinolona wrote/sketched this while drunk. She will be back to her normal ball-breaking radical feminist self in the morning.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Wycieczka do Huty

Just over a year in Kraków and I still hadn't got my ass to Nowa Huta.

Two friends invited me over for a tour and the best cappuccino in Kraków*.

We marvelled at the ability of Polish Seniors to eat potatoes and kotlet schabowy even when the asphalt is blistering outside...

Classy night-life spot just off Plac Centralny. They have an ice-cream flavour intriguingly labelled 'owocowe'. Luckily it turned out to be strawberry. I think.
Also a guy kissed my hand in the loos. Nobody in Stare Miasto kisses my hand in the loos.

We sat in their living room drinking coffee and checking the tram times home.
- OK there's one in seven minutes.
I said. 'No wait, I'll never make it. I'll go for the next one, in fifteen.'

In forty minutes we were running for the tram stop, copper-scented summer rain just beginning to fall.
The tram passed - I crossed the tracks behind it, dived for the closing door and...

... a kind gentleman pressed the button for me.


Thank you for the tour, guys, it was fantastic!

*A steal at 50PLN, free English lesson with every cup.

The Future

On my way to Ars* cinema last night, I passed yet another homeless drunk slumped at the side of Jana street with a bowl in front of him and some words felt-tipped onto a piece of corrugated cardboard.

Generally I am ashamed to admit that I walk past these people: I probably stop on a 70:30 basis depending on how guilty I feel at the time, how broke I feel at the time, how recently I last went to church and whether or not there's anyone about (I feel awkward when people see me).

So I walked past this guy, in a hurry to get to the cinema.

As I passed him, I glanced at the cardboard sign.

'Zarabiać na piwo;

ewentualnie na wino'

Earning for beer... and perhaps even wine...

Struck by the genius of his request, and stifling peals of laughter, I turned back immediately and gave him all the change in my purse (only about 4 złoty, don't get excited, but I needed the note to get into the cinema)

For his honesty, for showing ambition - even in the humblest and most human of ways - and for putting a smile on my face, I wish this guy every future happiness.

*feck, gurrls

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Inner life

... but not when it causes you to miss trains and walk into things.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Pinolona in Warsaw

"Will I see the guy from Magda M...?"

Foreigner's guide to Polish Chivalry

"Before coming to Poland, I uploaded CD 1 of ‘Colloquial Polish‘ to my mp3 player, to listen to on the tram. There’s one track where Janet Watson is writing a letter to her friend ‘Droga Susan’ (why she is writing in Polish to a friend with an Anglo-Saxon name is a mystery to me, but for the sake of practice I suppose it makes sense). She says:

- Polacy są miłe. Kobiety bardzo ładne, i męszczyny uprzejmi.

There we have it. The girls are gorgeous and the men are… uh… polite."

And I posted the rest of it here

(on Polandian)

Sunday, 11 May 2008

The Dealer

Within the hallowed halls of the interpreting school in Kraków, an undercover market is thriving.

Saturday morning. The corridor, painted a light duck-egg blue,* exudes light and space. The brand-new po remoncie linoleum gleams wryly, like threadbare satin. You couldn't ask for a more innocent setting.

As the wall clock ticks its inexorable way through ten minutes to nine, the lift doors zwoosh open and the first students begin to trickle in. With a weary 'click', the long hand shifts its weight over the hour and a gaggle of girls, freshly tumbled off the Warsaw express, burst rucksack-laden through the fire doors and stagger into the airy blue of the corridor.

But wait - something is happening...

One girl hauls the burdensome load off her shoulders.

Immediately, several other students, until this point slouching listlessly along the walls of the hall and dreaming of last night's excesses, flock around her, scrabbling for wallets and purses. Coins chink together and fresh cash crackles.

She pulls open the backpack, diving deep and rummaging blindly within its depths.

Her waiting colleagues hold their collective breath.

Moments pass - signifying hours for the fix-starved addicts in the corridor.

Finally, the dealer's head emerges from the rucksack, and then, slowly, she draws out her precious cargo.

The other students take a step back and there is a respectful pause before the distribution of goods and exchange of money begins.

Our Varsovian supplier, a visitor from the civilised world, begins to hand out...

... hard-backed, spiral bound reporter's notebooks.

Impossible to find anywhere in Poland.

Along with applicator tampons and pre-packaged sandwiches, this is one essential product that is virtually unheard-of here...

*Incidentally, Jilly Cooper's favourite colour. It's so true. Read any two or three of her novels in quick succession (guilty) and it will jump out at you.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Here to help, part II

I admit that in these pages I may have made one or two disparaging remarks about Polish customer service.

I've just spent a week in Paris.

I take it all back.

For example, when you enter a shop in Poland, if you are a foreigner (and generally it's immediately apparent if you are), the shop assistant will immediately assume you are on holiday and you work for an investment bank in London (or are married to someone who does) and you have Lots Of Cash to spend. They will say 'hello' when you enter the shop, and perhaps ask you if you want to see it in your size (in English - which is considered polite by normal people).

When you enter a shop in Paris, never forget that you should feel privileged to have stepped over the threshold of this magic milieu. Try to assume a humble mien. Cast your eyes to the floor and shift from foot to foot.
However glittery your credit card, its patina will never soil the PIN reader here (although if you bank with Coutts that'd be a step in the right direction).
Best just to shuffle quietly out of the shop, under the beady eye and haughty frown of the achingly chic shop assistant.

And then there's the humble bar, cafe or bistro.

When in Poland, a small group of young foreign girls can quite happily sit down at a table and be served relatively promptly (or at least make their way to the bar, because usually there's a sign to tell you if it's self-service). It doesn't matter if you're speaking English. The waiter or waitress will probably take your order speaking pretty fluent English herself. And if you try to speak in Polish, they're not going to bite you because you have a funny accent. They're more likely to be impressed by your efforts, or, at the very least, will tactfully moderate their obvious amusement.

No such luck in your average French bar.

You'll enter and sit down at a window table with your friends. The late middle-aged lady behind the counter will blithely ignore you, preferring to go and chat up the slickly-dressed (this is the Marais after all) local boys who showed up just after you.
After about fifteen minutes, someone will come up and drop a sheaf of English menus on your table.
Another ten minutes pass, and you will go up to the bar yourself, where there's a guy polishing glasses.

Suddenly you will find it impossible to stand at a bar and say anything other than 'Proszę trzy razy żywiec i frytki.'*

Eventually you regain your composure and manage to order three large pression and a basket of freedom fries.

You begin every request with 's'il vous plait', much to the entertainment of the barman, because it suddenly seems rude not to.

After about half an hour, you will receive three small beers in big girly glasses and a tiny saucer of chips. The middle-aged waitress still hasn't even looked at you.

*n.b. at all costs nip in bud alarming tendency to say 'non' in French whilst nodding head.

Japoński samochód

In France I met up with two fellow Bath mafiosi, who had graduated the year after me, and we exchanged war stories. They had both followed the year-long 'intensive Polish translation course' run by the university.

- I only remember two words; said one of the girls: 'Dzien dobry. No wait, dziękuję. And one more. About walking yourself.... 'car'... what was it... samo...
- That's the one.
- Brilliant! You know that was one of the first words I learnt in Poland? I have this great story...

I launched into the tale of my first conversation in Polish. After two weeks of camping in a friend's relative's flat, I finally found the place on Starowiślna, and one of my new flatmates came to pick me up in the car. To make conversation while we were stuck in traffic on the Aleje, he asked how much Polish I knew.
- What things can you say?
I'd just been to my first Polish class and we were learning nouns and their genders and the corresponding adjectives. For example, a Japanese car, a charming dog*, a red pepper and so on.
- uhhh... masz japoński samochód!
I observed, conversationally.

My flatmate-to-be was astounded by my prowess.

He was driving a Honda.

(This story is considered very funny by my Polish friends.)

After I delivered the punchline, there was a pause, and polite silence.

- uhh... we don't understand you...
said one of the girls gently.

It's exactly as I feared. In Poland, while I'm trying to stutter my way to the end of a sentence in polski, I'm a comedian. Amongst anglophones, my stories just fall flat! How will I make sense of my Polish experiences once I get back to London? Who's going to understand the importance of grammar and noun-endings back in Blighty?! Who will know what kapusta kiszona or kabanosy are, or why it now takes me half an hour to pay for anything because I can't find the change?!

It feels sort of lonely...

* Or 'what a charming dog': Jaki miły pies.
Although in reality the following are more likely:
Uwaga! Zły pies!
Pies bywa niemiły...
Szczerze mówiąc, to 'Pies de résistance'...

Monday, 5 May 2008

Social Responsibility

Scene 1

I sat on the OrlyBus staring out of the window and tuning in to the chat of two late middle-aged Italian guys sitting behind me.
- Do we get off here or there? Is this West? No... Sud?

I think Orly Sud is the terminal that all the budget airlines fly from. As I listened to them deliberating whether or not to get off the bus, I became more and more worried for these two apparently gentle guys (probably identifying them with the father of a previous boyfriend who was largely content with life so long as there was a sofa to lie on and Fiorentina stayed in Serie A). Eventually I could bear it no more and I turned round:
- This stop is Orly West; I said
- Oh... but we don't have tickets. We did it all on the internet. Maybe it's this terminal.
- Me too!; I said, slightly more concerned; 'I got an e-ticket too... where are you...'

At that point the bus stopped at Orly West.

- Che ne so?! Dai... scendiamo a vedere...

And they made for the door before I could save them.

Scene 2

The flight was a little delayed, and announcements were made - of course - in French followed by English. I could see the younger members of the Polish families waiting around the boarding gate straining to decipher the heavy French accent weighing down the English announcements so they could interpret to their parents.
I began to feel the worry mounting up inside me again. Did they really understand? Was I the only one with all the information? Should I jump in with my francuski-polski translation?

And here's the thing. Dear Transavia France and Aerogare Orly Sud. Would it really be so hard to learn the names of your flight destinations in each of the languages in which you are planning to announce them?*
I mean, Krakow and Warsaw are really not so hard to remember. It could be worse: Moldova versus Moldavia or Moldovia, for example. And do we say 'Ukraine' or The Ukraine (cos I heard the second one would be received very poorly indeed by actual Ukrainians)? Oh yes and the perennial Bielorussia question... Just what is the name in English now? Can anybody tell me what language they speak there? Is is Belorus, Belorussian, Byelorusian? What would John Humphreys say?

Back to Orly Sud and the departure gates. Here's an example:
- Ladeez zand dzentlemen we are pleez to annonce ze departure offlight nombere XXX to ... uhh... Varsovy...

Eventually the confusion was just too much and they found someone to make the announcements in Polish.

[Don't even get me started on the security woman who indicated the seams of my skirt and then said 'neetch', pointedly, several times until I realised that she was trying to check, in Polish, that I had nothing ('nic') in my pockets. Seeing my state of confusion she then turned to her colleague and laughed about how stupid these Poles are]

Finally we were all lined up and moving, albeit slowly, towards the boarding gate.

I was a little nervous, but I prepared my little speech. I had something to say to the Transavia employee at the gate.

I took a deep breath as I handed over my passport:

- Excuse me but the English for Cracovie is Krakow not 'Cracovia' and it's important to know because there are people who only speak English and they'll miss their flights and there we go I just thought you should know these things...

- yes Madame. Don't worry Madame. Yes. Of course.

She spoke over me, nodding her head. Clearly nothing had sunk in.

It didn't matter. That niggling feeling of worry was assuaged. Placated, my conscience and I stepped onto the plane with a big grin of embarrassment. Someone had had to butt in, and it had been me.

I don't know. One random act of tourist rescue and suddenly you think you're Superwoman.

Should I have mentioned that Cracovia is a football team? Or should I leave Transavia to deal with the potential hordes of angry Wisła fans...

ps: talking of social responsibility, I thought nanny-state adverts only existed in Scotland, but no: TVP1 just played an ad urging you to avoid heart disease by not getting angry.
Does that mean there'll be a rehaul of the tax system and drobne for all and sundry??

*And seriously, how about recording a safety announcement in Polish if you're flying to Polish destinations? Surely there's some regulation that states that everyone on the plane should understand what to do in an emergency?!

Saturday, 3 May 2008

wistful thinking

The lawn slopes downwards towards the bottom of the valley and the late-afternoon sun is soft on the beaming faces of the people in the garden. There is a table laden with apéritifs and children are tearing about barefoot and shrieking with delight in French, English, Spanish and heaven knows what else.
Three women wearing cotton skirts and sandals sit in a row with babies on their knees.

Would it be simpler to stop trying to teach myself an impossibly hard profession, to stop trying to mop up every second of excess mental activity with ridiculously complex Slavic languages?

Should I maybe do some voluntary work, try to live a more natural life, meet a kind, honest man who would be prepared to love me and spend my days attending to squalling infants and spaghetti con capperi?

Oh come on... what on earth would I find to blog about?!