Friday, 20 February 2009

Language post

*Attention* Language geek post follows.

Every so often there are a spate of articles in the British press about how bad we are at learning foreign languages. These are usually in opinion columns and usually take the form of a sort of nagging warning: 'uh... look, guys... we might be missing something'.
I've noticed a couple in the past few days (ok, people have sent me links. although naturally I read ALL the papers in four languages every day like a good little linguist. Including the finance sections. it's true, honest it is).

Article 1: Foreigners translating into English because we're not clever enough to do it ourselves; the Times, Feb 16:

Article 2: Not enough native English interpreters in the EU; BBC News, Feb 19:

This leads me to the conclusion that I might be in the only profession in the current world climate in which there is actually a real demand*.

Saints preserve us, I may actually have made a good career choice!

I would write my own article, but I have a plane to catch. I anticipate No Problems At All getting to Balice airport in the snow thank you.

Oh yes and the fun stuff?

Tłusty Cwartek**: Four at last count (although cheated by eating leftover two for breakfast the next morning). I scored one free doughnut in 'Pisanie/Słuchanie' class at school; my flatmate scored two from her workplace and one at salsa class (I really have to sign up to salsa dancing).

The police protest: A police protest against the removal of their right to retire after 15 years. Lots of big bangs which the other dog would not have liked. Also, they were in my way on the way home. Last time I protested about anything was as a student in Paris. I think that's the only way to do it really.

NATO summit: lots of helicopters over the town centre and security guards on the Rynek. Very exciting... in any case, anything loud enough to interrupt classes is naturally a plus.

School: Six hours so far, including gramatyka, mowienie, słownictwo... I'm discovering I may have been hasty in my judgements of my fellow students: not everyone is of Polish origin and not everyone is engaged to a Polish girl. And did you know there is an excellent Polonistyka department at the University of Tokyo?

We have just spent the morning learning how to apologise and to forgive people in Polish (przepraszanie and wybaczenie). This will be extremely useful given my propensity to pharmacy and tram rage. Particular emphasis was placed on the right expression and accent.
Notably, our repertoire now includes przepraszanie:

z lekceważeniem
ze złością
z drwiną

And now I really must go and put these into practice in the queue for check-in...

*apart from useful things like teachers, doctors, reality tv show stars, etc.
** Polish pancake day but the Thursday before - start of the last week of carnival, only with doughnuts instead of pancakes. Just a light snack then.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

First day of school

Yesterday we had a Big Exam and today the results were up on the noticeboard at the school, just like in those American College Movies.
We all peered hard at the lists and I was very relieved to be in the intermediate and not the beginner stream. You may laugh but it is quite plausible to study Polish for nearly two years and still be a beginner. On Sunday we hit the slopes thanks to a kind colleague of my flatmate with a big car, and at the Karczma, the Poles explained to our lady with the ladle that they were helping me out because 'bardzo słabo mówi Pani po polsku'. I protested of course: 'słabo', yes, but not 'bardzo słabo'!

We had our first meeting with the designated tutor for our class (I have a feeling that it doesn't work quite this way with real Polish students) and each person had to introduce themselves in Polish. I am slightly odd in that I have neither Polish family nor a Polish girlfriend.*

- Aren't there any people like us, who just like to learn languages? said my flatmate.

And there are some university students from other countries, but they are in the middle of their studies. Normal people don't just drop out of work for five months to learn a language.

Nor do I actually, which is why I am juggling twenty thousand-odd words of French EU law around twenty hours a week of polska gramatyka and trying to resist the urge to drop out altogether and get a job as a ski bum. I wish I hadn't complained about having too little work two weeks ago.

I'll keep you posted. You can still get GPRS in the mountains so I'll be able to blog from the basement of my chalet...

*although with regard to the latter I suspect more people would read my blog if I did.

Saturday, 14 February 2009


School doesn't start until Monday, so this week I've been quietly translating away at home, at my own tranquil pace and in the - sometimes demanding - company of my flatmate's cat.

However, I've already had the opportunity to get to know some of my neighbours.

Wednesday, about 1pm

Waiting for the tram at Stradom, I realised I was hungry and headed for the nearby blue obwarzanek cart.
Incidentally, obwarzanki are now 1.30PLN in Kraków, a whole 10 groszy more than last time I was here: that's inflation for you.
- Zssssezamem, I said, and handed over a 5PLN coin.

The elderly stallholder sucked hard on where his teeth should have been.

- Nie ma Pani drobne?

I blustered that sorry, no, I hadn't.

He appeared to look at me properly for the first time.

- But... I haven't seen Pani around here before, have I?
- Um...
- Eeengleesh?

Um... troche... czyli... też po polsku... yes, I speak English.

- Ahh... dobrze. Dobrze!
He nodded in satisfaction and beamed at me gummily.

I thanked him and made a dash for the safety of the tram shelter.

Saturday morning

Sheltering at the bus stop outside Ikea, with a huge blue holdall filled with spare pillowcases and cat-proof storage solutions under my arm, I was trying unsuccessfully to keep the driving snow from blowing in under the hood of my ski jacket.

A small Polish woman of around my mother's age was inspecting the bus timetables.

- Ale osiemnastka w sobotę nie jeździ?
she asked me.
- Maybe not... I answered, peering at the schedules. - I don't know: I'm not from round here, I don't really know how it works...
She made 'ok, never mind', noises and turned away to ask someone else.

About five minutes later, she turned back to me.
- Skąd Pani jest?
- Z Anglii.
- Oh! Dobrze mówi Pani po polsku!
I looked embarassed and hid my face in the hood of my jacket and made denial-type noises. Luckily her bus arrived and I was spared revealing the full extent of my kłopot z polskim.

Saturday afternoon

Wet, powdery snow has been falling for a full 48 hours. At least. On Friday morning my flatmate left for work in normal shoes and came back in the evening cursing slush puddles and damp socks.

After coming back from Ikea, I unpacked the big blue bag, picked up my notebook and set off out again. On the landing was a fragile-looking elderly lady leaning on two walking sticks. Nothing unusual here: the whole block - apart from our flat - seems to be exclusively populated by the babcia demographic*.
- Dzien dobry! I nodded like a good girl. I'm trying to make a good impression.
- But... are you going out? said the old woman. 'Don't you have a hat?!' Her eyes took on a feverish gleam as she launched into a diatribe - stick-waving included - on the dangers of leaving the house in winter. Halfway through she acknowledged that, oh yes, I was wearing a hat (underneath my hood, again). This was not however enough to slow her down.
I nodded and smiled at respectful intervals.
- Never have I seen such snow! Stay indoors! Children mustn't be allowed out!
I could hear her voice still going, albeit fainter and fainter, as I escaped down the four flights of stairs to the front door.

I did wonder whether she was urging me to keep my own children indoors, or classifying me in the 'child' demographic...

*although this afternoon in the porch I made a rare sighting of an actual dziadek!

Monday, 9 February 2009

One Week

I've been in Kraków for a week now, and as far as I can see very little has changed (surprising I suppose if you consider the speed of change in the mid-2000s - what do we call this decade anyway? I hate 'the noughties', plus Noel Coward got there first).

I'm living in an apartment block, very similar to my old place on Starowiślna. I think it's slightly newer: at least the flat seems newer inside (no window panels on the doors). I'm still on a main road, even more main than Starowiślna, but slightly further back, so the noise isn't so much of a problem. Plus I'm on the other side of the river now, so fewer drunk revellers!

What have I discovered in a week?

- I'm sorry to have missed the snow in England. I love snow, and the dog loves it too: it makes her turn into a puppy again. There was a little bit here when I arrived, but it's since melted.
- Cats are not as obliging or affectionate as dogs. I miss the dog.
- Running on old snow is a slippery experience.
- Teabags are not the same here: they're designed to be taken without milk, so the blend is less strong.
- Polish beer kicks my arse. So does wiśniówka, tatanka, and anything else like that. I am seriously thinking of renouncing them altogether.
- Cherry Powerade works magic on a dehydrated body (see above point on Polish beer).
- I have been to two aerobics classes ('w fitnesie') in four days. Polish aerobics kicks my arse. My knees look very wobbly in the mirror and my hands as though they might snap off.
- It is probably very unhealthy to check facebook on a long train journey. Whatever happened to reading (ok, I do that too) and I-Spy?
- I never thought I would willingly eat smalec* more than once (see above point on Polish beer).
- It is hard to speak Polish with Polish people if you are a native English speaker, and I have to make more of an effort, before my Big Test on Monday...

*basically spreadable lard with pork scratchings in

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Fun in the snow

Sunday, Feb 01.

11.40ish: Snow begins to fall
18ish: P's mother no longer willing to drive to Gatwick Airport tomorrow morning
18.00 - 00.00ish: Panic and packing (and last-minute overlooked translation)
00.05: P sets alarm for 04.45: so early it's practically already happened

Monday, Feb 02.

04.30: P's Dad, loudly: 'What time did you set your alarm for?" P (very unhappy): 'about fifteen minutes' time'.
04.40: P gets out of bed.
05.10: P and Dad drag cases up the drive, through powdery snow, into car.
05.11: P rolls the Spaniel on its back in the snow.
05.12: Yellow snow.
05.14: P and Dad drive - very gingerly- to Sevenoaks station.

05.20: P purchases train ticket to Gatwick Airport, at extortionate peak commuter time price.
05.21: P and several haggard-looking suits (all male) are only people in station (apart from one Canadian guy with a big rucksack). Next train is due at 06.12.

05.40: Network South East operators come out and tell everyone that all trains are suspended*.
05.41: P and Canadian guy exchange looks of disbelief.
05.45: P goes to get refund on expensive peak-time train ticket. 'You'll have to go the ticket office', replies train operator. It is not yet six in the morning. Ticket office is closed. P can't answer that one.

05.50: P calls Dad.

05.52: Taxi driver pulls up at station. P accosts him in normal fashion.
05.54: M25 completely impassible. Apparently. P's Dad arrives at station.

06:00-06.20: P on phone to anyone, anyone at all alive at Gatwick Airport.
06.21: P gets through to A Real Person who is definitely alive and breathing at Gatwick Airport.
- 'Sorry, I can't help you with that: I'm the disability liaison officer'.
Britain is nothing if not politically correct.
06.25: P and Dad reckon the taxi driver was wrong and decide to give it a shot.

(Check in opens at 07.10)

06.30: small slide on snowy road.

06.40: P and Dad hit the M25 and wonder what they ever worried about. Lanes are clear, going is good. Phew.

06.55: QUEUES.

07.00: P and Dad in car

07.10: P calls airport. Automated system.
- 'There is no information for that flight. Please hold, while I put you through to a customer services advisor'. Music.
P holds.
07.20: P's phone runs out of credit.
07.25: P calls Orange and tops up phone.
07.31: 'All of our advisers are busy. Please hold.'

08.15: Junction 6**. P's Dad knows a shortcut. But it's through dangerous A-roads, which might not be cleared and gritted. Should they turn off? Should they stay on track?
08.16: Car inches past slip road.
08.18: Car inches just a little further.
08.20: P's Dad makes sharp skiddy turn back onto sliproad.
08.21: Hooting.

08.22: Classic FM plays Winter from Four Seasons, only for first time today.
08.25: A-roads are fantastic!

08.35: Drivers who are afraid of the snow and drive at 20mph in a 60-limit are not fantastic.

(Check-in closes at 08.50)

08.49: Gatwick Airport!
08.50: P hugs Dad goodbye and legs it, dragging two cases and one laptop bag into terminal building.
08.50 and a half: P jams credit card into automatic check-in machine. Yesssss!

08.55: Flight very delayed. Check-in open late anyway.

09.10 - 10.20: P becomes very well acquainted with departure lounge.

11ish (P has stopped counting):

*Due to lack of 'safety staff'. Hands up who's ever seen 'safety staff' on a PKP service?
**Sevenoaks is junction 5.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Polish word of the day: 0022009

Today's Polish word of the day is 'śnieg'.

Here is an illustration of the meaning of this word.

And here are some examples of its use:

- Lotnisko zamknięte z powodu opadów śniegu
- Z powodu padającego śniegu, dzisiejszy lot do Krakowa jest odwołany

It's actually quite hard to find this sort of example on google, seeing as how, in Poland, things are not often cancelled z powodu śniegu. In Poland, they put on winter tyres and drink tea with raspberry syrup and get on with it.

In England, nothing works when it snows.

trzymajcie kciucki.