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!


Anonymous said...

How (deliciously) Carrollian (you are)!!!

My arguments? Let's begin from the start, Alice:

1. How cute of you to learn the language which complicates life so as to turn "happy" into "szczęśliwy"! Ergo: you are cute [tick]!

2. A Pole, never much how educated or experienced in the English language won't say "School doesn't start until...". You discover us when you hear us say "School starts (only/already) on Monday..."

proved so far: you are (deliciously) British [tick]

3. You actually notice babcie! i.e. you are a wnuczę*-like child [tick]: innocent. (Don't take offence, I mean Innocence in the Blakean sense.)

4. You can actually kill your hunger with an obwarzanek** so you must be female [tick].

Alice, that unmistakably classifies you as a 2) British 1) cute 3) female of the 4)grandchild type. You ARE**** Ch.L. Dodgeson's Alice.*****

5. You escape from the verbal courtesy offered by the not-that-ocassional Babcia on your way. We, Poles (even in a hurry) slow our motion in (mock-)reverence at such an encounter. For a Pole, that's non-you to shun those elderly Queen of Hearts (Maybe unless we are currently holding a flamingo under the elbow, which as a rule we don't). Maybe that's because deep down in your heart you're Black Aliss...************

Halfling PL temporarily turn'd Cheshire Cat

* sexuality not determined yet at that stage
** bajgiel, precel
*** at least for us
**** just a row of stars
***** though I doubt PL is wonderland, we may exhibit certain traces and peculiarities of Carrollian Wonderland (capital W)
************ e.g.

Anonymous said...

Deep down Pinolona is cruel as hell. :D

Anonymous said...

Prawdę prawicie, Ojcze Anonymousie, iako to w Księdze Lymericku napisano:

Okrutna Pinolona spod Londona
W Kra(kow)inie czarów naszła demona,
pod postacią starej Babci.
Gdy spytał ją "Czy robi apsi-
k?" kopła go w okolicę ogona.

Halfling PL

pinolona said...

Anonymous 2: spot on.

Halfling 1:
1- I am cynically adding basic Polish to my CV in the hope that it will improve my chances of the DG-Interpretation inviting me for a freelance accreditation test.

2- I am English, ergo I write using English syntax (although five months of intensive Polish-learning with a bunch of other foreigners may help me to cast off this type of syntactic restraint)

3- Since I work from home I'm one of those people who lives in the strange daytime tv zone. Therefore everyone around me is either elderly or on maternity leave. And our building is indeed entirely populated by old people.

4- Who said the obwarzanek killed my hunger? I then got on the tram to Karolina's place where I proceeded to devour a platter of Italian cheese.

5- You don't know I'm cute. For all you know I weigh 100 kilos and sport a moustache (particularly after the cheese). And drive a truck. In fact, what makes you assume that I am female?

Anonymous said...

Ad 5. So who is standing in front of the Town Hall Tower / besides the Cloth Hall in the picture in your blog? Moustache - OK, 100 kilo - well, NOT the person in the photo. Twiggy drove a truck too!

Ad 1. It's not about using the English syntax (which allows far more options that you use) but keeping - like the people you grew among - to some of its products. Grammatically it's as perfectly correct to say "I don't think she's got a cat" as "I think she [doesn't have //'s got no] cat". Its usage and custom that make you use the first option (negate as soon as possible) and us, Poles fumble with the latter options through interference: "Myślę/Sądzę, że nie ma kota".

And best of luck with your course!!!

Halfling PL