Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Who the **** is Marek?

I left Kraków originally in June last year, and when I came back to visit in October, I managed (thankfully) to revive my old SimPlus card, with a little help - and a lot of please hold - from the Plus GSM store in Galeria Krakowska.

Upon opening my address book (when I finally found it on my rather confusing new phone), it slowly dawned upon me that I was completely unable to remember which numbers corresponded to which acquaintances.
My contact list looked a little something like this**:

The Cs were largely occupied by Anglo-Americans, which was no less confusing.

Now, I admit that a fair proportion of my English address book consists of Jo, Jo, Jo, Matt, Matt, Chris, Chris, but somehow it doesn't seem nearly as bad, really.

Worse still, several of the names come in work/non-work pairs. The potential for drunken disaster is overwhelming. I have long advocated the invention of a telephone breathalyser, or an alcohol-lock function on Outlook, and I suspect that Poland will be the first to develop one.

Maybe it's the fact that everyone has to be named after a saint, or maybe that the parents of my acquaintance en masse decided to name their children the same to save on imienia parties. Or maybe I'm just foreign and unused to it. Whatever the reason, it seems to me that there are just a handful of popular Polish names distributed across the whole population, and it's very confusing.
If I were a Polish parent, I would give my kids exciting, weighty names like 'Jagoda' and 'Bogumił'. I think it would be character building, particularly in an inner London comprehensive.

However, the name game can work in your favour... and here's an example:

On Saturday night we were out in the town centre celebrating my flatmate's birthday. Around eleven, we started to feel a healthy urge to leave our nice, cosy bar in search of psuedo-R'n'B, convulsive strobe lighting and a dancefloor sticky with the spilled remains of overpriced cocktails.

It turned out that one of our group planned to meet some friends at a new club on Szewska. She invited us along.
A mass of heaving bodies crammed itself into the passageway leading to our club (upstairs) and its neighbour (in the basement). I looked up at the arched ceiling and prepared for a long wait.
But no... wait... our party had already disappeared into the crowd ahead. I pushed my way through.
- Yes she's with us,
The doorman taped a pink bracelet onto my wrist and even let me keep my bottle of Kropla Beskidu (this got me thrown out of Łubudubu once. Or possibly Kitsch. I can't remember which is which).
We trooped up the steps and into and out of the szatnia and even managed to find a table. No sooner had we sat down and wiped the gloop off the cocktail menu than the club hostess showed up, a look of concern on her face. The music was loud and I couldn't hear a thing, but within minutes everyone got up and moved in the direction of a door off the dance floor.

- We're going to the VIP room!
- The VIP room?

I had never before in my life been in a VIP room. I am not normally inclined to 'club'.

The hostess opened the door and ushered us in.

The walls were quilted with silver satin-effect padding. Shiny cushions in a feverish shade of crimson slipped off the leather seating. Dewy young flesh slid lasciviously across a flat television screen at one end of the windowless den. I checked over my shoulder for the Ukrainian mafia.

- Uh... which of you is Marek? asked the hostess.

- Marek? I whispered
- K's friend: it's his birthday, we're in because she knows him.
- Ah.

We ordered dacquiris and beer and settled back rather awkwardly on the slippery cushions, wondering whether to thank the as yet unknown Marek.

About half an hour and a cocktail or two later, the hostess came back.

- Just when is Marek planning to arrive?
We assured her that he was on his way and then turned to K:
- You do actually know Marek, don't you? You didn't just make him up?

And here's the thing. What are the chances of it being the birthday of someone called Marek in any given club in town on any Saturday night? Surely if you take one name per weekend and try each venue, eventually you'll manage to get the right name on the right day at the right place? Better still, why not increase your chances of success and pick name days?

Maybe Polish names aren't so confusing after all...

* I really apologise for my continually worsening English. I can only blame legal translation and the fact that I occupy a significant part of each day kaleczeniem języka polskiego razem z innymi obcokrajowcymi. You see what I mean.
** names have been changed - ha ha - to protect identity. Although I'm pretty certain I do know three Asias, I can think of at least four Barteks and maybe two Anias.


Anonymous said...

Hi Pino:

I had a classmate in highschool who was named Bogumila...her parents did her no favour. Her personal stylist was also totally inept (she wore a bun to school everyday for 4 years). Never thought it was possible for a 15 year old to look 45, but she managed to pull it off.


Anonymous said...

Precisely the reason for zdrobnienia!

Ania, Aneczka, Anusia, Anuś (looks funy w/out the diacritic though), Anka, Anula, Nulka, Nusia makes eight legitimate diminutive entries for Anne. (My private ones including e.g. AAnia.)

Although what I've just raked is not my mobile (full names, for just in case breathalyser fails purposes) but the list of nicks in my e-mail client.

Halfling PL, still on exile...

Simon said...

As far as I know there is no phone that stops you making drunken phone calls, but googlemail/gmail does actually have a feature you can enable to prevent drunken email sending! Amazing! The feature is called google goggles :)

Have a look at this:


Even the Gruniad picked up on it:


I love the people chez Google.

peixote said...

Ah Polish names, they come in waves, you see. At my birthday party there were exactly 7 Magdas, all born between 1975 and 1977.

Now apparently it`s Jan, Staszek, Karol, Hania and Zosia.

Fortunately Bogumił has never been in fashion, at least not since the 1890s.

Anonymous said...

My name's Jedrzej, try having that growing up in an English speaking country... ahem.

pinolona said...

Basia: gulp I wonder how much a name can shape a personality? I met a Bogusia once, she seemed perfectly normal.

Halfling: good point, my email is much more confusing than my phone. Artistic licence.

Simon: thanks... but when oh when will they install it on Facebook?!

Peixote: I only know two Magdas, but no Jans, Zosias or Staszeks. I don't know what generation that puts me in!

Jedrzej - I think that's quite cool actually! Definitely better than Bogumił. Although in England we're not good at the 'drz' combination.

Karolina said...

Do you know Kropla Beskidu is Coca-Cola owned? Have a bottle of Nałęczowianka or something for f** sake! (wanted to make that comment when I saw you last with KB bottle but was too shy :))

pinolona said...

Oh crap no I didn't! sorry I'll get something Polish next time. :)

Anonymous said...

Jagoda, Bogumił very nice slavian firstnames!

Yesterday there were 5 baptisms:


Adam Mikołaj (christian and polish tradition)

Oliwier Łukasz (probably after TVN Oliwier (really Piotr) Janiak)

Samuel Leon (jewish and... animal?)

Roksana Maria

and the last the best one

Vivienne (probably after Vivienne Wiśniewska, daughter of Michał Wiśniewski "the red and sometimes green haired" )

Is there any saint Vivienne? Maybe in France was some? :D

pinolona said...

Saint Vivienne, or Bibiana, to give her her unpalatalised Latin name, did indeed exist: she was a virgin and martyr who was imprisoned in a madhouse for refusing to become a prostitute (thankfully, mental health diagnosis has since improved). After burial, a herb garden (and corresponding church) was built over her grave. A herb with magical headache-curing properties grew there and Bibiana thus became the patron saint of hangovers...

ps 'Przemysław' is also a favourite, likewise 'Jadwiga'.

Anonymous said...

Jadwiga is not slavian, it's came probably from Hedwig in German. But I like it very much after King-Queen Jadwiga Andegaweńska (Anjou?)- my first child idol :) and 1st polish wife of Władysław Jagiełło.

Anonymous said...

Bożysław, Dobrochna or Dobrosława, Żywia, Dziwa (now peyorative as fat dziewucha or dziewczyna, by the way dziwka, now=prostitute, in the middleages meant just dziewczyna=girl. :) :D

pinolona said...

Władysław! that's a good one :)