Friday, 20 March 2009

How to get lost in Katowice

- Yes, hello?
Said the girl at the hotel reception desk.
- I'm getting the train back to Kraków, how do I get to the station?
I asked, in what I hoped was reasonably comprehensible Polish.

The girl's face changed and she switched into Polish. I was so pleased with myself and relieved that I forgot to listen properly to her reply.

I said goodbye to my colleague and left the building.

Across the car park... sure. Down the road... now which way was that? Left to the main road or right down that half-constructed track? I opted for the main road: left or right? A guy passed me, walking two of those German husky-type dogs of which apparently everyone in Silesia owns a small family. He turned left. I followed him, because people walking dogs in the middle of nowhere are normally on their way home to civilisation, right?

I followed him a little further. 'There's a tram stop after about three minutes'. Three minutes, or three kilometres? Or 300 metres? Or was it 'three tram stops to the centre'? I started to notice houses by the side of the road. The pavement was getting broader and the road itself narrower. I continued down the hill. There was a church on the other side of the road. A road led off the the left, with smokey-grey blocks of flats on either side. I had heard of Katowice's phantom town centre. Was this it, or was I heading straight into suburbia?

Finally! The road I was following reached a sort of square with a rather mangy park in the middle. And around it: tram tracks!

Turning onto the next street, I noticed a single red tram carriage parked on the corner. The driver was standing on the verge, smoking a cigarette.

- Excuse me, where's the station?
- The station? Over there, look, there.
He pointed vaguely in the direction of some red and white stripey tents on the other side of the square. Right... I must have looked doubtful.
- You mean the bus station, right? No? Ah, no, the train station is over there.
He pointed further in the same vague direction.

I thanked him and made my way across the square.

The red tents were not a bus station, but a covered market.

I looked back at the stationary tram and its driver and wondered where exactly the tram stop was. Tracks led further down the hill on the other side of the square. I followed them.

Finally! ul. Dworcowa! And a bridge! And electrical cables! And actual real moving traffic and people!

I almost ran in the direction of the station... and found only kiosks and a shell of a building. A sign directed me down a dark, slippery set of stairs leading deep into the bowels of the Silesian soil.
Exactly three strip lights were illuminated on the left hand side of the tunnel. The rest was in darkness. I occasionally have dreams where I'm walking down a dark path or into a dark tunnel, knowing that somewhere in the pitch black lurks a malignant masculine force ready to drag me down into the nothingness... The underpass in Katowice station promptly recalled those nightmares.

- Proszę jeden do Krakowa.
- Osobowy?
- uhhh...
- Kiedy Pani chce jechać?
- uh.... teraz?
- Trzynaście złotych

In this part of Poland - and I love PKP, don't get me wrong - you can travel on the slow regional train, the very slow regional train, or the Superfast Shiny EuroCity train, which looks just like the slow regional trains but you have to book a seat in advance. I assume that the lady sold me a ticket for the very, very slow train, because once I was all settled on the next train back to Kraków, with Relaxing Classics playing on my rather poor excuse for an mp3 player and Dom Dzienny, Dom Nocny at least open on the seat beside me (don't get excited, I started reading it in October), along came the ticket inspector.

The two schoolteachers and the young man also occupying the carriage held out their tickets. I was relieved to see that they looked similar to mine.

Dziękuję... said the ticket inspector... dzięnkuję Pani bardzo... dziękuję, ah!
He took another look at my ticket.
- Nie do końca Pani dziękuję...

It would seem that I am not able to tell the difference between the slow regional train and the very slow regional train.

Fortunately the rest of the journey passed uneventfully and I was relieved to get back to the flat finally for some relaxing proofreading.

Can anybody tell me why it is that Polish people on trains, after sharing a compartment for almost two hours without even making eye contact with their fellow travellers, still consider it impolite to leave the train at the end of the journey without saying 'Do widzenia'? As if in acknowledgement of some kind of shared experience...

3 comments:

Pawel said...

the way I see it:
- it is impolite not to say "dzień dobry" or "do widzenia". i wouldn't say its got to do anything with a shared experience. you just say it when you enter somewhere or leave - like in a shop.
why people "thank you" bus drivers in the uk?
- it is not impolite not to talk to people you travel with. if they don't start a conversation, its safe to assume they are not into talking. and it is not polite to impose oneself.
- of course there are no general rules. but the younger, the more urban, and the more "Poland A" the person is, the less likely they are to converse on a train.

Island1 said...

If you're in Katowice you're already lost.

I'm very much in favour of the "dzień dobry" "do widzenia" custom on trains. It gives the lie to the idea that Poles don't go in for casual politeness such as saying "thank you" in shops etc. There's no logic to it, and it is therefore true.

Is it just us or is it incredibly quiet on the Polish internet recently? Where the hell is everybody?

pinolona said...

Paweł: Don't get me wrong, I quite like it! Only I don't normally go in for talking to people on trains, and it seems strange to spend the whole two hours not talking to people and then to say goodbye suddenly as if you had been talking all along. It makes me feel as though I've been rude for not making polite conversation.

Island1: I realise that now... I don't go to Katowice often though so I think it's ok.

How do you mean it's quiet on the Polish internet? On the blogging front? I'd love to write more often but I have too much work, too much school, too many salsa parties (oops how did that last one get in there??).