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Archive for March, 2008

I’m back baby!

The passport control officer responded to my cheery “Dzień dobry” with a perfectly impassive blank stare and I knew I was back. Seven days home in the curry nation and I had become accustomed to those odd quirks of British culture such as responding to greetings and occasionally smiling. Never mind, I know the score, it’s a culture thing and I even found it oddly comforting. By the way, and this is not leading to a rant I promise, I’ve discovered an ever more benighted and extreme species of official Polish rudeness than Post Office workers. Not possible? Try dropping into your local kantor (currency exchange). I’ve been in scores of these places over the years and I can wholeheartedly say that I’ve never come across a more morose, taciturn and robotic form of human being anywhere else. I’ve never experienced a ‘hello,’ a smile, a ‘thank you’ or any other kind of human communication from these people. In fact I’m not convinced I’ve ever seen one of them open their mouths at all. Perhaps they’re some kind of specially bred mute species. I tell I lie, one of them did speak to me once. He was an an absurdly orange victim of excessive solarium use and he told me that he couldn’t exchange my money because it wasn’t clean enough. My, how I laughed.

Me and the lady A went to East Grinstead, Lindfield, and Bath. I ate about four pigs worth of bacon and pork sausages in the form of English breakfasts. I bathed in fine local ales (learn to make proper beer in Poland for god’s sake!). We glided about the place in pristine trains (my god trains have improved in the UK recently), we fell in love just that little irrevocable bit more, played with nieces, hung around in ancient church yards, and generally had a fine old time.

I genuinely loath looking at other people’s holiday pictures but am completely incapable of resisting the temptation of inflicting the same thing on other people. Weird bots people.

The author seriously considering how much trouble he would be in for diving into the ancient Roman baths of Bath.

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English sky, English city

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A house on the Kennet and Avon Canal. I was going to buy it, until I remembered my fear of swans.

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A grave in an English church yard. The inscription read “Sacred to the memory of Mr Charles Hawkins who was overtaken by the inevitable fate of mortals and released from pain and affliction on the 26th day of May 1789 aged 60 years.” Good luck to him.

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A wonders why we can’t build straight buildings in England

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Never fear. I will return to rock-hard social commentary soon. Yawn.

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I feel I’m getting close to the central mystery of the Polish character. I’m probably completely wrong in this belief but it makes me feel better so humour me. I’ve written recently about the strange behaviour of Polish people on pavements and on the road. I’ve written that I’m very confused by the way that Polish people seem to wander around in a daze without any awareness of the people around them and about the way that they drive as if they were the only person on the road. I’m starting to get the feeling that both of these things point to a fundamental feature of the Polish psyche.

Walking down an average Polish street I observe Polish people trying to walk through each other. It’s almost as if they literally cannot see the people around them, or if they can see them they treat them as ghosts of some kind. When people look into your eyes it’s with an expression of suspicion. For a long time I thought it was just me they were looking at this way, that my foreigness was somehow obvious from my appearance, but I don’t believe that any more. Polish people look at other Polish people with just the same latent suspicion they look at me with. Nobody trusts anybody. Everybody expects everybody else to be a bastard. I got a cold feeling down my spine when I finally saw this.

I remember some wise person making a comment on one of my posts somewhere that said something like “all Polish people believe that all other Polish people are idiots, anti-semites, drunks, thieves, or religious maniacs APART FROM the ones they know.” In other words the average Pole wouldn’t trust another Pole as far as he could throw him unless he was part of his extended family or clique of friends. If I meet an Englishman I’ve never met before my default position is positive; I’m expecting him to be a decent honest bloke. When a Pole meets a Pole he’s never met before it seems the default assumption is precisely the opposite. I find that kind of scary.

It explains a lot. People who work in shops are rude because they assume you’re an idiot or a thief. People fail to get out of each other’s way on the pavement because they assume the other person is a rude and uncivilized person and they are damned if they are going to give way to a rude and uncivilized person. People drive as if they were blind because they literally have no respect for the lives or limbs of the inferior people around them.

It can’t be that simple… can it?

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I’ve made a breakthrough observation which might explain the Crazy Ivan phenomenon I described a while ago. For those of you who can’t be bothered to look back at the original post the Crazy Ivan phenomenon can be summarized as this: when walking down the street Polish people frequently and randomly stop and or suddenly reverse direction almost invariably straight into the person walking behind or beside them. I’ve been puzzling over this strange behavior for months.

Yesterday the warmth of the false Spring we’ve been experiencing down here in Krakow for the past couple of weeks slipped away in the night and the snows came back. Polish people instantly wrapped themselves in padded coats, scarves, hats, and fur boots as is their want, even though it was nowhere near cold enough to justify such sartorial extravagance. I noticed immediately that the incidence of Crazy Ivan encounters shot up. This was the breakthrough. When you’re wearing a hat AND a woolly scarf AND a voluminous hood you just can’t see or hear anything going on around you, hence you don’t know anyone is behind or beside you, hence you have no idea you will walk straight into them if you suddenly change direction. In other words you have no peripheral vision. I’m slightly disappointed.

Of course, this only explains the ‘walking into people’ part of the phenomenon, It doesn’t explain exactly why these people so frequently find the need to suddenly veer of in a different direction or start walking backwards. One day I will understand…

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