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Nothing happening here, move along to Polandian – that’s where all the cool people are now.


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I like to wander around Krakow looking at the buildings, street furniture, and general cultural brick-a-brack. It’s not uncommon to find me boring the pants off the lady A pointing at some obscure feature of Krakow’s architecture while gesticulating wildly and spouting some ridiculous theory. She generally rolls her eyes, quite rightly, and urges me onwards to somewhere where we can discuss the various merits of handbags or ‘light summer trousers.’ Apparently these things are VERY IMPORTANT.

Undeterred I offer the following oddity; something that I’m at a loss to explain. Krakow’s streets are fascinatingly diverse, but there is one almost universal feature: all buildings are built on the same property line. Walk down an old Krakow street and every single building fronts the pavement. You step out of the door and you’re on the pavement, about 2 meters from the road. But, and this is the ‘but’ I want to address here, sometimes a building is set way back from it’s neighbors; I mean a good 20 or 30 meters back. Why? How the hell did this come about?

Let me show you: A classic Krakow street – all buildings front the pavement.

But suddenly you get this: A building of the same period as the surroundings but, inexplicably, 30 meters back from the road.

This is one example (on ul. Jozefa Sarego) but I know of three or four others. Not enough to constitute a style, but enough to make you wonder why and how it happened.

1. Was a building in the street destroyed and there happened to be another building behind it? Unlikely, it’s too close.

2. Did the architect want a garden in front of his project? Why so rare?

3. Are these survivors of older development? Also unlikely since they look like there were built at the same time as the surrounding developments (late 19th century, early 20th).

Any ideas?

Learn more fascinating facts about Krakow past and present.

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7-things-about-me meme

I’ve squirmed and vacillated about this one ever since Flowers on a Friday tagged me last week. I’ve never been the victim of a meme tagging before and, at first, I was apprehensive about the idea. I felt a little afraid and thought about calling the police in a plaintive tone of voice. There’s something about being co-opted into a mass wave that makes me squeamish. It smacks of the chain-letters that used to plague my Mum many, many years ago. But then I thought ‘hey, I might get higher blog stats this way, and that’s a good thing – right?’

According to the rules I should “Share 7 random and/or weird facts about myself” and then “Tag 7 random people at the end of my post and include links to their blogs.”…

I doubt there are seven interesting things about me that my readers (all three of them) don’t already know and the idea of “seven random people” is frankly laughable since I’ll probably struggle to reach that many…

Anyway, as a wise man once said “I’ll try anything once, including incest and yada yada yada…”

1. I don’t have a washing machine, but I know a woman who does.

2. I am firmly committed to the belief that Rapid City is actually the capital of the United States and I defy anyone to prove me wrong. This fact was imparted to me in a revelation via the touch of His Noodly Appendage.

3. I’m probably in big trouble with my girlfriend because of 2.

4. I am the Stig.

5. I believe that the only feasible destiny for the human race requires colonization beyond the Earth… blimey, an honest one slipped through.

6. I’m extremely poor at sharing personal information and beliefs.

7. I have an evil twin brother named Rodriguez. Fortunately he’s long-lost.

I choose (in alphabetical order):

1. 20 east (no, it can’t be answered in photographic form)
2. Darth Sida (that’s called a ‘spanner in the works’)
3. Dat Blog (can you resist?)
4. Don’t Eat the Fruit (fire up the spell-checker)
5. Travels Without My Spaniel (damn, she’s witty)
6. W-wa Jeziorki (‘Hodge Two’ still makes me laugh to this day)

and (not in alphabetical order):

7. The Beatroot (that’s right my friends; I’m going after the big boy)


7.5. Polish Press – who can’t really take up the gauntlet on his own blog and is therefore invited to respond in the form of a comment on mine (please).

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This is kind of an ‘Elephant in the room’ issue. Anybody who blogs in English about Poland is aware of the Beatroot. He’s the Cory Doctorow of expat Polish blogging (astonished to note that ‘Cory Doctorow’ is accepted as a properly-spelled term by WordPress spelling software while ‘WordPress’ isn’t!)

Exactly what is his(?) secret. The guy posts about a Polish NASA and gets 60 comments within hours. How’s it done?

Anybody here commented on his blog or, more amazingly, had him comment on theirs? Is he maliciously ignoring us, or are we maliciously ignoring him? (only scatts I think has a blogroll link to him).

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Save the Darth!

Some of you may or may not have received a slightly cryptic email from Darthsida last night. The fact that it was cryptic may not have surprised you (what else would we expect from Darthie), the fact that it essentially announced his imminent retirement certainly should have. The truth is that Darthsida is on the verge of packing it in, of hanging up his sinister blogging cape and calling it a day. I, for one, would be extremely unhappy if this were to happen. How many other English-language blogs written from the perspective of a Polish person do you know? I don’t know any. It’s all very well for us native speakers to bang on amongst ourselves about the oddities and wonders of life in Poland, but it’s all a bit hollow if we don’t get some feedback from Poles, or have the opportunity to read the other side of the story.

Head on over to Darth’s blog right now and deluge him with positive comments. He’s feeling under-appreciated and confused.

Save the Darth! The force is strong with this one.


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Learn Polish on YouTube

I’m not big on resolutions. In fact the last resolution I made was a millennial resolution not to make any more New Year’s resolutions. I’m quite proud of the fact that I stuck to that one for seven years but, all good things must come to an end. I caught myself in the early hours of Jan 1st 2008 resolving to learn some Polish. I mean properly learn. Not just picking up odd phrases and words to do with buying beer and then trying to assemble them into ungrammatical sentences to fit any occasion. Naturally, being a lazy devil, I turned to the internet first rather than doing something sensible and time consuming such as walking over the road and booking a course of “Polish for Foreigners” at the local school. By the way, why do they insist on calling it “Polish for Foreigners?” I find it faintly insulting. English language schools don’t advertise “English for Foreigners” no matter where they are. Why do they have to bring up the “foreigners” part at all? I’m not sure I like being marketed to as a “foreigner.”

Anyway, I’m getting off the point. A google later and I was intrigued to discover numerous links to YouTube vids that suggested they could teach me Polish. And what did I find? As Frank Poole said “My God, It’s full of stars!” I’d like to share three of the best with you.

1. Learn to speak Polish with Zosia!

A tempting invitation. Zosia turns out to be about 15, but she’s clearly a natural. She knows exactly what she wants to say and has rehearsed in her mind exactly how she’s going to go about it. The intensity of her expression when she does the “and again” slow repeats is just priceless.

10/01/08 Zosia asked me to take it down. Who am I to refuse? You can still find her on YouTube though.

Anyway, Zosia has loads of vids on YouTube but only three others have anything to do with learning Polish. The best one is “Eyebrow Show” in which she appears to have gone completely insane but which demonstrates some wicked eyebrow control.

10/01/08 Zosia asked me to take it down. Who am I to refuse? You can still find her on YouTube though.

For some unknown reason Zosia has inhibited embedding, which is a shame. I’ve tried to get round this by nefarious means but who knows how long that will work. Enjoy this star of the future while you can.

2. Learn Polish with Idadeja

This girl has to be the most laid back voluntary teacher I’ve ever come across. In complete contrast to Zosia she clearly hasn’t given a moments thought as to what she’s actually going to say once the camera is rolling. “Let’s start maybe with the body parts” is probably one of the best early lines in a YouTube vid I’ve ever come across. It certainly made me sit up and take notice. It all goes quite well until we get to the cheeks, which sound oddly pronounced to me (ok, ok, to A actually). Once we get beyond the face and head however the whole thing breaks down and suddenly we’re into the colors of random things lying around on her desk. A floppy disc is initially identified as being the color of a flip flop, but she rallies and laughs it off with admirable fortitude. A is convinced that she’s not actually Polish because she gets the word for ‘cheeks’ wrong in a weird way, and it has to be said that her YouTube profile says she’s from the States. On the other hand, she speaks English with a Polish accent. Who knows.

In Idadeja’s second outing (it may not actually be her second, but it’s the second one I came across) she seems a little depressed at first but soon sets us straight by announcing that she’s suffering from period pains. In a slightly lackluster performance she runs us through Polish numbers from 1 to 20. Nothing new for me here I’m afraid, I mastered these playing poker back in the 90s. There is a another one in which she promises to teach me all about fruits and vegetables, but I haven’t seen it yet.

3. Learn how to speak Polish with xwtfitsalexx

Strange name, strange girl. I admit, for the first 30 seconds I thought she was the densest of dense Valley Girls, but then I got it. She’s actually pretty funny. I like the way she backs herself into difficult explanatory dead ends by saying “because” all the time: “To start off you have to know how to say ‘Hi’ because… well… everyone says ‘Hi'” or “…give me all your money, because that’s just handy.” There’s a pretty sharp comedy brain in operation behind this character. The comments on her vid indicate that a lot of people didn’t get this, and she actually uploaded a disclaimer vid in which she says ‘It was a joke you moronic retards’ but in far more polite terms. Oops a touch of Polish sensitivity on show I think.

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The English Wave

Nothing to do with a flood of my countrymen heading Poland-ward but the physical action of moving your hand about in such a way as to express greetings or goodbyes. English people do it a lot and Polish people seem to do it hardly at all. It’s another one of those very simple cultural differences, like the passing on the opposite side thing, that has taken me an age to consciously notice.

For a long time I’ve had the nagging feeling that Polish people were rather stiff and ineffectual when it came to saying goodbye, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. As Jerry Seinfeld might have said – they just seemed to be bad parters. It was only after a short period in which the ever winsome A used to catch a bus home every night, and I often escorted her to the bus stop, that I became dimly aware of it. A quick kiss, and possibly a clutch of the forearm, and she would hare off to leap on the bus before it left without her. I would stand and watch her go expecting her to turn at the last minute and wave before boarding. She never did. I would linger for a few more seconds expecting her to duck down and give me a quick wave out the window. She never did that either. As her bus lumbered into the distance belching blue smoke I would shuffle off despondently, my hand unwaved, feeling slightly foolish. At the time, I didn’t think about it in this way. I wasn’t consciously aware that I was waiting for a wave; I just had the vague feeling that I’d been rebuffed. It was only some time later sitting on a train as it trundled out of Kraków Główny on its way to Warsaw that it struck me. A young girl was saying goodbye to her beau through the window. They mimed kisses, they tapped on the glass, they winked and slow-blinked (a classic Polish gesture), but they didn’t wave. Had they been English they’re arms would have been waggling around like rushes in a gale as a final gesture. Not a sausage.

Of course there’s a very good reason for the dearth of Polish waves (apart from the one causing right-wing newspapers in the UK to knot their panties). The reason being that Polish people have other perfectly good gestures that they use in preference. Let’s look at these one at a time (didn’t you just know a numbered list was imminent).

1. The Slow Blink
This has become so familiar to me that I almost don’t consciously notice it anymore. To perform the Polish Slow Blink lift your chin and tilt your head back slightly and curtly while closing both eyes slowly but momentarily. You should keep your gaze fixed on the departee throughout and wear the same expression you would when delivering a quick kiss, otherwise you’ll just look like a fool trying to swallow an oversized Polo mint.

The only problem with this gesture is that it’s also used sarcastically to mean “If you say so, but I think you’re completely brain dead.” If a Pole does this to you at anytime other than a goodbye scene, they’re extracting the Michael and one is perfectly justified in slapping them about a bit.

I should also note that it seems to be an exclusively male gesture. I don’t remember ever seeing a woman do it, but I could be wrong. Done correctly it makes you look cool, intimate, but not overly-concerned. I practice in front of the mirror all the time, but this is hard to do because one’s eyes are closed at the crucial moment if you do it right.

2. The Handshake
Any Brit who’s been in Poland more than 10 minutes quickly realizes that the handshake is used far more liberally and indiscriminately here than it is back home. This is true across much of Europe, but it still takes us islanders a fair while to get used to. In Poland you shake hands with people you don’t know, people you know well, people you know vaguely, and people you once saw on the bus, and what’s more you do it almost every time you meet them. To an Englishman the handshake is a gesture of considerable seriousness. You only shake hands with someone you are being introduced to for the first time, with an old friend after not having seen them for a long time, or with the same friend you are saying goodbye to expecting not to see them for a long time (even this is considered to be a tad excessive in some circles). The only other occasion on which handshaking is acceptable is as a peace-making gesture, as in the phrase “shake hands and make up.”

A Polish person refusing to shake hands. There are all kinds of cultural misunderstandings going on here; but they are footballers so it’s safer just to sit back and laugh.
Handshake refusal

The Polish handshaking rules cause chaos among Brits living in Poland. We can handle adopting these rules when interacting with the locals, but there’s a terrible temptation to carry it over to fellow countrymen here as well which causes a great deal of uncertain fumbling about and social awkwardness. Some Brits take to it like a duck to water and act as if they’ve longed to shake hands with everyone around them all their lives while others refuse to have anything to do with it.

Once again this is largely a male preserve and I think, although I’m not certain, that the handshake is more significant as a greeting than it is as a goodbye.

3. The Kiss
I’m not going to try going into this too deeply because it’s been written about ad nauseam in a hundred other places about numerous other countries (usually France in the case of British readers). Two kisses, three kisses, five kisses, whatever your poison, it just doesn’t work with Brits. We greet-kiss our Mums, our sisters, and our nieces, and that’s it. The main problem is that, outside of these three aforementioned categories, a kiss is essentially sexual for a British guy. Kissing your wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other is a different thing from kissing your Mum/sister/neice and it’s very confusing when one is called upon to kiss a female friend. I never know what to do with my hands. Kiss your girlfriend and your hands go to her waist (at the lowest heat setting). When I have to kiss a female friend in Poland the hands just do they’re own thing and I’m often horrified to note that they’ve made straight for the hip. The brain is otherwise engaged in negotiating the whole ‘where to plant the lips’ problem and has no say in the matter.

(I tried searching for pics of “Polish kissing” but the Google results tended to concentrate on activities between scantily-clad women that threatened to keep me occupied for far too long. So I gave up)

And now the English list:

A. The Straight-Hand Wave
As I’ve been writing this I’ve realized that I’m writing entirely from the male perspective. What can I do? I’ve decided to abandon any pretense of being universal and just go with it. The Straight-Hand Wave is a typical male British gesture of parting. To perform: lift the right forearm at right angles to the upper arm and present the palm of the hand, fingers together and thumb separate, to the departee. Do not wave or move the hand and hold the gesture for a maximum of 2 seconds. At the same time turn your face in the direction you are going and do not make eye contact with the departee. To a Polish person I suspect this looks a lot like the gesture for “shut up, I’m not listening to you” which can cause problems.

I have no idea who this guy is, but that’s a classic Straight-Hand Wave in my book. Perhaps just a little too much eye contact.
Straight-hand wave

(Breaking news: As I was writing the ever beguiling A popped in unexpectedly for half an hour rather than wait for a tram in the cold. I showed her what I was working on and we chatted briefly about the office party she had just left. I showed her to the door, received a very nice kiss or two (hands on hips), and off she went down the stairs. Did she wave? Not a chance.)

B. The Half-Hand Wave
In British culture this is the classic goodbye wave performed by people who are very familiar with each other. It involves holding the forearm at a straight ninety-degree angle, as in the Straight Hand Wave, but the fingers are folded repeatedly and quickly into the palm. It has childish overtones and as such is only usually performed during family partings or goodbyes to lovers.

C. The Full-On Goodbye Wave
This is the big one. Leap in the air, wave your arm about as if it was on fire, waggle your fingers as if it was going out of style (I’ve never understood that phrase), and generally beam and gesticulate in the direction of the departee. Most commonly seen at concerts and during alcohol-fueled evenings out with university mates.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Polish person indulge in the big wave, except when Jan Pawel II was involved. Again, I could be completely wrong.

D. The Royal Wave
You’re probably not going to believe this but there is a particular form of waving that is exclusively associated with royalty (i.e. ER II). The Royal Wave involves the familiar right-handed angle of the forearm but the hand is clenched with fingers together and rotates at the wrist in a slow and, necessarily regal, manner. Nobody known where the blessed Elizabeth, head of our nation, got the idea for this wave but it was an absolutely genius invention.

Your actual Royal Wave from your actual royal. There must be a vid somewhere but I couldn’t find one.
Royal wab

Imagine unexpectedly driving slowly past a group of friends or associates on the street. The Royal Wave can be performed to great comic effect. It implies “I am being regally driven around while you hoi polloi are languishing on the pavement.” It’s powerfully connected with the car-myth that causes so much annoyance and physical injury in modern societies and about which I may one day get around to writing.

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