I have to admit that before coming to Poland for the first time, I did not know a whole heck of a lot about the country. I knew the basics of history and Poland’s unfortunate geographic location between the Germans and the Russians. I knew about Wałęsa and the Solidarity movement. I also knew that Polish people eat a lot of kiełbasa, cabbage and pierogi. As a typical all-American girl, I thought that little bit of info, a Polish/English dictionary, 200 bucks and a smile was enough to sustain me in this foreign country.
I do have some Polish heritage on my paternal grandmother’s side, but in practicality that was of no use to me. I knew only 2 words of Polish from my Grandma, szafa and dupa (wardrobe and arse). I cannot think of any bind that I could get myself into that these two words alone could save me. I didn’t realize that szafa was even a Polish word until going to school and asking the teacher where the szafa was. I had never encountered that word except at my Grandma’s because who has wardrobes in America? Not too many people I think. I discovered the word dupa as foreign during a school recess game of “duck, duck, goose”. My cousin was “it” and when she hit the goose she screamed “I hit you on your dupa!”. None of the kids knew what we were talking about. I asked my mother what was up and she explained that it was Polish. Huh? Polish, another language. People in Poland speak Polish. Huh? Grandma’s parents came from Poland where they speak Polish. Huh? People from different countries speak different languages. What?! Yes, I was a sheltered child.
Armed with szafa and dupa, I applied for a few jobs abroad. I thought it would look good on my CV. The job in Poland was arranged through a non-profit organization that finds you a job and…that’s about it. I had to buy my ticket which I did not earn back in a year!!! of teaching in high school in Poland (and that is with trzynastka even -the 13th salary which is a bonus for teachers). I was able to meet with the organizer of the job in person. That’s where I got some strange information about Poland. The strangest being that there’s no soap in Poland. C’mon it was about 10 years ago and I somehow survived each day without Googling everything but this was a fact I didn’t even need to Google. I was pretty sure that Polish people were washing and they were using something resembling soap. After a bit of grilling this man (who has been coming to Poland for the last 20 years), he conceded that Polish people do use soap but that it is very hard to come by and that I should bring soap along with me. Soap for a year?! I don’t think so. I decided to check out this information with a friend who had been on a student exchange to Poland a few years earlier. She assured me that there was soap in Poland but that there wasn’t Secret antiperspirant. Ok, that I could live with. In addition to putting my mind at ease about the soap issue, my friend had a few more pieces of advice.
Piece of advice #1-When offered flaki, decline. (Flaki is tripe.)
Piece of advice #2- Carry about 50 złoty in your pocket so when you are mugged, you can give the money quickly and escape. (Useful, except the first time I was attacked, the attacker wasn’t interested in my money. The second time I was attacked, my attacker stole my shoe…from my foot.)
Piece of advice #3-When you meet someone with gold teeth, they are probably Russian and you should be careful (Never needed to use this advice.)
Piece of advice #4- Budapest yes, Bucharest no. (Went on a trip to Budapest organized by the Dept of Agriculture with a bus full of farmers and retired farmers from the Leszno area. Fun!!)
My next source of information about Poland came from none other than the Polish Tourism Bureau. After looking at their brochures, I thought Poland was an awesome country where everyone either spends time on the beach or climbing in the mountains with intermittent visits to luxurious spas. Sign me up!
Later when I became more knowledgeable about Poland I liked to make fun of those less knowledgeable than I. I’m cruel like that. My parents were quite worried about me so to make them feel better I sent them a couple of pictures. First, I sent them pictures of our school’s basement and told them that was my apartment. Next, I sent them pictures of some garden sheds (szopki i altanki na działce) and told them that those were people’s houses. It was in revenge to my complaining that I didn’t have access to a washer and my father telling me to just go and buy one. It would have cost me 3 months salary at the time. My sister had other concerns for me such as worrying about my access to hot water. She also wanted to know if we have bread in Poland. I informed that we do, but second hand from Germany. “Second hand bread from Germany? How does that work?” she asked. “Yes,” I wondered, “how does that work?”
What do you know about Poland?