Tuesday, March 30, 2010

National Window Cleaning Week

imageIn case you didn’t know, it is National Window Cleaning Week in Poland. I’m just kidding, but take a look around and you’ll see what I mean.

I remember my first Easter after starting to teach English in the City. Occasionally, I had cancellations and clusters of cancellations especially around holidays. But the explanations went something like this, “Chris, we have to cancel the lesson October 31st because nobody from our group will be at work. We have to travel to our family for November 1st (All Saint’s Day).” Ok, that’s reasonable.

Or something like this, “Chris, we’re cancelling our lessons on Christmas Eve and the days between Christmas and New Year’s. Nobody will be at work those 2 weeks. We’ll meet again the first week of January.” That sounds reasonable, too.

But my first Easter went something like this, “Chris, we have to cancel our lessons next week before Easter….”

Now I am expecting reasons such as shopping, cooking, traveling but not this,

“…because we have to clean our windows.”

Clean your windows? They are cancelling because they have to clean their windows. They’ve got to be pulling my leg, but then the next group cancels with the same excuse and another and another.

Wishing you sunny skies and time to clean your windows!

PS My windows will not be cleaned. I do not bow to the pressure of Polish society ;)

PS2 Is it wrong to simultaneously have Christmas decorations, Valentine’s Day decorations and Easter decorations hanging in your house at the same time?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

When your child starts school…

When your child starts school, well, Pre-school in our case, everybody tells you to expect at least a year of sick kid. What they forget to tell you is, that also means a year of sick mom.

Since Lizzie started Pre-school in Autumn I have had bronchitis twice (the 1st episode being the first in my life), 2 sinus infections, numerous colds and coughs and most recently the stomach flu. Rosie has also been the victim of these nasty illnesses, excluding the stomach flu. Maybe that’s because Rosie is vaccinated against the stomach flu.

If you accept anecdotal evidence as evidence, then I can tell you that the rotavirus vaccination works. We have had the stomach flu 3 times since Rosie’s vaccination (Ok, the 1st of the 3 times was directly caused by her vaccination. I hope it was from kissing her. Yuck!), and Rosie has been problem free. It cost something like 800 złoty and with the other vaccinations Rosie was getting at the time, it totaled more than a thousand, but what could we do?

Lizzie did not receive the rotavirus vaccination because it was not available at the time she was born. I really wish she had received it. It is not because after cleaning the inside of the Jeep and her car seat, we discovered 2 days later that the cup dispenser was full of vomit. Nope, that’s not why. It’s not because in this land of no dryers, one bout of stomach flu can easily use up all of your clean and dry sheets. Nope, it’s not that. It’s that poor little face with dark circles under her eyes who doesn’t want to eat or drink and has no energy or will to do anything. And that’s if the illness is the light version. More serious attacks of rotavirus can land a child in the hospital with dehydration. Fortunately, we have never come close to that.

And to keep on an optimistic note, I am just that much closer to my Spring diet goal.

Thanks stomach flu!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

All my Ex’s Live in Texas

I remember the first time I met Misiu’s ex.

And she wasn’t his ex at the time.

There was the first time I was supposed to meet her. She had invited me through Misiu to go to the swimming pool with them but got called for a job interview at the last minute and had to cancel. Not long after that, I was off for the seaside and had forgotten all about her existence. When I returned from the seaside, she was (conveniently for me) abroad working. For the first 2 months of school, I would have Misiu all to myself. Of course, this “all to myself” business was purely in my head, but so what.

I met Misiu often as we worked together and shared groups of students. It was unavoidable. I was even invited to their (his and his girlfriend’s) apartment which was for me the epitome of what a “European” apartment should look like – white walls, white tiled floors, a lot of glass and black leather. Sexy, huh?

After a short time, the invitations became more frequent and had less and less to do with working together. So with the confidence of an American girl abroad, I indicated that I was interested, and Misiu (surprise, surprise) indicated that he was interested, too. I thought, What the heck. Let’s have an interesting 2 months till his girlfriend gets back.

I know that for some people (especially women) I had broken some secret code of conduct – You don’t go after a taken man and you don’t try to break up a happy home. But in my own defense, they were not married and I wasn’t taking, only borrowing. I had no intention of keeping him and anyway - Chłop nie mydło. Nie wymydli się. I would return him in one piece.

But as the 2 months of Misiu all to myself dwindled down to 1 month and then to 1 week, I started to feel sad that it’d all be over before it even had a chance to start. But oh well, there are more Polish boys in the sea, right?

On the day of her return from working abroad, some friends of theirs were invited to their place, somehow with me included. I was a little excited to meet her and hoped that she wouldn’t be able to read the shame on my face for having so brazenly borrowed her boyfriend. But then something happened. I met her. And I didn’t feel ashamed at all, even though I should have felt ashamed and maybe should still feel ashamed today. I didn’t feel ashamed, not even one iota, for the simple fact that she was beautiful. And I was not. I knew that as one of the beautiful people, she would somehow be alright in the end.

It also helped that I didn’t like her. I didn’t like how she pushed and pulled on Misiu trying to straighten him up when he slouched or prod him on when he didn’t laugh enough. I didn’t like how she flirted with one particular guest when Misiu was out of the room. I didn’t like how long her legs were or how blonde her hair was. You get the picture - I didn’t like her.

It wasn’t enough that she was beautiful, could speak a couple of languages and had Misiu, but how could she, in this room full of friends who were teachers, insult the teaching profession – as translated to me by an English teacher guest. I asked, “But she knows we are all teachers, right?” Anita replied with a sigh, “Yes, she does.” We all weren’t teachers though. There was one young friend, Maciek, who worked in his father’s company and there was one doctor, a very good friend of all, of course.

The conversation turned, and I could see the plan developing by the others to match me with the Doctor. Not that he wasn’t attractive or anything, but he was about as interested in me as I was in him. After a while, everyone let me alone and their conversations started to flow freely again. No one even bothered to translate, but that was alright by me. It gave me a chance to observe. I may not have understood a word of Polish, but through keen observation I was able to pick up some vital information that evening.

With Polish conversations swirling and buzzing around me, I slouched down deeper and deeper into the big, black leather armchair wishing it could somehow swallow me up and deposit outside on the sidewalk with the rest of the guests being none the wiser. Supposing that this was impossible, I waited a respectable amount of time and then excused myself, explaining that I wanted to turn in early. I was heading to the City to visit some friends the next morning, and I had an appointment to call them that evening. Misiu walked me out to the pay phone.

I made my phone call and as we parted, I think I surprised Misiu by telling him matter-of-factly that his Doctor friend was in love with his girlfriend. From the look on his face, I knew that it must be true. “That’s what they tell me,” Misiu said. “Whatever,” I said and walked myself home. And that was that.

Observant as I was, I couldn’t figure out how she felt. She flirted with the Doctor, but she also showed off Misiu like a mannequin she had dressed up for the occasion. From what I could gather, she wanted them both – the doctor part of the Doctor (money, social standing, etc.) and the Misiu part of Misiu (funny, likeable, handsome). It seemed to me that she wanted Dr. Misiu. But Dr. Misiu didn’t exist.

PS1 “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” is a country music song made famous by George Strait. In my hometown (not in Texas), there is a diner with little jukeboxes at each table, and this song has been on the playlist as long as I can remember. I’m not a country music fan, but I’ll always remember this one.

PS2 There is something which Misiu calls Kryśka’s Morality. I guess you could call it my code of conduct, but maybe my code of misconduct would be a better name. In this post you have learned some of the finer points, such as:

  • Chłop nie mydło. Nie wymydli się. -A man is not soap. You cannot use him up.
  • Beautiful people are always somehow alright in the end.

Not included in this post but crucial elements of Kryśka’s Morality are:

  • When I am driving, I am king of the road. Pedestrians look out!
  • When I am a pedestrian, I am king of the road. Drivers look out!
  • As a teacher, your success is my success. Your failure, however, is all your own.
  • Living in America for 10 years and not learning English is totally unacceptable. Living in Poland for 10 years and not learning Polish is absolutely understandable ;)

I could go on and on…

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It’s not a love story

I’m not gonna say it was a love story, an epic romance for all time, because if you knew me, you’d have trouble putting together the idea of me, silly me, with the idea of a love story and romance.

Something which will seem even more difficult to imagine is the fact that I knew all this was coming - the foreign life, the foreign romance and ultimately, the foreign husband.

On the surface, in the conscious world, I laughed at the idea that I could possibly meet someone while abroad, although people finding out about my trip (and about my recent break-up with my American fiancé) couldn’t stop kidding me about it. I kidded right back, not giving it a second thought.

Actually, I did give it a second thought, this idea that I could meet someone while abroad because a few years earlier when I was (more or less) happily engaged to my American fiancé, I had had a premonition. As it has only happened to me twice in my life, it is difficult to describe what it is actually like to have a premonition. It is something like déjà vu, but set in the future. It is like your awareness of time slips back for a moment and you catch a glimpse (or sometimes a whole look) of something that will happen in the future…but the picture is so elusive.

While waking in the morning one day in the US, still lying in bed I stretched, and looked up at the bright sun, sky and trees out my window. I took a deep breath and became pre-occupied by a picture in my head. I was waking up next to my husband (somehow I was sure he was my husband and not my boyfriend) and as he rolled over to me and smiled, I could see him, I could smell him, and I could hear him as he spoke a few words in a language I didn’t understand or even recognize. It was so real…and then my consciousness snapped back into place and the picture was gone. It was years before I planned a trip to Poland, and I had all but forgotten about it. Maybe it was a dream after all?

But maybe that’s the reason I couldn’t take my eyes off Misiu the first time I saw him. Maybe that’s why till this day I cannot resist nestling into his neck to smell him. Maybe that’s why I remember so distinctly the thrill I felt the first morning he rolled over in bed to smile at me and ask “Wstajemy?” with me not understanding what he was saying.

Sometimes I have my doubts about the life I have chosen here in Poland, but then I look at Misiu and our girls and I know everything is just how it is supposed to be.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Two Birthdays and an Easter

We’ve got 2 birthdays and Easter coming up and a kid on a no-milk, no-wheat, no-eggs elimination diet. What about the birthday cake?!?

imageNot only do I not know what to do about the cake, I also don’t know what to do about the gifts. It’s not like Rosie has a list of presents that she wants to receive. Anyhow, she and her sister are not lacking for toys and books. It’s just that I know Rosie’s old enough to remember this birthday. I know because Lizzie remembers her 2nd birthday party and talks about it sometimes, comparing her 2nd b-party to her 3rd b-day party -which party was better, who the guests were, which party had more balloons. I can’t gyp Rosie out of her birthday just because it falls near Easter, because she is allergic to everything, because she doesn’t need anything, and because she is probably too little to figure it out. Can I?

Lizzie on the other hand has a list of presents long enough for the 2 of them. On the top of her list is a big-kid bike. And it has to be pink. Next, she wants a dollhouse, the big wooden kind with lots of little pieces. She has also expressed interest in a bucket of dinosaurs which I think she has seen on TV recently. Her latest request is for a Robur. Yes, a Robur. If you don’t know what a Robur is, it is a bus produced in the former East Germany. If you are wondering how Lizzie knows about it, it is because someone in our neighborhood has one. Unfortunately, that someone isn’t us.

Our neighborhood’s Robur

Image012 (640x480)

And why does she want a Robur for her birthday? That was my exact question, too.

Here’s the Robur that Lizzie wants.

peppa camper

It’s the Peppa Pig Robur not the East German one ;) Quite nice, actually.

Happy (almost) Birthday to my baby girls!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rainbows, Rashes and Rye

Lizzie asked me yesterday in an exasperated voice, “Mommy, where’s that Spring and the rainbows?” She didn’t really believe me when I told her that Spring is on the way especially because I told her the same thing 2 weeks ago and it has snowed 3 times since then. All day yesterday it snowed and rained and then snowed some more.

But we were enjoying the rainbow…


and the hot chocolate


and yes, it is the same place.

Now on to the unpleasantness. Rosie has a rash. To be more specific, she has eczema. She first had it as a baby as an allergic reaction to milk – I mean milk that I drank because she was breastfed. The doctor said that she would grow out of it and it seemed that we were able to give her some amount of dairy with no ill effects. Now the rash is back and it keeps getting worse. So much so, that I stopped giving her any dairy products at all. But it is still getting worse, so we have decided to cut out all wheat products for awhile and see what happens. Rosie is so poor scratching her legs at night and saying, “Boo boo, Mommy. Itchy Boo boo.”

What can you feed your kid if you don’t give her dairy or wheat? And she is sick of rice. And she loves bread. And she thinks Danio is one of the major food groups. And she cries, “Mommy daj milk” or “Mommy, kaszka. Rosie baby kaszka” (“baby kaszka” is instant rice cereal for babies). And if you give it to her, she smiles and says, “’kuję Mommy”.


Here’s my supermarket wheat-free stash. There’s rye flour, rye pasta, beans, buckwheat (which isn’t the same as wheat Misiu assures me), corn meal and corn flour. I don’t know how to make anything from these ingredients, but I am going to try. Even sourdough rye bread leavened with my own sourdough (zakwas). Even a rye cake because Easter and 2 birthdays are coming up. I just have to figure out how to do it.

Wish me luck!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Our first visit to the ER

Of all the things a parent is bound to experience with a child, we can check off an important one from Lizzie’s list - our first visit to the Emergency Room. I guess that just leaves our first grounding for staying out all night with a boy, our first visit to her dormitory at university and our first visit to bail her out of jail.

Something to look forward to.

Ok, it is not as tragic as all that. Last Saturday night, Lizzie, who had been complaining of a stomach ache, got an incredibly high temperature and complained more and more that her stomach hurt. When I heard, “Mommy, it really hurts” I knew that she was not kidding. First reaction, call a doctor or emergency services. We did both and they were both in agreement - take Lizzie to the hospital because it could be an appendicitis. We were also asked if we wanted an ambulance. It was at night and we knew that Misiu would be faster, so he drove her to the surgical ER as indicated by Emergency services.

I cannot describe the feelings I had as I packed a little backpack for my baby (my almost 4-year-old baby) to go the ER and possibly stay at the hospital for an operation. Extra underpants, pj’s, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a plastic cup, a washcloth, a towel, one of her favorite books, her health book, and of course Maciek, her doll. Misiu quickly printed out his bank statement proving that we in fact pay our taxes and are insured. Hospitals declare that you have a week to provide them with proof that you are insured, but we know from our past experience that sometimes that is not the truth.

image And so they left for the hospital, my brave little Lizzie and braver Daddy, while I stayed at home with Rosie. Talk about ants in the pants (or maybe owsiki w gaciach), I couldn’t sit still. I was pacing around our apartment, talking to myself and checking the clock every 5 minutes. After an hour and 45 minutes, I sent Misiu a text message asking if he had any news. I also congratulated myself that I was able to wait an hour and 45 minutes without calling. Misiu answered that everything was ok and they would be coming home soon.

And so my brave duo came back home, but not until after visiting 2 hospitals and a 24-hour pharmacy. Why 2 hospitals? Well, for suspicion of appendicitis Lizzie was seen at a surgical ER. When the surgical ER figured it wasn’t surgical, they were done with her and sent her to the pediatric ER…on the other side of town. Thank goodness we have a car, but for those families who don’t and cannot afford a taxi, what are they supposed to do? Misiu packed Lizzie in the car and was off to the pediatric ER where they diagnosed her with severe tonsillitis. They gave her something for her fever, waited for it to come down a bit and then sent her home with a prescription for antibiotics, a reassurance that tonsil infections can cause bad stomach pain in little creatures such as Lizzie, and a teddy bear sticker for the very brave patient.

image Compared to our last ER visit (Misiu’s unfortunate pickle jar incident), Lizzie’s visit was quite good and for the doctors, I suppose, pretty routine. Lizzie did not have to wait in line, but she did have to go to 2 different hospitals. Lizzie’s stomach examination consisted of “macanie” (poking) and did not include any USG as I had expected. No urine was tested not did they draw any blood.

Emergency services offered an ambulance right away and nobody treated us like over-anxious parents wasting the time and resources of the Polish health care system. We did not have to pay for the ER visit(s) and that consideration never entered our minds. With our child in pain, we didn’t think twice whether we could afford an ER visit or an emergency surgery, and although I was pacing the apartment worried for the safety of my child, I wasn’t worried about the safety of my child and how I was going to pay for it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Good Teacher/Bad Teacher: Teaching English the Kryśka way

There are many methods for learning a language. Unfortunately, there are no magic methods. Part of my job is to balance out the methods I like to use and think are effective with the methods my students are used to and prefer. Most importantly, I want my students to learn English. You’d be surpriseimaged how many teachers don’t really care if their students learn anything, as long as they all enjoy the lessons and pay the bills. In order for my students to learn English, I have to put forth some effort to teach them, but my students also need to put forth some effort to learn.

How do I get my students to do what I want them to do?

When I taught in high school in the Village, it was pretty easy. Almost all the kids had their eyes on the prize – university- and didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize their good grades and future studies.

With adults, it is a little more difficult. Firstly, I use two teaching tools - proximity and physical contact. I did not make that up myself as some sort of an excuse to touch my students. I learned it at teacher’s college. The theory is that if you place yourself near your student and from time to time make light physical contact, the student’s performance will increase (and discipline problems decrease). This works in groups. In individual lessons, your student will just think that you are weird and wonder why you are sitting so close and touching him all the time.

Another method I use is rewards. The simplest reward I use is praise, but that’s not very tangible. I mean you can’t take it home and brag about it to your friends. One of my favorite tangible rewards to give would have to be stickers. I have smiley faces and “teacher” stickers with phrases such as “Cool!” or “Good Job!”. The most coveted of all my stickers would have to be the American flag stickers. They are awarded only for tests (not homework) with scores of 89% or better. Some of my students (adults) ask me before the test if they get an 89% or better, could they get their sticker “unstuck”. Usually, they want to put the sticker on their class book or computer.

Another kind of reward is the opportunity to give me homework, too. Yes, sometimes I allow my students to give me Polish homework and then laugh at my mistakes. I’m generous and self-deprecating like that.

If there are rewards, there have to be punishments as well.image Adult students are really reluctant to do homework and by reluctant, I mean lazy. No amount of explaining, asking, pleading, ordering, screaming or stickers will get them to do it. So instead I have to resort to punishment – punishments which I call “The Power of Public Humiliation”. They don’t teach that at teacher’s college, and it is a pity because I feel public humiliation as a teaching tool is surprisingly effective and highly underrated ;)

Punishment #1 – Students who do not do their homework, must sing a song for the class…with the classroom door open for the whole office to hear. Number 1 most selected song by students would have to be the very popular Kotek na Płotek with Happy Birthday coming in a close 2nd.

For the most stubborn of cases, I implement Punishment #2 –If your boss is paying for your lessons, you have to explain to your boss why you don’t have your homework, now, right this minute, with me by your side. That one works, but then they hate me. It’s a trade-off.

Sometimes I don’t have to resort to punishment. I just threaten them with the power of, “Your boss said…” It’s a kind of good cop/bad cop game or more like good teacher/bad boss, except what the students don’t know is that in most cases their boss didn’t say anything. It’s a bluff – insert evil laugh here…Wahahahahaaaa…

When all else fails, I bribe them…with baked goods. Do not underestimate the guilt-value of a homemade banana-nut muffin. I can easily get a month’s worth of homework out of that.

It’s not just homework that students don’t want to do. They don’t want to do grammar, either. Lately, in an effort to get some of my students to do more grammar, I have come up with a scheme which seemingly forces them to choose grammar exercises and like it.

How do I do it? It is ingeniously simple. It’s all about choice. I offer them 2 possible activities for the lesson, one being grammar and the other being much worse. They always snap up the grammar, grateful at having been spared the “much worse”.

“Much worse” is different for different students. For some it is a text to read, for others it is a speaking activity, but for the some of my students, it is the grammar exercise which is the “much worse”. So for those who hate grammar exercises, really dread them, I have to be a bit more creative with the “much worse”. Out come the articles on difficult or boring topics: Pregnancy and Childbirth: A Lesbian’s Perspective, The Inevitability of Gay Marriage, Valentine’s Day Vasectomy Discounts….you know, your basic Sunday morning reading.

I have one group of gentlemen who are very grammar averse and by grammar averse, I mean lazy. I knew that to get them to finally stop stalling, I’d have to pull out the big guns. Bam! Grammar exercises or New Circumcision Recommendations of the AMA. Exasperated sigh, my plan backfired. They chose the circumcision article, even after I explained what circumcision was. I gave my students the incorrect statistic that 90% of American males are circumcised which prompted them to ask in disbelief “19 or 90”. I wasn’t far off though, as the estimated rate is around 80%. Despite the painful topic, the conversation was quite good and my students learned some words they may never have had an opportunity to learn. How they will ever use those new words at work is their own problem.

Next time their choice is going to be between difficult grammar exercise and even more difficult grammar exercises.

No more fooling around!

PS When I took my first trip to the sea side, I remember that my new friend asked me, “Are all men in America circumcised?” I responded, “I don’t know. I haven’t checked them all yet.” ;)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Polish is hard

Polish is a difficult language. I know with that statement I am not “discovering America” (nie odkrywam Ameryki) as you say in Polish, but it is worth stating.

When I first came to Poland, I didn’t know a word of Polish. Well, except for szafa and dupa which are not especially helpful in everyday life. I didn’t even know tak and nie. (szafa=wardrobe, dupa=ass, tak=yes, nie=no)

Stupid, huh? Travel to a country for an extended stay not knowing the language at all. For an American, not really. As a 22- year-old American girl, I had the utmost confidence in myself and truly believed I’d just learn the language. Just like that. I mean I figured I’d have to spend imageabout 4-6 hours a day every day for about 2 months, but that for sure, it’s learnable. It just requires some effort and a lot of memorization.

All of that would be true if I had been learning, I don’t know, English perhaps, but it just doesn’t work for Polish. Not that I didn’t try…until I finally gave up and stopped trying, my effort seeming futile ‘cause I couldn’t say anything anyhow.

I did learn a lot of vocabulary though. I loved sitting in my Archiwum reading the dictionary, making lists of words and memorizing them. I also tried to learn the vocabulary lists of the 1st and 2nd classes of high school (9th and 10th grades). I wanted to show my students that I was making an effort and on test day, they also prepared a test for me. I didn’t always do too well.

I had my favorite words, too. One of my all time favorites is smakołyk and its plural, smakołyki. It means a delicacy or treat as in a food treat, but I just love the sound of it - smak-o-łyk. Cool.

My favorite expression, I learned from my neighbor in the Village. It is lepszejszy. It should be dobry, lepszy, najlepszy (good, better, best,) but in his version it is dobry, lepszy, lepszejszy (good, better, bestest). This expression is totally awesome and I use it all the time. (Remember, Professor Miodek says the first rule of language is to communicate and next is to speak correctly.)

One of my least favorite words is wdzianko. It means something like outfit or smock, but somehow sounds like a dirty word to me.

Misiu’s old school mate who studied both Polish literature and English has his least favorite word – ruchać - (say it like you mean it and don’t forget to roll your “r” for dramatic effect). In old literature, it simply meant “to move”, but now it means “to fuck”. Another word from this base is ruch meaning movement, motion, traffic. And by the way, if while hitchhiking somebody stops to pick you up and asks you if you are going to Ruchaczewo, say no.

With a large vocabulary in Polish, you can understand a lot more of what people are saying, but you yourself cannot say very much. In English, it is quite the opposite. With just basic grammar and some vocabulary you can express a lot, even after only a few lessons.

Let’s take a look.

Today I go school. (Today, I’m going to school)

Tomorrow I go school. (Tomorrow, I will go to school.)

Yesterday I go school. (Yesterday, I went to school.)

Understand? Pretty much.

Let’s try in Polish.

Dzisiaj idę szkoła. (Dzisiaj idę do szkoły.)

Jutro idę szkoła. (Jutro idę do szkoły.)

Wczoraj idę szkoła. (Wczoraj poszłam do szkoły.)

(Wczoraj poszedłem do szkoły.)


Not convinced. What about this?

Using the same verb form in English we can change the subject to “he” or even “she, we, they” and still be more or less understood.

Today he go school. (Today he is going to school.)

Tomorrow he go school. (Tomorrow he will go to school.)

Yesterday he go school. (Yesterday, he went to school.)

In Polish, it is more difficult to figure out who we are talking about.

Dzisiaj on idę szkoła. (Dzisiaj on idzie do szkoły.)

Jutro on idę szkoła. (Jutro on idzie do szkoły.)

Wczoraj on idę szkoła. (Wczoraj on poszedł do szkoły.)

Kumasz? Coraz trudniej.

After learning food, I couldn’t order in a shop or restaurant. I had to learn whole sentences by heart.

Poprosze dziesięc plasterków szynki…

…which was good if I wanted 10 slices of ham. If I wanted 5 or 15 slices I was out of luck and how to explain to the lady that I don’t want the ham located near the hairy pig’s leg in the display case. That was beyond me.

After learning numbers, I couldn’t tell time because you tell time in Polish in ordinal numbers.

Która godzina? Pierwsza…

…which means 1st o’clock, not one o’clock and don’t get me started on the 24-hour clock and how that screwed me up at the beginning.

After learning days of the week, I couldn’t make an appointment.

Kiedy się spotkamy?

Na Poniedzałek? W Poniedziałku? W Poniedziałek?

Somehow, I managed to learn Żywiec and how to get 2 of them, practically from day one.

A girl has to have priorities.

So, I started to make sentences. I mean, I couldn’t just learn endless lists of vocabulary forever, could I? And one day walking with Misiu, I lamented that I didn’t have a hat. “Nie mam czapka,” I said. “Nie mam czapki,” he corrected. “What?” I asked. “It should be ‘nie mam czapki’ not ‘czapka’,” he further explained. And that was the moment I realized Polish was hard.

hat = czapka

I have a hat. Mam czapkę.image

I have hats. Mam czapki.

I don’t have a hat. Nie mam czapki.


I don’t have hats. Nie mam czapek.


I have a blue hat. Mam niebieską czapkę.

I have blue hats. Mam niebieskie czapki.

I don’t have a blue hat. Nie mam niebieskiej czapki.

I don’t have blue hats. Nie mam niebieskich czapek.

And if you want to buy a hat and you ask the lady, “Czy są czapki?” her answer may be “Są czapki” (there are) or “Nie ma czapek” (there aren’t). But hey, why isn’t it “Nie są”???

UGGGHHH! What did I get myself into?!?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Women’s Day

image Or should I say, International Women’s Day (or Woman’s Day), except we don’t celebrate in the States and most people there have never heard of it.

If you are planning to celebrate this day and you are a man, proper etiquette requires you to give a flower to the important ladies in your life, traditionally, a carnation. (Carnation is gożdik the flower, not the spice. Karnacja is complexion)

Women’s Day (March 8th) has definite political connotations for many in Poland who still associate it with the Communist Era. For that reason the carnation, a perfectly good flower, has gotten a bad rap. If you want to check it, give your love a bouqgozdzikiuet of carnations and see the reaction you get. (The florist will be sure to ask you if you need an invoice ‘cause nobody buys so many carnations except for official celebrations.) One of my students one year gave his girlfriend this kind of goździk (cloves) and a package of pantyhose (communist joke). The reaction wasn’t any better.

Another of my students has given the name “goździki” to communist style office ladies. You know the ones that drink too much coffee, wear too much make-up, set their hair once a week and can be pushed along with kiss of the hand and a box of chocolates. As you can gather, it is not a compliment.

Another of my students, an owner of a company that employs a lot of women, provides reserved movie tickets for each and every woman in the company and an afternoon off to go together to see the movie. That’s nice.

And what will I get for Women’s Day? Probably the same that I got last year and every year before that. Nothing. Misiu always says, “Women’s Day is for communists. And besides, you are American, every day is your day.”

I can’t argue with that.

PS While being called a “goździk” by my student is not a compliment, it still sounds a lot nicer than the popular nickname “biurwa”. This is also an office lady, the word a combination of the Polish words for office and whore. It’s not a compliment either ;)

PS2 Lizzie was complaining that her school practiced “teatr” on Friday and that only boys were allowed to be “rycerzy” and girls had to sit and watch. Before I could lock into conspiracy theory mode, I figured that they were probably practicing for Women’s Day. Probably the boys are going to be knights and give the girls flowers. How sweet.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pasowanie na Przedszkolaka

Lizzie is officially a Pre-schooler. This Thursday, she took her preschooler oath (Ślubuje…) and was dubbed a Pre-schooler by the Principal. The children presented themselves in front of the Principal who tapped each child on the shoulder with a fairy wand. It was all very serious and very exciting!

Lizzie’s class dressed up as butterflies while another class dressed up as teddy bears. Thank goodness for H&M butterfly wings. We weren’t the only parents who paid a visit to H&M ;) Each class recited poems and sang songs for all the proud parents to see. There was the usual shuffle of parents trying to get the perfect shot of their little one. Our camera battery died on the way to school, but I knew that I could depend on my bestest friendka and neighbor to take fantastic pictures from her place in the front row. Now, if I could only get the CD to her to save the pictures.

Lizzie, in this picture, is the butterfly in the middle in the pink skirt (also borrowed from friendka) reciting her poem:


Motylek mnie rozwesela

Humor mi się jego udziela

Cieszymy się oboje

On i oczy moje…

The kids received a present of Domino Logopedyczyne Ż(RZ)-Z. Maybe I will practice some sounds, too.


And of course a diploma.


And more excitement from the Pre-school front – Tennis lessons AND English lessons start on Monday!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wyątkowy dzień!

Here’s a postcard recently received by my Misiu, holder of an Orsay Club Card.

Wjątkowy dzień!

Witaj Misiu,

Czas spełnić marzenia. Odkryj siebie na nowo robiąc zakupy z Twoim osobistym bonem urodzinowym


i przeżyj niezapomniane chwile myśląc “Thank God I’m a woman”.image

Życzymy miłych urodzinowych zakupów


Dear Misiu,

It is a special day!

It is time to fulfill dreams. Discover yourself anew doing shopping with your own personal birthday bonus


and experience an unforgettable moment thinking “Thank God I’m a woman”.

We wish you a pleasant birthday shopping!

The Orsay Club Team

Who knew?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why I need an SUV

In defense of my SUV, well, my little SUV, my SUV-ek:

Exhibit A

The road in front of my apartment building



Exhibit B

My road to work

02222010(001) 02222010(002)

And now that Spring is upon us, the potholes have sprung up to greet us as well…. And the Gold Medal goes to Chris for her amazing Pothole Slalom…

That’s what it means to live in a country that has less money to spend on infrastructure than the previous country where you lived before. It means that there are fewer miles of highway, fewer good roads, more potholes, more traffic jams, more time lost sitting in your car, more trips to the mechanic to fix your car on the day you didn’t get a gold medal in the pothole slalom, but on the day you and your car disappeared into the pothole and you were disqualified from competition. At least we have health insurance ;)

On an optimistic note, near my apartment in the City the road workers were repairing a pothole…wait for it…wait for it…AT NIGHT!!!! Only Polish people or those who have lived in Poland for any amount of time can appreciate the true miraculousness of that occurrence. Aaaaaaa-mennnn.

On another optimistic note, our house it thawing out…Image010Image011Image013… and deer have visited our garden through the gaping hole in our fence. The rest of the fence is staying up through sheer will power alone. All the news can’t be good news ;)