For some reason when I first came to Poland, people liked telling me jokes especially the joke (maybe you know it) with the punch line “piłka…do metalu” (complete with arm motions showing a ball and then a saw). The problem with that joke is that it is only funny in Polish. Translated to English it doesn’t make any sense. And even if you can figure it out, nothing kills a joke more than a long, drawn out explanation. So after about the 10th time hearing this joke, I just smiled and laughed at the appropriate time thus allowing at least the joke-teller some enjoyment.
So while living at PZU (if you don’t know, check out some old posts), I had an opportunity to hear this joke again – from the painters.
It was definitely unfortunate for me that PZU decided to paint their premises during the year of my stay. I got to know about it when I came home to my Archives and found my door wide open and all my belongings gone, excluding the contents of the wardrobe which were still there (but the door to the room was open and unlocked). I immediately went to the caretaker to politely inquire as to what was going on (translate – to ask her what the f*#$ was going on). She informed me that the building was being painted and that I had been moved to another room. Strangely enough, they wanted to leave my wardrobe in its original place but they moved the fridge from the kitchen to another room for me. Weird.
After many a morning of running into the painters on my way to or from the bathroom, one painter decided to be brave and talk to me. He started with a joke. I politely waited for the punch line and after seeing the hand movements indicating “a ball for sawing” I laughed accordingly. My newfound painter friend, spurred on by my laugher, decided to tell me another joke unfamiliar to me. As I didn’t understand a word, I didn’t laugh at the appropriate moment and after an awkward silence I said goodbye and continued back to my room. About 15 minutes later a friend came to visit me. She had also brought a message with her from the painters. They asked her to apologize to me for their “off-color” joke. Apparently, the second joke was a bit risqué and they thought that was why I hadn’t laughed.
All turned out well as the painters later invited me for a shot of vodka in my (and all of PZU’s) kitchen. When I stammered out one of the few clumsy yet useful phrases I knew in Polish “Bez popitki?”(without chaser?), the vodka-pouring painter laughed whole-heartedly and called for all the other painters to join us. A little bit later, well exactly 4 shots later, I had to excuse myself to go to one extra-curricular hour of English at the vocational school. When I arrived, my students, judging by the redness of my cheeks, decided that the weather must have turned colder since the morning ;) Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, totally unprofessional and unethical behavior I exhibited at the start of my career.
PS More recently I had a group of business people every Monday and Friday morning. The deal was that Mondays were mine, I could teach whatever “business crap” (as they put it) I wanted and Fridays were theirs to talk about whatever subjects they wanted – usually cars and cars and cars.
Every Friday morning started out with the “Peter Show” a 5-minute joke-telling set by the Vice-President of the Board of Directors aka Peter. His jokes were definitely off-color which I enjoy (who doesn’t?) and his comedic timing perfect. What he was lacking, due to all that “business crap” I was teaching them, was the proper vocabulary needed to tell such variety of jokes. So every lesson began with a pre-lesson vocabulary check with me. You know, nobody wants to “burn” a good joke. However, when you as teacher are asked practically all the vocabulary needed for a joke, you’ve pretty much got the joke figured out. But no worries, my fake but sincere-sounding laughing skills are just about perfected after all these years of teaching adults (just kidding). To give you an idea of how my Friday mornings usually started, here’s a taste…(attention - it's gonna be vulgar)
Peter: Chris, Chris! I have a really funny joke to start the lesson today. I just need one word.
Me: Cool. What’s the word?
Peter: How do you say “pizda” in English?
I knew that lesson was going to be a doozey.
I love my job!