Czy mówi Pan po angielsku? (Do you speak English, sir?)
Czy mówi Pani po angielsku? (Do you speak English, ma’am?)
Czy mogę mówić po angielsku? (May I speak English?)
How many times have I asked these questions? Maybe a hundred times or more. These are the kinds of answers I usually get:
Nie, nie mówię po angielsku. (No, I do not speak English.)
Nie, nie mówię po angielsku. Może po niemiecku? (No, I don’t speak English. Maybe German?)
Nie, niestety nie. (No, unfortunately not.)
Nie za bardzo mówię ale rozumiem. Prosze mówić po angielsku i ja po polsku. Damy radę. (Not very well, but I understand. Please speak English and I Polish. We’ll manage somehow.)
Yes, a little.
Yes, of course.
Sometimes I get a nice surprise like with the insurance agent last year who inspected the Jeep. He had worked a few years in Scotland and in addition to being handsome, had a beautiful Scottish accent. Unfortunately, his cost projections for repairing the Jeep were considerably lower than our mechanics.
Or many years ago when I was in hospital in Gdynia and I met a nice sailor, well a retired sailor, in his seventies. Our conversation started when he invited me into the elevator saying in English, “Please go first. Beauty before age.” How sweet.
Or just recently the building inspector who came to check our new central heating installation at our house surprised me with her fantastic vocabulary, of course, concerning home installations – her specialty. It was a real pleasure to talk with her and ask her some questions about our home.
You see, it is a surprise and a pleasure when someone speaks my language. I don’t expect it from anyone. And why should I? This is Poland. People don’t need English in their everyday lives. These days, I try to do everything in Polish but when the issue is complicated or I am feeling especially tongue-tied, I occasionally give in to my weakness and ask if my conversational counterpart speaks English as I did this week. Now I have a new answer to add to my list. Can you guess what it is?
Nie. Jesteśmy w Polsce. Mówimy po polsku. (No. We are in Poland. We speak Polish.)
And that from someone who has authority over my children.