Monday, August 31, 2009

He don’t read.

I just read an article about Jenna Bush Hager (daughter of George W. and Laura Bush) who is joining the TODAY show as a part-time correspondent. She also works as a reading coordinator in a school in Baltimore, Maryland.


I also worked in Baltimore, Maryland in the Baltimore City School District and we didn’t have a reading coordinator. I’m sure of it because one day I discovered that one of my 15-year-old students could not read and I went looking for help only to find I was on my own.

What’s it like to find out that one of your students in the USA cannot read? It was scary. All of our reading had to be done in class because we only had one set of books which absolutely had to stay in the classroom. The books weren’t in great condition but considering that they were older than I was at the time I was teaching, I guess they were holding up pretty well. Want to read about the Vietnam War? Sorry, not possible, it’s not in our book. Want to read about the end of segregation in the South? Sorry, in our book the South is still segregated. As we were reading a few bits in turn, I called on a student to read. Another student promptly informed me, “He don’t read”. I responded that in my classroom everybody has to read. She said, “No, he can’t read”. The student in question in fact could not read or write. He was neither embarrassed nor proud of this fact. I was mortified. I mean, Jesus, Baltimore’s motto is “The City that Reads”. (It’s also the city with high levels of childhood lead poisoning and the number one ranking for syphilis and gonorrhea.) As soon as I could, I informed my bosses and asked what I could do. The reaction I got was not what I expected. From one boss, I was told to make all necessary adaptations to allow the non-reading student to be successful in the classroom (WTF???). From another boss, I got something like -Poor little girl in the big city school. You’ve got a lot to learn.

So with no reading coordinator or any assistance I tried to make adaptations. I gave the student oral exams. I allowed him to create artwork for his homework. I tried to teach him to read. Were we successful? No, because to actually pass through high school without being able to read and write you have to be a genius with a perfect memory. I’m not knocking this kid, but genius he wasn’t.

At the end of the semester, I did the only thing I could have done. I failed him. I did not see the next part coming. I was called into the principal’s office and ordered to pass him. “You don’t want to see him again next year, do you?” I refused and was written up for disobedience. In the end, he was passed by authorities over me. Sometimes I wonder what happened to that kid.

Article about Jenna Bush.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Gospel according to Doda

I’ve recently discovered a blog that probably the rest of the world discovered more than a year ago -

It’s by a writer from Chicago who did an experiment of living her life for one year following all the advice given by Oprah and her guests. It got me thinking. Who would I model my life after here in Poland if I wanted to do the same experiment?

At first I thought about Ewa Drzyzga ewad whose talk show Rozmowy w toku on TVN is the closest thing we have to The Oprah Winfrey Show…except that it is nothing like it. It’s a talk show alright but there is none of the lifestyle advice or fashion advice or shopping tips or whatever else is on The Oprah Show now ‘cause I haven’t seen it in more than 5 years.

Then I thought about Kinga Rusin, TV journalist and presenter, probably most famous for her divorce from another TV journalist Tomasz Lis (yeah, I know stuff) and her win on the Polish version of Dancing with the Stars. I gave up on that idea. kingaFirst of all, I can’t dance worth shyte and have you seen her arms? Living the life according to Rusin probably involves a lot of weight-lifting or pick-axing in a mine or testosterone injections or whatever it is that she does to get arms like.

Kinga and her arms.

Maybe former first lady, Jolanta Kwaśniewska, who is said to be a classy lady and now hosts her own television show Lekcja stylu (Style Lessons) on TVN Style. She explains things like the global importance of owning a cashmere twinset and the proper way to eat aptyś ptyś in public. She also follows the model of former US first lady Hillary Clinton (No, not in the political arena. She doesn’t have time when there are so many people with pressing ptyś issues) in that her hair keeps getting bigger and bigger. From all my candidates she would be the best, but I can’t get over the fact that she is a big Communist, oh I mean former Communist, new Social Democrat. Whatever. By the way, she recommends a very complicated ptyś eating procedure which involves cutlery. I have a piece of advice for ya. If you are not confident enough to lick cream off your fingers in public, then don’t pick the ptyś. Order yourself a nice safe piece of cheesecake.

Jolanta and Hillary back in the day and more or less now.

jolanta and hillaryjolanta kwasniewskahillary clinton

Completely and totally unrelated cheesecake story. Once when boxer Andrzej Gołota (known for hitting Mike Tyson below the belt) was in town for a fight, I met some of his crew by chance at a bakery in the Market Square. They were easy to spot- 2 New Jersey guys wearing sweatsuits that said “Golota Crew” on the back. I helped them with their order of 2 cheesecakes. Yeah, that’s right. Not 2 pieces of cheesecake, but 2 cheesecakes. What’s the proper etiquette for digging into a whole cheesecake in public? I ran into them later at the airport and they were quite sure I was stalking them.

That leaves me with one obvious choice, Dorota Rabczewska aka Doda the famous Polish popstar. doda She’s kind of like the Polish Madonna but in her younger years. Yes, she is a bit scandalous but who cares? When you have an arse like that you can command the world. My life as Doda would begin with obvious cosmetic surgery. Then I would have to learn to sing or something. Next on my agenda after visiting the little Lolita dress shop would be getting myself a football player husband to marry and then leave and then get back together with and then leave again, and so on. I think some tatoos would be in order as well. And what should all of that bring me? Well I’m hoping for a legion of loyal fans. In fact, I know where I could get my first fans - in my village. Let me explain. In my village, there’s no bar. There used to be, except the bar didn’t have a liquor license (I’m totally serious) so you had to go to the shop, buy some alcohol and come back. For obvious reasons, the bar went under. Now if you’d like to drink in the company of your friends (ie other former PGR workers who want to get away from their wives for awhile) you need to go to the shop, buy some alcohol and drink in the little “bar” set up by the shop owner. I would never dare enter this place but under the cover of early morning, I was able to get a shot of it.

Image018 (640x457) In my opinion it looks a little bit like a chapel with an altar to…Image025 (640x479) guessed it, my new life coach Doda!

I will let you know how my plan works out ;)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Super Skeeters

skeeter Headline: The City has been overrun with mutant Super Skeeters mercilessly biting you and your children day and night getting fat from your blood and coming back for more.

Ok, there was no such headline, but I think there will be soon. Due to the wet weather conditions, the City has been taken over with mosquitoes. The City has tried to strategically spray against the mosquitoes more than once only to have their plans foiled by rainy weather. I am convinced that this spraying has in fact led to a new breed of Super Skeeters. It used to be that we had a skeeter problem only in the evening. We’d pop a Raid® Electric - Fly & Mosquito Protector into the electrical outlet and 15 minutes later our mosquito problem was forgotten for the night. Not anymore. No longer does the mosquito liquid get rid of all the skeeters. A few annoying stragglers are left alive each night. For the ones that the Raid manages to kill, the sheer number of them littered on every surface in the morning is a bit scary and kind of gross. We are bitten at night when we sleep, in the day at home and at the playground. The worst is when one gets in the car with us. There’s no escaping them.

Lizzie seems to be the most afflicted. When she is bitten, she has got a huge, itchy welt lasting for 3 weeks or me. Yesterday, Lizzie asked why skeeters like her so much. I told her that she must be very yummy. She informed me that she is tired of being dinner for the skeeters and that we should buy some mosquito food at Carrefour instead. Logical, isn’t it?

I know you will not believe this, but I received my first mosquito bite in Poland. I also sliced bread for the first time in Poland too, but I’ll save that story for another time. Somehow, I managed to avoid mosquitoes in the US and really did not give them a second thought. Then I came to Poland the first time on a teacher exchange to a very mosquitoey place and found out my first night what it meant to deal with those buggers. I spent half the night trying to squash those pesky things until I finally fell asleep with exhaustion. I woke up the next morning to find myself covered with bites including 5 on my face alone, 2 of which on my eyelid resulting in swelling so bad that I could not open my eye.

When I met with another teacher from the program, I saw that not only I had a skeeter problem. My colleague, however, had come up with a much better solution than my ineffective and time-consuming pillow-squashing technique. He had bought himself a Raid skeeter thingamajig. I had not even heard of such a thing at that time, so I marveled at how he was able to find it and buy it in a small town with no self-service shops. For those of you unfamiliar with what that means, it means that all the stuff you want to buy is behind the counter and you have to tell the lady what you want to buy in a language you do not know. Imagine doing your grocery shopping via a game of charades. The first hundred words I learned in Polish all revolved around food and toilet paper (I wanted the tp with butterflies, not the gray stretchy kind. I don’t recommend the charades thing for buying tp though). My new best friend armed with the knowledge of the word “no” in Polish went to the shop and told the lady behind the counter, “Nie, bzzzzzz. Nie bzzzzz” and went home the proud owner of his new skeeter defeater. Hmmm, what should we have done to get beer?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cut Hillary Clinton some slack

If you have not heard how American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost her temper last week, here it it is in a nutshell. Hillary Clinton, during a press conference in the Democratic Republic of Congo, took offence to a question from a student who mistakenly asked her what the opinion of her husband, former president Bill Clinton, was instead of the opinion of Barak Obama the current president. Instead of supposing the student could have nervously misspoken, Clinton ripped into him with, “Wait, you want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state. I am. So, you ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I'm not going to be channeling my husband,". That poor student probably wet his pants.

Read more:

I say cut her some slack. Her husband has been all over the media for swooping down into North Korea to save those 2 damsels in distress while Hillary has been visiting refugee camps in Africa. Who knows how many times journalists have asked her questions or the same question about her husband. Maybe this question was just the last straw.

I can totally sympathize with Hillary. Not about the Secretary of State, husband former President of the free world/damsel in distress swooper thing but with the annoying and repetitive questions thing. Have you seen the television show Ranczo? No, well, neither have I but that somehow doesn’t make a difference to the people who like to ask me about it. Everything I know about Ranczo is what I read in the first few lines of the wikipedia entry ranczo Basically, Ranczo is a sitcom about an American lady named Lucy who inherits a manor house from her grandma which she plans to sell but after falling in love with the charms of village life in Poland she decides to stay, renovate the house and make her life in Poland. After reading that I think you know what people say to me.

Some unfortunate person says, “Oh my god, have you seen Ranczo? You are just like Luuuuceeee. You have a house in the village too, just like Luuuuceeee. You are renovating your house, just like Luuuuceeee! Do you blah, blah, blah, just like Luuuceee? Did you see the one where Luuuuceee does blah, blah,blaaaaaaaaaaah?

I scream in response, channeling my inner-Hillary Clinton,Aaaaah! I am not just like Luuuceee! My house is not a manor house! It’s a red brick money pit! I did not fall in love with the charms of village life but with the charms of my Misiu! Congratulations on being the 1000th person to ask me that. Your prize is my foot in your arse!

Unfortunate person who hardly noticed my screaming, “But you are American just like Luuuceee. That is so funny”.

Actually my response is something like this, “Really, I’ve heard something about Ranczo but I’ve never seen it. It sounds funny”. I’m too polite for my own good.

Ranczo could be funny for all I know because I have never seen it and I don’t really care to either. The fish-out-of-water set up sounds promising but I suspect it falls flat like most other Polish sitcoms (think BrzydUla, Polish’s Ugly Betty). Misiu says that he adores my sitcom sense of humor and that is enough for me.

Ok, Ranczo fans. Let me have it ;)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Awkward moments

Here is just the first installment of awkward moments I have had with my students. There will be more to come.

Who are my students? Mostly, they are business people who would like to learn English for work. If they are lucky enough, they have lessons at the office, during work hours, paid by their company. Most often they already know some English but from time to time I get a student who is just starting out. I teach factory workers, accountants, doctors, company presidents, politicians, lawyers, other teachers, university students and even some children. Some of my students take lessons just for fun, some focus on business English and others are preparing for exams such as CAE. I also have a small group of students who have lessons because their friends have lessons with me and they want to have bragging rights too. For whatever reasons my students have lessons, I am happy to teach them awkward moments and all.

**Please note that the ranking does not represent level of actual awkwardness. It represents nothing other than what popped into my head first.**

Awkward moment #1 When I go to a company for a first lesson, it is easy to place my student in the hierarchy of the company. I see the position on the door, the size of the office, the number of hot secretaries, the obligatory leather furniture, the framed picture with Bill Gates (Did somebody say, “Next, please”?) and any other office status symbols. When I meet on neutral ground for a first lesson, I often get some information like this from my boss Misiu, Przezes Zarządu (CEO) of our language school: “You gotta meet with Jurek from the bank. 9 am Saturday. Don’t be late.” And so I met with Jurek from the bank on a Saturday morning 9:00 sharp. I was wearing jeans and a blouse. Jurek was also wearing jeans and a t-shirt that had seen better days. Think the t-shirt you paint your house in after you’ve painted your house.

With coffee, notebooks and pens ready, the first-lesson tango begins.

“Where are you from?” he asks. “From Pennsylvania,” I answer.

“Why do you want to learn English?” I ask. “For work,” he answers.

“Why did you decide to come Poland?” he asks. “Long story,” I say.

“How long have you been learning English?” I enquire. “For 15 years, on and off,” he states.

“Mówisz po polsku (Do you speak Polish)?” he jokes. “Trochę (a little),” I laugh.

“What do you do at the bank?” I ask.

The music stops and our tango screeches to a halt.

“Hmm, umm, well I, ah, I work there,” he says.

“Ok, but you have a job title, I suppose. What is it? Knowing what you do will help me prepare our lessons,” I explain.

“Well, I do so many things that my job title is unimportant,” he defends.

“I understand that, but it must say something on your business card,” I pry.

“Well, it does but it doesn’t really matter because it is my brother’s bank. I basically help my brother,” he explains.

Reverting to Valley Girl, I ask, “ So like what, like your brother, like owns the bank?”

“Yes,” he replies.

Thank goodness I had not led out with my Exercise on the 2nd Conditional entitled, What would you do if you had a million dollars?

Awkward moment #2

After many lessons with questions such as the million dollar one from above, I can predict what my students are going to say and what mistakes they are going to make. That’s my job. However, you should not ask a question assuming you know the answer and you should never ask a question you do not really want the answer to. I learned that lesson well when I was starting out teaching. (BTW, top answer by Polish people to the million dollar question is to travel around the world.)

I had what I thought was a brilliant worksheet practicing the difference between “Have you ever done this?” and “Would you ever do that?” Most of the questions were pretty tame like “Have you ever eaten sushi?” or “ Would you ever jump out of an airplane?” For one particular student I decided to spice up the questions a bit. With the mildly spicy question “Have you ever driven drunk?” I got to know that my definition of drunk driving (drinking alcohol and then driving) is different than my student’s definition (drinking alcohol, driving, getting caught by the police). The question “Have you ever stolen anything?” required a Bill Clinton definition of what exactly “ to steal” means. In the eyes of my student, poorly-secured items could not be classified under “stolen” and if you acquired them while abroad, whether the items were secured or not ceased to be an issue. While strange, those moments were not awkward. Here comes the awkward.

First, I must explain that this student had a peculiar habit of closing his eyes for extended periods of time while speaking. He would begin to speak and take a 20-second or longer blink. It was very unnerving when we started our lessons together. Later, I learned to take advantage of my 20 seconds of invisibility to yawn, glance at the clock or scratch my nose. After learning that my student had in fact eaten sushi, been bungee-jumping and climbed Kilimanjaro, I asked the next question on the kilimanjarolist, “Have you ever been to a prostitute?” ha, ha, ha. A very awkward yet honest answer ensued. My student had started his career as a sailor and as a sailor often frequented prostitutes in ports all around the world. Thank goodness his eyes were closed and he couldn’t see that my face was red as a beet.

Awkward moment #3

Awkward moment #3 also involves a 2nd Conditional Exercise. Who knew that grammar could be so dangerous? The student in this case was a very nice, soft-spoken middle manager. He was so nice in fact that he made up a wife to talk about in order to make the lessons more interesting. It almost backfired on him when he invited the secretary on a date and I told her that he was married!

Question: Would you donate a kidney to a stranger?

Answer: No. (That’s not the shocking part.)

Question: Would you donate a kidney to a family member?

Answer: No. (Still not shocking)

Question: Would you donate a kidney to your child?

Answer: No. (There’s the shock for ya.)

Chris: No?! Not even your own child!?

Selfish, middle manager: No.

Chris: But, but why not?

Selfish, middle manager: I have only one kidney.

Totally embarrassed English teacher: Oh, sorry about that.

One-kidneyed, middle manager (There’s one-legged so I guess that is how to write one-kidneyed): That’s ok, you didn’t know. Maybe my wife could donate her kidney…

Misiu has reminded me that I have also had awkward moments while teaching in the US-maybe next time.

What about your awkward moments?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Car seat confusion

Yesterday, we finally went to buy a new car seat for Lizzie, a Maxi-Cosi Rodi XR (3.5-12 years 15-36 kg). Actually, Lizzie did not need a new seat. She still fit just fine in her Tobi, but Rosie was totally squished in her rear-facing CabrioFix which is only to 12 months anyway. We decided to buy a new one for Lizzie and bump Rosie up to the Tobi which is from about 9 months to 3.5 years.

Rosie finally able to face the front in her Tobi08122009(001) (640x480)

Lizzie in her Rodi, 5 seconds after asking why we hadn’t bought a pink one08122009 (640x480)

Our original choice of the CabrioFix infant car seat started with our choice of baby carriages before Lizzie was born. During my pregnancy, I read a lot of reviews, visited every shop and questioned my friends with kids in search of the perfect carriage. The advice was overwhelming. We had to consider if we wanted a “system” (car seat, carriage, stroller on one frame) or separate units. We had to decide if we wanted hard tires, pumped tires or the latest foam tires, and if we wanted a 4-tire traditional or a cosmic-looking, 3-tire model. In stroller mode, we had to consider if we wanted the option of the child facing out or facing us. There were of course safety issues, weight, ease of use, even width and let’s not forget fashion and price. Did I find the perfect stroller with the Quinny Freestyle? Well, no, but in all fairness my idea of the perfect stroller is one that can breastfeed for you and change your baby’s dirty diapers.

Why the Quinny Freestyle? First of all, I was interested in a 3-in-1 stroller. This includes one frame which can be used with a stroller, a carrycot and also an infant car seat. Most babies tend to be lulled to sleep in the car making it a great ccarseatonvenience to pop the car seat directly on the frame of the stroller without disturbing the sleeping baby. We did not however buy the EasyFix base which if I had to do again, I would. This is a base that is secured in your car and then you just click in the infant car seat. Without it, you need to install the car seat securely in the seat belt each time you travel which takes a bit of doing. Either way the CabrioFix has a good safety rating.

freestylecarriageThe next point of interest was the width of the stroller. One disadvantage of a wide stroller is that in most supermarkets, we can only go through the check-out for wheelchairs as we can’t fit through any other ones. One advantage of a wide stroller is wide-set tires ideal for walks when daddy is pushing baby. With other strollers, Misiu hit his toes on the tires with every step. This stroller, like other wide strollers, is marketed to ambitious parents who plan to jog with baby. Having a jogging stroller does not a jogging mommy make. I can tell you fromfreestylerstroller personal experience, the last thing I wanted to do after having a baby was jog. The suspension is really good but for jogging you need smooth surface conditions and also some physical fitness, two things I am lacking. This stroller was one of the few that also had the option of the baby facing the front or the back. That was the final point that sold me on the Freestyle.

It didn’t hurt that the Freestyle was also one of the few 3-tire models on the market then and I admit that our black model looks cool. The front tire can be adjusted to stay in a straight line which is good in difficult conditions like snow or it can go around in a circle which allows for agile maneuvering in supermarkets. Pumped tires are much more comfortable than plastic ones unless you get a flat. I recommend having a bike puncture kit handy. The freestyle is a bit heavy and difficult to use at first but after 3 1/2 years I am an old pro. We, of course, bought all the extras, the rain cover, the sun parasol, the leather hand grip, the $100 snow muff. First time parents-they saw us coming.

It was a little pricey but definitely not the most expensive. In all, it cost about 3000 Polish złoty which is about a thousand bucks. When I say fab, y’all say life, fab life, fab life. Welcome to the fabulous life of Chris and Misiu. I was disappointed to find out on MTV’s Fabulous Life series that I have a more expensive stroller than Salma Hayek and Gwyneth Paltrow. Check out Salma and her Graco stroller below.


If you have just regained consciousness, yes, I said a thousand bucks. Ahh, those were the good old days before the global recession. Thank goodness for my becikowe (baby bonus) of a thousand złoty. Before you decide that I have totally lost it, please consider that the car seat was used for about 2 years and 8 months almost daily. The carriage was used for about 16 months daily. The stroller is still in use and will be used for another 2 years. We’ve had a couple of flats and made a hole in the hand grip but other than that no problems. If you are going to use your stroller as intensively as we do, then buy something like ours. If not, then buy a cheaper model and buy a new one if it breaks.

As you can gather, I’m pretty satisfied with my purchase although I do wish that it had been less expensive or even free ;) When it came time to switch from the infant car seat to something bigger, I honestly did not have time to research anything. I just bought the Tobi which is the next in the series. The same thing goes with the Rodi as now with two kids I almost did not even have time to go to the store to pick it out. How would the market analysts categorize me? A loyal customer or just plain lazy? Oh well, they had me at Cabrio and kept me all the way to Rodi.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Hairdresser! Yikes!

Yesterday evening I went to a new hairdresser for the first time in 7 years. It was a very difficult decision, however, it was time for us to go our separate ways. I know that it sounds as if I am describing the end of a marriage not a hairdresser-client relationship but that is exactly how it felt as I sat in the new chair with strange hands working on my head. As I have not yet informed my former hairdresser of the switch, I feel like an adulterer.

When I came to Poland, I had a lot of things to take care of as in any move regardless if it is to a foreign country or not. I needed to find someplace to live, to open a bank account, get a doctor, get a dentist, find a hairdresser and so on. I decided to choose a hair salon in the Market Square. The Market Square was in my mind an exclusive place with a lot of foot traffic, and I was sure that was where the best of everything was located- the best salons, the best shops, the best restaurants, you name it. That idea of mine tends to ring true in big cities but believe me, it doesn’t always work in small towns. I got to know it first-hand after visiting a pub alone in a small town market square in Poland. I lived to tell the tale and I got treated to a lot drinks.

As I entered the salon, I felt that my instincts had been correct. The salon was a very elegant mix of antique furnishings with modern hairdressing equipment. The stylists were très chic. The receptionist was serving coffee in delicate porcelain cups. This is what I was looking for, not just a haircut but a visit to a real salon. I asked the receptionist if it was possible to have a haircut today. To my surprise, it was possible and she directed me to the stylist who would be in charge of my salon experience. My hairdresser was a petite blonde who looked like she could be the sister of Porenijusislish pop star Reni Jusis. For those of you familiar with Reni Jusis, I am talking about old-school Reni, think of the Zakręcona-era (one of my favorite songs ever!) with the super short bangs. abilities in the Polish language at the that time were pretty poor but I am 100% positive that I managed to say that I wanted my bangs cut but NOT like hers. It should be mentioned that I am a mishap magnet and that you should be careful because that affliction of mine is highly contagious. I left the salon quite a bit poorer and sporting my new super short bangs.

I, however, did not give up. I returned to the same salon a good 3 months later (that’s how long it took for my bangs to reach my eyebrows) and saw a young man dressed in black from head to toe, with black hair and icy blue eyes lounging cat-like on a hairdressing chair. I asked him if he was available, he replied that he was and from that moment on Daniel and I were a team through long hair and short, one-length cuts, layers, growing out bangs, covering up mini bald patches due to some serious side effects of medicine when I was ill, an unfortunate “Rachel” and an even worse modified-Farah. He was my guy.

At my first visit, I got to know that Daniel was just starting out in the hairdressing business and that he had yet to build up his clientele. Over the years, we chatted politely about this and that. His approach to our conversations changed from describing his vacation with “friends” to showing vacation pics with his partner. We talked about life, Polish and American culture, our relationships with our parents, our common acquaintances, illnesses, children, politics, just about everything and nothing all at once. Visits to the hairdresser which I used to dread almost as much as visits to the dentist had somehow become bearable even pleasurable. This change in my feelings did not go unnoticed by Misiu but as he assessed that Daniel was “shiny” as he called it (błyszczący), he wasn’t worried about how much I enjoyed our time together.

And then something happened and our time together while still pleasurable and still resulting in a super hairstyle started to become more and more of a hassle. Not only I had noticed this fantastic stylist but a lot of women of the City had noticed too. Getting a slot in his book required a 3-month forethought and cancellations were unheard of. A two-week vacation of Daniel’s could put half of the women of the City into hysteria. Luckily for me, I do not color my hair yet (Daniel pulls out my gray hair one by one) so I could always wait but the situation was getting more and more difficult. Now that I have two children, it is a bit of an ordeal to book a hair appointment 3 months in advance, drive to the center of the City, find a place to park, get a haircut, pay the City price, pay for parking and drive back. After weighing up the pros and cons and seeing a new salon opened in my neighborhood, I decided to take the plunge.

As I sat down at the new, fresh salon, I immediately confessed that this was my first visit to another stylist in 7 years, something like the adulteress spouse defending their cheating ways -“I usually don’t do this kind of thing”. My new hairdresser a young, brunette lady listened to me carefully, asked me a lot of questions and surprise, surprise gave me a decent haircut all for the price of 3 haircuts from the City salon. Her hands were not as sure and steady as my Daniel who always said he knows my hair so well that he could even cut it in the dark, but I am nonetheless satisfied. I’m definitely going back there but you can be sure that when someone asks me for the number of my hairdresser, it won’t be on hand. It’s a little selfish I know but I cannot wait 3 months for my next haircut.

No picture of my new do in this post because I could not achieve one in which I do not look like my father with a bob. Sorry.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Keeping up with the Kowalski’s

Thank you globalization for bringing conspicuous consumption (and Secret brand antiperspirant) to Poland. No longer do we have to envy our neighbors’ green grass, but now we can salivate over their foreign-made SUV’s, garden gazebos and exotic vacations. I should be the last one to criticize. We are a two-car family with both cars shipped from the States, but let’s get back to the subject…conspicuous consumption in Poland.

Keeping up with the Joneses refers to the American phenomenon of shopping to you drop, racking up debt, purchasing status goods all in an effort to raise ones social standing. For what is the pleasure of owning a $500 Coach bag if you cannot post a picture of it on your Facebook page rendering all your friends green with envy? In case you are wondering what a $50o Coach bag looks like, here you are… coach bag

In Poland, Keeping up with the Kowalski’s is just beginning to take on the shape of the American phenomenon. Polish society is in the early stages of forming social status based on material gain. How have they managed to avoid the temptation for so long, you ask, stroking your Coach bag lovingly? Most recently, the Communist rule of the Soviet occupation can be to blame. Polish mentality is scarred (not only) by the Soviet occupation lwalesa2asting from the end of WW2 to 1989. Please send your thanks to Roosevelt, Truman, Churchill and Stalin for selling their ally, Poland, down the river in Yalta and Potsdam in 1945 ( and an extra special thanks to Wałęsa for leading the revolution in Gdańsk in ‘89.

One of the ideals promoted by the Communist government was equality, the promotion of an egalitarian society where everyone lived happily ever after. Ask anyone who’s old enough to remember that time and they will tell you what a happy ever after it is to wait in line 11 hours to buy toilet paper only to find out that you are in the line to buy meat and there isn’t any.

a line to buy something…or nothing


meat shop ready for business in PRL (Polish People’s Republic)


ration coupons for meat kartkinamieso

That reminds me of a joke:

Background: Soviet-occupied governments were referred to as people’s republics as in PRL the Polish People’s Republic.

What is the difference between democracy and people’s democracy?

The same as the difference between a chair and the electric chair.

Here’s another one:

Is it true that they are giving cars away in Red Square in Moscow?

It is true but it’s not in Moscow. It’s in Leningrad and not in Red Square but in Revolution Square. And it isn’t cars, it’s bicycles. And they’re not giving them away. They’re stealing them.

Your salary or how much you paid for something (if you managed to buy something) was not taboo. Everybody was equal…poor, except those who were “more equal” (równiejszy). There were some who had more and having more was a state to be simultaneously coveted and despised. How to get more was a national past time. If you were one of the “equals”, you needed to develop a complicated web of connections that would draw envy from the best undercover agent today. Personal connections with shop assistants, friends and neighbors working in various sectors and relatives from the countryside had to be cultivated in order to collect the things needed for everyday life. How did those connections pay off? So what that you have ration coupons for shoes when there is only ever one pair in your size, distributed before you’ve even heard that shoes were available. One well-placed friend could mean shoes in your size tucked away under the counter waiting for you instead of you waiting for them. You need to paint your apartment but there’s no paint in the stores, no matter how much money you have. One well-placed neighbor who works in the paint factory can “organize” you some, after all everything is owned by society so in fact it is not stealing, is it? The relatives in the countryside were necessary for things such as meat, eggs, milk and other fresh produce. I have to forgive my mother-in-law for piling us up with food to take back to the City. She is convinced we will starve without it.

If you were one the “equalers” either you were a member of the Party and you were a “kombinator” or you were not a member of the Party and you were a “kombinator”. What is a “kombinator”, you ask still stroking your Coach bag lovingly? It is difficult to explain. Misiu says that we don’t have this word in English because we don’t need it, something like the Eskimos having a lot of words for snow. Anyhow, it is a kind of person who is always sly, looking for an opportunity to get ahead, a kind of a fox who knows how to manoeuvre in the system. As a “kombinator” you could have access to better food, medical care, permission to do private business or travel abroad. Having more and being a “kombinator”, Party-member or not, was seen as negative. Having more was viewed with suspicion but at the same time desired.

Fast forward to today when the difficult transition period from Communism to democracy has all but ended and the market is open. How have things changed? During the Communist era people had money, but nothing in the shops to buy. Now whatever you could dream of is available but nobody has any money. Ok that is not true but there definitely are a lot of “have-not’s”. One thing that has remained the same is the idea that your neighbor is a “kombinator”. It is true that many of the folks who arekwas well-established now have their Communist Party past to thank for it (think former President Aleksander Kwaśniewski). For those still in the old mentality Keeping up with the Kowalski’s means steeping in your own envy and wishing not only for success for yourself, but also for life to come along and kick your neighbor swiftly in the arse.

The phenomenon has resulted in some negative elements such as overwhelming debt (personal bankruptcy was impossible by law until just this year), shutting off into gated communities with separate schools, separate hospitals, etc. in exact opposition to the network of society during Communist rule, a Poland A and a Poland B. There are other folks who are living their Polish dream. They have worked hard, some having to overcome their oppression and other younger folks starting almost fresh to build their own success. For them Keeping up with the Kowalski’s means a motivation to work harder, to pull themselves and their families higher up on the social-economic ladder. Yes, there is the “in-your- face” element of showing off but still at a lesser degree than in the West. For many people this phenomenon has been nothing but positive, inspiring some to further their education, go abroad or start their own business all of which are possible to do now without Party restrictions. When they talk about PRL, they just may be talking about the trendy new night club with the same name. I read a research study once about happiness. The findings showed that in fact people who look “up” so to speak are happier than people who look “down” even when those “down-lookers” strive to help those who are under them.

Maybe we could go back to the days when social status was based on lineage. It is said that is good to catch a husband who is rich, handsome and his name ends in “-ski”. Misiu, two out of three ain’t bad.

Friday, August 7, 2009

My first car accident!!!

This morning as I was making my way through the City, I had my first car accident. As I unnecessarily stopped at a red light (those lights are only suggestions, right?), the driver behind me hit me in the arse. I am fine except for a sore neck. Thanks Jeep Liberty! The other driver is fine too except for maybe a bruised ego. His car was significantly damaged but as it was a company car (a fleet car) he didn’t really seem to care. It was a bit of excitement I could definitely have done without. Accidents happen, but I am convinced this accident came down to a difference of driving culture. The other driver was sure that I was going to run the red light. That’s what his driving instinct told him from countless similar situations he had been in before.

That's the huge damage to my car. Believe me, you should see the other guy.

When I first decided to drive in Poland, I thought it might be a good idea to take some informal driving lessons. I mean I knew how to drive. I have had my US license since I was 16 and it is valid here for tourists (after 6 months I should take the exam for a Polish license but so far my crime has gone unnoticed) but there are some different regulations here and a different driving culture. I took my lessons with a taxi driver (who’d know the roads better) Pan Jasiu (Mr. Johnny). First, we practiced different routes, basic point A to point B stuff avoiding any left-hand turns against traffic which I’d always hated. Next, we started on short-cuts, pot-hole slalom and traffic jam escape routes. After that, Pan Jasiu reminded to look out for trams, pedestrians (they are everywhere here, I mean who walks anyway!!), cyclists, motorcyclists, roundabouts and the still mysterious main/not main. When I finally felt ready, I hit the roads solo and just like my first ride on the tram alone I felt pride…until I got home and saw that the belt of my jacket had been sticking out the door and dragging in the snow all the way home. Those had not been looks of envy from the cold masses at the bus stop but rather amusement at the female driver oblivious to the ruining of her jacket.

The more I drove, the braver I became and when I had more time I tried out alternative routes around the city. My first routes strictly followed bus and tram routes as my orientation of the city was as a pedestrian and frequent user of public transportation. I tried my best to adapt, you know, '”when in Rome…” and that was my biggest mistake. I realized it as one of my students known for his speeding called me from the car behind me to tell me to slow down (I know, I answered the phone while driving too). I did slow down and it really got me thinking.

Not long after that we went to the US for Christmas. As my husband was marveling the “black” roads on the 26th of December after a huge Christmas Day snowstorm (the roads in Poland would be “white” until the first thaw no matter what day the snowstorm occurred) I was busy tailgating a hummer driving the speed limit. She was blowing her fingernails dry and driving the speed limit! How dare she! Misiu informed me that I was an aggressive driver, tailgating was a crime and that somebody would call the police on me. I asked him how he knew all that and he replied that a billboard had told him so. That was the last day of my short career as an aggressive driver.

Now, I drive carefully and defensively keeping in mind different situations that could take place on the roads. It is true that the road conditions in Poland are much poorer than the US and that cars are older but let’s not get carried away. Our driving behavior contributes a lot to the accident statistics. Why do people drive more dangerously here? I’m not sure why. I ask myself almost every weekend when for the thousandth time someone overtakes another car and is approaching me and my family head-on at excessive speed. Maybe Polish people love the thrill of it. Maybe after crawling along at 10 km an hour behind a septic tank truck, they cannot resist the urge to let loose. Maybe Polish people feel that they do not have as much to lose. Who knows? I know that I have done my part to improve the driving culture by ending my aggressive ways. Safe driving! Szerokiej drogi.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

City Girl?

I do not consider myself exactly a city girl, but if you are not a country girl then what are you? I spend the work week in the City performing the Polish miracle of cramming 4 people into an apartment made for 2. In Poland, when someone asks you about your apartment, they ask how many rooms you have, not how many bedrooms. Kitchens, bathrooms, foyers, pantries and closets do not qualify as rooms. We have 2 rooms (a bedroom for all 4 of us and a living room) a kitchen and a bathroom. According to the census taker who visited us, we in fact have only one room as our kitchen does not have a door, thus making our living room an extension of our kitchen. You can forget about closet space in our apartment because we don’t have any, just one big, free-standing wardrobe which is my favorite piece of furniture we own. We are located on the edge of the city, not downtown but not yet suburbia. Our city is large enough to get lost in but small enough that you can meet someone you know by chance in the Market Square. My hometown is located in rural Pennsylvania so I cannot describe for you the pride I felt when I traveled around the city on the tram by myself for the first time and did not get lost. Now I’m an old pro and can get nostalgic about old tram routes that have been discontinued or discuss my record times for getting from one place to another by my expertly planned routes.

Living in a city has definite advantages. I teach English in companies so in a bigger city it is easier for me to find clients. There are a lot of attractions available in the City. You know, the ones that everyone mentions but hardly ever takes advantage of such as the opera, philharmonic, theatre, museums, etc. There are also sports facilitieImage009s, shopping, restaurants, universities, parks, and so on and so on. My routine with work and 2 kids is pretty structured. So much so that I often don’t even think about the fact that I live in a foreign country. I mean, I cannot escape the fact. Everything is in Polish. Everybody speaks Polish. The city landscape is definitely not American, but somehow the days roll on and I stop thinking about it.

Growing up in a house with a yard, I had always associated apartment living with sophisticated city people who have posh coffee makers and catered dinner parties. After getting a taste of sophisticated city living po polsku (in Polish), I began thinking about yards, gardens, trees, flowers – not houses- just the green part. Some people in the city have garden allotments and I asked Misiu if maybe, possibly we could buy one. He told me that he would buy me a garden someday but with a house attached to it. I took him at his word and started looking. By lucky coincidence my acquaintance had just started her own real estate agency and invited me to look at some properties for fun. As I looked at her offers on the internet, I found some startling information. “Misiuuuuu, what does ‘prąd – brak’ mean?” “There’s no electricity,” he said with amusement. “Misiuuuuu, what does ‘woda – brak’ mean ?” “There’s no water,” he said with a smile. “Misiuu-uu, what does ‘łazienka – brak’ mean?” As he laughed he said, “You’ll see."

With an open mind, we made an appointment with the agent and set out looking for houses just for fun I remind you in a rural area close to my in-laws about 1 hour away from the City. Like Goldilocks, we found this house too big and this house too small until we found our house which was just right. We arrived at the last house on our itinerary. It was a little red brick house with a barn built in about 1935 by Germans (this part of Poland used to be Germany). No one had lived there for about 10 years. The fence was falling down. The more than 2 acre yard was an overgrown mess. There were chickens (the neighbor’s) everywhere and chicken shyte under every foot step. As we walked to the back of the house, I thought to myself that it would be better to just leave now and not waste anymore time and then I saw it, a huge linden tree with a little bench under it. It was the dearest thing I had ever seen. My husband looking at my face said to the agent, “How much is that bench gonna cost me?”

our house with Lizzie in the wild strawberry patch

We proceeded to look at the house, the barn and the land. I learned from the agent that this house had the trifekta – prąd-brak, woda-brak and łazienka (which means bathroom) – brak. Instead it had an outhouse, a pig stye and a chicken coop and was 7 kms away from my in-laws. What more could you ask for? Hmmm, maybe some lights, heat, water and a toilet? My DIY enthusiasm carried me away and before I knew it we were the proud and regretful (you can be both) owners of a ruin of a house in the Village just in time for my birthday.

Farmer Lizzie hard at work

They call it “buyer’s remorse” and boy did we have it bad. There’s nothing like doing your business in an outhouse full of 10 years of spiders to solidify your regret. For one year we did nothing but look at our house and repeat “what were we thinking”. The next year we decided to attack the garden. The following we did the roof and windows. After that the septic system, water and electricity and so on. Now that the recession has hit Poland (thanks USA ;), we have run out of moolah before we could manage to install any kind of heating system. Viva la electric space heater! We still have the original stairs and doors and the barn of course. The chicken coup and outhouse are gone. All of this was accomplished with our marriage in tact and only one trip to the hospital when Misiu fell through the floor (well lack of floor actually) upstairs and landed downstairs breaking his shoulder blade in the process. Did you know that it is actually quite rare to break only your shoulder blade because it is almost exclusively broken in serious accidents?

the view from behind the barn

If in the City, I can forget that I am in a foreign country, in the Village I cannot. Neighbors invite us for coffee to discuss what to sow in the fields next year. The sounds of the Village vary from silence to a moo, moo here and an oink, oink there. There’s always a cast of drunken characters outside the Village store with a mass of dogs and sweet dirty-faced children sent to bring daddy home. Misiu says not to worry, that he is Polish and he feels foreign in the Village. For now it is only for weekends and holidays. Will I ever feel at home there?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

We all know where babies come from…

but do you know where beets and potatoes come from?
I'm on an adventure trying to be a very good wife and mother so one thing that involves is cooking dinner everyday. Polish cuisine has a lot of interesting dishes with dough, pork, cabbage, potatoes and beets as some of the favored ingredients. I try to oblige the taste buds of my husband and include some of them in my cooking. Potatoes are no problem. We get them from the farmer who farms our land for us. (We have a small farmhouse in the village near my parents-in-law.) My farmhouse at least for me is purely recreational. Prior to that, I was getting potatoes from my parents-in-law who have a pretty well-stocked garden. In my father-in-law's gardening heydays we called him the garden nazi as all the rows were perfectly measured out and weeded daily. Now that things have slowed down a bit for my in-laws, they have cut back a bit on their gardening.
Usually the potatoes were just given to me in a bag on our way back home but one day my mother-in-law asked if I could get them myself. My parents-in-law’s garden consists of 3 parts. One part is a lawn for sitting. Another part is fenced for growing fruit and vegetables and the third part is like the wild west with the other neighbors. Everybody knows which part is his but there are no fences. The potatoes are planted in the wild west. So after examining a few patches of potatoes I thought it best to ask my mother-in-law which patch was ours. I shouted up from the garden to the open window, "where are the potatoes?"' to which she replied, "under the ground Chris, under the ground".
Beets were another story. I usually received beets from my mother-in-law too, but canned. No digging necessary. Once when my beet stash had run out, I decided I'd just cook them myself. What could be so difficult? There was one problem though. I had never seen beets in their natural state, you know, uncooked. Luckily, I know the word for beet in Polish. If you want to call somebody a country bumpkin in Polish you can call them a beet. So I began searching the signs in the vegetable department of the supermarket until I found them. I put them in a clear, plastic bag and took them to the veggie lady to weigh them. I presented her with my bag and proudly said, "these are beets". She looked at me and said dryly, "I know". Hmm, who's the country bumpkin?

Who? - Kto?

I have to admit that I'm not good with names. Maybe it is a family thing. I remember my Grandmother just looking at us and calling every name but the one that was actually ours. It could also have had something to do with the fact that she had 8 children and who knows how many grandchildren. My husband on the other hand seems to know all our neighbors names and which car they drive. It has happened more than once that after my husband has greeted someone in the supermarket, I have asked who it was only to find out that it is our neighbor two floors down.

I also blame my name memory lapses on the fact that I live in a foreign country (I blame a lot of my personal deficiencies on that) and those difficult foreign names just slip out of my head. Once I told a group of students that if we meet years later in the supermarket that they should remind me of their names before I panic and run. Two days later I ran into one of those students who walked up to me and said, "Hi, I am Jacek your student".

For those situations where I cannot rely on anyone to remind me I have devised my own naming system if you will which I find much more useful - as long as the named person never finds out. The first recipient of a name of my own creation was christened “fish girl”, an unfortunate name but as her father was the owner of a herring packing factory it seemed fitting. The owner of our corner shop is “Mrs. Shop lady”. Our butcher is Slawek but that is his real name and his wife is “Mrs Slawek”. There are the “pizza boys” from the pizzeria, the “dhl guy”, the “flower shop lady”, etc. In our building we have the “cat lady” and our old neighbor “Elvis” - think blond hair with big sideburns and you'll get the picture.

There are also a lot of comparisons such as 'short Ada' and 'long Ada' referring to the length of hair. There were two priests working at the public school where I worked shortly (I know, priests teach religion in public school here. It freaked me out, too). First of all, the word 'priest' is really difficult in Polish and I could not really refer to the priests as Mr. either. So I began referring to them as the “hot priest” because he was and the “other priest” well, because he wasn't. As offensive as that may sound no one ever questioned who I was talking about when I said the 'hot priest'.

Speaking of priests, in the same town one priest made a big decision to leave the priesthood, marry a parishioner and stay to raise his family in the same town. He is still active in the church but is referred to by many as 'priest' or 'father' which is not that big of a deal except that his wife is called “Mrs. Priest”' and his kids “the priest's son” and “the priest's daughter”.

I know that I'm not immune from falling victim of the name game. Once while visiting the doctor for the first time, I asked the doctor what was written on my chart. It was a series of letters which I could not string together in any language to spell an actual word, something like rpkstilwk. She informed me that it was my name. Interesting, especially since I can spell my name in Polish perfectly. Even more interesting was that the doctor's last name had a double meaning in Polish (Dr. Laska) meaning Dr. Cane and in the second meaning something like Dr. Hot Stuff.

I'm often referred to in various forms of the Polish name Krystyna or a very Polish pronunciation of my name which sounds like you've got something stuck in your throat-Hhhhhhrrrreeeees (Ch in Polish is a hard H sound). Once at a cafeteria where I had lunch once a week, the cashier couldn't change my 100 zloty bank note but she told me that I could pay the following week. I gave her my name and the next week when I wanted to pay they couldn't find my tab on the list. I took the list and found the amount next to the note “that American girl” which is way better than “that English girl”, “that foreign girl” or strangely enough once “that German girl”. For many I have joined the realm of the one-name, mega-stars such as Madonna or Doda. At my hairdresser, I am simply Chris. At my dentist too. For many clients and students there is only one Chris. My husband says thank goodness there is only one Chris. His country couldn't handle another one :)


Muszę przyznać że nie jestem dobra jeśli chodzi o nazwiska. Może to jest rodzinny problem. Pamiętam jak moja Babcia patrzyła na nas, wołając każde inne imię oprócz naszego. Mogło tak też być z tego powodu, że miała ośmioro dzieci i kto wie ile wnuków. Mój mąż jednak pamięta nazwiska wszystkich naszych sąsiadów i ich samochody. Więcej niż raz, Misiu powitał kogoś w sklepie, a ja spytałam kto to był. Oczywiście to byli nasi sąsiedzi dwa piętro pod nami.

Tłumaczę moje zapominanie faktem, że mieszkam (dla mnie) zagranicą (tłumaczę sobie dużo moich osobistych wad tym faktem) i te trudne zagraniczne nazwiska po prostu wylatują mi z głowy. Kiedyś powiedziałam grupie studentów, że jeżeli spotkamy się w sklepie oni powinni przypomnieć mi swoje nazwisko zanim nastąpi moja panika i ucieczka. Dwa dni później spotkałam jednego z uczniów. Przyszedł od razu do mnie i powiedział, „Cześć. Jestem Jacek, Pani student.”

W sytuacjach kiedy nie mogę liczyć na czyjąś pomoc, wymyśliłam swój system nazywania który jest bardzo użyteczny tak długo jak zostaje tajemnicą przed tymi których nazywam. Pierwszym odbiorcą albo ofiarą mojego systemu była dziewczyna, która została ochrzczona imienien „fish girl”. Może to nie brzmi ciekawie ale jej ojciec był właścicielem przetwórni śledzi i pasowało mi. Właścicielka naszego sklepu na rogu jest, „Mrs. Shop Lady”. Nasz rzeźnik jest Sławek ale tak naprawdę się nazywa a jego żona to „Mrs. Sławek”, Są też „pizza boys” z pizzerii, „dhl guy”, „flower shop lady” itd. W naszym budynku mamy też „cat lady” i jeszcze Elvis – pomyśl: blond włosy i ogromne pejsy i rozumiesz o co chodzi.

Też są porównania np “short Ada” a “long Ada” tutaj chodzi o długość włosów. Było dwóch księży, którzy pracowali w szkole na wsi tam gdzie pracowałam (Wiem ksiądz prowadzi religie w szkole państwowej w Polsce. Na początku mnie to bardziej przerażało). Po pierwsze, słowo ksiądz po polsku jest strasznie trudne, ale też nie mogłam mówić Pan na księdza. Zostało tylko po angielsku określenie Priest. Jeden został „hot priest” czyli gorący (albo seksowny) ksiądz bo po prostu był gorący, a ten drugi został, no, „ten drugi” ponieważ, no, nie był zbyt gorący. Może to jest obraźliwa uwaga ale nikt nigdy nie spytał o kogo mi chodziło kiedy powiedziałam „hot priest”.

A propos księży, tam na wsi jeden ksiądz (nie ten gorący) zdecydował zrezygnować z duchowieństwa, wziąć ślub z jedną parafianką i zostać tam na wsi, żeby wychować dzieci. Dalej działa w kościele, ale dużo ludzi mówi na niego „ksiądz” albo „ojciec”. To nic wielkiego, ale jego żona jest znana jako żona księdza a jego dzieci jako syn księdza i córka księdza.

Wiem, że sama nie jestem wolna od bycia ofiarą tej zabawy w nazywanie. Kiedyś u lekarza na pierwszej wizycie, spytałam lekarkę, co było napisane na mojej karcie. Była tam seria literek, które w żadnym języku nie układała się w żadne słowa ani nazwisko. To było coś takiego jak rpkstilwk. Lekarka mnie poinformowała, że to było moje nazwisko. Ciekawe - zwłaszcza że umiem przeliterować moje nazwisko po polsku bez trudu. Bardziej ciekawe było nazwisko lekarki – Dr Laska.

Często jestem zwana Krystyną albo bardziej spolszczoną polsku wersją Chris - ch zamiast k, co brzmi jakbyś miał coś w gardle – Hhhhhhrrrreeeees. Kiedyś w barze, gdzie jadałam obiad raz w tygodniu, kasjerka nie mogła rozmienić mi sto złotych. Powiedziała, że mogę zapłacić za tydzień. Podałam jej moje nazwisko i w następnym tygodniu chciałam zapłacić, ale nie mogli znaleźć mojego długu na liście. Podniosłam tę listę i znalazłam mój dług obok uwagi „ta Amerykanka” co i tak jest dużo lepsze niż ta Angielka, ta obca, i raz - dziwnie - ta Niemka. Dla niektórych jestem członkiem tego klubu mega-gwiazd tylko z imieniem jak Madonna, albo Cher, albo Doda. U fryzjera, jestem po prostu Chris. U dentysty też. Dla wielu klientów i studentów jest tylko jedna Chris. Misiu mówi „dzięki bogu”, że jest tylko jedna Chris. Jego kraj nie dałby rady z więcej niż jedną.

Is the Pope Catholic?

Do you know that expression used as a strong affirmative in answer to a question? Question- Hey, you wanna drink? Answer- Is the Pope Catholic? My sister, in search of two confirmed Catholics to be Godparents to her daughter, e-mailed me a few years ago asking if my husband was Catholic. My answer- Is the Pope Polish? How witty, how clever, I thought but she didn’t get it. Apparently, the nationality of the Pope is for many a bit of useless trivia. So, is the Pope Polish? Well, no not anymore. The current Pope, Benedict XVI is German but the Pope at that time was John Paul II, now deceased.

That’s all the Roman Catholic trivia you’re gonna get outta me. Thanks private Catholic school. Yah, they still have that. So you can imagine my surprise when I arrived the first time in Poland, on August 15 to find everything closed for a church holiday. What Catholic holiday is so important that every bloody establishment serving the public and more importantly me, the American tourist, is closed? It is the Assumption of Mary. Don’t worry, I didn’t know either.

It’s a church holiday and a national holiday. Everything is closed and people do not got to work. You’d imagine that everyone was devoutly observing the day in some pious manner, but in fact it is not the case. Most people try to combine this day off with some vacation days and a weekend to make the ever-popular “long weekend”. Polish people are really talented at taking a free Wednesday and magically transforming it into a weekend. You should see what they can do with a bottle of vodka, a loaf of bread and a jar of pickles.

This August some people have plans to watch the assumption of another Madonna, of the pop star variety. It is so controversial, the deliciously raunchy Madonna having a concert on the Holy Mother’s special day. One thing though, nobody really cares except a few ultra-Catholics. Even my mother-in-law doesn’t care and she has a picture of the late John Paul II on the wall. Don’t believe the hype!http:///

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I wanna be a cowboy - Chcę być kowbojem

I used to want to be a cowboy. Now I’m an English Instructor. What happened?

Well actually, first I wanted to be a fireman. No PC bull for me. I didn’t want to be a firefighter. I wanted to be a fireMAN. From my point of view, it was a great job. You could sit at the firehouse all day, play cards, drink Coke straight out of the bottle and you got to have your own dog. That was the life for me. I knew where I wanted to work too- at the old Firehall which was behind our house. Sitting in my sandbox in the backyard, I could talk to the firemen and even enjoy a bottle of Coke offered by them. And let’s not forget the packs and packs of tickets they gave us for the fireman's fair. There was only one problem - Thursdays at 7 pm when they checked the fire sirens. Once sitting in my sandbox I was startled so much by the sirens that I wet my pants.

Then I thought that if the fireman thing didn’t work out, I would be a cowboy. I could ride around on my horse, shoot some injuns (whatever they were) and rustle up some grub (whatever that meant). Being a cowboy lost some of its mystique when my mother explained that being a cowboy is a real job with cows (who knew?) and there wouldn’t be too many visits to the saloon and I wouldn’t get to shoot anybody. Bummer.

Cowboy Lizzie!

My next idea came to me in the 1st grade at Catholic school. I decided that I would be a nun - independent ladies with their own jobs and their own money. I changed my mind when visiting the convent and one of the sisters showed us her picture from the day she became a nun. She was wearing a wedding dress. Even at that age, it struck me that something wasn’t quite right and I gave up that idea quickly.

In high school, I decided that I wanted to be a pharmacist based on nothing else other than I thought it would be a cool job. My chemistry teacher, who had also been my mother’s chemistry teacher, informed me that not only should pharmacists be good at chemistry (I wasn’t particularly) but they should also enjoy it (also not particularly).

At university I settled on secondary Social Studies Teacher because I had read in Newsweek or some other magazine that there was a serious shortage of said teachers. I did not consider however that all other college students might too choose this career path and, thus I graduated with a 3.9 GPA and a mad fight to find employment. Not that I didn't have interviews and even offers but not for the exciting job that I was sure was waiting for me in the field of social studies. I now know that there are practically no exciting jobs in the field of social studies but hey, I was young and naive.

Keeping in mind that I was young and naive, I decided a year abroad was the key to a killer CV. But where? The Peace Corps was out because they would not guarantee that they would not send me to someplace like Vladivostok. I had an offer in Taiwan to teach "American Culture" but China seemed so, I don't know, foreign. When a chance to teach in Poland dropped in my lap at the last minute, I decided what the heck. When you work at the mall as a student, it's cool. You are a student who works at the mall, but I had a diploma so I just worked at the mall which is not too cool as it turns out.

So despite my total lack of knowledge about Poland, Polish language and teaching English as a second language, I got on a plane about 10 years ago and hoped that it would all work out somehow. I had no idea that it would work out as it has and that I would still be here all these years later.

Chcę być kowbojem

Kiedyś chciałam być kowbojem. Teraz jestem nauczycielką angielskiego. Co się stało?

No więc tak naprawdę chciałam być strażakiem czyli a fireman. Bez żadnej politycznej poprawności. Nie chciałam być firefighter ani strażaczka tylko fireMAN. Z mojego punktu widzenia to była super praca. Możesz siedzieć cały dzień na posterunku, grać w karty, pić Coca-colę prosto z butelki i jeszcze - możesz mieć swojego własnego psa! To było życie dla mnie. Nawet wiedziałam, gdzie chcę pracować – w Starej remizie (Firehall) za naszym starym domem. Siedząc w piaskownicy w ogródku, mogłam rozmawiać ze strażakami którzy częstowali mnie colą. Nie zapomnijmy o mnóstwie biletów, które oni dali nam na festyn strażacki. Był tylko jeden problem – w czwartki o godzinie 19:00, kiedy sprawdzali jak działają syreny. Raz siedząc w piaskownicy, tak mnie przestraszyła syrena, że się zsikałam.

Potem myślałam że jeżeli życie strażackie mi nie odpowiada, mogłabym zostać kowbojem. Mogłabym jeździć na swoim koniu, ustrzelić jakiegoś indiana (kimkolwiek oni byli), zdobyć prowiant (cokolwiek to znaczyło). Bycie kowbojem straciło troszeczkę ze swojej tajemniczości, kiedy moja mama wytłumaczyła mi, że to jest prawdziwa praca z krowami (kto wiedział?) i że nie będzie okazji, żeby chodzić do saloon-u na whiskey, a najgorsze – że nie będę w ogóle do nikogo strzelać. Szkoda.

Następny pomysł pojawił się w 1 klasie katolickiej szkoły podstawowej . Postanowiłam, że będę zakonnicą – niezależną kobietą, która ma pracę i swoje własne pieniądze. Zmieniłam zdanie, kiedy odwiedzając zakon jedna z sióstr pokazała nam zdjęcie z dnia kiedy została zakonnicą (święcenie?). Miała na sobie białą ślubną sukienkę. Mimo mojego wieku – coś mnie w tym uderzyło – coś było nie w porządku i szybko porzuciłam ten pomysł.

W szkole średniej postanowiłam, że chcę być farmaceutą – decyzja podjęta w oparciu o nic innego tylko to, że będzie to świetna praca. Mój nauczyciel chemii, który był też nauczycielem chemii mojej mamy, poinformował mnie, że aptekarze powinni być nie tylko dobrzy z chemii ( ja szczególnie nie byłam) ale powinni też lubić chemię (ja jakoś nieszczególnie).

Na studiach specjalizowałam się w nauczaniu wiedzy o społeczeństwie w szkole średniej ponieważ wyczytałam w Newsweek-u, że poważnie brakuje nauczycieli WOS-u. Nie wzięłam pod uwagę tego jednak, że wszyscy inni studenci też mogli wybrać taka ścieżkę kariery – i tak skończyłam studia ze średnią 3.9 GPA (3.9 z 4.0) i szaleńczą walką o zatrudnienie. Ależ miałam rozmowy kwalifikacyjne, a nawet oferty pracy, ale żadne tam ekscytujące stanowiska, które – byłam tego pewna - czekały na mnie w WOS-ie. Teraz wiem, że praktycznie nie ma ekscytujących stanowisk na polu wiedzy o społeczeństwie, ale – hej! byłam przecież młoda i naiwna.

A propos – młoda i naiwna - postanowiłam, że rok za granicą to będzie klucz do zabójczego CV. Ale gdzie? Korpus Pokoju nie wchodził w grę, bo nie gwarantowali, że nie wyląduję na przykład we Władywostoku. Miałam ofertę z Tajwanu, żeby uczyć tam ‘’Amerykańskiej Kultury’’ ale Chiny wydawały się takie – sama nie wiem – zagraniczne. Kiedy pojawiła się tak szansa LAST MINUTE żeby uczyć w Polsce, zdecydowałam – a niech to! Kiedy pracujesz w centrum handlowym jako student jest to fajne. Jesteś studentką, która pracuję w centrum handlowym, ale teraz miałam już dyplom, więc po prostu pracowałam w centrum a to już nie było zbyt fajne.

Tak więc pomimo totalnego braku wiedzy o Polsce, języku i nauczaniu angielskiego w innym kraju, wsiadłam w samolot około 10 lat temu z nadzieją, że jakoś to będzie. Nie miałam pojęcia, że wyjdzie tak jak wyszło i że ciągle będę tu tyle lat później.