Saturday, October 31, 2009

Marketing victim

glodWhen I first came to Poland, I was like a blank slate for the Polish advertising industry. The Knorr Chef (do you remember that?), mały głód, the Delma butter guy were all unknown to me.

Excluding the few (then) foreign brands at the stores, I had never heard of or seen any of these product brands fresh before. It was all so exciting. Morning Fresh, Bakoma, Blend-a-med, Żywiec, Wedel, Vizir. Which ones to choose?

Of course, when I could find a brand that I knew, I usually chose that one over the others. I remember trying to buy Colgate toothpaste in the small town where I was teaching. I was a regular (a regular pain , I think) at the shops near my “home away from home” at PZU. The ladies at the store knew that I couldn’t speak the language and did their best to accommodate me. I did my best to accommodate them by not doing my shopping during rush hour thus blocking the whole line and driving impatient customers to the competitor. Through a series of pointing and nodding and later speaking, pointing and nodding, I was able to get what I needed, more or less. That was not the case with my Colgate toothpaste. I had learned how to say toothpaste - pasta do zębów - and now I just needed to add the brand, Colgate. I tried and it didn’t get me anything. The shop assistant asked me ,“Która?” (which one). I replied, “Colgate”. “Która?” she asked again. I tried a new tactic and said, “Tsoul-gat-eh” a Polish phonetic pronunciation of the letters which make up the word Colgate. Bingo! I got my toothpaste, paid my money, proudly exited the store and realized I had forgotten to buy toilet paper which I was out of thanks to sharing my bathroom with all the folks of PZU.

Drink a lot tea(usually mine) = make a lot of visits to the loo = use a lot of toilet paper (also mine).

Speaking of toilet paper, I had found my new favorite in Poland and I always bought the same one back then. It was yellow with butterflies on it. I don’t know what brand it was because it was sold by the individual roll (unwrapped), but I remember that it was more than 3 times more expensive than the cheapest roll. The cheapest roll resembled party streamers and was an unhealthy gray color. The gray TP also had that kind of stretchy quality that party streamers have. One of my students informed me, “We know what kind of toilet you buy. The most expensive one with… (pause for a consult with the dictionary) …butterflies on it.” What could I say to that?

Over the year, I grew fond of Polish mustard, Polish sweets by Wedel back when Wedel was still owned by Wedel, Polish yogurt, Polish pickles…Wait, about the pickles. I thought that Krakus brand “Polish” pickles were the be-all and end-all of pickles until I discovered ogórki kiszone which are well kiszone and so good.

dosiaWhen I had to buy washing powder, I became a true marketing victim. I was influenced by the overwhelming marketing campaign of Dosia. Dosia will get your clothes the cleanest whilst leaving a bit of change in your pocket. Not an exactly untrue claim, but I quickly changed to Vizir. Dosia was cheap, that is true and your clothes were clean, so clean that they were damaged. No thanks Dosia. You won’t get me again.

PS Later when I worked for an American company, we used to get updates from the American Embassy in Warsaw. These updates included data about crime in Poland, new tax regulations, things we should look out for and the most important one-the introduction of American products onto the Polish market. I remember one report which warned about a popular (as was reported by the American Embassy) Polish brand children’s toothpaste which not only contained no fluoride but also contained sugar. Cool for kids, not so cool for their teeth.

PS2 I also remember an advertising campaign for milk, I think it was Łaciate that was a kind of lottery. You won if you opened your milk carton and found water instead of milk. Gotta say, I’d be pretty P.O.-ed if I was preparing my kids kasza manna (Cream of Wheat) in the morning with the last carton of milk only to discover that it was water.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The first time I met Misiu

Do you remember the first time you met your spouse? I do. I was sitting in my room at PZU writing a shopping list in Polish and trying to learn how to pronounce the words before going out.

My shopping list looked something like this:cukier

chleb – hlep (bread)

herbata – hair-bought-a (tea)

mleko – mlake-0 (milk)

masło – mass-wo (butter)masło

ser – sair (cheese)

cukier – tsook-air (sugar)

Don’t judge me. It was my second day in Poland.

Then my intercom rang and somebody said, “Rebecca? I’m a teacher from school”. I was so excited that I didn’t even tell him my name was not Rebecca. I went out on the landing to see who it was and I heard heavy foot steps climbing the stairs. Then as a head appeared, I said hi and this guy, my Misiu turned around, looking up from the stairs as I looked down and said hi back. I remember what he was wearing – green/grey Levi’s trousers, a t-shirt, black shoes and a black belt. It was August and he was also very suntanned. Sounds romantic but it actually was not because the next thing I said was, “Do you speak English?” Misiu replied, “Yes,” and I said, “Great. We’re going shopping. By the way, I’m not Rebecca.”

Who would have thought we would end up together?

By the way, Rebecca was a teacher who was supposed to come to “my” school. She got ill at the last minute, and I came in her place.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Feeling pretty Polish

I’m feeling pretty Polish today. I went shopping for Lizzie’s pre-school wyprawka / supplies. She needs more stuff for pre-school than I needed for university. Our closest supermarket, Carrefour, was out of half the stuff I needed which led me to believe that the other moms have already done their shopping. Of course, they have. It is almost November and all the other schools have already started their school year. We haven’t started yet because our school was still being built.

Lizzie’s school supply list:

  • crayons scissors
  • safety scissors
  • poster paint (12 colors) and paint brushes
  • paper – a drawing pad, a “technical” pad, a pack of colored construction paper, 6 different colors of tissue paper, a pack of copy paper
  • a box of tissues
  • a glue stick and a tube of glue
  • a sack for extra clothes called worek
  • slippers (a must in Polish schools)
  • a pillow, pillowcase and sheets and pajamas

I bought only the sack/worek and the pajamas, got fed up and came home to cook dinner.


I continued to feel pretty Polish as I talked to my neighbor and complained about the cost of the wyprawka. Complaining is kind of a Polish specialty but that doesn’t make what I was complaining about any less true.

Then I cooked dinner, one dish being smażona kapusta, fried cabbage which has completed my Polishness for today. Oh, and one more thing, we are going to watch our Bolek and Lolek DVD in a minute.bol lol

RECIPE Kapusta smażona / Fried cabbage Image011

This is how to make smażona kapusta according to my mother-in-law, hence the lack of exact amounts. Finely chop a head of cabbage. Keep in mind that a head of cabbage in Poland is about the size of an inflatable beach ball so that is a lot. My mother-in-law suggests steaming or even boiling it a bit especially if it is not young cabbage. Fry a chopped onion and add it to the steamed/boiled cabbage (drained too). Add butter (my m-i-l adds about a cup or more, she’s not on a diet), salt, pepper, a tablespoon of good vinegar, a couple of tablespoons of sugar and some dill (optional). Sometimes she also makes it with fried bacon or sausage. Cook/fry it until the cabbage is soft and your house totally stinks ;)



My arrival to Poland was a big deal for me. It was the start of a new chapter in my life. My grown-up chapter. Not that I hadn’t been living as an adult already, but it seemed more real than before. Maybe because if I screwed up there was no one to bail me out, not that I couldn’t ask my parents to bail me out of a sticky situation, but it’d be pretty difficult with the ocean and all between us.

My parents spent most of my childhood teaching me (and my sister) how to be independent and self-reliant. They had always taught me that I could do anything I wanted to do and be anybody I wanted to be and that everything I needed to achieve my goals, I had inside me. They had also always told me that I had to go to college and I had to get a job. And I did just that after graduating from high school. (My sister did the same and left home for good at 20.) So when university graduation rolled around, I couldn’t bear the thought that I’d soon be a cliché - a college graduate working at the mall and living at home with her parents. Also my manager didn’t take too kindly to my farewell statement to our customers, “Thank you for shopping with us and please come again. I’m 22 years old, have a 3.9 GPA and need a real job. Call me.” I was also pretty sure that my parents didn’t want me sponging off of them either. I mean they had been pushing me out for so long, I thought I had to go somewhere, anywhere.

I didn’t expect to make a big splash in the small town in Poland where I had been sent to teach, but I thought that at least maybe somebody might notice that I had arrived. An English/German teacher from the school had been sent to the airport to pick me up and deliver me to my apartment (ha, ha, ha) and show me around. Except she didn’t. I mean she picked me up and delivered me to my apartment (ha, ha, ha). Then she took me to a shopschool where I bought a few things. She brought me back to my new home and pointed to the school which could be seen through the window a block or two away and told me that I should show up there for the first day of school which was in about 2 weeks. She commented on how dirty my apartment (ha, ha, ha) was running her finger along the top of my dirty fridge, gave me a cup, plate, spoon, fork and pot from her home (that was very nice of her) and left. I was alone and pretty scared.

I mean being alone wasn’t scary. I like myself and I enjoy my own company but being in this apartment (ha, ha, ha) in a foreign country where I didn’t know a soul, I had never sofa bed 3felt more alone in my life. I decided to try to unpack and go straight to sleep. I mean, everything looks better in the morning, doesn’t it? I looked at the piece of furniture in my room which I supposed was to be my sofa/bed for the next year. I had been provided with a comforter, pillow and bed sheets which seemed to be hermetically sealed together and quite possibly starched. I somehow sofa bed 2unsealed them and got the pillow inside the pillow case and the comforter inside the cover. Then I looked again at my sofa/bed. How to get it to the flat position? I tried everything I could think of to get this thing in the flat position and finally gave sofa bed1up, sleeping on it as a sofa. I was just too tired. Later, I was quite amused to find out that this kind of sofa bed is called an Amerykanka (an American). I was also amused to find out that the local pizzeria’s “American” pizza had hard-boiled eggs and corn as toppings. I only confirmed for them that this was the right direction by ordering it every time I went there.

Anyhow, the next morning I decided to hit the town. I was terribly afraid of getting lost. Now that I know this small town very well, it is kind of funny to remember my fear, but I really was scared. churchI lived near an old church with a tall steeple and I used it as my point of reference. I walked 15 minutes in one direction and then walked directly back to the church. From the church, I walked 15 minutes in the other direction and then straight back to the church. After a couple of hours of that game, I was right bored and tired. I went home think what I was going to do with myself for the next 2 weeks.

As I left my apartment (ha, ha, ha) that morning, I did find it strange that I only had a key to lock my room, not the main door to my apartment (ha, ha, ha). My apartment (in my view) consisted of a room, a kitchen, a bathroom and a hallway/foyer. So to be clear, I could lock the door to my room but not the door from my foyer to the main hallway. When I got back from my excursion, I learned why.

pzuI lived in an office building, PZU to be exact. (PZU is one of the largest Polish insurance providers) Are you jealous? “My” kitchen wasn’t mine. It was for everyone working at PZU. “My” bathroom wasn’t mine, either. It was the bathroom for all of PZU. But as I said above, the floor plan was like that of a small apartment so it was strange to find people congregating in what was for me my foyer, right outside my living room/bedroom door. There was nothing I could do about it, so I decided to suck it up. I went to my door, unlocked it with my skeleton key went inside and waited for everyone to go home. Luckily for me, Polish people who work at PZU like to go home from work on time, so I didn’t have any problems with stragglers in the evening. I did learn that right below me, the building’s maintenance man and his family lived, so I was not completely alone (except when they went on holiday for Christmas and left the building with no heat - Merry Christmas!).

That evening I decided to explore the building. I left my room with a flashlight and a dictionary. I didn’t even lock my door or turn off the light in my room. Who was going to go in there? I wandered the halls of PZU translating what I could find written on the doors. I found the conference room, the president’s office, and the accounting department. Later, I would discover that some people don’t lock their office doors at night and also that my skeleton key fit all the rooms on the top floor. As I wandered back to my room (downgraded from apartment, ha, ha, ha) I decided to check for sure what it said on the doors there. Sure enough on the kitchen, it said kuchnia and on the bathroom it said łazienka. On my room, it said archiwum. Archiwum? What’s that? It can’t be? No, it couldn’t be. It was. My room was the Archives room. binders They simple moved out the archives and moved in the American girl. That would explain later why PZU employees often burst into my room carrying some binders to be filed and left surprised to find me there.

PS What can you fit in an archives room? Well, I don’t know about your archives room but mine had a sofa/bed, a wardrobe, a table and two chairs, a night table, a small lamp and an old radio. All the luxury you could want in 9 square meters.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gówno, one of the charms of village life

Ah, the charms of village life. Fresh air, fresh food, what more could you ask for? How about a movie theater and a cappuccino? As I have menti09262009(004)oned before in another post, we are crammed into our microscopic apartment during the week in order to be closer to work and the above-mentioned cappuccinos. On weekends and holidays, we escape to our dacha in the village to soak up the charms of village life, to play in the yard, as Lizzie says “our outside”, to get dirty and to relax.

Image026 (640x452)our outside

Now that my neighbors have tired of all the Lucy references (see my post about Ranczo), we can talk about other hot village topics such as lost chickens, kto siedzi (who’s in prison, translated as who is sitting) and whose fence is 5 centimeters too far on our land. Our village neighbors are generous and will share with you anything that they have, whether you want it or not. How many times have I had to drink coffee and eat bigos and cake at my neighbor’s after already stuffing myself at my mother-in-law’s.

Image000 (640x480)

Here’s a little background of our street in the Village. On our street, there are 4 original houses on one side. House #1 includes the Village shop and the owner’s house. House #2 belongs to the farmer who farms our land. House #3 belongs to our next door neighbors an elderly couple. Then there is us, House #4, as the last house on a dead-end road. Houses #2, #3 and #4 were identical red bricks when they were built. After our house, there is only our land and then our neighbor’s land all the way to the forest. We have the benefit of nosy neighbors keeping an eye on our house from one side and an excellent unobscured view from the other side.

I’m always up for an adventure so when Mrs. Farmer from House #2 invited us to dig some ecological (read: covered in potato bugs) potatoes from their land, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to teach Lizzie where potatoes come from not to mention that all the digging would be done by Misiu.

I took Rosie in my arms. Misiu took Lizzie and Mrs. Farmer took her granddaughter and some tater diggin’ tools of some kind. The kids were so excited to dig and get dirty. They were laughing and happily throwing big, dirty potatoes into our buckets until Lizzie happened upon a rotten one and screamed, “Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh! Wash it off!!!”. I should mention that thanks to our very spic and span nanny, Lizzie has a bit of a dirt phobia. I have been working on it by encouraging her to mix gooey stuff with her hands and by sometimes brutally squishing raspberries in her fingers and then rubbing them on her face and clothes. I know, what would “Supernanny” Dorota Zawadzka say? ( I love her, by the way) The farmer’s granddaughter said, “Nie martw się. Ja też mam ręce jak gówno. (Don’t worry. My hands are like gówno, too.) To which Lizzie began screaming even more. We went back home to wash up. Lizzie was worried that her hands still smelled like gówno. I asked, “Do you know what gówno is?” Lizzie’s answer, “No, Mommy. Do you know what gówno is?” I pretended that I did not and said that we should ask Daddy. Hey, I’m gonna have to explain menstruation twice. Let him explain gówno.

All washed up, we began walking down the street to Mrs. Farmer’s as her granddaughter had invited Lizzie to play. We entered their yard only to be assaulted with a horrible stench. Mrs. Farmer keeps chicken, ducks, and geese which is really cool but she keeps them in her main yard…and she doesn’t clean up after them.

Image006 (640x475)

You can’t see it, but trust me it is there.

The mess from those birds was thick and deep and everywhere and in the middle of that Mrs. Farmer was preparing a BBQ and her granddaughter was playing. I couldn’t put Rosie down anywhere and dirt-a-phobe Lizzie almost had an aneurysm. Misiu informed Mrs. Farmer that we had just come to say that we couldn’t accept the invitation because we had to go to grandma’s for dinner. Lizzie was disappointed not to get to play but relieved to get out of the mess. “Mommy what was so stinky everywhere?” she asked. I told her, “That was gówno”. “Is gówno the same as poo-poo, Mommy?” she asked. “Yes, it is,” I replied. “Eeeewww,” she squealed. Eeeew indeed!

I have more Eeew inspiring stories about my neighbor but I’ll save them for later.

PS Mrs Farmer has a habit of parking her cow right in front of our house (but outside the fence). The result of this cow-parking is often steaming cow pies lining the road in front of our house. While I look at that as a negative, some view this as a positive - a free cow pie. My next door neighbor asked me tentatively if she could have the cow pies. I said that she could but that she had to get them herself. I felt bad especially that she is about 75 years old but I was about 8 months pregnant at the time and had opened the car door and put my foot smack in the middle of a fresh pie. Our neighbor was really happy with her free cow pies which she promptly dug into her garden as fertilizer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ladies of Poland…

…of America, of the world – go to the doctor! I am starting my own campaign to encourage the women I know to go to the gynecologist once a year for a pelvic exam, a pap smear and a breast exam. That’s it. That’s all I want from you.

There has been a lot of talk in the media reminding ladies to go to the gynecologist and get checked out. The topic comes up periodically in the Polish media and then everyone forgets all about it. I usually forget all about it too. Why? Because it doesn’t apply to me. I go to the gynecologist once a year. Why? Because I have been taught since I was a teenager that I have to go to the gynecologist once a year. I don’t even think about it. I write it in my calendar and a month or two before, I call and make an appointment. I show up for my appointment, get examined, pay (if I’m going private) and go home. A week or two later, the doctor calls to tell me the result of my pap smear and that’s about it until the next year unless I have some medical problems, need a prescription or get pregnant ;)

This year, I am not forgetting about it. I can’t. I am going to nag all the pink ribbonwomen I know until they are shamed into going to the doctor. I can’t forget this year because my nephew’s mother-in-law is dying from breast cancer. She’s 50. One year ago, she was dancing at her daughter’s wedding and soon her daughter will be crying at her own mother’s funeral. And why? Because the last time she went to the doctor was after giving birth to her now adult son, and when she found something in her breast, she was too busy planning her daughter’s wedding to even go to the doctor.

According to a recent article I read (Seks i Antykoncepcja – Polki 2009), 40% of the women who live in bigger cities go to the gynecologist regularly. I thought that percent was pretty pathetic until I read the next statistic. 2% of women in the countryside go to the gynecologist regularly. The reasons given by the women for not going (according to the article) are many. They are ashamed to go, some citing unpleasant visits in the past. Others feel that regular visits are unnecessary, that doctors visits are for when you are ill not when you feel healthy. Some claimed that they cannot afford to go to a private doctor and the wait for an appointment with a public doctor is too long. Others say that they don’t know a good doctor and the rest admitted that they don’t have a good reason why they don’t go.

I have a mission. To get my mother-in-law to go the gynecologist. Her last visit was 35 years ago. We managed to persuade her last year to get a mammogram on the pink bus. Luckily, the pink bus caught her on the way in to Biedronka ‘cause if they had caught her on the way out, she probably wouldn’t have got on and been examined. Unfortunately, that exam only confirmed for her the idea that if you go to the doctor, the doctor will find something. They found something in her breast which later turned out to be nothing, just a left-over from a bout of mastitis she had had years ago.

mammografia_2 This is just one of the pink buses that offers free gynecological exams

I asked my gynecologist about it and he agrees that the phenomenon described in the article does exist. He also suggested that some Polish women are prudish about a doctor seeing them naked. The strangest part is that after a pelvic exam, according to my doctor, some women do not want to remove their bra for a breast exam. I’d much rather expose the breast area than the pelvic area, wouldn’t you?

How am I going to get my mother-in-law to the doctor? That part I haven’t figured out yet. I’ve already tried the logical approach, explaining the benefits of preventative medicine, etc. She totally agreed with us and sent my father-in-law for a week’s stay in the hospital to get a comprehensive physical. We’ve tried yelling at her which ended in tears (hers) but she didn’t budge. We’ve tried the emotional angle explaining how we don’t want to lose her and…nothing. We even tried to work on her guilty conscience. What would happen to “father” without her?…and nothing. We thought for sure that witnessing the pain surrounding the illness of her grandson’s mother-in-law would certainly have an effect on her if at least out of pity for all of us but…nothing. Her defense –My pension is too little for a doctor’s visit. Our response- We will pay for it or you can go to the same doctor publicly. Her defense – You have to wait 6 months for a visit. Our response – 6 months is sooner than never! Her defense – You have to die of something. We don’t have a response for that one.

I think the best method is going to be just making her an appointment and driving her there. We’ll have to do it like we’re taking the dog to the vet. Don’t actually say the word “doctor'” so she won’t suspect where we are going and promise her a treat at the end. I hope it works.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sto lat, sto lat

My birthday is coming up. I had forgotten all about it because I have a lot on my plate right now. Also, for most of the year while at doctor’s visits or any other place where it is necessary to state your age, I am already 36. I count my age to the day. That means that the day before my birthday I am 35 and on my birthday I am 36. In Poland, people often count their age by the calendar year. So in Poland, I’m somehow 36 all year, subtracting the year of my birth from the calendar year. I like my method better.

I was reminded that my birthday is coming up by the two people who never forget - my parents. I think my parents alone are keeping the Hallmark card industry afloat. For every occasion, special or not, we get a card (a real card, I mean a paper one, not an electronic one) in the mail. We get birthday cards, Halloween cards, Christmas cards, Valentine’s Day cards, Easter cards, Independence Day cards and also the “just because we love you” cards. Misiu was amused by the cards that my parents started to send after we got married. The titles changed from “To our beloved daughter” to “To our beloved daughter and son-in-law”. Now that we have children, they each get their own cards too which is a cool thing for my parents to do because kids love to get their own mail.

My parents send pretty emotionally deep cards, none of the jokey, funny ones except maybe on Halloween. Actually, I should say that my father sends them because I know that he is the one who goes to the store and pores over the cards until he finds the one that is just right. One time he even sent me the same birthday card two years in a row. I won’t bore you with the whole text from this year’s b-day card, but it is a real tear-jerke10102009r. This from the man who never says “I love you” but instead “we love you”. This from the man who has never asked me how I was not even when I was pregnant or after I came home from the hospital. Sometimes, I wonder if my father actually reads the cards and if the sentiment is sincere. I mean they are deep and kind of mushy. Is that what he is really trying to tell me or did he just pick up the first pink/daughter/ birthday card he could find at the store. I would say yes, but I observed my father picking out a card for my mother once. I think he read about 20 before he decided on the one that he wanted, the sappiest, sweetest, mushiest card that Hallmark makes. It’s his way of letting us know how he feels, I guess.

I suppose that when I was little my parents hugged and kissed me and told me that they loved me. I can only suppose because I cannot remember ever having been hugged or kissed by them as a child or being told that I was loved. As a teen and a young adult, I carried a lot of resentment over that fact especially when one of my friends spent the night at my house and called her mother to say goodnight and ended the call with “I love you, too”. Whoa, other people’s parents really do tell their kids that they love them, not just the families on TV.

Even after growing up and moving to Poland, I still harbored a deep anger over the lack of “I love you’s” in our relationship. Until one day, when I decided to look at it from my parents’ point of view. Maybe they just got out of the habit of hugging and kissing me and my sister. I know from experience that to get a hug and kiss out of Lizzie I almost have to pay her for it. Then maybe later when they wanted to hug and kiss us and tell us that they loved us, they felt uncomfortable even attempting it after such a long time. Maybe they were afraid of my and my sister’s reaction, afraid that we would reject them. I mean that has to be the explanation. The only other explanation would be that they don’t love us and I know that is just not possible.

I devised a plan to get my parents to tell me that they loved me. My ingenuous plan: I would say it first. What’s the worst thing that could happen? They wouldn’t say it back? And so what? They already didn’t tell me so what difference would it make? I did it. I told them on the phone (I didn’t really have a choice about that with the different country thing and all) at the end of the conversation after the “I’ll talk to you later” and before the “good-bye”. There was a short pause as I waited to hear something from them (my parents talk to me together, at the same time on different phones in different rooms) For a second, I thought that either they hadn’t heard me or that they had dropped dead from shock. In unison, they responded. My mother with “I love you, too” and my father with “we love you”, his now standard response.

The real test came the next time I visited my parents in the US. As my sister and I headed out the door to hit the mall, I shot my parents a quick “See you later. I love you. Bye” to which they responded “Love you, too. Bye”. Ok, it could have been construed as “Love you (both), too. Bye.” but my sister didn’t see it that way and complained all the way to the mall about how my parents were the worst parents in the world because they never told her that they loved her. My suggestion to try out my method and tell them first didn’t sink in. My analysis that her new swimming pool and deck paid for by my parents qualified them as some of the best parents in the world and that it is their way of saying that they loved her also didn’t sink it. My sister is a pretty scary force to be reckoned with and I suggested that our parents might be afraid to tell her and that didn’t sink in either. So that’s where we left it. I get the sappy cards and the I love you’s and my sister gets the new cars and the swimming pools. Kind of sad, isn’t it?

PS Misiu’s parents never told him that they love him either. Misiu says that despite that fact he is sure that they love him. While there are no new cars or swimming pools given to him by his parents, there are a lot of pierogi and cheesecakes waiting for us whenever we visit . What says “I love you” more that homemade pierogi and cheesecake?

How do you tell your parents that you love them?

Thursday, October 8, 2009


My apartment contains a very strange mix of furniture. I’ve got a lot of “Swedish” furniture, so much so that one of my friends, seeing a picture of my apartment, asked if we lived in IKEA. I have a few pieces of second-hand Bodzio furniture that I painted for the kids. (If you don’t know what Bodzio furniture is, consider yourself lucky. If you do, then let’s send our props to Bogdan Szewczyk and the furniture manufacturing haven of Twardogóra/Goszcz.) I also have a few (that means 2) antique pieces. Misiu says that they are not really antique. The furniture is more than a hundred years old and I bought it in an antique shop. That’s antique enough for me.

My absolute favorite piece of furniture is our wardrobe. When I spotted it at the antique shop, I couldn’t resist 10072009touching it, stroking it actually. Then the saleslady opened up the wardrobe to show me the inside where she revealed a secret compartment. I was already making up dramatic stories in my mind of previous owners hiding their valuables from the invading Germans, or Russians, or Martians or whomever. I had to have it. I stayed at the antique shop to stand guard over my precious wardrobe as I sent Misiu to the cash machine to get some money for a deposit, pronto!

a top view10072009(002)a close up view 10072009(004)a bottom view 10072009(001)

I cannot tell you where the secret compartment is or what is in it, but wouldn’t you like to know?

Do you have a favorite piece of furniture?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bravo to the city of Görlitz

I’d like to give a Bravo to the German city of Görlitz for standing up to the propaganda of the far right.

The German city of Görlitz is located on the German/Polish border. Across the Neisse River is Görlitz’s twin city, the Polish city of Zgorzelec. Both Poland and Germany are in the European Union, so citizens of both countries are able to travel freely from one country/city to the other or even to reside across the border. In my observation, German people come to the Polish side for services which are cheaper in Poland for example a haircut while Polish folks visit the shops on the German side which are said to have a better selection and better prices than on the Polish side. I’d be lying if I said that this was only difference between these two cities. When traveling from Zgorzelec to Görlitz, I get the distinct impression that I am leaving a poorer city and entering a more affluent one but having said that, things are getting better on the Polish side.

Recently in Germany while the parties were gearing up for elections the NPD, the far right party, hung their controversial party posters not only in Görlitz, but also in other cities of Germany. The posters said, “Stop the Polish invasion!” and showed two black crows stealing Euros. ThPolenis poster not only has an offensive message, it also has old-school style graphics harking back to WW2 Nazi propaganda posters. I don’t think it is by accident. Misiu says that when he looks at these posters he is not disgusted. He thinks it is just the act of some ignorant people. I disagree. Not about it being the work of ignorant people, that I agree with but that it is just the work of some ignorant people. The far right in Germany has more support than you’d suppose especially with younger folks who are having trouble finding their place in today’s society and are looking for someone to blame. Let’s not forget that ignorant people with the support of other ignorant people can do a lot of damage.

On a more practical note, how do Polish people who are entering Görlitz to go to work, to take their children to pre-school, or to go shopping feel when they see the main street lined with these posters? I’d certainly want to take my business elsewhere.

Last week Bernd Lange, the mayor of Görlitz, ordered the NPD to take down the posters as they are in violation of the German constitution which states that all people are equal regardless of their nationality. He stated that these posters are “an affront to human dignity”. When the NPD refused, the mayor had the posters removed and charged the NPD for their removal, citing another case in Germany where such posters were said by the court to be a “public danger”. The NPD disagreed and said that the precedent does not apply in this case and have announced plans to take the issue to court. Görlitz officials have expressed their readiness to fight it out in court if that is what it takes.

Even before the politicians acted to remove the posters, some concerned citizens of Görlitz printed their own posters to hang over those of the NPD. Their posters stated something like “Citizens of Görlitz are open to the world, to foreigners and are against the far right”.

To those who think it is no big deal, just some stupid or harmless posters, we have to think about these posters as the beginning of the NPD’s plan. If you suppose that the NPD has a plan with a final destination, what or where is it? Let’s consider the posters a first step on their journey and extrapolate to 10, 50 or 100 steps down the path. We might see a pretty scary picture and wonder (too late) how we got there.

I have sometimes wondered what I would have done, if I had lived in Poland or in Germany during WW2. Would I have stood up for what was right? I suspect I would have kept my mouth shut at the beginning and then when I finally decided to speak up I would have seen that I was too late, that the fascist mechanism was already in place and I hadn’t done anything to stop it, my lack of protest viewed as tacit approval. Of course, that mechanism doesn’t get set up by itself and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes support to build it often starting with small acts like a few “harmless” posters. I applaud the city of Görlitz, the government officials and the regular people for fighting against the “first steps” of a return to fascism.

PS I remember my first trip to Görlitz. It was with Misiu and it was purely for the fun of a road trip and also for a little shopping. Misiu had been telling me about the great department store in Görlitz. When we got there, my reaction was, “This is it?” The greatness of the department store in Misiu’s mind had come from the comparison of it with what had been available in Poland during PRL. In light of the many brand-spanking new shopping malls in Poland today, it looked pretty pathetic. That didn’t stop me from buying something, however ;)

PS2 Don’t think that Polish people are not afraid of the German invasion. When I bought my house a rumor spread through the village that a German lady had bought the house- that German lady being me. This part of Poland had been Germany before WW2 and my house was built by Germans and I am foreign so I guess I can understand the confusion. As we were enjoying the yard of our new house for the first time, our new neighbor came to the fence and said, “Hey, fess up. Are you German or what?”

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Something about KIELBASA

You’d think that my blog being called Kielbasa Stories, I’d have more posts (or any posts) about the real thing, Polish Kiełbasa. If you slaskaare reading this and you don’t know what kielbasa is, stick around for a moment and I’ll fill you in. Judging from the keyword search analysis I have done on my blog, a lot of people are asking Google what kielbasa is, what the plural form is, how to export it from Poland to the US, if you can eat it when you are pregnant, how to make fruit kielbasa and the rest of the searches are from dirty, dirty buggers looking for some kind of perverted pornography. Yes, I know who you are.

What is kielbasa?

It is basically sausage and in this case Polish sausage usually made from pork or some pork and beef combination. There are so many different kinds of sausage that I will try to do a brief run-down later in this post.

What is the plural form of kielbasa?

The plural form of kielbasa would be kielbasy following Polish rules. If you are using the word kielbasa as an English word then the plural would be kielbasas. I have seen both kielbasy and kielbasas used in English and have also seen kielbasa used as an uncountable noun.

How do you export kielbasa from Poland to the US?

At this moment, I have no idea. Sorry.

Can you eat kielbasa when you are pregnant?

If it is cooked, I cannot see any reason why not except for possible heartburn concerns.

How do you make fruit kielbasa?

I have never heard of it and am wondering what it could possibly be.

Where is the dirty bugger porn connected to the word kielbasa?

At this moment, I have no idea and I’d like to keep it this way.

Some kielbasa stories…

My very first contact with kielbasa would have to be the supermarket in the US. After Misiu saw what we call kielbasa, he said that it doesn’t count. I guess then we have to say that my first real contact with real Polish kielbasa was in Poland and my first contact or contacts were not good ones.

As I have mentioned before, I could not speak Polish when I came to Poland and the town where I lived did not have any self-service shops. Anyhow, the butcher isn’t a self-service kind of a place, so I had to order what I wanted in Polish. My first trip to the butcher was in tandem with my new best friend from the airport. He managed to come from his town to my town by bus and find out where I lived (I didn’t know where I was going to live previously) by asking the 1st person he met on the street where the American teacher might be living. Of course, as it goes in small towns, that person knew how to find me (and could speak English). I was so happy to see my new friend and we hit the town to buy something to eat for lunch. We went to the butcher close to my apartment (ha, ha, ha, apartment, but that’s another post) and we decided to use my friend’s newly learned word, parówka. The Polish folks who are reading this are now protesting that parówki do not qualify as sausages and I completely agree with you. Parówki are hot dogs and who knows what’s in them. Honestly, we didn’t care at that point. We were so hungry and so happy to have said something in Polish and to have received what we wanted. We returned to my apartment (ha, ha, ha) to boil our hot dogs. We even had bread, mustard and tomatoes. What a feast! We started the water to boil in the one pot I had been given by the teacher who dropped me off at my apartment (ha, ha, ha) and then examined the hot dogs. Each parówek (I know that this is the incorrect form, but it is one of my own creations) was individually wrapped with a kind of plasticey-papery wrap. parowki Consternation…should we take off the wrap before or after boiling? It’s not like in America where every package has instructions out the wazoo including pictures and information how not to injure yourself with said parówka. I don’t remember what we decided but either way it was a risk. The parówki turned out great and we were really pleased with ourselves. We were also pleased that we had not blown up the building. I wasn’t used to using the gas stove yet. In fact, the first time I used it I had to go to my neighbor’s and through foreign language charades ask them how it worked. They were rightly scared to death and showed me at least 10 times and made me show them several times as well. I never did blow up the building but I did manage to catch my sweater sleeve on fire once like from one of those fire safety films from school of what not to do while cooking. If you have never had the opportunity to learn about fire safety from one of those films, then please take my advice and do not wear a sweater with oversized cuffs while lighting the gas stove to boil the kettle for tea. Trust me.

That was one of my first days in Poland. There was a whole year of potential sausage confrontations in front of me. I had to learn to order something other than parówki. The next time I visited the butcher’s, I chickened out and ordered chicken filets (filety). Later as I learned more, I was able to specify that I wanted the filets which were next to the sausages, not the ones that were positioned dangerously close to the hairy (yes, hairy) pig legs in the meat case. On another visit, I toughened up. I knew that I had to order sausages today. There was no way around it, but when I saw the long line of people, I chickened out again and went home to eat cornflakes without milk because I had forgotten to buy it and was too lazy to go back out. Finally, I managed to visit the butcher’s when there was nobody there. I was confronted with the amazing choice of kielbasa in front of me. I didn’t know any names of any sausages and I didn’t know any adjectives either to describe what kind of sausage I wanted. I just found the first one that I could pronounce and ordered (who knows why?) a kilo of it!! The kielbasa I had ordered was named after the street of the local slaughterhouse where it was made. It wasn’t very good.

I swore off sausage for awhile, a long while actually because I didn’t return to it until Easter time when my students told me that I had to try biała kiełbasa, white sausage, which is part of the Easter tradition. I had avoided this sausage until then because it looked kind of gross. It’s fat and white and looks like abiała big fat finger cut off of a big fat hand. Even after it is cooked, it still has an unhealthy gray color. White sausage is pretty good but it is raw and you obviously have to cook it first. Not knowing anything about sausages, I sometimes didn’t know what to do with some sausages that I had bought. Were they cooked or smoked already? Should I boil them, bake them, fry them or eat them as is? It was a lot to think about for one American girl.

At Easter time, I was invited to Misiu’s parents for tea. Misiu and I had met at work and I think he felt sorry for me that I had no Easter plans. His mother, my now mother-in-law, is a huge sausage fan but this was tea time so she served tea, coffee and cake. With my Misiu, there is an eating habit between us which I noticed at that tea and it still continues today. When we eat dinner, I eat very slowly and Misiu eats pretty quickly. When we eat something sweet, Misiu takes baby bites and I inhale what I’ve got and start to eye up his portion. It was true on that day as Misiu slowly stirred his coffee and I started in on the cheesecake (sernik, my m-i-l makes the best ever) and apple pie (szarlotka). I took a big bite of one and thought that it tasted a bit funny but who cared, it was cake. I tried the next one and it too had a funny taste, but I was hungry and a guest should never complain. Misiu was practically still stirring his coffee while I had finished two pieces of cake. He finally tucked into his piece. One bite and he screamed, “Mamo!!! You put the cake in the fridge next to the sausages again!” That was the funny taste. It was sausage cheesecake and sausage apple pie.

White sausage even made an appearance years later at my wedding reception. Our wedding reception was held in a traditional restaurant and we chose the “Wild Game” menu. There was a lot of wild pig, hare and sausages. There was even something call bread soup which was a kind of white sour soup (like żurek) with pieces of white sausage and bread in it. There was kaszanka even some kaszanka (black pudding or as some people call them blood sausages) but I said no thanks as I always do to kaszanka, flaki (tripe) and golonka (pork knuckle). To be fair, I have tried them all so I am sure that I don’t like them. At a cousin’s wedding reception, my mother-in-law even separated the meat from the fat of the golonka for me and I still didn’t eat it. It caused a scandal among the guests that I am such an American princess that I won’t even eat the meat cut up for me by my mother-in-law. Add that to the fact that I don’t/won’t/can’t dance and do not drink vodka and I am the most hated Polish wedding reception guest ever.

Although kielbasa is one of the first foods that comes to mind when you think about Polish cuisine, it is not easy to find in a restaurant. In our Polish family, we eat white sausage on Easter. We eat sausage with bread sometimes for breakfast okabanosyr as a snack. I sometimes buy Lizzie a kabanos when we are at the butcher the way some people would buy their kid a lollipop. We use kielbasa in leczo and in bigos (hunter’s stew) and very rarely we cook or grill a large sausage and eat it with mustard and bread. We never order it in a restaurant. We buy our sausage from a butcher that we know and once we even had a pig butchered and split it with my sister-in-law and parents-in-law. When we bought our house, it had a smoke room upstairs and one of my students is so fed up with the quality of meat in the shops that he eats only meat from his own animals and is building a smokehouse next to his garage. If you are desperate to eat some sausage not prepared in your own kitchen, you should look for it in two kinds of restaurants. One would be the road-side restaurant or bar. Another would be a restaurant featuring traditional cuisine- staropolska kuchnia. I tend to judge the quality of the sausage by the price. I know that my system is not perfect and expensive sausage can be awful too but in my experience expensive sausage can be awful or it can be good. Cheap sausage is always awful. If possible when buying check the ingredients list carefully. Some sausages can contain as little as 20% meat. Once I bought my mother-in-law a pretty pricey piece of sausage because I know that she likes good sausage. When she saw the price she exclaimed, “Who is that kind of sausage for!?! For people!?!” My answer which was not verbal, just a kind of look on my face could best be written as !?! If not for people, than who for?

If you are in the category of people and you’d like to try some Polish kiełbasa, here’s a list of just some kinds. In my unscientific research, I have found that sausages with the same name can be made different ways. The same sausage can be smoked or dried or even double-smoked. I thank our local butcher who gave me a lot of information which confused the heck out of me and with the final moral of the story being that every butcher has their own recipes. I have to stop now with the sausages because I have a headache.

Swojska/Domowa/Własnej roboty = homemade

Śląska = Silesian made from pickled meat??? with salt, pepper, garlic, marjoram

Wiejska = country style - smoked, pork, bacon, salt, pepper, garlic, sugar, marjoram

Torunska = Toruń style

Krakowska = Kraków style – smoked, beef/pork, salt, pepper, coriander, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, sweet pepper, a fatter sausage

Jałowcowa = Juniper sausage

Podwawelska = Wawel style - similar to Krakowska but a thinner sausagepodwawelska

Zwyczajna = regular sausage –pork/beef, salt, pepper, sugar, juniper, garlic, allspice

Biała = white sausage – raw, pork, salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, marjoram, parsley

Myśliwska = hunter’s sausage - dried, pork/beef, salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, coriander

Żywiecka = Żywiec style

Szynkowa = “Ham” sausage - thick and good for slicing like a ham

Góralska = mountain style

Grillowa = for the BBQ - usually fattier than other sausages

Kabanos = something like a jerky sausage - thin and dry

Pasztetowa = Liverwurst – often for spreading

Salceson = Headcheese

Mortadela = Bologna

Parówki = hot dogs


tłusta = fatty

chuda = lean

twarda = hard, firm

surowa = raw

gotowana = cooked

sucha = dry

podsuszana = dried

wędzona = smoked

PS I got freaked out once at the meat case when I noticed veal sausages called cielęce and then I noticed another sausage called dziecięce and for a split second I thought the worst. Cielęce=veal sausages meaning made of veal and dziecięce = children’s sausages, made for children not made of children.

PS2 In another visit to the meat case I found not dziecięce but dziecinne, childish sausages :)

PS3 When in NYC, we visit either Mazur Meat Market or Kiszka both located in the Polish district Greenpoint in Brooklyn. The line out the door speaks for itself.

PS4 If you know Polish check out this linkłbasa


Friday, October 2, 2009

Say “chee-eese”!

I hate being photographed. It’s something I got from my Grandmother. She always hid her face with her hand or a well-placed coffee cup or turned away from the camera. She did it every time the camera came out until one holiday when I think she realized it may be our last chance to get a picture of her or with her. I have one great photo of the two of us together, both of us smiling and looking at the camera. When I look at the picture, I remember her smile, her wry sense of humor, her frail body, her fragrance. I’m so grateful to her for that one picture. I loved her so much. As it turned out her feelings were right and that was our last chance. Maybe that’s also why I have pictures of her hanging in my home here in Poland. The pictures are from an earlier age when my Grandma allowed herself to be photographed. Maybe she even liked to be photographed. I can see my Grandma as she was before she had children, her wedding, as a newlywed, as a new mother, marrying off her first born son.
my Grandmother
my Grandfather
(I never met my Grandfather as he died before I was born. . From this picture, I like to imagine him as a romantic gangster. I think it is because of the car.)

I don’t have any pictures of my parents, recent or otherwise. I have asked them on several occasions to send me some so I can show my children who they are and who we are talking to on the phone. I send tons of photos to my parents and to my sister but nobody sends any to me because I am the one who is far away in another country, not them. They don’t realize that they are just as far away for me.
I am the younger sibling, the younger sister. I am the Rosie in the family. My sister has hundreds of photos of her childhood. I have one album. I’d really like to be able to see more of myself as a child now that I am a mother. What I want to see even more than pictures of myself as a child are pictures of my parents as young parents, in the stage of life I am now. I realize looking at my kids pictures that I should turn the camera around sometimes (because, yes, you can go to the seaside or to the zoo or to another country and come back with 500 pictures of your kids smiling faces and nothing else) to show my girls (and myself) what I look like as a young mother.

PS Misiu’s surprised reaction to seeing my and my sister’s baby albums had nothing to do with the amount of photos but the quality. He exclaimed, “Your baby photos are in color!” because his are not.

PS2 I feel that I am a “young mother” despite the fact that the Polish hospital designated me as a mom of advanced maternal age at my first birth at age 32! How dare they?!

PS3 An example of my Grandma’s sense of humor: Once when Misiu first came to the US to meet my family, he wasn’t sure what to make of my family and they were not sure what to make of him. After a trip to the grocery store, Misiu was happy to help us carry the bags in and put the shopping away. Misiu put the milk and cheese in the fridge and the bread in the bread drawer. He didn’t know where to put the cereal boxes so he asked my Grandma what to do with them. She answered, “Bend over,” and escaped to her bedroom laughing her characteristic laugh.

UPDATE 2015 - My parents finally broke down and had professional photos taken, and my children finally got a chance to visit their grandparents. Photos from that session were used recently at my father's funeral.