THERE’S MORE LIKE THIS ON OUR NEW SITE – POLANDIAN.COM
Richard Harradine has been a guest writer on Polandian before. Undeterred by the terrible reviews and the way his old friends just stopped talking to him, he’s back with more!
As someone who has spent most of his adult life in the theatre business from acting to voice over, directing to producing, my company here in Poland trains politicians, businessmen and professional performers to perfect their presenting skills in the English language. So naturally I am what is loosely called a “people watcher”.
For those of you who have taught English here, you must be familiar with the standard… ‘communication is 40% verbal and 60% body language’ and Poland is a great place to observe people.
Now, Brits are famously stand-offish and have a comfort zone of approximately a foot and a half. Any closer and the average resident of the British Isles will murmur, “so sorry” and retreat in direct relation to the encroached space.
Far Eastern people, especially those shoved together by work (the Japanese) or living styles (the Indonesians) seem to be immune to body proximity or treat it as an unavoidable part of the business of living. When I lived in Jakarta, my friend’s grandmother, mother and wife all slept in the same bed with the light on all night. And his house was huge with 8 bedrooms. He had to summon his wife to the matrimonial bed if he wanted to talk to her.
My theory is that if a nation has been forced to live in close proximity to each other either through communism, where families were allotted living space, or perceived threats to family from others, then over time, living space becomes a luxury. And that brings us to the Poles.
Spatial awareness in crowded places is next to zero. I have given up going with my wife to church Christmas, Easter or Pope visiting occasions, owing to having to stand for interminable amounts of time with someone you don’t know lodging under your armpit (I’m tall). I have actually had Polish people jump out of their skins if I execute a fast overtaking motion a la New York streets. They are simply not aware that you are behind them and closing fast.
The same could be said for queues of any sort. I was in a line at the deli counter in some supermarket, and like most Brits kept a person’s space between myself and the person in front, when an old lady pushed between his back and my front to peer at what was on offer. The fact that her face was literally nestling against my trouser crotch fazed her not the slightest bit as she inspected the various hams and sausages.
Now, half the fun of people watching is the promise of eye contact with some delectable Polish lady as you walk the street on a lovely summer’s day. A pleasant smile has led me to many an adventure. Forget it in Poland. I think that Polish girls are taught that eye contact with a strange male is tantamount to sleeping with him. All I can say on the subject is that the girls here either have stiff necks from so much swivelling to avoid hot, lusty male eyes, or learn at a very early age to sail through life without looking at anyone.I would love to hear from any Polish ladies out there on the subject.
I have a 10 year old daughter and she has some strange ideas taught to her by her Polish mother. I asked her recently why she didn’t roller blade in the playground near my flat…
” Because I might get kidnapped” she replied in all seriousness. “You what? Where did you learn that from?” Mummy of course. I researched how many children have been abducted in broad daylight from Warsaw’s Old Town, and strangely enough the number is a fat Zero.
On the male front, in England, guys will usually check each other out, subconsciously registering size and strength, and 9 times out of 10 pass on by with a glance. In Poland, drunk men fix me with a hard stare trying to guess the size of my wallet. Satisfied that I have sufficient funds for their needs, they proceed to ask for the price of a beer, and seem quite offended if I don’t cough up. The same applies to ALL Polish males of all ages who smoke. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked for a cigarette on the street…and it doesn’t seem to reflect on the asker’s economic status.. they ALL ask for a cigarette. I once replied, “sure you can have a cigarette, if you buy me a beer”. The shock on his face was a picture.
Drunks seem to have a refined sense of recognizing a foreigner and trying their luck. On a train to Zakopane some years ago, I stuck my head out of the compartment and was spotted by a sozzled worker who immediately shouted a greeting and lurched into my compartment where he regaled me for an hour and a half on what, I know not. At his stop, he fell between the train and the platform and held up the train for a couple of hours as he fell asleep on the tracks and they couldn’t wake him up.
I would love to hear any other stories on “eye contact Polish style”