The first thing us soft westerners ask when visiting a foreign country is “Can I drink the water?” In Poland the answer is far from simple, naturally. In fact Polish tap water is perfectly safe, but the social consequences of drinking it can be serious. I’ve been drinking the stuff for years and it’s never done me any physical harm (I will, of course, be dead from some obscure form of water poisoning within a week of writing this) but I’m regarded as some kind of madman by my Polish acquaintances. For reasons that I’ve never been able to clearly discern Poles regard their tap water as a kind of slightly diluted strychnine cordial. They’re quite convinced that it tastes foul, has the life-preserving qualities of 40 cigarettes a day, and is almost certainly laced with some kind of vaguely evil “chemistry.” Tastes like water to me.
The practical upshot of the Polish nation’s fear of their public water supply is a vast homegrown bottled water industry. Even the smallest local shop stocks at least three dozen varieties of bottled Polish water; the internationally famous brands don’t stand a chance when you can buy water straight from the manure polluted soil of a hundred different Polish spa towns. Many of these are, admittedly, very nice indeed, but you have to wonder about the ecological cost of constantly pumping the ground dry of its water reserves, not to mention transporting it around the country in trucks. I’d be willing to bet the stuff costs more than petrol. The first thing Coca Cola did when it got a foothold in the Polish market was to buy up hundreds of small water bottling plants, the stuff comes right out of the ground and you don’t even have to add sugar.
Muszynianka: very tasty stuff, got lots of magnesium in it apparently; is that a good thing? If somebody told me there was magnesium in my water pipes I think I’d be worried.
Mentioning no names, but I know families in villages that persist in getting their water from wells rather than connect to the public main, despite the fact that it’s dark brown and only flows one day in three during the summer months. On the news tonight I heard a story about a series of small towns in the extreme south of Poland where they are considering building a pipeline to bring water across the border from the Czech republic. The local Polish public water supply representative was tearing his hair out and jumping up and down in sheer desperation at the idiocy of the whole idea, but he can’t win – Grandma Basia, pictured in her kitchen filling her kettle, says the Polish stuff tastes weird and it’s not natural; you can’t argue with logic like that.