The Englishman in Poland faces a myriad of trials and vexations. These are among the top ten.
1. Nobody knows what bacon is
It’s Sunday morning and I may have drunk a tad too much beer last night. Fortunately, as an Englishman, I have an automatic recovery strategy built in known as The English Breakfast. Eggs… check, beans… check, toast… check, bacon… noooooooo!!!
It simply won’t do. For a country that eats practically nothing but pork the absence of bacon from the nation’s supermarket shelves is baffling and inexcusable. They have something called ‘bekon,’ but it’s just not right. Real bacon comes in a plastic packet, costs £3.99 in the corner shop, and dissolves into a 50/50 fixture of meat and foamy white liquid when cooked. Please don’t get me started on the sausages. And the beans taste funny.
2. I don’t talk with my mouth full
A student of proficiency-level English doing her morning exercises. Note: do not google search “mouth full” unless you have a strong stomach.
According to some of the wittiest minds in Poland, English people talk as if they have a mouthful of pasta. This was an enormously funny observation for each of the first nine thousand times I heard it, then it got old.
I wouldn’t mind but for the first 14 years of an Englishman’s life he is told repeatedly and a great length by his mother not to speak with his mouth full (my mother actually had the amusingly absentminded habit of saying “don’t eat with your mouth full” but the principle is the same). Had I known Polish cannon law on the subject I would have had a devastatingly effective riposte… in addition to my mother-specific riposte on logical grounds.
3. Coming from London isn’t cool anymore
The Londoners, a weekly serial on Polish channel TVP. I have nothing to say about this. dear god!
Time was an Englishman could saunter up to a pneumatic young Polish lass in a bar and say “Hey, I come from London,” in the reasonable expectation of a least five minutes conversation and, possibly, a slap across the chops at some point in the not-too-distant future. Those days are gone my friend. Mention you’re from London now and she’ll tell you that she’s just come back from six years living on the Finchley Road and that her uncle, sister, mother, and third cousin Jacek keep begging her to pop over to Muswell Hill and visit them. I’ve tried changing tack and claiming I’m really from Stockport, but they always see through the accent straight away.
4. Some Poles don’t speak English
Some of these words are spelled wrong. In fact they’re spelled so wrong I don’t know what they mean. Apparently when this happens it’s something called ‘another language,’ whatever that is.
This is a major drawback, because it means you can’t effectively complain in your local branch of Carrefour about the lack of bacon.
Englishmen are genetically incapable of learning another language. We’re not even sure what the concept means. Studies have shown conclusively that the critical xcxcx chromosome is not only missing in 99.7 percent of English males, there’s actually a little placard there instead that says “Just Speak Slowly and Loudly.” Give up now. You can’t do it, and everybody is laughing at you.
5. Polish beer
Serried ranks of awfulness. Not often you get to use the word “serried.”
Polish beer is an unmitigated disaster bound loosely to a train wreck by fraying strands of total catastrophe. It stinks. Badly.
Many years ago, when I was but knee-high to a fully-grown Englishman, there was a revolution in the land of Englishmen that banished rubbish beer forever (except, somehow, for Heineken). For decades the breweries of England had sold us cheap watered-down chemically approximated versions of real beer almost exactly the same as the stuff you buy in Poland now. On that day in 1978 all the evil (probably communist) beer-imitating chemists were cast into the outer darkness and the era of Real Ale began. This needs to happen in Poland, very soon.
Also, why does reasonably good whiskey cost approximately the same as moon dust?
6. I have to wear a dress to prove I’m English
An Englishman goes about his sacred cross-dressing duties.
In the vicinity of Krakow’s main square nobody believes I’m an Englishman unless I’m wearing a dress and/or rubber bondage gear. They assume I’m some kind of Irishman with a weird accent.
Since 1647 generations of young Englishmen have been coming to Poland, getting very drunk, and running around city centers wearing women’s clothing. As an Englishman I have no problem with this—cross-dressing and exposing yourself to the ridicule of bemused foreigners is a critical rite of passage in a young Englishman’s life—but it does get tiresome strapping on my nine-inch heels every time I want to nip into the city center, and I don’t look as good in that bustier as I once did.
7. I’m not an expert on fog
Okay, I admit it does happen sometimes.
In much the same way that English people assume Poland is consistently heaped in nine-foot snowdrifts, Polish people are convinced that England is permanently shrouded in a fog so thick that you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
Out of doors Polish people will grasp you by the arm, point at something in the middle distance and say “Look! See how things further away are smaller, you’ve probably never experienced that before.” I usually respond by saying “You’re right, that is pretty amazing! But what’s that big blue spacious thing above our heads?”
The worst thing is the emails: “Pan Island1, we are very interesting in your opinion at the Polish beer, but when will you tell us about refractive index of ground-hugging water molecules?” Not any time soon is the answer.
8. W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie
Never ever, ever, ever ask about this; you will regret it for the rest of time.
Yes. It is hard to say. Well done, you have a very hard language. Congratulations, you must be very proud. Now can we move on to “What do you think of Polish people?” This usually occurs in the following context:
Pole: Hi my name is Zbigniew.
Me: Hello Zbigniew, how do you do.
Pole: Wow, you can say “Zbigniew!” But can you say “W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie?”
Me: Isn’t that a rather steep step-up in expectation?
Pole: Well yes, I suppose it is. Sorry about that. (this never happens)
We’ve talked about Polish pride in the difficulty of their language before, with mixed results. For me this is the ultimate proof that, whatever they say, Poles secretly think it’s cool that nobody can pronounce Polish.
The worst thing is that I can actually pronounce “W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie” as long as I hear it said first, but I never do because the expression of disappointment on their faces is too much to bear.
9. Five O’clock Tea
The holy of hollies.
No. I drink tea at 3 am, 20 past 7, a quarter to 10, just before 12, a little after 3, around about 4, and a little after 7. Never at 5. Who drinks tea at 5? The fog is so thick by that time of the day that you can’t reliably see whether you’re putting the milk in the tea or the tea in the milk. This is a natural hazard that Englishmen learned to avoid centuries ago.
10. There has to be ten of them.