Ten vexations of the Englishman in Poland

The Englishman in Poland faces a myriad of trials and vexations. These are among the top ten.

1. Nobody knows what bacon is

Hello Baby!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.
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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.

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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: No
Pole: Ha!
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.

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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.

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10. There has to be ten of them.

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31 thoughts on “Ten vexations of the Englishman in Poland

  1. G. Scott says:

    Polish beer is fine — you’re exaggerating. Sure, it’s all bland lagers, but I’ve had much worse than Polish beer. Mass-produced American beer comes to mind…

  2. guest says:

    No.10.

    Island is just homesick. Still in post holiday depression…poor chap :(

  3. island1 says:

    2 comments before I’ve finished writing the blessed thing!

    G. Scott: I’m really not exaggerating. It could be great, but at the moment it’s horrendous with about 374 artificial additives.

    guest: Do you ever sleep :)

  4. Radek says:

    Polish beer is very good… booo to you for saying otherwise ;)

  5. expateek says:

    Not to mention, re: point number one, that here, “toast” means “toasted cheese sandwich” or some other mutant and cursed variation of the same. Nothing like gagging on CHEESE the morning after. Bleurg!

    I say, where the hell is the Hovis and the marmalade??

    And thanks for reminding me to buy more Scotch in Duty-Free! :-)

  6. boattown guest says:

    Pan Island1, this is so funny.

  7. Jubal says:

    @Author:

    – bacon: the vast numbers of shelves filled with all varieties of bacon is really something to see. And to devour. Anyways, I think that you may think of ‘ogonówka wędzona’ (not ‘gotowana’) as an almost (but not quite) unacceptable substitute.

    – a street sign with spelling errors: it’s not that bad. It could be worse, much worse, at least as bad as this: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/7702913.stm

    – beer: cannot agree more,

    – cross-dressing: if you’re bored enough, you can always try taking a bath in one of city’s fountains, naked – as one of the British weekend tourists did last week in Wroclaw,

    – Szczebrzeszyn: if you don’t have problems with that, there’s always some of ‘stół z powyłamywanymi nogami’ for you to fumble with,

    @G.Scott: the mass-produced beer is usually terrible (I don’t like lagers, though, so I may be biased a bit…)

  8. […] Ten vexations of the Englishman in PolandAccording 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. … […]

  9. lucas says:

    I agree that every mass-produced beer is usually terrible (well maybe except for Guinness) if you’d like to try a real beer, get Ciechan, Konstancin, or Amber

  10. guest says:

    Here is the new method how to impress Polish women who live(d) in London. :)

    htt p://www.youtube.com/profile?user=cockney37&view=videos

    but I have to admit that he is really good. And i am not a Polish woman.

  11. […] Ten vexations of the Englishman in Poland niedziela, 2 listopad, 2008Saying something nice, for once. czwartek, 30 październik, […]

  12. […] [Polandian] Ten vexations of the Englishman in Poland […]

  13. adthelad says:

    I think the best beer I’ve tried in Poland is Hevelius Kaper, but I think they stopped making it in 2000 :(

  14. pinolona says:

    Also, when you start talking to – for example – the middle-aged lady who runs the coffee shop, or your doctor, or anyone old enough to have grown-up children, they go all misty eyed and say ‘London? My son/daughter/nephew/cat was/is in Edinburgh/Dundee/Dublin/Paris, for a year/a semester/a weekend/a four-hour stopover on the way to Chicago, do you know him/her/it??

  15. Michael B. says:

    Granted I come from the United States Of Shit Beer, so this probably doesn’t mean that much, but I’ve found the Polish beer pretty damn good. I think it’s the same everywhere though…the mass-produced beer is usually pretty crappy, but if/when you can find some of the smaller “local beers”, well those are usually pretty good. Alas, they stopped making my favorite beer: Slaski, but I’ve found that Dawne beer is pretty good.

    You’re spot-on about the bacon though!!!!!

  16. island1 says:

    A lot of interesting beer suggestions here; thanks to all who made them. I can’t say I’ve ever noticed a small-brewery Polish beer in a shop, but then I probably wouldn’t recognize one if I saw it. There used to be something called Smocza Glowny you could get on tap in some Krakow pubs that was interesting, but I haven’t seen it for a while.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Someone already mentioned it but Ciechan is very good, as far as larger goes. Which isn’t far enough.

  18. Tomek says:

    Personally, I never understood the appeal of flat, lukewarm, English beer. But I’m not a huge beer drinker these days so what do I know.

  19. michael farris says:

    But Poland has smoked boczek, much better than oversalted, soapy English bacon (I was at a hotel this summer that served ‘english style’ bacon that the Brits in residence wolfed down like there was no tomorrow. It was hideous, worse even than fatty American bacon.

    For preventing hangovers, keep a supply of flaki-in-a-jar on hand. The only thing is, it’s not a cure but a preventitive and you need to have it before passing out. Just plop it in the pan, heat it a few minutes and slurp it down and no hangover!

    Another vexation (I haven’t experienced it in a few years but it used to be kind of common) conversation below translated from the Polish:

    Polish person I don’t know well: I hear you have an accent, where are you from?
    Me: The states.
    Polish person: Wow! You speak Polish so well (unwarranted flattery might go on for a few minutes). … how much do you charge?
    Me: ???

    The question is about private English lessons (the assumption was that of course you were available if they were willing to meet your price) and it usually made me feel vaguely like a prostitute.

  20. don says:

    1. englishmen have no rights to talk bad about any other country’s cuisine :P

  21. pp says:

    The holy of hollies – ok, it’s not the five o’clock tea but it’s certainly the ‘tea break’ :)
    Bacon – actually, you can get it, the thing is that you need to slice it yourself which is, well, inconvenient.

  22. anglopole says:

    I really feel for you Island! ;) I know exactly how annoying it is to be bombarded by misconceptions about where I come from or to lack things I used to enjoy in my bacon-less homeland! hahaha fantastic post and I think I will borrow the idea and devote one entry in mine to list some vexations of a Pole living in the UK! :-)

  23. Gabriela says:

    I guess is normal to feel the way you feel. And I guess here in Peru, with our great Cusqueña beer, you won’t miss beer at all.
    ¡Saludos!

  24. Pawel says:

    Everyone, who lives in a country different than their country of origin has some complains abut their new home…

    You know, every country has their strange customs. Poles might ask you to say their tongue twister to try to bond with you, the English will ask “how are you?” when they don’t care and don’t want to know and talk about the weather:) People do all sorts od things that don’t make sense at first sight;)

    When I was in Britain, I missed many things from back home so I feel for you:) Hopefully one day the English diaspora in Poland will be big enough so that there are many “Brytyjski Sklep” with local delicacies from across the channel, like pickled eggs and pork scratchings:)

    Oh, I missed my twaróg and bigos when I was in Britain. Now I miss Bernard Matthews 98% fat free turkey ham, and m&s chocolate pudding;)

  25. zaimek says:

    There are worse tongue twisters than that one. Funny thing is that 80-90% of Poles have problems w/ them as well. I only know a few people that can say them correctly 3 times in a row. Nevertheless if I were you my response would be: “And you can pronounce John, this has never happened to me! So what about >>Peter Piper picked a peck…<<“.

  26. john says:

    I love this website, i’ve been laughing out loud at it all evening. I must take exception to the beer comments though. When my lovely Kasia introduced me to Debowe Mocne, i heard choirs of angels. Cracking beer. However, I didnt realise it was 7% until I fell over inexplicably.

    I bought some horrible beer in a Manchester Polski Sklep once though… Wojak? Something like that. It was gas mixed with puddle water that had been filtered through old trainers. Awful.

    But on the whole, Polish beer (Tyskie, Zywiec) stands head and shoulders above the epicurean delights of such brands as Carling, Fosters and (god forbid) Skol.

    As for bacon, I lived in Holland for a while and they didn’t understand bacon there either, no matter how many times i repeated it slowly and loudly while gesticulating. Astonshing.

  27. Henryk says:

    Fortunately, we only get the better quality imported beers and usually in drinkable 500ml bottles and is comparable to the likes of Crown Lager, Zed Back and many others (West End is NOT on of them). I like my bacon, but,there are many other epicurian delights in Poland that are Polish. When in Poland, try their foods and delicacies. You will be back in your own country soon enough. After all,the purpose of travelling overseas is to experience the other lifestyles, warts and all. In the end you will be richer for it.

  28. island1 says:

    John: Thanks for the kind words, glad you’re enjoying it.

    Inexplicable falling over is a common side effect of Polish beer, it’s true. I’m still not convinced about the quality though. Okay, there will always be run-of-the-mill mass produced beers like Zywiec etc. and these probably are better than some of the worst international brands, but I’d still like to see some real ales.

    Henryk: Don’t worry, I know and adore many kinds of Polish food. I’ve just always found it surprising that a product that is so familiar to me in the UK isn’t common here where pork is the number one meat.

  29. […] Polandian, island1 shares his “vexations of the Englishman in Poland.” Posted by Veronica Khokhlova […]

  30. […] Polandian, island1 shares his “vexations of the Englishman in […]

  31. Dawid says:

    2. I don’t talk with my mouth full

    It must be vexing indeed :)) But I’m afraid this “English people talk as if they have a mouthful of pasta” thing will stay with us for a long time, at least until the movie “Miś” is no longer a classic of Polish comedy. In this film an announcement at a Polish airport is first given in Polish and then in “English”, which is Polish, only after the announcer has stuffed her mouth full of kluski;)

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