It’s a little know but widely suspected fact that most influential figures connected with Poland start their day by reading Polandian. They’d be fools to do otherwise. We get endless emails from the Kaczyńskis and Tusks of this world begging to be allowed to voice their opinions to our trendsetting and remarkably handsome readership, but Scatts always turns them down because they can’t promise him his longed-for Hummer.
Recently we had reason to make contact with Charles Crawford, the former British ambassador to Poland. I couldn’t possibly comment on rumours that this was in connection with a top secret mission that I personally had to undertake to recover a stolen laser weapon of terrifying potency, but I will be sorry when I have to give back the jet pack and the invisible Aston Martin, not least because I have no idea where the Aston Martin is now, what with it being invisible.
Invisible Aston Martins – Women are unimpressed by invisible thing
Since Scatts is away this presented us with a unique opportunity to ask a knowledgeable and experienced diplomat in-depth questions about Poland’s place on the international stage – so I asked a bunch of feeble self-serving questions about Doctor Who and performing seals instead.
Polandian: What, if anything, do you miss about Poland and would you be prepared to pay cash for us to deliver it to you under a plain brown wrapper?
Charles Crawford: Hmm. Tricky. Grilled pierogi would go off in transit. Mushroom soup would leak. So it will have to be to those curly-wurly faworki pastries. They are wonderfully good. But also, like everything else in Poland, divisive and controversial. Last time I was in Warsaw with a married Polish couple they almost came to blows in a restaurant when the husband unwisely suggested that his mother-in-law’s faworki tended to be, hem, just a teensy bit on the overcooked side.
“I always said that if Poland started
to grow on me, I’d have it amputated”
Polandian: What is likely to shock the average Pole moving to the UK and can they prepare themselves in some way?
Charles Crawford: Poles have told me that they are struck by the fact that everyone is so trusting and that things can get done with such little paperwork. The Labour Party are working hard to correct this misapprehension. Brits drive on the left side of the road, but as many Poles always drive down the middle that should not be a problem.
Faworki – can be used to influence British diplomats
Polandian: If you are a Brit moving to Poland what should you bring?
Charles Crawford: Patience. An open mind. Better clothes than you wear in the UK. If you are fat, a diet – mercifully few lumpenly overweight people on the streets in Poland.
“Poland… flatter than I expected”
Polandian: All Poles eventually ask foreigners “What do you think of Poland?” Drawing on your diplomatic-service experience, tell us how we should answer this question? Please help: we don’t know what they mean and they’re becoming quite insistent.
Charles Crawford: I always said that if Poland started to grow on me, I’d have it amputated. A particular difficulty for foreigners is Proud Polish Pessimism. If you compliment Poles on how well the country is doing, they say you don’t understand the corruption and awful bureaucracy. If you hint that some things are not quite perfect in Poland, Poles blame you for partition and then Yalta, which if you are British is semi-fair (odd that the Americans seem to escape this). Best simply to say that you adore faworki and mushroom soup. If you are feeling bold, say that “Poland is flatter than you expected”, but adding quickly “but of course not so in the south near the mountains, where it’s higher than I expected”.
Polandian: Do you agree that having the opportunity to watch Doctor Who is the birthright of every Brit wherever they live and should I not, therefore, have the right to watch BBC iPlayer in Poland? Surely it’s in Magna Carta somewhere.
Charles Crawford: I never understood why the Daleks could not be defeated simply by throwing grit on their very smooth floors so their wheels got stuck. The Cybermen were more awkward. The first Doctor Who was the only good one. Other than that, no.
Daleks – the Foreign Office is worryingly unaware of their current capabilities
Polandian: When I speak Polish to Polish people I feel like a performing seal. Is this just my problem or a universal phenomenon?
Charles Crawford: If you mean that you feel like a performing seal when you speak Polish both to Poles and to people other than Poles, you may well have to face the fact that you are, indeed, a performing seal, albeit quite a smart one. There was a famous Thurber cartoon about a seal which I commend to you, in case it helps. To be on the safe side, avoid Polish tongue-twisters, especially chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Szczebrzeszynie
Could be this one. No, we have no idea what he means either.
Polandian: What aspects of Polish culture did you never manage to properly comprehend?
Charles Crawford: All that Pan, Pani, Państwo business. Especially Państwo. As a noun it declines one way, as a pronoun another, it can have singular and plural forms even though it refers to more than one person anyway, it is neuter even though it refers to people, and to add insult to injury it takes the third-person verb form. This is quite simply unreasonable, if not a provocation.
Polandian: What mistakes do Brits in Poland inevitably make?
Charles Crawford: Taking a bewildered guess when confronted by a Triangle and a Circle outside a restaurant’s or other public convenience and getting it wrong. Entering Warsaw’s main railway station subway system and expecting to emerge either somewhere in Warsaw on foot or somewhere else in Poland by train. Trying to learn numbers accurately to the point of being able to say “Yesterday I went to the cinema with 103 green grasshoppers.”
“Poles invariably work hard, are
scrupulously honest and saintly Catholics”
Polandian: Which popularly-held beliefs about Poland among Brits are completely untrue?
Charles Crawford: That Poles invariably work hard, are scrupulously honest and saintly Catholics. They are all those things and many more, sometimes
Polandian: Like all intelligent and good-looking people you presumably read Polandian several times a week. What, in your opinion, are the spiritual and intellectual benefits of reading Polandian regularly?
Charles Crawford: To know that in the vast empty stretches of the Polish Galaxy as experienced by the lonely foreign space-traveler, You Are Not Alone
Charles Crawford retired from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after nearly three decades in the UK’s Diplomatic Service when he decided “that was long enough, and that a radical change of scene and pace would do my family and myself a power of good.” He is now a private consultant living in Oxfordshire where he continues to crave grilled pierogi and abuse the rules of capitalisation on a regular basis. Visit his website, there’s lots of stuff about Poland on there too: CharlesCrawford.biz