The Charles Crawford interview thing

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.

The interview:

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:

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34 thoughts on “The Charles Crawford interview thing

  1. guest says:

    ha ha,

    he has probably red my comments on Polandian about the high Polish mountains and the warm baltic sea. :D

  2. guest says:

    ps: nice interview BTW, i hope it is not a fake. ;)

  3. island1 says:

    Certainly not a fake.

  4. What an interesting person to interview and, shockingly, what interesting answers you received! I definitely liked this.

  5. Ania says:

    faworki! that’s the idea for the Saturday party, yes! It’s a shame that no Briton is coming… I should take a bag of these to the pub, perhaps?

    Your former Diplomat seems to be quite a party person, from what I just dug up in Wiki!

    The Triangle and Circle puzzle are an IQ test, just like the toilet door in my student flat, which bore no door knob. Anyone who would shut the door behind them, failed the test. (I’m pretty sure I got the tenses wrong)

    Congratulations on your interview, Jamie! That was fun!

  6. news says:

    The triangle and circle? Remember it this way.

    If the triangle points up, it’s the ladies WC as ladies wear skirts.
    If the triangle points down, it’s the gents as gents have broad shoulders.

  7. island1 says:

    What?! Never seen two different kinds of triangles in Poland, only circles and triangles.

  8. Kiki says:

    Of yes, there is two different triangles one pointing up, the other
    How I remember ? Easy –
    the one pointing down – what do men have pointing down
    ( most of the time at least ) ?
    See – that’s your answer , there you go ( in , of course).:)))

  9. Kiki says:

    Very interesting interview, and very diplomatic! You can’t go wrong with it…
    and because I can’t see any amputated limbs of Sir Charles,
    means Poland didn’t grow too much on him…
    Can’t blame him though – it’s taugh enough for a Pole to understand the way it works, never mind the Britt.:))

    Pan Pani Panstwo business – hilariours! Never thought of it this way,
    but it must be a real killer for a foreigner who wants to learn the lingo !
    Respect for Sir Charles for such an effort – trying to understand it may
    ruin your hair do :))

    Thank you Island – another great article of yours !

  10. Kiki says:

    Oh, Proud Polish Pessimism… yeh, that is something that you couldn’t have escaped living in Poland. When two people in England meet in the street and ask one another : How are you ? How are things? What are they likely to hear? Oh, great, I’m fine, everything is good, etc…
    When two people in Poland meet in the street and ask each other the same question…oh God – you will be faced with the whole list of cataclisms and horrors that happened since you’ve last met.
    And you will even be briefed about aunt’s Zosia painful and disgusting operation details ……

    Well, the advice you should here take is :
    Never ask the Pole HOW he is doing ! The danger is, you will find out!

  11. Simple – the circle represents the testicle and the triangle, the Mons Venus (ladies’ front bottom). This little mnemonic has held me in good stead over 12 years of visiting lavatories in Poland.

  12. scatts not logged in says:

    You see that’s what happens. I go away and Jamie turns into an investigative journalist!

    Hi there everyone! In Venice but leaving jutro. Write-up and photos are here –

  13. dankam says:

    I guess he must have some psychological problems with the word panstwo. It is not true that it declines in a different way as pronoun than as a noun. As a pronoun it doesn’t have a plural form (and it is very logical that it does have one as a noun just as there is a state and there are states). There are no grammatical complications with the inflexion of panstwo at all! What might have confused him is that names ending with ski or cki decline as adjectives but this is a general difficulty with nouns or pronouns accompanied by adjectives, nothing special with the pronoun Panstwo…

    Dan Kamieniecki (by the way I’m single)

  14. Pawel says:

    Jamie I salute your elegant and witty writing style. You know I hate you for that:)

  15. Ania says:

    And many an adventure as it is the other way round. The mnemonic to use is this: move the triangle towards the circle, it will look quite pornographic when one enters the other – and you’re there!

  16. island1 says:

    Dankam: No please… no more… grammar… feeling weak…

    What is this, Polandian dating now? Actually, maybe it’s an idea whose time has come.

  17. island1 says:

    Pawel: Failure to understand threaded comments, or are you just trying to catch Dan’s eye :)

  18. island1 says:

    How do we know you’re the real Scatts, I see no mention of hummers.

  19. island1 says:

    Ania: That’s what I thought! Michael’s imagery was the same as mine (dirty-minded Brits) and I always got it wrong.

  20. Paweł(me) says:

    There is no good answer :)

  21. Pawel says:

    To be honest, for someone who spent some years in Poland what strikes me in this interview is, what I see as, the indifference.

    Poland is a hot topic. There are hundreds of things everyone hates and loves about her – and that’s what probably defines the relationship people have with her.

  22. Ania says:

    A very good observation, Pawle.

  23. All,

    May I with all due deference take issue with Dan Kamieniecki over ‘panstwo’? Dan says that it is not true that it declines in a different way as pronoun than as a noun. Yet this Wiktionary entry says otherwise: Who’s right?

    Plus his analogy with the verbs associated with state/states in English is not clear. Something closer but still not right might be the options of “the sheep is/are on the hill”, depending on whether one refers to one or more sheep.

    My unyielding objection to panstwo is that it denotes people yet is neuter, and takes a plural verb form but a singular noun form.

    I think.

    Yrs, bewildered in England,


  24. island1 says:

    Uh oh… Polish grammar argument.

    Have you seen my suggestion for Polish TV ideas that can’t fail

  25. island1 says:

    Not sure I understand this, but it sounds interesting. My facile questions wouldn’t have given Charles sufficient room to express more subtle or complex views on Poland I suspect, so that’s my fault. But there is something else you are saying here. Do I understand you to mean that a foreigners relationship with Poland is simply defined by a series of likes and dislikes? You may have something there. Or that may just be foreigners always see the countries they live in, at least to begin with.

  26. Ania says:

    Since Dan seems absent, I can’t resist throwing my tuppence in.

    A ‘Państwo’ is neuter honorific, in the same way, I think, as ‘Lordship’. It is quite confusing because it may also designate a couple and then it is a title just as ‘Miss, Mrs’, a common noun, ‘państwo’ with the meaning ‘the marriage’. Both are pluralia tantum, so have no singular form.

    If ‘państwo’ refers to a ‘state’, then it’s a different noun altogether, stemming from a common root, ‘pan-‘, ‘panować’ (control, rule, reign) formed like ‘gospodarstwo’ (holding? premise? household? something being cared for)

    If it is a pronoun, we treat it the same as ‘pan’, as it refers to humans. The only other available declension of pronouns in plural for is reserved for non-humans, so there isn’t much choice.

    Thank you for the opportunity for being so thoroughly boring, Mr. Crawford.

  27. Ania says:

    I think that we are not so special. Britons always ask me how do I like the Island, too. I tell them how I loved the Peak District, Snowdon, Warwick and Bramley Apple pie, and they really want me to go on ;) Now, if I have the rude face to mention the sunny weather, there can be no friendship. It looks as though the Brits are as much in love with their homeland as we, only for some reason they try to hide it.

  28. Ania.

    Not clear whether you were saying that you are boring or that I am! What I do like about Polish is the remarkable way most Poles speak it.

    That sounds stupid. What I am getting at is the many subtle and almost imperceptible distinctions between eg hard and soft sounds which are there when Poles speak, and can be picked up by a foreigner who knows enough of the language to be aware of them and has an ear fine-tuned enough to spot them.

    In the Embassy we always thought it a hoot when a Polish colleague called English colleague Anna “An-na”.

    Maybe Polandians can cast light on the whole business of when you move from Pan/Pani to the colloquial ‘you’ form. Again, a young Embassy Polish colleague tried this with the Polish cleaning staff in an attempt to be friendly. This resuted in them gathering in her room every morning and smoking, not working. So she had to resort to Pani this and that to restore equilibrium and the right ‘status’ and accompanying work ethic.

    These intertwined socio-linguistic + class + age + gender quirks of the Polish language make it much the most impossible Slav language I tried to learn.

    I at least don’t find grammar boring. Well, only a bit boring.


  29. island1 says:

    I also love the insistence on pronouncing the double “n.” I’ve never understood why they bother having two “n’s” in these words when it just makes it harder to say.

  30. Ania says:

    My apologies, the boring bit refers to me, of course, and it was quite a pleasure to be! Talking at length about grammar is a favourite pastime of ours, and it’s stunning to find that you share it. Jamie and Scatts scold us a little for it ;)

    Is ‘hoot’ the same as ‘odjazd’? I would never have thought about the double letters being anything but careful pronunciation! The alphabet is adapted well enough to simply read most of the letters, not as good as Czech, but still. The actual sound is a long n, not double, written phonetically with a dot below it. ‘Oddawać’ would not have made sense as ‘odawać’, for example. It makes learning English very hard, though. Try to pronounce Gloucestershire by the letter. Glow-sester-shayer?

    The Mr/You business is easy – the person who receives more respect decides whether to offer a common ground or not. Since each group has their own take at manners and acceptable behaviour, it may be easier to interact with foreigners than kin.

    But, there is a twist, and I love it. ‘You’, means in Polish ‘wy’. Polish ‘ty’ is ‘thee’. In English people don’t use ‘ty’, only ‘wy’. That is quite disagreeable, unless we are all comrades. On the other hand, the third person does not work comfortably in English, either. (Oh, Madam is in a good mood today). Therefore in English I am Ana, and my friend Asia is Jo, my last employer I would address: ‘hey, Lee, gotta minute?’ and that just makes it all easier, if dreadfully annoying.

    The dreadfully annoying bit is not being called by the first name in a foreign form, but the lack of vocative form. It’s really more natural to use ‘Anno! or Aniu!’ than ‘Anna! Ania!’, which could also be an exclamation while pointing a finger in my direction. Had English ever had a vocative?

  31. Steven says:

    Really interesting interview, and I too think you Island have a unique talent that always leaves me hating you. Have you ever thought of writing professionally? You are really that good.
    Would you be so kind as to read and critique my final blog draft, edited and politically corrected these past seven months. And Pawel I was wondering if you have any word solutions to solve several google english to polish translator glitches. Some tones and figures of american speech seem to be lost. I would really like Polish readers to not lose anything in the translation through poor choice of words or slang.
    Thanks, you are the best.

  32. island1 says:

    Flattery will get you everywhere you smooth-tongued devil. I am a professional writer (and editor) by the way. Have a look at my website:

    I’ll reply by email.

  33. Steven says:

    There there…I know you are a real Writer & Editor. And a damned good one. Just having fun with you… I am secretly jealous of Irish and English passport holders, impressive writer too? God I hate you Island

  34. […] that have nothing to do with the theme. Seriously, the only speaker who even mentioned it was our friend Charles Crawford. Perhaps TEDx themes are supposed to have a surrealistic relationship to the actual content of the […]

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