Poland has learned a lot from its open contact with Britain over the past 20 years. For example, it has learned that Britain features less gold paving in metropolitan areas than it might have been led to believe. Poland has also started to pick up some bad habits, especially when it comes to Christmas. The British Christmas is very nice in itself but there is an awful lot of whining, hand-wringing and general grumbling that accompanies it. One of the advantages of being a Brit living in Poland has always been that one can avoid the whole sordid build-up to Christmas and simply parachute in at the last minute for the good bit. Watching the news this December I’ve had to keep reminding myself where I am.
Being caught out by the weather
We rarely have extreme weather in the UK. In fact that’s not true, we regularly have extreme weather but it’s never predictable. It’s a rare year when we don’t have a tornado or six feet of snow in June or two days of Saharan dust storms or something else absurdly unlikely in some equally unlikely corner of the country. The traditional British response to this is to close everything, especially vital public services, and go to the pub. Television cameras then swoop in and interview people demonstrating the Dunkirk, or possibly the Blitz, spirit. This consists of making blindingly obvious statements such as: “It’s very cold / wet / windy and it’s causing me a great deal of inconvenience” often while standing in the smoking and/or drowned ruins of your house.
Aftermath of the Birmingham tornado featuring confused firefighters wondering exactly why they’ve been called to a building that isn’t on fire
Until recently Poles gave every impression of being relatively unsurprised by the onset of snow and freezing temperatures in winter but some kind of seasonal amnesia seems to have set in. Every time I turn on the television recently a reporter is standing next to a road packed with drivers who have simply freaked out at the appearance of powdery white stuff falling from the heavens. Cars are upside down, articulated lorries are dangling from trees, and buses are wedged into small buildings. “We didn’t know what was going on,” wail the victims, “suddenly this icy white substance that we’ve never seen before in our lives in the last six months was all over the road!”
Everything is made in China
This is, in fact, true. Everything really is made in China, including those little “Made in Poland” labels. The rest of the world gave up making anything of interest decades ago, but Poland only now seems to be catching on to this. When I was a lad everything was made in Taiwan, which is a little tiny version of China located in the South China Sea right next to China. Kind of weird when you think about it.
The thrust of the report I saw on the news last night was that Polish toy manufacturers are upset at the number of toys being imported from China. There was footage of Chinese toy robots that can read your brain waves being paraded up and down glittering catwalks by scantily clad Chinese bikini models and some other footage of grumpy looking Polish men hammering wooden dogs together. If I was a Polish lad I know where my interests would lie. Robots that can read your brain waves are, in themselves, considerably cooler than wooden dogs and the fact that they have been seen in the vicinity of exotic bikini models only adds to their appeal.
Stiff competition for manufacturers of wooden dogs
Complaining that everything is made in China is another British Christmas tradition that has caught on here. In fact Britain has given up complaining about this and embraced the phenomenon wholeheartedly. Last year, or possibly the year before, there was a big story in the British media about “the ship bringing Christmas.” Apparently there was one giant cargo ship on its way from China carrying so many of the gifts we would end up giving to each other, the decorations we would be putting up, and the equipment we would be using to cook our Christmas dinners that it was, essentially, carrying Britain’s Christmas. It was a kind of giant nautical Santa Clause. The touching thing was that nobody seemed to mind, they were ever rooting for it a little bit. My advice to Poland: stop trying to make things, everybody else gave up years ago.
“Christmas gets earlier every year…”
Suddenly everyone is keen to tell me that when they were a lad or lass Christmas in Poland began on the 24th of December and there wasn’t a trace of a twinkling light or a glint of tinsel to be seen before that date. Everyone was far too busy queueing for bread and being bitingly satirical about communism back then. In other words everyone in Poland suddenly became my grandparents, except for the communism part obviously. Complaining about the commercialization of Christmas is an age-old tradition in the UK. If anything it’s the complaining about the commercialization rather than the onset of the commercialization itself that seems to get earlier every year. Early indications are that this particular trend has exported itself even more effectively than swine flu.
A British bread queue: most people are thinking “Thank god we don’t live in communist Poland.”