1. The Meat Tenderiser
Every Polish kitchen has a worn and bloodstained meat tenderiser readily to hand. The visitor should not be alarmed, it is not there to facilitate the casual battery of foreigners, the tenderiser is a legitimate and vital tool in the preparation of kotlet schabowy (those delicious flat bits of pork fried in egg and breadcrumbs). Kotlet schabowy is only slightly less common than salt in the Polish diet. It is impossible to spend more than a day in Poland without being required to eat one. If it looks like you might be about to leave Poland without having eaten a kotlet schabowy the police will take you to a compulsory kotlet camp where you will remain until you have succumbed to their crispy, meaty charms.
A virgin meat tenderizer lacking the normal 30-year aggregation of pork blood and gristle.
Using a meat tenderiser effectively requires years of training and Polish genes. The act of whacking a lump of raw meat with a studded hammer is so enormously satisfying that the amateur is prone to bludgeon away with ever increasing glee until the meat is little more than a reddish film and much of his kitchen has been reduced to a splintered ruin. I’ve been through that many Ikea kitchen units this way.
2. The Sofa Bed
The foreign visitor to a Polish flat will be struck by the fact that there are no bedrooms. This can cause considerable anxiety, especially if you have been invited to stay the night. Do not be alarmed, Poles do sleep and they do have beds, they are just heavily disguised as sofas. It is, in fact, almost impossible to find a sofa in Poland that isn’t also a bed. I think there’s one from the Bronze Age or something in the National Museum.
The classic Polish sofa bed in traditional god-awful colours.
Polish sofa beds differ from the sofa beds common in the West primarily in that they are less likely to sever fingers when being deployed. They do, however, share the characteristic of being about as comfortable as dentistry carried out with a brick. Sleeping on a Polish sofa bed is similar to settling down on a small range of granite hillocks. There is usually a crumb-filled valley in the centre into which sleeping partners are irresistibly and uncomfortably drawn. This goes a long way to explaining why every Polish person you meet has a back complaint and a crumb phobia.
Polish sofa beds are gradually going out of fashion and are often to be seen dumped, broken and slashed, in dingy courtyards like the victims of gangland slayings.
There is no mercy for ex- sofa beds
3. The Gap Under the Bath
The gap under the bath is one of Poland’s leading contributions to civilisation. I’m talking about fitted baths here—the boxed in ones. In every British bathroom I’ve been in the vertical side of the bath enclosure comes down to the floor, in Polish bathrooms there’s a 4- to 5-centimetre gap at the bottom. Why is it there? So you can stand closer to the bath. Whenever you need to bend over a British bath—to clean it or to mix your gin brew for example—you have to splay your feet awkwardly or risk repeatedly stubbing your toes. The Polish gap under the bath allows you to slide your feet underneath, allowing for a much more balanced and comfortable stance.
Whoever invented this deserves the Nobel Prize for Cunningness. I can only assume it occurred to somebody who spent a lot of time washing clothes in the bath (still a common activity) or a Christmas carp enthusiast.
Also works for dogs
4. The dangling socket
Every Polish home, no matter how recently it was built or renovated, has at least one electrical socket that dangles from the wall in a manner that looks potentially deadly. Electrical arrangements in Poland scare the bejeezus out of me generally—why aren’t all plugs earthed, why do you get alarming blue flashes whenever you plug things in, are sockets next to showers really a good idea? I once had a landlord who was an electrician. On one occasion I overheard his daughter complaining that he had installed underfloor heating in her bedroom that actually set fire to the floor, to which he responded by cursing the inadequacy of wiring sold by Russians. I lived in total darkness, too afraid to touch a light switch, for six months.
That’s not going to be good for anybody, is it?
In the UK, sockets are secured to the wall with screws. In Poland they seem to be held lightly in place by inadequate clippy things and sheer willpower. Tug a plug out too enthusiastically and suddenly all kinds of electrical guts you prefer not to think about are dangling around in full view. Once they are out, they will never go back in, not matter how often you shove at them with the end of a broom like a great big girl.
5. Multi-option windows
Given the inadequacy of Polish socket technology it is surprising to discover that this country has the best windows in the world. I’m talking about those fabulous double-glazed units with the handle that twists to three positions:
1. Locked, to protect against dangerous disease-bearing winds and foreign neighbours;
2. Open, inwards of course;
3. Kind of open and leaning backwards. This is the one that freaks out foreigners. The first time you discover it you experience a heart-stopping moment in which you’re convinced the whole thing is falling out of the frame. It’s a classic living-in-Poland rite of passage.
I have no idea how Poland managed to get it’s hands on such cool windows. They have a Scandinavian feel to me, which may or may not be confirmed by looking for the manufacturer’s label if I can even be bothered.
6. The World’s Worst Art
I don’t know if anybody else has noticed this, but Poland has the world’s worst amateur painters. Visit any Polish family home and, somewhere, you will find a smeary abomination on canvas created by somebody’s aunt or nephew or criminally-insane first cousin. They grip your attention in the same way that a capsizing super-tanker does. Meanwhile, your brain attempts to escape through you ears.
Or simply line your rooms with decaying leaves for the same effect.
It’s not so much the poor technique and the inexplicably banal subjects, it’s the hopelessly gloomy colour palette that gets me. Most of them look as if they have been painted underwater using pond mud and occasional rotting banana skin highlights. I keep meaning to go to the National Gallery to see if this is a universal Polish style, but I’m going to have to wait until there is plentiful bright sunshine and multiple stimulants on hand in case I need to be snapped out of a potentially terminal muted-colour psychosis.