Author Archives: Bartek

National Safety Experiment

Experiments are what moves the humanity forward, but the particular one carried out in Poland over the past weekend turned out to be a flop… Predictably.

The originator of the venture called “A weekend without causualties“* was the National Roads and Motorways Authority. The end was noble and maybe for that reason it justified peculiar means harnessed to attain it.

If you thought that drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and other roads users were encouraged to change their habits, behave more safely, avoid risky moves, act considerately, then sorry guys, you were wide of the mark. The PR agency that was responsible for preparing the campaign figured out it would not pay off to tell people to behave safely, not to speed, not to sit behind the wheel, nor cycle, after drinking alcohol. The core of the campaign was a clear message – if you’re potentially dangerous, stay at home. It’s best not to move at all. Don’t try to drive considerately, don’t drive at all! Of course there are situations such as being under the influence, when one surely should not drive any vehicle (including bikes), but sweeping the problem under the carpet is not a commendable method of coping with it. Education seems to be better that urging on abstention, doesn’t it?

And predictably the bottom line figures are pretty dire. The police has already provided us with preliminary stats and they reveal number of participants to the experiment was grossly insufficient. Over the last weekend there were:
525 accidents (excluding prangs), in which:
71 people died,
650 were injured,
and, watch out for the Polish roads’ hit, the police detained 2,794 drunk drivers.

Some of you would say pretty disgarceful state of Polish roads is to blame. Others would disagree and say despite this road users are guilty. Indeed driving around Poland is not a bed of roses, but we owe it not only to underdeveloped road infrastructure, but also to ourselves. A wise driver adjusts their speed and technique of driving to conditions on the road and failure to comply with this simple rule is the cause of many accidents. It’s not an excuse that the road was narrow, pot-holed, winding and without pavement. I’d also love to have wide three-lane dual carriageways with non-collision junctions, crash barriers, separate pavements, etc., but as we don’t have it yet, we have to drive slowly.

Speed kills, but speed also excites, makes us feel better, more self-confident, sexier, more powerful, but speed is, in my opinion not the main cause of traffic accidents in Poland. It’s not alcohol as well. It’s, if I’m not wrong, the failure to foresee other roads users’ moves. Driving is about thinking and predicting what can go wrong. If you don’t learn you should not declare you are a good driver. Maybe it’s weird, but every time I sit behind the wheel, before I start the engine, I trigger a thought that I can have an accident along the way, I don’t take it for granted I’ll reach my destination safely. This doesn’t have to help me avert mishaps, but probably if more drivers did it, number of accidents on Polish roads would be lower…

* I itinitally wanted to use the word “fatalities”, just later on it occured to me that you don’t have to die in an accident to be a victim of it…

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Chernobyl – a quarter of century ago

An anniversary might be the best reason to mark my presence on Polandian for the third time this year. Most of the readers probably not only do remember about the disaster in Chernobyl, but also still have in mind the days after the disaster itself. I unfortunately cannot reminisce those strange days, as I was born some time after the dreadful accident.

Today, the actual cause of the explosion is said to be an experiment carried out with appaling breach of safety procedures. Those, who want to drill down into the technical details of experiment, please go on to wikipedia page on the accident, where you can also find links to a Polish article and links to other scientific papers.

The explosion occured on 26 April 1986, at 01:23 at night. Firefighters arrived at the scene soon, totally oblivious of the fact that radiation doses they would receive would be fatal. The fire was extinguished within hours, actions taken to minimise the radiation and concrete over the blown-up reactor were swift. The disaster left many casualties among the staff of the power plant, rescue workers and firefighters. It was absolutely typical for nuclear accidents, nuclear accident in Fukushima I from March 2011 will probably lead to deaths of people who sacrifice their lives to save lives of other people, but the explosion in Japan occured in a normal country with undisrupted flow of information. The Japanese government was accused of concealing information about the dangerous impact of the accident on local environment and people, indeed it could have done so to avert panic.

In the communist union, a country where flow of information was paralysed by fear and censorship, things looked much worse. Firstly, local authorities were afraid to inform federal authorities on Kremlin about the disaster. They did so with a delay, which postponed the evacuation of nearby cities by at least 30 hours (evcuation kicked off 36 hours after the initial expolosion). People from the Soviet Union were informed about the accident three days later, but the scale of disaster was still withheld. Soviet authorities failed to inform other countries about the explosion and radiation released into the air. Blown by easterly winds, the radioactive cloud moved over Poland a day later, on 28 April 1986. Polish scientists, who saw the radiation levels surging, at first thought a nuclear war had just begun. They contacted Polish government, but they also did not know anything about the disaster. Poles found out about the explosion in Chernobyl from BBC. A preventive actions to protect people against radiation were launched three days after the accident. Soviet authorities still denied the tragedy, but fortunately in those days Polish government acted to defend its own citizens, not comrades from the Soviet Union. The first western country to learn about the disaster was Sweden. They measured excessive radiation in their power plant on 28 April 1986 and launched an investigation, over which source of the radiation was traced back to the western Soviet Union.

The effects of the disaster would have been probably much lower, if it had occured in a democratic country.

Aftermath:
– the disaster whipped up fears of nuclear energy,
– number of indirect fatalities remains unknown, as it is hard to estimate how many deaths were caused by the increased radiation and to how many other factors contributed to a much higher degree,
– the closed zone around the former power plant is the biggest natural, but unofficial reservoir in Europe, wildlife is thriving there, despite radiation,
– scientists are still divided when it comes to evaluation of real risks for human life and health incurred by the radiation,
– Ukraine is accused of wheedling out money from Chernobyl Shelter Fund.

Until recently I thought the nuclear accident as pernicious as the one that happened 25 years ago would not repeat. Nuclear power plants are much more modern, have better safety procedures established, are better run. But then on 11 March an eartquake of huge magnitude hit Japan. Fukushima I power plant was designed to survive such a quake and it did; it was also designed to withstand 5.7 metres high tsunami wave. Unfortunately the one which hit the power plant was 14 metres high. Day by day, situation in the Japanese stricken power plant was worsening, after a few weeks it scored 7 out of 7 points in the INES, which put it at a par with Chernobyl explosion.

Events in Fukushima were, however, hard to predict. Precautions have been taken, but as the reality proved, they tunred out to be insufficient. This event should be, in my opinion, seen as a black swan and should not bring to a halt nuclear energy development programmes, as it still has much more upsides than downsides.

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Ten Polish demotivating party pics

Errr… Just popped over here, noticed the last post went off six days ago and got my act together to stave off an impending week-long break in posting. I do not know whether the task was really challenging, since as every student during his exam period I am intently looking out for opportunities to indulge in self-delusion, or, in plain English I am trying to dabble in something that can dissuade me from learning for a while.

One of the websites popular among Polish students is Demotywatory.pl, containing miscellany of pictures aimed at… well… they are said to “(de)motivate” people. My real interest in the service was spurred by my fellow Polandian’s involuntary appearance there…

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201009/1284476615_by_gago08_500.jpg

Demotywatory.pl is to a large extent run by youngsters, hence one of the topics that crop up there frequently are parties. And because it is carnival, time of partying (for those who are not overwhelmed by exam period), it occured to me I should familiarise you with some of the most popular pictures from the website, which also depict some Polish party customs, mock at idiosyncracies, ridicule unwritten rules or generally present people captured in embarassing situations.

1. Rule number two (rule number one is for sure “attend parties thrown at home, but don’t throw them”) – do not close your eyes before you go to your own bed.

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201011/1290274897_by_Tom_500.jpg

Bringing along a small horse and keeping it on a lead is not extremely popular, but drunk animals might incur some measurable losses…

2. Family party

http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201009/1284046719_by_Vic3k_500.jpg

As a matter of prinicple held before it gets dark so that all guest can stagger home safely. Outfits are casual, the most frequent topics are: politics, family affairs, politics and family affairs. If you run out of contentious issues in politics or family affairs you can always try backbiting your neighbours or anyone else who is not around. Children do not like those parties because they are not allowed to drink, grown-ups bend over backwards to slip away from the house to avert hearing questions such as “when will you finally get married?”.

3. There is a cross, there is a party

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201008/1280938872_by_bushec_500.jpg

A relatively new pastime activity in August 2010.

Venue: Warsaw, Krakowskie Przedmieście, outside the presidential palace

Target group: *head covering description missing*

Set-up: Clasping hands, singing patriotic songs and dancing around the cross.

There’s a heavy cross to bear…

4. The reason why the lights are off…

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201007/1279323113_by_jurexplay_500.jpg

I do not know if tweaking with the photo in Photoshop would help, but pics similar to the one above are not rare  on fejsbuk or nasza klasa (if you use the former you probably vote for PO, if the latter – for PiS). If  you happen you photograph that badly you probably do not take trouble to go to the polls at all…

5. Geek party

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201003/1270134753_by_starcu_500.jpg

Essential equipment: portable computers, (at least one per participant), connected to the Internet, if possible all within one local network (capacity 100 Mbps).

Unwatned guests:  human beings of the opposite sex.

The worst scenario: Internet provider breakdown.

No, they’re not going to watch “18+” films.

6. “How was the party?” – the nightmare materialises

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/1263921247_by_Saszlyk_500.jpg

Tacky wallpaper – 15 PLN per square metre

Bottle of juice – 3.49 PLN

Seeing the face pulled by the hapless boy – priceless…

7. Outdoor bender

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201003/1269609117_by_dziunia00900_500.jpg

Time: morning rush hours, when normal people are stuck in traffic jams on their way to work, daylight necessary

Venue: who cares

Company: at 6 a.m. look out for two pissheads hanging around outside your cornershop, then offer them food (cucumbers in a jar) and drinks (a bottle of plonk) on the house. They’ll keep you company until they get really hammered…

Budget: approximately 10 PLN, risk of overrunning: low

Prerequisite skills: “strong head”, whatever it means…

8. Old-school party

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201003/1268494509_by_Jerem92_500.jpg

Photo surely dug up from archives. Should I have rummaged through mine?

Venue: school canteen, somewhere in Poland

Props: cult objects from early 1990s: spectacles, jumpers, tablecloth, mugs. Those guys are now probably in their early or mid thirties, I don’t recognise any scholars from my university…

Atmosphere: generally conducive to intellectual debates. No alcohol permitted.

9. School party

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/1261466799_by_bulateam89_500.jpg

Venue: primary (podstawówka) or secondary (gimnazjum) school

Start time: Friday 17:00

End time: Friday 20:00

Unless a local priest forbids…

Course of events:

17:00 Participants gather round

17:15 Boys call a committee to investigate strength of surrounding wallls

17:30 Girls and boys and lean against walls to prevent them from pulling down

18:30 Participants cluster together to work out a strategy

19:00 Slow dancing begins

19:45 The party hots up.

20:00 Despite hue and cry the party is scattered to four winds…

Brings back memories from childhood. People grow up but times are not changing in this respect. Today I would get a slap on my face for what was acceptable when I was ten years younger…

10. Polish wake

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201007/1278609690_by_kawior9012_500.jpg

As the description says, a regular party, just one player is missing. This is why I do not attend wakes. I know it can be a good custom, but too often it turns into a booze-up and guests begin to drink to the deceased’s health.

Enjoy yourselves in 2011! All the best from Polandians!

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Foreigners stealing away Poland's most precious assets – women

Look around, dear readers, and you will surely see a lot of marriages between Poles and Brits (or other English-speakers), but why is it always Polish women and foreign men, not the other way around? Notice our immediate company: All of my fellow Polandians; Scatts and Island1 (both English), Decoy (Irish), and Brad (American), are English-speaking foreign men married to Polish women, and I could name several other examples among our frequent commentators.

It makes sense that the majority of foreign men who decide to settle down in Poland do so because they have met the loves of their lives here, but the question is: who has ever heard of a Polish man married to an Anglo-Saxon female?

Intrigued by this sociological phenomenon I have attempted to come up with some plausible explanations:

Reasons why English-speaking men get hitched to Polish women:
1. The supply of female human beings other than Polish is rather limited in Poland, hence if they want to stay in Poland for good there’s no choice but to pick a Polish girl
2. Polish girls are famous for their remarkable beauty all over the world and women from other countries do not stack up against them in terms of gorgeousness.
3. Polish girls speak English to a reasonable level and are eager to keep on learning the language.
4. Polish women are open-minded and can provide English-language expats with fascinating insights into Polish culture, customs, traditions, and national oddities.

Reasons why Polish women fall in love with English-speaking men:
1. They find it exciting to enter into a relationship with somebody from a different country, maybe they even find these strange guys exotic.
2. If they finally tie the knot they have a new, foreign, exotic surname, that adds prestige and esteem among friends and colleagues.
3. Expats who come to Poland are usually highly-qualified (unlike male Poles who go to the UK to work as bus drivers), so they are potential resourceful and well-heeled breadwinners.
4. They want to raise bilingual children to give them a head start in a professional career in some twenty years.

Reasons why women from English-speaking countries do not fancy having a Polish boyfriend or husband:
1. They find male Poles rather dull and narrow-minded and do not bother to waste time hanging around with them.
2. If a relationship was to be formalised, their families would encounter a serious problem of pronouncing the resulting surname.
3. Polish boys insist on speaking Polish and are reluctant to switch to English, plus they will never learn how to pay compliments and express their feelings profusely in a foreign language.
4. Male Poles have quite strange ways of treating their women – they tend to be over-jealous, under-caring, and they never put the toilet seat down.

Reasons why Polish chaps do not even try to pick up English-speaking women:
1. There’s a cultural and a language barrier – “why should I get to know foreign customs and beliefs if I have my own one”, “I would have to speak English on a daily basis and learn it, it takes too much effort”.
2. They are afraid of being rebuffed – “why should she want to have a Polish boyfriend”.
3. If Polish girls are not as fastidious as English-speaking ones and are accustomed to different mating rituals…
4. Playing host to an English-speaking mother-in-law looms as the worst imaginable nightmare.

It goes without saying most of these observations are stereotypical and should be taken with a pinch of salt. Of course, and as my blogmates predicted, I have managed to insult everyone I mentioned in the post. English guys fall for attractive girls, Polish women are a bit mercenary, English women are picky and Polish boys are lazy and fearful boors. Maybe what I have said is full of distortions, but regardless of the real reasons intermarriage does only seem to work in one direction. Why?

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Polish-English Translation Competition #13 (closed)

The 13th translation competition absolutely coincidentally comes out on the 13th day of month. Given the waning attention Polandian’s readers pay to translation competitions, I am of the opinion it is high time we came up with something that would freshen up the content of the page. Before it happens, the last portion of translation puzzles. Here we go!

1. dać komuś popalić – to give sb a rough ride (island1)
2. radość życia – zest for life (Steve)
3. urżnąć się – to get hammered (-)
4. mieć przechlapane – to be in a doghouse (Steve)
5. salwy śmiechu – peals of laughter (siudol)
6. dojść do słowa – to get a word in edgeways (Decoy)
7. przypaść komuś do gustu – to take one’s fancy (Kasia)
8. podciąć komuś skrzydła – to take wind out of sb’s sails (Kasia)
9. otoczka dobrobytu – spare tyre (island1)
10. nie zmrużyć oka – not sleep a wink (daa)

There’s not leitmotiv this time, hope you won’t let me down, most of the phrases are really easy.

Good luck!

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