Author Archives: Darth Sida

Teachers that make no scientists (but make Polish people angry)

A long time ago I intended to write a post about why Polish scientists speak American English. Aleksander Wolszczan, the astronomer, and his likes.

It would be a post coarse in its simplicity. Money rules, blah, Poland pays, blah, for what foreigners take away, blah blah, brain drains worse than acid rains, blah blah, period”.

So instead I decided to wait for Poland to grow rich enough to buy some American brainwaves back. But all we have got is new Starbucks and new Star Wars. [Foreign stars came to this blog free, so it does not count as any brain back-drain.] Poland also failed to capture Switzerland and grab the Large Hadron Collider. Though nobody knows how LHC will pay off, everybody knows it will, eventually. LHC is said to be just as important as Copernicus’ revolution.

Copernicus was German – but it’s not his nationality that counts, it’s the source of taxation. It seems Poland was capable of making economic use of foreign Scientists ages ago — but not nowadays.

I read in the latest NF — there’s science (of analysis) and there’s Science (of synthesis). The big-S Scientists, the elite, the Noble-getters who give reasons for new industries to emerge with profits, they don’t work for Poland. The small-s scientists analyze stupidities: “Chickens can have erection once bombed by gay laughter“. That sort of science — which seems like something Polish analyses could fit in. Mind, Poland never had scientists who make local inventions that earn global fortune.

When my memory got searching for some examples of education, I recalled Aleksandra Lojek-Magdziarz. Fluent in so-many so-what languages. Handling Oriental stuff no one really cares about. Living in-/beside the world that thinks you highbrowed if you happen to know Iran is not an Arabic country. (Or is it?) Past the years to come, what Brits will wrinkle their foreheads, should their small talk divert to AL-M for any yet unobvious reason: “You mean the gal that used to write for the Grauniad?” — I guess remembering AL-M for her Grauniad thing would be as fair as pondering “John Cleese?…You mean that guy from that weird commercial for a bank in…was it Romania?”

Then I vaguely recall the Polish piano guy. — Can you?
No, I don’t mean Chopin — who’s working for the French capital.

No, I don’t mean the Keitel man in the movie about a prostitute selling herself for piano keys.
No, I don’t mean David Helfgott playing at Rach 3 speed – he’s Australian.
I mean that Glaswegian janitor, whose unremembered name I had to dig out there.

Then movie classics — Paweł, Jerzy and Zbigniew. One being a licensed literature professor. All educated enough to renovate a house under the Tuscan sun.
And then many other Poles (whose list I will spare for some other time).


Polish education, when not gone to waste, hastens abroad — but starts walking with the Polish teachers.

Did you know? –- Polish teaching load is 18 school-hours a week. Which means Polish teachers work for 54 round-the-clock hours a month (compared to average Pole’s 160). When they are at work, that is. Save Saturdays and Sundays, Polish teachers enjoy vacations: a summer bimonthly, a winter biweekly, a week in April, some 10 days round Hogmanay, annual Education day, a generous handful of feasts and other reasons to shirk just working. Heck, they can take a year (!) off, to revitalize their health, so they say. (But how could they say anything, when their larynxes and pharynxes are in ruins, so they say?) And when pupils have to buy books, teacher get their copies free. And when pupils pay to go for a school trip, teachers deign to get sponsored. And they get chocolates and flowers in public. And more expensive bribes in secrecy. In addition, they are regularly paid a lot. By the state, the safest payer. Employed by the state, the safest employer. And they score big extras for private lessons, net and untaxed. And at schools, they can just order their class to read some book and then learn it by heart. Or play ball. Or pray bull. If they don’t know how to download some tests from the net, they write ones themselves, but just once in their lifetime — then they simply reuse the stuff. And, hear! hear!, they do keep moaning about how hard it is to be a teacher. And that they have to retire sooner than anymany else.

I guess that’s it. No science’s muscles can be built around that kind of lazybones.

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Warning: there is more about teachers.

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F*** The Asterisks

Just when the residents of Poland could start stopping remembering BDSM sections of their history (for who needs the notion of “nation” today?) – many Polish (headbanging) heads will get reinforced in their probable jingo-pride by bands such as Marduk or Sabaton. That both come from Sweden – to make money on Polishful sentiments — I can’t take their songs as any retribution for what XVII cent.’s Sweden stole from Poles (who had stolen the stuff some time earlier).

The Marduk guys sing (?) about Warszawa of WW2.

Or so they imagine.

(Btw, Lennon’s whining remade into…Imagine there’s no Warsaw, it’s easy if you try. No hell below us, it’s just the Reich above would be a better attempt at artistic provocation.) Apres les Suedois le deluge – let’s flood Marduk with condescending smiles. Their lyrics could be just about anything — selling pancakes or seeing funny road signs — as long as the chorus should include “Warschau” (repeat three times). The title is in German (warum? geh figurieren, easier to sing (?) than “Warszawa”, plus the German market is mighty big) — and still some youtubers can’t spell it right. — Warshau? Warshaw? — Tell me about wasted education.

The latter band, Sabaton, is more dangerous – they sing intelligibly.

Be gone! Who in their sane mind cares about “Polish Thermopylae” — especially when no one cares about the Greek original? From a military p.o.v., the song does not sound sound either. Poland was defeated at Wizna. The bodycount ratio “40 to 1″ means nothing to Darth Vader – or to Paul Tibbets, a guy who survived (!) to talk about his singlehanded victory (!).

Still, the now masses of Polish ingrammaticados, poor commanders of English, hurry to express their occasional love for Polish CO’s who chose to die of grenadosis. (Compare the evergreen, 0:55-02:55.) It does not matter you’re defeated, it matters how you sustain your defeats, Poles will often think.
“Blow wind, come, wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back!”

It nearly rhymes with: “Let stones crack! Let the earth quake!”. Yes, it can be nice to listen to “these words are for you Poland” by Laibach (the German name more catchy again), but do we notice the song hails “all the communists” as well?

So, have we asked for it? Heavy metal and heavy weather?

Recently, Mother Nature has provided parts of Poland with hailbombs and whirlwinds. Which reminded me of not so recent floods. And of the fact that:

That’s what Polish PM’s have to do — apologize for words of reason. It happens when instead of letting the country grow evenly richer, middle-class way – they let the nation divide into the dramatically poor against the dramatically rich, and many chewing on the opium for the masses – the recalling of the days of old glory (of defeats).

PS The title of the post refers to a Giles Coren who used the asterisk-free phrase “Fuck the Poles” in his email, so I read. Test your Polishness now: can you care less?

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(I cannot.)

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In Defence of The Fence

Every time a bird locks my new neighbour’s chimney as its poo-goo target, the house’s newfangled alarm system makes me rise to arms. And feet. Construction work in progress, the neighbour has not yet inhabited the building – the system boos and hoots for a few minutes and then gets silent by itself. Nothing to write home about.

Every time a larger fly – or was it a backlash of rain – would happen through any of my car’s windows open for some nightly freshness, the alarm would be set off. In order not to wake up the locals, I would have had to leave the vehicle’s alarm off. But in doing so I would have shown recklessness – no dog of violent breed watched my sleep.

Yes, no dogs. Dogs poo and bark. They’re worse than cats. Cats like my car. My car doesn’t like cats – mainly their urine. Neither does my car like my neighbour’s car. Cars like parking spots they hate to share. Hardly anyone likes mail carriers. Mail carriers don’t like dogs. They like mailboxes. We don’t like mailboxes. Mailboxes, filled up with unclaimed leaflets, are liked by thieves. We don’t like thieves. Cops don’t like thieves. Cops like undisturbed peace. Thieves don’t like dogs. Nobody likes noises. Nobody likes birds. They poo and portend rainy weather. Birds like everyone, and so do mosquitoes. We live fenced, alarmed and stiff–aired (car windows up tight). Whenever I see a fence felled, I know it is going to go up, renovated and possibly stronger.

I read once: “The higher your fence needs be – the further you’re away from fellow humans”. That’s absurd. Were you a recluse in an uninhabited area, would your walls climb highest?

Who are the ‘fellow humans’ anyway? An anonymous crowd of high-rise dwellers? Some dog-in-home-owning rabble? Miscreants who block your parking lot? Certainly not. (BTDT.) Did we notice lists of occupants at our entryphones go blanker, blessed be the Personal Data Protection Act? Of course we did. Some experts will stress the word “community” then. It is not enough, they will insist, to have a neighbour. You’ve got to know your neighbour.

Experts are wrong. Knowledge means nothing, you need to love your neighbour – and be requited. A neighbour who hates your birds, brats, cats, cars, dogs, gods or guts – will not watch over your property, mailbox included.

Taken in by “trust thy neighbour” slogans, I did not invest in proper fencing – and guess what. (The photo shows but the tip of the trashberg, yet I can’t reveal more – ‘more’ could feature my neighbours happy face, one probably protected by the Personal Data Protection Act, a thousand blessings.) I can muse whether those who shared the fruit of their bins with me were charitable passers-by unperturbed by my benevolent neighbours, or were there the neighbours who did the dumping and the bystanders who did the watching?

Anynow on, whenever wherever I own anything, I shall enrich it with fences. They shall stand with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, they shall stand on my beaches, they shall stand on my hunting grounds, they shall stand in the fields, and at the streets, they shall stand high as hills, they shall never surrender. Bold and in observance of the law. Which says: You do not need a building permission to erect an enclosure lower than 2.20m. [Good!] Enclosures +1.80m tall can be embelllished with broken glass, barbed wire and other proper deterrents. [Goooood!]

And then let’s put balconies behind bars.
And turn our tailpipes against someone’s beloved flowers.
And buy more mohair berettas.

And a dog.
[I know - a dog. Some sacrifice is required.]

My heart crater rejoices every time I see new ideas for residential dwellings – that include barriers, moats, surroundings, shields to mean “back off! back off! yes, you too!”. It’s comforting to know that even when the designer can’t think of enclosures, life eliminates that engineering flaw and erects many a lock, stop and barrier. It’s reassuring to hum: “old villas do it, new villas do it, even educated folks do it, let’s do it: the fencing-off”. And may our only worry be – what to choose:

- Classic standard fairness…

- Modernity in style…

- A touch of elegant luxury

Or something more aggressive?

And don’t let some Polish sources confuse you. Don’t let some foreigners pervert your mind with de-fenced visions. They don’t have fences but they do secure their homes (that are their castles) in other ways.

Always bear in mind the nobler patterns the West bestowed upon us. Remember the ancient wisdom. Renounce the native errors.

Oh, by the way, whenever you see an unlocked car in the West, think of its owner “He / she is so lazy.” — Or “He / she is naive (read: dumb)”. — Or “He / she earns 4-8 times more than I do, so can afford any loss of a car”. — Or “His / her nanny state pays for his / her car theft insurance.”

Or simply: “He / she could be my neighbour”.

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Britain 10:0 Poland, yet Polish Drivers Winning

DISCLAIMER: This post is short. But it has a PS.

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Few facts first:

  1. Poles were franchised their worst driver in Britain.
  2. Britain’s worst driving learners are shown in many parts (first here).
  3. Poles are not on the World’s Top 10 Worst Drivers list made by Brits.

To hell with them. (The facts.) Polish drivers (or, drivers in Poland, thus including – yes! – foreigners) have been found guilty of many things:

  • They don’t give a misspellt piece of cutlery (was it “fork“?).
  • They make people write about rutting up real nice.
  • They drive as if they didn’t drink. Not as expected. Or they drink and then drive as if they did? (Eh, what?)
  • They occupy more space here than Doda does.

Their principal offence is that they drive at all. Even though they cannot. (A paradox, eh? Thank you for the third conditional: “If God had wanted the Poles to act like dickheads he would have given them cars”.)

The simplest way to explain why Polish drivers suck is to suspect: some hereditary affliction. (Mark: not every inheriting is Darwinian.) The end.

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PS:

on what little differences underlie the fact that the Polish and UK ways of driver-making (and, subsequently, of driving) are different. I’ll show how much (money, time or both) it takes to allegedly suck, Polish style. Contrasting prices, I follow 2007 Britain’s 19.863 EUR purchasing power per head (steady) against Poland’s 4.808 EUR (faller), and so use the 4-to-1 price conversion. And I translate 1 British pound into 4.25 Polish złoty. (The translation could be more faithful but less beautiful. Let’s wait till 1 pound falls to 4 złoty.)

Now.

In order to drive one has to be of age (a nuisance taken care of by Nature) and then to:

  1. learn theory of driving
  2. learn practical driving
  3. pass theoretical exams
  4. pass practical tests
  5. get driving license
  6. get a car
  7. get car insurance
  8. get fuel
  9. get a road
  10. (for)get the Code
  11. get a life

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1. LEARN THEORY OF DRIVING

In Poland (location: the sticks, time: 20 months ago) the price for a driving course was 1000 zł. Competitors downtown asked for 1200 zł. Prices of fuel rising, I should not expect the price to have dropped since then, especially outside hamlets. Standard course includes 30 hours of preaching and 30 hours of driving. A lesson of theory often turns out to last a ‘teaching hour’ (45 mins). Even when it is full 60 mins long, students are charged individually but drink the wisdom from the teacher’s mouth collectively. And what wisdom? There is nothing students could not learn by themselves. A sheer blatant rip-off, I say. But try to get a course without theory!

Britain is reasonable: Learn theory yourself. (Costs of teaching aids are cheap enough to be negligible.)

Score so far: Poland 0 — Britain: 1.

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2. LEARN PRACTICAL DRIVING

A lesson of practical driving takes 60 minutes alright. Although it may include the time to get from teaching centre to student – and back. Also, you may have additional would-be driver (or drivers) in your back seat. If you are trained in a city – well, you face city situations, which may mean little more than practising 1-2-1 gear shifts in a street jam.

Britain is more reasonable (again). One hour of driving costs 15–30 GBP, depending on how (re)commendable your driving instructor is. It gets even cheaper when you drive your own car (furnished with proper markings got easily from your local store). Driving your own car for practicing purposes in Poland is (nigh-) impossible. [And I know just one benefit of driving a car that's not yours – you can bump hard, like a Polish ladette youtubed here.]

30 hours of practise are the shortest period thought enough to construct another Polish driver. So, every hour of the total of 30 is sold for ~40 zł (as I take it the theoretical part is a rip off). 40 zł is an average price for any extra lessons as well. It means driving education is more expensive in Poland than in Britain.

What is practical about the UK approach is that as you drive your own car – you know what you drive and what your buttons do. In Poland you may learn aboard Chevy Aveo, make maneuvers in Opel Corsa and do the ultimate test drive in Toyota interiors. If you think variety is the spice of drive, go rethinking until you change your mind. Poles have to memorize where different cars’ lights, controls, switches, fluids are. And if on the T(est)-day you should not know all the numbers of the Is-It-Fiat Punto?-Game — then, bingo! — you’re out.

Besides: Long live the stick!

Ride the funky Manual: why auto-ugly ***us, have hands on ***us!

But In Germany, so I learned, should you have problems doing shifts – you are likely to be encouraged to go for automatically geared vehicle. In Poland not too far ago it was impossible – and still is darn hard – to find a school with such vehicles. The manual gearbox will be usually referred to as “regular” or “normal”, the automatic perversion reserved for the handicapped or the crazy (read: Americans). Having quoted certain EU regulations granting the freedom to drive the automatic way, I was frustrated by the testing authorities: since you are so obstinately European, please learn driving (not using public roads), have your instructor confirm you can drive, furnish your automatic car with cameras and secondary pedals on the passenger side for testing purposes, then transport yourself and your car to our testing ground (not using public roads), where you can exercise your right to pass the test. — Hmm, was it Catch 22 or more?

I also lament a memory of a girl, preparing for her test no. 2 or 5, one large lid faking the wheel, 3 more pot lids handles-down on the ground faking the 3 pedals, a long ruler stick in a flowerpot faking the box, who’s sitting on a stool and sobbing every time she could not get cooking with gas. Yes, I know the manual gear is predominant in the UK – but the British way toward the auto-box seems not obstructed.

[No wonder some less stress-resistant persons choose to drive scooters instead of cars. With engine capacity below 50 ccm, top speed 45 kph, some (barely) legal DIY mods to get more speed, you need no driving license to vroom this baby on, a chopper king(ette).]

Whether there are major differences in what prospective drivers learn here and there, I am not qualified to assess. (Apart from knowing the obvious peculiarity that the Commonwealth — though with no history of samurais — had chosen the left hand traffic instead of driving just right.) One of few things that struck me was how to steer the wheel. Names of the methods can be stimulating: make me think of acrobatics (“hand over hand”), maternity ward door (“push-pull”), card shark’s CV (“shuffle steering”) or more. There is less wheel and deal about it in Poland. I was told to use the “10 to 2″ or (less advisably) the “15 to 3″ grip for the exam – and catch as catch can otherwhens.

Score so far: Poland 0 — Britain: 2.

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3. PASS THEORETICAL EXAM

UK theory test fee is 30 GBP.

In Poland, after obligatory medical check up (usually against 50 zł) and after the course, of course, you can get your knowledge tested for 22 zł. It may seem it comes 1/3 cheaper than in the UK – but wait with that conclusion!

A pass on theory test holds valid for 6 months in Poland. Given this span, you may not have a chance to book more than 2-3 retakes. Due to long intervals between one exam and another, it is common for the Polish would-be driver to pay for both theory and practice tests. (Better poorer than sorry.)

When you fail the theoretical part, you can’t proceed to the practical part. Which is understandable. When you fail the theoretical part, you are refunded only half of the practical part fee. Which is Polish.

In Britain, things look just heavenly. “Book your test online” “Booking by phone” “Payment by postal order” “Reschedule without loss of fee” “Download application” — such slogans sound too good to be Polish, even translated. The UK postal application form (downloadable here) reads “You must wait at least 10 working days between appointments for the same category of test”. Ten days, huh? You count that Polish break in weeks!

(The American way of life shows up even sweeter: “He took the test Wednesday and didn’t pass. He failed it again Thursday, but determined and more confident, asked to retake it immediately.”)

The Polish examinee has to know answers for 490 multiple-choice questions. Out of these 18 are picked at random and onto the computer screen. The examinee has to answer 16-18 questions correctly. Min. accuracy is 88% then.

Some questions are impracticable, irrelevant, unrealistic.

  • What kind of paperwork should you do when selling your vehicle to a new owner? (But you haven’t bought any yet!)
  • Will you massage the heart of an infant victim with 2 fingers, 3 fingers or 5 fingers? (Note: more than one correct answer may apply, though not necessarily.)
  • Speaking of fingers. You find one torn away from a victim at the scene of the accident. How do you ensure it remains in resewable condition?
  • In a residential area, can your tractor overtake a biker? (But you’ve got a craving for a roadster!)

Then, there are questions about the physics of the vehicle stopping on wet, iced up or dry surfaces. You are not allowed to use any calculating machinery — as you are not supposed to calculate – rather to remember some weird numbers by heart. For about as long as it takes you to leave the test centre successfully. In wheel-life situations, a 90 kph fast car driver could not judge whether that deer hopped out 40 or 45 meters away. And even if one could, what difference would it make?

Having taken a few mock tests online, I know the Isles are not free from questions that mock human reason. But I think there are fewer of them, and the British theory test consists of two parts:

  • Multiple choice theory test (Just like the Polish thing. But they tell you how many correct answers are possible?)
  • Hazard perception test (A beauty! Alas, Poland did not import the idea.) Quote: “You’ll be presented with a series of 14 video clips which feature every day road scenes. In each clip there’ll be at least one developing hazard, but one of the clips will feature two developing hazards. To achieve a high score you’ll need to respond to the developing hazard during the early part of its development. The maximum you can score on each hazard is five. You won’t be able to review your answers to the hazard perception test; as on the road, you’ll only have one chance to respond to the developing hazard.)

The pass mark for the first is 43 out of 50 questions. (Min. accuracy: 86%.) The pass mark for the latter is score min. 44 out of 75. (Min. accuracy: 58,(6)%.)

Score so far: Poland 0 — Britain: 3.

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4. PASS PRACTICAL TEST

UK practical test fee is 56.50 GBP. Polish fee is twice as much, 112 PLN.

The practical test in Poland is divided into 3 parts popularly called:

  • the car (a place where you play bingo and perform safety checks)
  • the yard (a place where you do obligatory manoeuvres)
  • the city (a place where you do the driving and some more manoeuvres)

The “car” part is when you have to show you are well versed in your car’s design (although this is not really your car – it is just your testing centre’s car – whereas your really your car – with really your lights, buttons, stick, dipstick and lipstick – is way elsewhere).

The “yard” means two obligatory maneuvers [click here to see them]:
1) driving / reversing round a curved corner (jazda po łuku)
2) hill start (ruszanie na wzniesieniu)

  1. Rounding a bend can be round-the-bend-sending fun. (Nearly as funny as, say, Future Perfect Continuous in English. By my next incarnation I’ll have not been speaking to a native speaker who should ever use the tense but it’s fun to know it’s there.) Especially the go-back part, neither used in parking nor in actual driving, in fact, reverse bends being forbidden in many road situations, is fun. How should it not be fun when people are so concentrated on timing their making 1 and 1/3 wheelturn right while their mirror passes the line of the middle post’s shadow or something. (Provided it’s aboard toyota, in fiats they may have to do two wheelturns. Or the other bend round.) No instinct involved here. No “feel the Force” approach. As no post can be grazed. No tyre’s edge may contact but the outer edge of any koperta‘s borderline. Koperta is often at a slope, so don’t forget to apply the hand brake, or you’re out. (Btw, the word means ‘envelope’, and is the name of that starting / finish rectangle that looks like, well, an envelope. The same word is used colloquially to mean the much feared parallel / reverse parking. The same word is used to mean the envelope containing pecuniary incentive for the instructor’s eye to turn blind. A short film about koperta, in Polish, here.) Waiting round the bend, my huckleberry friend, awaits Maneuver #2:
  2. Hill start – to test whether you know how to release the hand brake of your uphill-pointing car. There are two groups of drivers, I gather: juniors, with the reflex to pull the hand brake every time they stop regardless of the road surface gradient yet fresh – and seniors, with feet on their brake pedals, looking down on the hand thing.
  3. Apart from the two, there can be more maneuvers – notably parking combos, three point turning fun – but demanded in city conditions. I heard emergency stop could be required but never met anyone who had to.

In the UK there is no doctor’s checkup: the examinee is deemed fit if fit enough to read (or write down) some plate numbers and not smelling booze.

[A joke in passing.

A Polish immigrant wants to apply for a driver's license. First he has to take an eye-sight test. The optician shows him a card with the letters -- C Z W I X N O S T A C Z.
-- "Can you read this?" the optician asks.
-- "Read it?" the Polish guy replies, "I know the guy!"
]

Vehicle safety questions may be asked. There are the following maneuvers, (1) reverse parking, (2) turning back on a street, (3) reverse turning into a street, and – not necessarily – (4) emergency stop. All to be performed in real-drive conditions. (Again, a praiseworthy idea.) Just when I would begin to believe the realities in the two lands were more or less comparable, I saw the video, part 1, and part 2, and part 3, of one actual driving test.

“Pat was successful in passing her test with 15 minor errors”

FIF-freakin-TEEN errors?!

Now, give me a (hand) break! Let aside the fact I could count many more there (if only the lady were to drive in Poland) – FIFTEEN is just pure bliss! In Poland you cannot make so many. Not ten, not eight, not six. Indeed, there can be fewer errors than in baseball. It’s as simple as “one strike – two strikes – you’re out”!

And whether a disqualifying error is ‘minor’ or ‘major’ can be fuel for complaints at pro failers’ fora:

  • I forgot to honk before the drive, thus failing to check the efficiency of a major car system.
  • I honked before the drive, but I was not supposed, abusing the honk is a major bad. I should have asked the instructor’s permission to honk first.
  • I asked my instructor whether it’s okay to honk before the drive and he said “if you don’t know a major thing like that, you’re not going anywhere”.
  • Another road user honked near me (and it did not matter that it was a honk by accident or not at me)
  • I forgot to check the headrest.
  • I forgot to fasten the seat belt.
  • I didn’t have to fasten the seat belt, for I was pregnant, but forgot to inform the instructor thereof.
  • I didn’t know the regulation under which my instructor was supposed to fasten the seat belt too (or not).
  • “You damn 20 years old engine, don’t you dare die on me!”….It died twice, it’s over.
  • I forgot to adjust a rear mirror before starting the engine.
  • I switched on the dipper before starting the engine.
  • I did not assess properly was my tyre tread deep enough.
  • I was driving too ‘dynamically’, whatever this should mean.
  • I was driving not ‘dynamically’, whatever this should mean.
  • I should have foreseen a tipsy prankster, pole vault champion, who triple jumped on my bonnet from behind the wayside bushes, but I didn’t.
  • I misjudged the situation: I didn’t stop at the zebra: that pedestrian scratched his head, clearly indicating the direct intention to cross the street.
  • I misjudged the situation: I stopped at the zebra: that pedestrian shuffled his foot, clearly indicating he’s not about to cross the street, it was just an itching toe or an ant in his sandal.
  • Some driver saw the words “exam ride” on my car and felt sorry for me and gestured “go first” with a smile, and so I went and the instructor said I violated the right of way.
  • Some driver saw the words “exam ride” on my car and felt sorry for me and gestured “go first” with a smile, and I didn’t, because I was to yield the right of way, and the instructor said I violated the right of polite driving.

Polish reality barks and bites even more cruelly than the thing with that Bournemouth taxi driver who didn’t learn his apostrophes. English is easy (and Future Perfect Continuous is fun) and defined, whereas Polish instructors’ whims can’t be predicted, so can’t be indulged. Not to mention a difference between a driver and a cabsman.

The Polish would-be driver is next to the mine-removing sapper (who can be wrong just once). No wonder Poles get hysterical, their hands shake, their brains shake, they regard driving tests as harder than any A-Levels, and they secretly discuss which benzodiazepines dumb you enough against cruel cruel world while not put all of your eyes and ears to sleep. (Me, I was wearing my lucky sneakers upon January snow. Further, my lack of faith made me buy additional hours of driving before I even took my first test.)

When you pass “the car” part and you pass “the yard” part but you fail “the city” part, your next exam will include the 3 parts again. It does not matter if you fail in minute 1 or 31 of the exam. It hardly helps there are cameras to make a movie of your driving. Who would appeal against a negative ruling of the testing centre when one needs to retake the exam in the centre again? In obvious cases of instructor’s spite, records may simply be found lost (oh, is there a law forbidding a camera to have a malfunction?), and without such records the only thing examinees can be entitled to is repeating their exams at no additional cost.

With cameras in cars, European laws flying around and all that jazz, Polish examiners have grown cultured, suited and tied, no doubt, but still are at best severely principled like Mr Howard Webb, “brave enough to” put a wry on the face and “say, Enough is enough.”. No way could they be unnecessarily reassuring or too empathic. Never cordial. Providing tips or just Oriental wisdom may work in Beverly Hills, in the UK perhaps, but not in Poland. I have got the impression that the examinee in the UK is a human fellow citizen and their Polish counterpart does not even rank as a customer. (The customer is always right, the examinee is not, so.)

So, there come Polish RETAKES. Paid fully upfront. And again. And again. And again. There can be little consolation in that the 13th attempt is sponsored by your driving teacher. Urban legends have it there are Poles who don’t give up past a scoreful of attempts and going. Personally, I know a lady who made it on seventh go. She spent as much money on getting her license as she would have on some used car. The official stats seldom specify more than how many examinees fail ‘the yard’ (20%) or how many pass at first go (some 30%). I would expect the mean figure to be 3-5 attempts away from the ultimate success.

Score so far: Poland 0 — Britain: 4.

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5. GET DRIVING LICENSE

Poland: After the practical test passed, the testing centre has 3 days to pass relevant documents to the license printing / processing unit. (Everyone with access to the net can see online about printers’ work in progress.) From there a document is sent to a relevant city / town office’s Department of Transport. (Allow for postal service.) Altogether, it is hardly possible to receive your license in less than a week. The usual time is 2-3 weeks, some less lucky people may wait 4-5 weeks (or more, whenever the document gets lost somewhere in the process). The maximum period under the administrative regulations is 30 days. Good news: you have the right to remain smiling (for your document’s photo). Bad news: you have to pay for the photo. And then for the document: 75-80 zł (the more enclosures should be required the more expensive it gets). And it can be queueful at the office.

Britain: Once the practical test is successfully over, you will be given a certificate to prove you passed. (A nice thing, not so obvious in Poland.) You will find your driving license in your post within four weeks past your passing.

Score so far: Poland 0 — Britain: 5.

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6. GET A CAR

This is a Polish car

Now, as we have the document, we can start looking for a car. — And are cars in Poland expensive?

Four years ago, it was found out that Polish cars were cheapest in EU. “The report concluded that Fiat Pandas sold in Poland were the cheapest cars across the EU.” (Oops! Were the EU ‘reporters’ looking for any cheapest brand that just happened to be manufactured in Poland?) Anyway, it’s 2008 toyear.

You are a new driver and you want a new car. (How else?)

A new Fiat Panda, 100HP 1.4 16V, nice Pasodoble Red colour, with ESP and roof bars added sells for: 51.690 PLN in Poland. The same configuration in Britain calls for 11.105 GBP. (And x 4,25 = 47.200 PLN).

Or let’s get a look at something else:

More specifically:

Opel Corsa of 2008, 5 door hatch, 5-gear manual box and 1.4 engine 90KM, Cosmo (read: air-conditioning), solid yellow (sunny melon) colour, CD-60 radio-CD–sat-nav. Polish price: 59.250 PLN.

[You say potato, I say potatah. I say Opel, you say Foksal.]

Vauxhall Corsa Club a/c 1.4i 16V, w/ the same accessories. British price: 12.490 GBP. (x 4,25 = 53.080 PLN)

Adieu, Polish cheapness.

Score so far: Poland 0 — Britain: 6.

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7. GET CAR INSURANCE

Did I forget to mention that the price for British Vauxall above was RPP including, inter alia, “12 months’ Government Vehicle Excise Duty and the DVLA new vehicle first registration fee of £55.00″? Yes, your British car is already insured and you’re so laid back.

In Poland — let’s go alphabetic — AXA checked out as your prospective online car insurer:

You are a man, a student, born 1982, no kids, no experience, freshly licensed sole driver, parking your privately owned Opel in the streets of Warsaw (zip code 00-116, is it Żoliborz enough?). You don’t have money for having your car garaged. You have not installed any safeties yet. There are 2 car keys in your hand’s possession. You want to get your OC (general civil liability insurance) – one compulsory to have, and have it started a month after you grabbed your DL.

AXA says: 2197 PLN. [517 GBP]

And now you are a woman, born 1982, too, but who managed to CV-ize yourself out better and got some beginner’s office job somewhere at, say ulica Zlota in Warsaw (zip code 00-120). Smart enough, you have your boss agreed on putting you car into company’s shared garage for nights. At times you let your BF (see above) drive your car. Better safe than sorry: you installed some basic safeties — and you decide on OC+AC package.

AXA says: 3431 PLN. [807 GBP]

TIPS AND TRICKS:

  • Kids, get married. Or otherwise have joint ownership of a vehicle. When you are a car co-owner, then even when you don’t have DL, your driving record to negotiate lower insurance premiums in the future grows with each passing year.
  • Kids, don’t get married. Or don’t get into a car accident. At least — not together. See this pdf how Polish Supreme Court did not care in 2006 about situations when a married couple gets into their car – and their car gets into an accident – and the spouse on the passenger seat does not get a dime out of their car insurance policy.
  • More British thoughts about Polish car insurance went over there.

Score so far: Poland 0 — Britain: 7.

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8. GET FUEL

“Fill ‘er up”, all the catchy phrases, all the American dream, the American tanks and tankers, self-proclaimed American assholes saying “I’m gonna drive around in that baby at 115 miles per hour, getting one mile per gallon”, American zombies who want “400 horsepower of maximum performance piercing the night”, naked ladies who “drove all night”, or got their kicks, “more than 2000 miles all the way” – they are just not us / for us, the people this side of the Gas Wars.

Excise duties? Bring ‘em on! (It would take another post to say why Polish govt should not lower the rate.) Fuel prices may change daily, but let’s say (read) the price for 1 litre of gasoline is about 4.45 PLN in Poland and some 1.18 GBP in Britain.

The average monthly salary in Poland (source: GUS, April 2008) is 3137,74 zł gross. Of which 2230 zł netted in hand. Or some 500 litres in the fuel tank.

The mean weekly pay in UK was 452 GBP gross (source: ONS, all jobs ASHE) in 2007. The monthly gross would be 1808 GBP — netting to 1480 GBP cash in hand. Meaning: 1250 litres in the fuel tank. Or more, considering 2007-2008 changes.

Simply put: Polish petrol is effectively 2.5 times more expensive than British.

Score so far: Poland 0 — Britain: 8.

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9. GET A ROAD

Some basic figures and facts about the road systems in Britain and Poland for a start.

British roads are fine. Started by the Roman Empire, they continued till the mid-90s – when the road network was found “broadly complete“. So, don’t believe any hostile propaganda.

Would anyone believe British motorists were being “hit from all sides with record fuel prices, record motoring tax levels and record congestion”?

Nah.

High fuel taxes paid by UK drivers are a myth. Prices given without context are invalid. — Heavy-rated or not, fuel taxes help building roads.

Roads – if they are to be many, long, wide, with infrastructure, not through living rooms of some poor folk but at a distance – need to go through areas that usually come in green on our maps. While Americans don’t care about greenhouses in Kyoto, they have roads. While there were forests and aurochs in Scotland, there are British roads. While there are forests and wisents in Poland, Polish roads (pothole-to-road index low) are scarce.

Apart from blatant eco-absurdities (“which are greener: pigs or cars?”), there are some climatic spokes put in Polish car wheels. If you can spot any would-be motorway in your vicinity, inquire if it is being built of concrete or of asphalt / tarmac. The first is allegedly noisier and uglier. (And why only a handful of Google .uk hits for “concrete motorways”?) The latter’s yearly temperature variation is 70-80 degrees centigrade – so the road either melts in summer or cracks in winter.

Given the context of time pressure, demand / supply: Both are damn expensive.

So yes, it’s money again.

Score so far: Poland 0 — Britain: 9.

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10. (FOR)GET THE CODE

There is something in the names already.

The English is the Highway Code. The Polish is the Road Traffic Act. I can feel the difference, it’s not too subliminal.

There is that local road I take going to my work and fro. The speed limit is 30 kph there. The road is broad. It is broad and deep. It has more potholes and holes and grooves and humps than it has itself. (Years of exploitation to blame, trucks hungry for coal, underground subversion by mining industry, whatever.) The road is steep. There is no way to go down on it within the speed limit other than including pedalling the brake every now and now. Locals know how to zigzag there, yield, even change lanes (yes, left-hand driving will surprise only strangers there).

If, having adhered to a speed limit, you were to damage your car – landed in a hole, you could document your fall with photos, call the police and claim damages from given road administration. My local treasury is quite empty, however. Hence the speed limit. No one should break anything going 30 kph, authorities think, so damages can’t be claimed. It makes sense only if you concede civil servant’s primary task is to shrug their shoulders, and the key feature of a road is holes galore, and the mining company can have coalface under your house but the headquarters (so, the source of taxation) two cities away. If you accept the truth that – save the red triangle, fire extinguisher, spare tyre, first-aid kit – a camera is indispensable for your car’s (or your wallet’s) safety. (Note: You may break a wheel got into a manhole stolen its cover by compulsive metal scrap collectors, the hole covered with some cardboard for the sake of aesthetics. Your damage may vary. You do need a camera.)

The worst part is things one hears make sense:

  • It makes sense not to tailgate. (But in Poland it makes sense to tailgate, actually.)
  • It makes sense to protect natural environment. (But why did the already deforested and industrialised part of Europe not practise what they will preach to Poland today?)
  • It makes sense to build roads. (But why with the house building sector blooming too? And India and China hungry for materials?)
  • It makes sense to economise on fuel. (But why now, when you finally can have your first SUV after all those decades in grey poverty?)
  • The proverb makes sense: Road wasn’t built in a day. (But if “no-roadness” is only provisional, where have all the road taxes gone? What about the other saying, about le provisoire qui dure?)

Should Poland wait until everything gets “normal”? How long?

Haven’t we read our Keynes?

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11. GET A LIFE

Getting less (bureaucracy excluded) though paying more than Britons, getting through the ordeals of life, getting licensed, getting motorized — car being the poor man’s substitute for prosperity at its peak — with a long tradition of roadholes – and paying for them — with less money left, hence less free time, time needed to earn money to pay for lack of it:

Poles hurry.

They hurry a lot, having a Socialism to overtake and a Capitalism to catch up with. Cases of plain stupidity and arrogance aside (which are pandemic), Poles simply have neither a generation nor a second to lose. Not even for love, not now. Handicapped (Poland 0-10 Britain), with work to do. Given jobs they often dislike or just hate. Against all Odd’s factors. They worked more than Britons in 2003. And more in 2004. They work more at home as they do in Britain. Money counts. Speed helps. And road politeness? It means neither carrots nor sticks yet.

Out of breath – and into it – in passing, Poles see stupid laws they don’t know how to abide by. For instance — they see road signs. No, not those. These:

Pic 1: GO AHEAD AND END DEAD

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Pic 2: DON’T HESITATE TO DON’T GO

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Pic 3: TWICE INFORMED, ONCE SHY

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Pic 4: WHERE PYGMIES DARE

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Pic 5: WARNING: INCORRECT POLISH ZONE

“Ruch wachadłowy” is as correct in Polish as “Signal Internet Lame Traffic” would be in English (but to mean “Single Alternate Lane Traffic”). The correct speeling is WAHADŁOWY (“pendular”). To err is human, but this sign is plain stupid, which makes it worse than, say, Welsh bladder disease (which is intriguing) or Welsh support for lefties (which is funny).

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Pic 6: WARNING: EDITED INCORRECT POLISH ZONE

The same – but with the excess letter written off. (We see a different setting. It’s not an individual case then. Most probably the taxpayer had to pay for delivery of more of these blunders.)

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Pic 7: WE MIND THE LITERATE MINORITY

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Pic 8: SCHRÖDINGER’S PARK

You remember Schrodinger’s cat, a pet simultaneously dead and alive? –Well, you can superposition your vehicle in SCHRÖDINGER’S PARK.

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Pic 9: SCHRÖDINGER’S TOWN

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Pic 10: SCHRÖDINGER’S TURN

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Pic 11: WANT MORE?

How about five at once? And mutually exclusive?

[Want more? Following "UWAGA ABSURD" icon here - find "stulta lex sed lex" near yourself!]

The end, really.

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In making this post, I was in a hurry. I tried to be meticulous – but it is possible some facts and figures missed me.Anyone with better knowledge? Revise me! — Guests from other countries are welcome to throw in their data and stats.

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10 Curiosities: Polish But True, or Close Enough

1.

Can life in Poland be…demanding?

If you are alive, that is.

Well, should a Polish pensioner reside abroad, some authorities may be asked to confirm the person has not died yet, away from homeland. Documents such as this Slovene-Polish pdf (see Page 2) make sense: “This is to confirm that pensioner [name, surname, particulars] remains alive” — Why pay the dead?

Powers That Insure can go further. Polish ZUS wants to cut red tape even more effectively! Maybe its own red tape in fact. Why have heftily-paid office workers confirm that some pensioners live? Pensioners know better whether they are alive or not – so can fill in documents themselves, right? Grab this pdf while it’s not removed yet. Or simply read: “Me, the undersigned [...] hereby I declare that I live and reside at the above mentioned address”

2.

Life is not certain, no. But taxes are.

Some people could have the annually recurrent problem of choosing the right tax return form. If you were employed AND had some temporarily suspended business activity (a curio itself, the instrument of “suspension” can be recognised by tax authorities [US] – though won’t be accepted by social insurance authorities [ZUS]), meaning – if you had no turnover, no profits or losses, no trade as your business is dormant - PIT 37 form should seem to be the right choice – comprising any and all sources of your income (employment, period).

Despite a substantial difference between the meanings of “to run a business” and “to draw income from a business”, the tax office would insist that you fill in PIT 36 for business activists. Your business is dormant, not run, you hardly even walk it, nonetheless you would be asked to write in a few zeros into PIT36. Zero income is some income too, tax office will try to reason.

And why? — The software designed for handling tax data can’t process the difference.

3.

The basic way to calculate fiscal dues is by means of some calculating machine. Surely many people have seen one HP calculator or more. But if Jan Lukasiewicz had not suggested POLISH NOTATION, later re-turned into REVERSE POLISH NOTATION – they would not be so efficient. Moreover, no model among them could be called “first desktop computer“.

4.

Another way to get away with taxes is pay whatever the leeches want from us, no calculating. If only they should let us use superbucks. So, what do you reckon this is?…

…This is not a 100 American dollar bill. This is a 100 dollar superbill. Back in the late 90s (if my memory is correct), the USA would ponder whether acts of forging their notes form enough of casus belli to go to, hmm, North Korea to spread democracy (and oil companies or whatever manifest destiny USA would hold for them) there. In the process of US Secret Service search, some of world’s best counterfeit hunners were found in Poland. They were recognized as fake only because they’d been prepared more carefully than the usual greenback would be.

Given the deep falling rates of US Dollar or British Pound against Polish Zloty, it is not improbable we’ll live to see the times the Polish currency will be chosen often by money copyists (and Andrew Eldritch will prove himself a visionary).

5.

But let’s drive on.

Brits have Robin Hood (on foot). Americans have Green Arrow (left). Poles have green arrow (right).

Green arrows in Poland have been meant to improve traffic flow. But not everywhere. In some cities they survived, in others they did not — after a minister’s call for Greenland Clearances, to remove the arrows (or, more economically, just blind with any non translucent wrapping, or drown in dark plastic bags). Today they seem to have regained favours with Polish streets. [But anyone seen them abroad? Do they blink? Are they painted? Fixed for good?]

6.

Arrows come and go. Unlike the national church of Poland. However, anyone seriously cross with the ‘men in black’ may choose to become apostate. There are a few websites in Poland yet with model documents, the first step on the way outside Roman Catholicism, domestic variety.

7.

Arrows or no arrows, the road to church or the road to perdition – when you have a vehicle, kids may happen.

Browsing the net for any statistics concerning “babies conceived in cars”, I found several American mentions – stress put on specific car brands in lieu of broader analyses. So, talk to me about the whole Model T-Ford’s backseat generation? Or was it the backseat of 1985 Camaro (at a Springsteen concert)? What about 1969 Cutlass Supreme (at an AC/DC show)? What is the meaning of 1957 black Chevrolet convertible in Paris Hilton’s life? Where are 1962 Bug babies gone? Or 1971 Plymouth babies? Hmm, that kind of stuff.

When Polish would-be parents are not against marriage – actually if they are all about marriage – it is possible to “request” or “kindly request” that 30 days of the statutory waiting at the public registrar’s be shortened to its shotgun minimum. The fiancé will have to put down some justification (“I hereby declare my fiancée is pregnant”, add “we hereby declare we would like our baby to be born within wedlock”), the couple will have to sign the application – and pay some 40 zloty to cover stamp duty. [Specimen documents in Polish here (USC/05) or there or googlewhere.] The registrar may take the applicants’ word for the fact about pregnancy.

Article 4 of “Kodeks rodzinny i opiekuńczy” (Polish Family and Guardianship Code) that covers the issue of the 30 days long waiting before the ceremony is not all clear to me. Why wait?

Why to shorten the waiting seems more obvious. The Code dates back to 1964, the time when ‘family’ stood firmly for the ‘basic social unit’, the core of the healthy tissue of the healthy society, and illegitimate babies were just three of seven bits less unwelcome than, say, the unemployed, or prostitutes or drug addicts.

8.

But there’s something worth any sacrifice to the bureaucratic.

The wedding. The drinking.

While breathalysers scale usually ends with BAC of 0.40%, lethal dose for every second human — the urban legend has it that Poles and Russians often defy the scale, the tall tale the proud sons of the two nations would be happy to oblige. Despite the accusations (?) that Poles “have been using alcohol for only fifteen hundred years“. For maybe it’s attitude that counts most? “Poles [...] tend to drink for the sake of drinking“. Idealists, one might say.

So, there was that idealist from Poland, who scored BAC 0.70% – and survived out of his burnt down car:

And there was a Bulgarian who scored over 0.90. (Bulgarians are kinda Poles, huh?)

9.

Then, just when someone could start thinking scornfully than Poland can’t sober up, the proof of reason is found in the building. And the building is in Szymbark. A local saying will go: “My emoh is my eltsac”, I assume. The thing is Europeanly unique, dwellable, and Lech Walesa cut the ribbon.

To your health!

10.

Let’s call it:

Reverse Polish Narration.

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