Tag Archives: Poland

Polandian Predicts – 2011

It’s that time of year when Mystik Monika rolls her palms over her crystal ball and tries to foresee what the future holds. The Polandian crew found a few spare złoty down the side of the couch and asked her to cast her eye over what lies in store for Poland over the coming year. Here’s what she had to say:

January – Donald Tusk will start campaigning for the October parliamentary elections early by announcing that he would like Poland to “become the new Laos, Belize, Tajikistan… someone…?!?” After trying to be the next Ireland didn’t turn out to be the dream he wanted, he will latch onto any country as an alternative option. However, this will back-fire as the voters will not react well to his flip-flopping, and he will spend months trying to repair the damage.

February – The football season resumes after the winter break, and a surprise team charges to the top of the Ekstraklasa table with Arbiter FC picking up 3, 4 or 5 points in every game they play. Some notable results sees the referee send off all eleven players for Lech Poznań when they play the Arbiter side. In another game, the referee awards a world record 24 penalties as Arbiter FC wins 25-1 against Wisła Kraków. Suspicions arise but the official response from FIFA was “Meh, whatever!” as Sepp Blatter walks away with a few złotys drifting out of his pockets.

March – Following successful treatment for her boyfriend Nergal, Doda becomes a nun, claiming that a prayer to God had saved her boyfriend in his darkest hour. Her payment in return would mean her becoming a nun. However, 4 hours later the stunt is revealed to be a hoax, as Doda just wanted to dress up in a nun’s outfit for her new music video.

Nuns on the run?

April – Prima Aprilis is celebrated once more on April 1st, and the PKP decide to play an April Fool’s joke by releasing a whole new train timetable, effective from 00:00 on April 1st. An example of the fun includes trains being scheduled to travel between Wrocław and Gdańsk with a detour through Lublin. The Minister for Transport is fired.

May – On April 30th, Germany finally opens its borders to all of the ‘new’ EU countries allowing their citizens to work there without needing a visa. 200,000 Poles move to Berlin, then realise there are no jobs there, and that they miss pierogi and barszcz too much and have returned by the end of the May holidays. In the Eurovision Song Contest in Düsseldorf, Doda and Nergal perform a rock duet, finishing a close second place to the “Sexy Robot Singers” from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

June – Poland prepares to take over the 6 month EU presidency. Police run drills with batons and water cannons as thousands of protesters are expected to complain about the hundreds of millions of złoty that it will cost to hold the presidency.

July – Poland takes over the EU Presidency. A record heat-wave of 2 weeks reaching almost 40 degrees Celsius turns most Poles into zombies, unable to function as normal. Police use batons to smash lumps of ice into more manageable sized pieces while water cannons prove hugely popular as an option to cool off.

Refreshingly cool!

August – With a census taking place between April and June, the results are finally released in August, and it turns out there are 8 million foreigners living in Poland! Most have been hiding out and speaking only a few sentences of Polish to get by – enough to order bread, meat or a beer. A new political party called ‘Poland for non-Poles’ is set up to make the most of this revelation.

September – The return of the school year brings controversy as the political parties get involved in electioneering. One political party calls for more school uniforms, hoping to win the teachers vote. Another calls for less school uniforms to satisfy the parents. One foolish party calls for mandatory black tie wear while in school, aiming for the ‘too cool for school’ crowd while forgetting they are too young to vote.

October – As the parliamentary elections finally arrive, the voters have been whipped up into a frenzy, and it results in a record 90% turnout to vote. It seems the threat of a party called ‘Poles for non-Poles’ stirred a few fears in Poles, although most forgot that foreigners could not vote anyways…

Who did she vote for?

November – In the final football match for the national football team of 2011, a friendly is arranged against Liechtenstein – presumably to allow the Polish players confidence to rise before facing the might of Spain, Holland and Germany in Euro 2012. However, the plan backfires as Poland lose 2-1 in Warsaw with Hermann Pfarrfenknuggen the hero, scoring two goals for Liechtenstein. Poland immediately withdraws from hosting Euro 2012 due to shame, citing the lack of investment in roads, hotels and other infrastructure as the reason.

December – 2011 ends with a language confrontation. With the economies of Ireland, the UK, the United States and other Western countries continuing to suffer, more and more Polish emigrés return home. However, with many millions having gone to English speaking countries, a campaign has arisen for Ponglish to be used as the second language of Poland. The official campaign spokesperson said “Szur, it sims diffikult at fyrst, but ju get just to it”. Efforts to adopt it as a second language falter with the older generation though, who feel more comfortable with the Cyrillic letters of the Russian alphabet.

That was it from Mystik Monika for this year. She’ll probably be back at some time in 2012!

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Anti-corruption fail

So I’m poking around on the website of the Central Anticorruption Bureau (important journalistic research doncha know) and it occurs to me to wonder what I would do if I was foreigner wanting to report a heinous act of corruption—like my wife scoffing all the Christmas fruit cake for example. I clicked over to the helpfully provided English-language version and followed the links. The results were… discouraging

English-language home page of the Central Anticorruption Bureau.

Hooray, a questionnaire! Kliknąć!


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What winds up a Pole…

Those who have kept up with Polandian for a while have surely read several rants on various things that make the hackles of English and American people living in Poland rise. Given that over a month has gone by since my last post went off here and that I have had an awful week abounding in situations in which I nearly hit the roof, it is the high time I hit you with a list of ten things that repeatedly hack me off.

1. Unreliability – probably the most infuriating trait Poles have. I have written a comprehensive post about it, so this time I’ll just link to it, everything is laid out there.

2. Keeping hands in a pocket while talking with somebody or speaking to audience. I do not know whether that habit can be easily eradicated, but it surely should be. Dress code flops can be forgiven, but it is much harder to connive at lack of respect, so overtly shown be keeping hands in a pocket. Maybe I am not well-versed in body language, but I tend to tag people with this affliction “snotty”. Do they really try to signal they are more important, or do they not realise they manifest their rudeness by hiding their palms from other people’s eyes?

3. Lack of respect for other people’s time? During an in-company training on holding meetings, coaches have taught me it is crucial within a company and in private life. Punctuality is vital then. Coming late for a meeting means you do not care about other people’s time, which is these days quite often a scarce commodity. The more official the meeting is and the more people attend, the bigger your sin is when you turn up late. Those who run a meeting should peek at their watches as well. Much more infuriating is when an event lasts longer than it should. When a meeting is supposed to be held in alloted time, for instance it should end by 3 p.m., you must not overrun it. Some participants surely have some other plans for time after 3 p.m. and you should bear it in mind. And if you did not get to the point and the meeting has been wearing on for too long, sorry mate, you did not bring it off and need to learn the lesson.

4. Idleness / laziness – another collective disease in Poland. No matter how you call it, there is always a group of people who try to outfox other ones, try to shirk work, pretend they do something, are all mouth to do something and generally when the results of their work are measured, it turns out there is much smoke, but little fire. Actually the “couldn’t care less” approach makes life easier, but usually for a person who practises it, but can be a huge nuisance for people around who sometimes break their backs and the idlers benefit from “sucker’s” efforts.

5. SUV drivers. Even after heavy snowfalls I still have no idea why people need those huge 4WD pricey vehicles to drive around town. After many years of investigations I still cannot make out whether buying big cars has anything to do with inferiority complex, if it is a way to boost ego of people who came to Warsaw from the countryside and purchased SUVs to swank and finally if there is a significant negative correlation between size of the car and size of a certain part of its male owner’s body. Probably the rising popularity of SUVs among women can disprove my theory.
It is not that I dislike them by the very dint of size and market value of their cars. They wind me up for one simple reason – they look down on other roads users and people around in general. They think if their car is bigger they can cut in on other cars, or can occupy two parking spaces. In Warsaw I have observed a quaint regularity – the more expensive a car is, the worse it is parked. Shiny BMWs, Audis and other luxurious cars tend to be parked aslant, occupy two spaces, are parked on lawns or where parking is forbidden. Let’s face it – quite often drivers of those cars are not enough skilled to sit behind a wheel of a sizeable vehicle. And this week I have been splashed with a slush three times by drivers of SUVs. Drivers of other vehicles can slow down when they pass a poor pedestrian by, but SUV drivers do not care.

6. Grannies… I know I should pre-empt you reproaching me over lack of respect for elederly people. I do understand they do things slowly and I will not bemoan their senility, because one day I will reach the same age, but the case is thoughtlessness. On Tuesday I visited a post office in Warsaw to buy post stamps and send Christmas cards. I queued up obediently and watched an amazing scene. An around 80-year-old woman asked for some Christmas cards, she did not know how many she needed, she could not pick any that could meet her expectations, she grumbled about prices, sizes, pictures, colours, etc. This could all have been forgiven even despite the fact the queue was getting longer and a worker behind the counter was getting impatient. She fianlly settled on eight cards and instead of letting a next person in a queue come up to the counter she took out a pen and began writing wishes, while still occupying the counter. The post worker gently asked her to move away because other people were waiting their turn, just to find herself accused by the granny of “belligerence” and “small-mindedness”. Fortunately, people waiting in a queue stood up for the besieged employee. Another quite frequent occurence when older people could use their nuts is getting off a bus. Usually they are lucky enough to be given a seat and know exactly on which stop they should alight the vehicle. Unfortunately, they wait until the bus stops and then stand up and elbow their way towards the nearest door. Usually other passengers are thumped with their belongings, are trampled, sometimes they fall over and eventually the granny fails to make it to the door before it is closed. Then everyone around, including inconsiderate passengers and the brash bus driver is to blame, in a word everyone except them. Outside public transport vehicles it is not much better. Recently they have picked up a habit of walking in the middle of a pavement. I am aware they cannot walk as fast as I do, but they can occupy only the half of a pavement on the side of it, not in the middle, to let other people, who are in hurry, overtake them. It does not take sleight, it takes to think…

7. Relativism & hypocrisy. Almost every Polish driver knows another driver who cuts in on them is a rude clot, but if they cut in on someone else it’s because they are in a hurry. When your colleague prints his private stuff on a company printer he simply steals paper and toner paid by your company; when you do it, it is because you have a profound reason (such as running out of ink in a cartridge at home, or saving on ink and paper). When your neighbour wheels and deals not to pay taxes, this is called tax evasion, when you do the same it is tax avoidance.

8. Ignorance, ubiquituos ignorance. But it does not prevent anyone from holding their head up high. A general old truth is that every Pole is an expert in every field. They are all best traffic engineers, economists, doctors, always well-read and well-travelled. This plague is particularly pernicious when it affects journalists. I am still waiting for a week when I do not find a single arcticle in a newspaper or in the Internet without a single factual error. Polish journalists are more and more often cutting corners when doing their work, they do not substantiate facts and hope nobody twigs. Fortunately enough, their “slip-ups” do not pass unnoticed and they have to correct their errors.

9. Cheating on exams. I took an exam on Wednesday. I had not had any for some half a year and surely in that joyful time I forgot how it feels. The hell begins some twenty minutes before students get into the room. Some students gather and begin to moan that they have not learnt at all and are totally unprepared. Then of course they get best grades. Brushing aside the “I’m unprepared” bleating, things get much worse when sheets with questions are handed out. Every (in)decent student tries then to look over someone else’s shoulder to check someone else’s answers. This is not yet the worst, the worst is when I cannot concentrate on the exams because some jerk jostles me and asks for a correct answer. It particularly hacks me off when they clamour for help because they work and consequently could not attend classes and did not have time to study for the exam. It was their choice to pursue career and earn money, I also combine studies with work, but it is not a reason why someone else should pass exams instead of me. When will Polish students finally realise this is sponging on people who work hard and this is theft, intellectual theft?

10. Grumbling, but not lifting a finger to improve anything. Back in the joyful times of middle school I first heard the phrase “Change the world, by changing yourself”. It would be quite practical to start revamping the workings of the world around from improving workings of small things. All my neighbours complain my street should be clear of snow. Indeed it should, but before a tractor with a snowplough sent by local authorities arrives, every healthy man should take a shovel and remove snow from a short section of road in front of his house. Thus after an hour the whole street would be clear of snow and all men, instead of sitting and staring at the box would have physical exercise. I recently cleared twenty metres of my street of snow and an hour later my neighbour scattered the snow from his drive there. I did not shatter my shovel on his head just because I want to stay out of trouble…

Cool! What a relief to take it all off my chest. Is anyone around who has not been insulted yet?

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Mysterious Internet superhero Island1 Assange has recently published the contents of six-and-a-half billion pieces of paper he found in the bins behind the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Startling revelations being poured over by the world’s media include hints that Jarosław Kaczyński might be “a bit suspicious” of the Russians and that Radosław Sikorski spelled the word “zucchini” wrong twice on a shopping list.

Among printouts of secret emails sent from Poland’s far flung embassies and notes written on the back of unpaid gas bills are tantalising glimpses of the high-powered world of international diplomacy. Highlights include:

Poland’s ambassador to Ireland, Tadeusz Szumowski, begging to be allowed home before he has to eat his shoes…

An inter-office competition to photoshop the most amusing moustache on Angela Merkel…

Not official Polish policy

Warnings from the the Polish consulate in Nottingham that the locals are getting dangerously close to perfecting a recipe for bigos…

Complaints from embassy staff in Moscow that Putin has hidden all their toys and is a “horrid, nasty man”…

Putin a “big meanie”

An application from the Hotel Kinga, Pcim, to accommodate secret CIA prisoners (rejected on humanitarian grounds)…

Details of a black propaganda operation aimed at ruining the reputation of that “smug bastard” Colin Farrell…

Polish authorities have expressed a desire to “talk” to Island1, who is believed to be in hiding somewhere under the bed.

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Six ordinary objects that define Polish life

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.

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