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Ten uses for a Polish balcony

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Balconies are a sacred and little discussed part of modern Polish culture. When I first moved to Poland my flat had a balcony and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Almost nobody in the UK has one, you either have a garden or nothing. I quickly spotted that almost everyone in Poland has a balcony, which made me feel a bit less special but didn’t detract from the essential coolness of the thing. Over the years I’ve slowly come to understand the central role of the balcony in Polish life.

Balconies as far as the eye can see (photo from this guy)

1. Dog ‘exercise’ area

Polish people like dogs, the bigger and noisier the better. Most Polish people also live in tiny flats in massive residential blocks – not a good combination. When the incessant barking of your 50 kilo Rottweiler gets too much you can simply shoo it onto the balcony. Suddenly the dog has a whole new world of exciting things to bark at, but at least the pain is then being shared by 800 other people.

2. Clothes drying area

Most balconies are permanently festooned with dripping laundry. I heard recently that the government is trying to ban this practice. They have about as much chance of banning snow in the Arctic. On the TV news report I saw there were a lot a red-faced women of a certain age with fiercely crossed arms: I’m not sure what they were saying about the idea but it was quite high pitched and didn’t sound conciliatory.

The way it should be.

3. Underwear display area

Polish people pretend they’re quite conservative and moral but in fact they like nothing better than showing off their skimpies to the neighbors. I have no idea why. The practice of leaving underwear out on the balcony ‘to dry’ often leads to a phenomenon known as ‘fairy’s panties;’ this occurs when you wake up in the morning after an unexpectedly blustery night to find your balcony festooned with g-strings and boxer shorts that have rained down from neighboring balconies. It was four years before I actually had to buy new underwear.

Coming soon to a balcony near you, if those pegs don’t hold out.

4. ‘Discussion’ arena

A balcony is a great place for a frank and open exchange of views with the neighbors, if they’re too timid to come out onto their own balcony to face you it’s often possible to shout directly through their open windows from your balcony. Alternatively you can wait until you see them passing in the street below and share you views with the entire neighborhood. Combat by mop can sometimes be observed 30 meters off the ground between housefraus on neighboring platforms; it’s almost heraldic.

5. Staring platform

Polish people like to stare. If staring were an Olympic event the Poles would walk away with gold every time… in fact they’d probably stick around for a bit of extra staring first, but you know what I mean. The balcony is a custom-built staring platform. I have a theory this is what they were invented for in the first place. You’ll sometimes see it in real estate ads “Fifth floor balcony, comfortable railings for leaning on, plenty of things to stare at.”

6. Panic and hand-wringing potential

Poles like a good panic and bout of hand-wringing as much as the next man and balconies provide endless opportunities. By far the favorite is ‘balcony collapse’ panic. Hardly a month goes by without someone somewhere announcing that communist-era balconies are structurally unsound and likely to collapse at any moment. Men with overalls and huge bellies come round periodically from the municipal works office and give every balcony in the area a couple of whacks with a massive hammer, then everyone feels better for a while.

7. Barbecue area

There’s nothing better than a night out under the stars roasting your own weiner, as they say. In fact the only thing that is better is a night out under the stars on your own balcony with a disposable barbecue from the garage forecourt, 18 cans of Tatra Mocne and as many friends as you can fit into a one meter by two meter area. Ideally you should wait until all your neighbors have put their washing out to dry so that you can generously infuse their smalls with the odor of blackened kiełbasa.

8. Storage area

Anything from motorcycle chassis to ‘spare’ fridges to troublesome dotty aunts can be stored on the balcony. The area of the balcony is often included in the official square meter area of the apartment, thereby adding to its market value, and it would be crazy to waste it on empty air.

9. Farming activities

Once, many years ago, I was quizzed in a door-to-door survey. Actually I think it was an official census, but I wasn’t paying sufficient attention at the time to be sure. There were a lot of tedious questions about who the head of the household was, where everybody was from, how many socks we had between us etc. etc. One question struck me as odd: “Do you engage in any agricultural activity?” I glanced around my 12 meter square room, and then out onto my precious balcony. My mouth fell open slightly and I looked back at the questioner with wonder in my eyes, “You mean… on the balcony?” I asked, not entirely in jest. “For example” she replied with a perfectly straight face. Since that moment I’ve often wondered if I’m missing something.

10. Comedic potential

Imagine growing up in a country where every child has the inalienable right to drop wet sticky things onto the heads of innocent passers by. Balconies are inherently funny because they put people in weird spatial relationships to other people. I’ve never seen a Polish sitcom or comedy film that didn’t, at some point, make use of this fact.

Dog knows Cat is down there somewhere but can’t quite see to give him a proper barking at. Cat knows Dog is up there somewhere and is silently pissing himself laughing.

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