Les gens qui ne rient jamais ne sont pas des gens sérieux

Be who you are and say what you mean, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I'm back. No time. Too many emails.

Photos here.

Back to work. Go now.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005


I'm leaving the frozen centre of Poland and heading for the frozen North of England.

I'm going to meet my first cousin once removed and catch up with the rest of the family and a friend or two.

Be good while I'm gone and remember to water the plants. I'll be back on tuesday evening.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Let the fancy footwork begin

We started the dance classes this evening. We were late (of course) but it didn't seem to matter too much, and we were soon foot tapping and stepping with the best of them.

Actually, it was a bit slow, there were far too many people in the room and the girl to my right kept getting the steps wrong and stepping on my foot. It has potential though.

I thought understanding singing directions in Polish was hard; little did I know! At least when you're in a choir you can look over your neighbour's shoulder and listen to what others are singing. If you open your mouth, nobody even knows you've lost your place. Dancing's not quite the same though. If you mess up a step it's right out there in the open for everybody to see and those people not madly concentrating on their own feet are all witnesses.

There were a couple of interesting characters in our group tonight: an older couple. As the group was so huge, there was very little talking during the dancing; just the shuffling of feet, the instructor's voice counting out the beats and the music in the background. Every so often though there'd be this furious half-whisper from the woman: 'Listen to what he's saying for God's sake, you're not doing it right!' The man would shoot a startled glance back and try to hide behind a neighbour while attempting to get his legs and feet coordinated. 'You're not taking it seriously, are you?' the raised whispering continued, 'stop doing that thing with your arms, nobody dances holding their arms like that' . To be fair, the guy was doing a rather weird thing with his arms, but poor thing! He exchanged a few sympathetic looks with guys who looked equally uncomfortable with the moves, and tried his best to keep up.

I hope the numbers will decrease as the course gets harder, and that we'll be floating around the room in pairs soon. We learned some basic steps for a couple of dances but the men and women were in two big groups rather than partnered up.

I also hope that guy improves enough to satisfy the whispering woman, otherwise things are going to get very difficult for him... and we'll all have to listen to it.

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Monday, November 21, 2005

English lessons in various shapes and sizes

Marek restarts English lessons at work today. I'm used to our bizarre arrangement of communicating in French with the odd smattering of Polish thrown in for good measure, but this morning instructions were 'English, all day' so that's that. Looking back, I should have amused myself by using random breakfast phrases like 'hot beverage' or 'eggs sunny side up'. Oh well, I can save it for his next lesson on Wednesday.

It's going to be fun to be the corrector instead of the corrected for a couple of days a week. Having said that though, I have a bit of a problem with filling the role of 'corrector' or 'teacher'.

As a native English speaker it is inevitable that I meet people all the time who want to practise their English. This 'you are English therefore you must want to teach English' attitude has seeped into nearly all areas of my life.

We go out with Polish friends and have long discussions about past participles; my 'educational programme for young refugees' project has turned into 'English lessons for Russian-speaking refugees'; I get calls and emails all the time (the latest this very morning) from people wanting to get me to teach their friend, child, partner... and I suppose it's flattering.

They all assume I am qualified for the job and interested in sharing my native-English-speaker skills. The possibility that I might not want to teach English doesn't seem to cross their minds. Or the fact that speaking English doesn't necessarily give you the skills to teach it. I don't particularly like teaching. I don't mind it, but firstly I am not qualified, and secondly, there are so many things that interest me more than verb conjugation.

When I say I'm not qualified, I mean I haven't passed any teaching exams. I've taught English before - a French girl in Germany, a French-speaking Cameroonian refugee in Belgium - but I've never had the training. I've taken language lessons myself and have seen various methods, as well as inheriting knowledge from my teacher-mother, but it's something that's been thrust upon me rather than being a result of my choosing.

I enjoy the English language; I like reading and writing and I have been known to get relatively excited about a point of grammar, but that doesn't necessarily make me a good teacher. I get impatient with people who are slow to learn, I get bored with the repetition and resentful of those who ask me to go slower.

I guess I could choose one of two ways. Suck it up; read the teaching books; take on private students; make some damned money for a change and live in the world some people around me seem intent on creating for me.


Take an active decision for once in my life and declare to the world that I am English but not an English teacher; improve my Polish so that we can discuss other topics of conversation in Polish and save my limited teaching skills and patience for the refugees. Oh, and Marek who surely deserves something in return for his heroic efforts with me and that impossibly hard language they like to call Polish.

Yeah, that's what I'll do.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

P3 has moved!

For all of you who've been clicking desperately on the p3 link I gave you in vain, fear not.

We've moved here, but we'll be staying put (for now at least).

For all of you who haven't visited the new collective P3 blog yet, shame on you!

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Thursday, November 17, 2005


I feel like there is an angry little man stomping about in my head regularly crashing cymbols and screaming into the core of my being. He's been doing it for over 24 hours now, sullenly ignoring nurofen and the calm of dark rooms.

Can't be normal.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

THE smallest bath in the world

I love our flat. It's not too big; not too small; we have our stuff where we need it; the things that belong to the landlady fade nicely into the background; we have a big old-fashioned tiled heating thing which keeps us nice and toasty; the parks and shops are close; the neighbours are friendly enough and there is excellent public transport into the centre.


Our bathroom (just the right size; enough cupboard space; heated towel rail; washing machine nicely tucked away) has a big problem. The bath.

This is our bath.

Cute eh? Isn't it clever how they managed to find a bath just the right size for that space? Isn't it nice to have a bath in such a compact bathroom. Nothing beats a shower like a long soak in a nice steamy bath.

Except, of course, if it's tiny.

If you are 1m 80 tall (5' 11" for those who haven't met metric yet) and don't manage to attain the same level of relaxation when your knees are poking out of the water and inhabiting the cold air around your ears, this is not the bath for you. If you object to the fact that if you straighten your legs you find yourself sitting up so straight you are afraid your head will bump the ceiling, this is not the bath for you. If you like to lie in the bath for hours reading a good book, surrounded by candles and soft music and NOT having to move every two minutes to cover a different part of your body with warm water to stop it getting frostbite and falling off, THIS IS NOT THE BATH FOR YOU.

Still, who wants to lie in warm water for hours? It's just about keeping clean right? None of this scented oil and candles nonsense, you just need a splash of water and a bar of soap. The shower wins every time. Quick, effective, you're always covered with water, always warm, no fuss.

You saw the shower head in the picture, right? Right. You see the handy bracket up on the wall to fix the shower head to, right? Wrong.

For showers you have to stand in the tiny bath and hold the shower head in one hand. That's the easy part. To lather the shower gel, apply the shampoo, whatever else you do in the shower, you have to decide between two options:

1. Turn off the water, stand shivering in the bath while you try and squeeze out the gel, shampoo, whatever and then try and turn the shower back on, with hands that are covered in soap suds, cursing the fact you didn't just leave it running;

2. Leave the water running, thoughts rushing through your head about how fortunate you are to have running water in the first place, how water is a valuable natural resource which shouldn't be wasted, and watch it swirling down the plughole before picking up the shower head again and rinsing.

It's such a hassle. Of course there is the 'crouching-in-the-bath-pretending-it's-warmer-if-you-stay-low' option, or the 'half-bath-half-shower' option but either way there's no denying it's not like having a NORMAL bath or shower.

Phew. Rant over. I feel better now. That's a big weight off my mind. And I still love our flat.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005


We're all getting along so well at P3 that we've decided to go ahead and produce offspring...

P3, the blog.

It's just getting started over there so check it out and let us know what you think!

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Monday, November 14, 2005

What was that all about then?

We went to the cinema last night and saw Caché (Hidden) with Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil.

It was weird.

The synopsis: Georges, who hosts a TV literary review, receives packages containing videos of himself with his family -- shot secretly from the street -- and alarming drawings whose meaning is obscure. He has no idea who may be sending them.

Gradually, the footage on the tapes becomes more personal, suggesting that the sender has known Georges for some time.

Georges feels a sense of menace hanging over him and his family...

The storyline carries the film along, sometimes at a very slow pace, and sometimes punctuated by a very fast moving or violent scene which has everyone gasping and averting their eyes from the screen. The pace was interesting.

The plot also leads to characters hiding things from one another, to tensions between the main family members and a generally unsettled atmosphere, with lots of questions being thrown up about trust, responsibility, loyalty. I like films which explore human relationships and ask questions, but I had two main problems with this film.

I didn't feel much sympathy for Daniel Auteuil's character. He seemed to create problems for himself to add to those created by other people. Maybe this was the Director's intention, but the lack of sympathy meant that I cared less when his world started crumbling around him, and I felt that he deserved to see some of the consequences his actions would take.

Secondly, although I like to be asked questions, I also like to have a few answers played about with, or a point of the film to be suggested, even if left pretty obscure. Don't get me wrong, I don't want Hollywood-obvious so you can guess the next series of scenes, but a few options would be nice. When Caché ended I think every single person in the whole cinema turned to one another with that 'what the...?' expression and as we left there were people sitting in their seats still looking totally baffled.

Anyone else seen it?

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Saturday, November 12, 2005


Yes, finally I have reached the grand old age of 25.

I think it has a ring to it. 'Hi, I'm 25. Quarter of a century old, yup that's me'.

Lots of people, Marek included, seem to think that once you get past 25 age is something you stop talking about. You're old enough to know better.

I disagree. Now I'm getting to my late twenties instead of being stuck in my early twenties I'm hoping people will consider me for jobs I'm qualified to do instead of giving me the 'but she's so young' response. I'm hoping people will take me just that bit more seriously instead of writing me off as 'just an inexperienced girl'. I'm hoping I'll start taking myself more seriously.

Of course I still feel fifteen inside, but that's not going to change until I'm at least 26.

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Choir ordeal: Third and final part

As you may remember from that first post, and then the description of the second audition, the university choir is not all that comfortable a place to be.

Once I'd scraped through the second audition, I was expected back on Monday this week. Now I had every intention of going, and got to the bus stop in plenty of time, but it was a drizzly cold night, and the roads were jammed. I waited 45 minutes for the bus, when one finally arrived it was so packed with people that the doors closed before I got anywhere near, and anyway I was already late. So, I missed that rehearsal. I really should have gone. I really, really should have gone.

Last night, I arrived and saw the big boss choir leader sittting at the edge throughout the warm up. Funny, I thought. She wasn't there before.

We went through the pieces, me still glancing at the words from time to time (the old Polish words in the national anthem are really not that easy to learn, ahem).

Then there was some talking about groups of mixed voices, no words, and everyone filed out. I understood that the third audition was about to take place. In front of the big boss choir leader. My heart sank.

I hate auditions. It's that deep powerful hate that some people use against gays, or Muslims, or whatever. It's that hate that should never be directed at yourself because you'd go up in smoke. It's a feeling I don't often experience, just public speaking and singing. That's all. Oh, and I hate the hate. I wish I could listen to the reasonable voice telling me that getting nervous doesn't help, especially if you want to sing. It makes muscles clench that should be relaxed. I try and listen to the voice. Honest.

At least we'll be in groups, I thought. At least we're all warmed up. And at least I can convince myself it's not public singing, it's just a group of people singing together. A mini choir.

We waited and waited. They listened to three groups and then called them all back. When they left the rooms, some people were happy and some were trying not to cry. Oh God.

We were second in the next group of groups.

We went in, lined up and told them our names. The big boss choir leader looked at me and asked another choir leader where I'm from. 'From England' I said. She looked at me with a raised eyebrow and I wished I'd let the other woman answer for me.

We started. We were stoppped. We hadn't started together. We started together and continued. We worked our way through the three pieces and were stopped continuously. Not good for the morale or the nerves.

I'd started out ok. I thought I had my voice under control, but the panel of choir leaders' expressions got to me. When you are trying to control your breathing, remember the words, relax your muscles and sing in a key you don't actually feel comfortable in, at the same time as trying to stop your top lip from quivering and resisting the urge to drop everything and run from the room, let me tell you the last thing you want to see is a choir leader with her head in her hands, or eyebrows raised to the very tippy top of her head, or an expression of despair mixed with pain. They were not encouraging.

It was a total disaster.

I actually didn't recognise the voice that came out of my mouth. It was weak and squeaky and had no place in a choir.

They obviously agreed with me. I'm out.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Gold turned to grey...

In the two weeks between this:

and this:

someone seems to have sucked all the colour out of the world.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Let's face the music

M and I have signed up for dancing lessons.

(If you're Polish, no it's not in preparation for our wedding, stop asking, you guys are obsessed.)

There's just something very alluring about the prospect of being taught how to float around a dance floor, doing the right steps in the right places, no bruised toes and a smile of contentment on your face.

When we went to the school to sign up, we were told it was fully booked but that a new class would be starting in a couple of weeks. The woman behind the desk then rattled through list of the dances we would be taught. I know it's not culturally sensitive of me to say this, but there is something very funny about a Pole saying 'rock and roll' with rolled rs.

So, we'll be starting the week after next. The next thing will be to find a place where we can put our lessons to good practise...

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Pijemy Po Polsku

Well, over the weekend I attended my first ever P3. It was a hoot. Oh my God, that's the kind of word my Dad uses, I mean I had a great time.

I admit I was slightly apprehensive about meeting up with people I only 'knew' through blogs... it sounded a bit geeky and the guys could have turned out to be psychos, although their blogs suggested otherwise. Turned out I had nothing to worry about.

The heated debating about Iraq among other topics reminded me of home. I like a good exchange of different points of views; makes me think of philosophy tutorials and my parents. And I especially like the opportunity to smash my appalling prejudices against Americans. For someone who knows a lot of very nice people from the USA, I have an embarassing inability to ignore certain Bush-induced stereotypes. Gus should be able to help cure me of this.

I realised this was the first time I had engaged in lengthy discussions, in English, with other native English speakers since I arrived in Warsaw six months ago. Integrating into a new culture and learning a new language is all very well but sometimes you just need a bit of a break from all the 'newness'.

As my (geek) brother said, it's better to have direct contact with a few other bloggers rather than just internet contact... makes it more human.

Now who can think of a good name for our community blog?

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

Choir ordeal: Part Two

After my last choir rehearsal, in which a cold protected me from having to stand up in front of a mass of people and sing the Polish national anthem by heart, I frantically tried to learn the three pieces that form our repertoire so far. That went ok. Or so I thought.

As the next rehearsal approached I convinced myself it was ridiculous to get so worked up about singing in front of other singers. Anyway, I told myself, they are all younger than me and probably less experienced with choirs (when feeling threatened I find it very effective to belittle those around me).

The evening arrived, the rehearsal started and I felt like I was back at a bad day at primary school. Why's nobody sitting next to me? Why does everyone know someone except me? Why is that girl turning around and smiling at me? I must have something on my face. I wonder what I have on my face. Maybe it was a friendly smile. It kind of looked like a friendly smile. Maybe I should smile back. No, it's too late now. She'll think I'm a weird girl sitting by myself frantically smiling at anyone who's eyes wander my way. Why's that guy behind my left ear repeating everything in English? He's taking the piss! Why would he take the piss? Why does he know I'm English? Do I look English? Whooo, breathe.

Yes, I was totally paranoid and panicky. Still, most of the rehearsal passed, only a few people had to stand and sing in front of the others and I was starting to think I was going to make it, when, inexplicably, I found myself in a room full of only sopranos. With the help of the girl sitting next to me I discovered that the soprano section was oversubscribed and they were going to have to weed out the weaklings. We couldn't all stay.

Well, this settled my nerves nicely. I wanted to be an alto again.

I was in the first chair of the second row. The choir leader asked the first row to stand. They stood. One by one the girls sang. There was some wobbling, there was some running out of breath before the end of the phrase and there was some going off key, but CAN YOU BLAME THEM?

Then came the worst bit. A random girl was picked, told to sing a second piece, and then told she could go home. 'So, am I in or out?' she asked tremulously. 'Oh in, you can stay' said the choir leader breezily 'see you on Monday'. The same thing happened for a few more girls, and then the choir leader consulted with her co-leader and turned to the three girls who were left. 'Um, sorry but you're a bit weak. Stay sitting and we'll see at the end if we have room.' They bit their lips and tried to look like they were fine about it. Harsh.

I was next. My row stood, I took a deep breath and started singing. Of course although I had spent the past week memorising words and tunes for this very moment, my head went blank just when it was needed so I had to look at the paper. At least it meant not looking at the choir leader.

I finished, she nodded and passed to the next. Phew, for now.

Eventually everyone on my row had had their go. Everyone sat. She pointed at me, a girl in the middle of the row and a girl at the far end. Stand. Next piece. I started singing. The co-leader was making goldfish faces at me, eyes wide and mouth even wider, opening and closing. This was rather offputting but I think she was trying to indicate I should open my mouth more. I tried to open my mouth more. I tried to remember to breathe, and sing, and count, and not to tremble.

I finished.

The choir leader looked at me. 'You shouldn't be scared, sing out!'

For one awful moment I thought she was going to ask me to sing it again. Instead she looked briefly at her co-leader: 'She's in right?' and turned to me: 'See you on Monday.'

Everyone clapped, I grabbed my things as fast as I could and left on top of the world. One of the front-row girls on hold even swivelled round in her seat and whispered 'congratulations'. I hope she makes it.

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Friday, November 04, 2005

More Polish handy hints

If you ask me, the one thing that is relatively straight forward in Polish is the fact that once you know how a letter, or combination of letters is pronounced, it stays the same.

There are no words like those in English which have letters that are not pronounced (through, knife, psychology), or change their pronunication depending on the circumstances (read present and read past). So this is very helpful.

However, it goes without saying that this rule doesn't stop words having unhelpful numbers of consonants in a row (przyszłość for example, which means future) or other complications ready to trip up the unsuspecting foreigner.

I have an example. My favourite so far.

Cz and Ci are pronounced similarly, a kind of ch sound. Except that the Poles around me tell me that cz is a harder sound 'Ccchhhh' and that ci is slightly different, more like 'Cchhhhh' (get it? Ha, thought so).

It generally doesn't matter that much EXCEPT that cieszę się means I am happy and czeszę się (see the difference?) means I am brushing my hair.


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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Say, what? No... really, what the....?

I'm still reeling.

It's worse than Guantanemo.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Good old parents.

One of the great things about my Mum is her ability to make us laugh.

Despite her intelligence and systematic mind, every so often (at fairly regular intervals it has to be admitted) she will come out with a priceless saying. A saying so out of the blue, so seemingly unconnected to anything anyone has been talking about that everyone collapses into helpless giggles. Of course it then gets repeated and exaggerated so that random sentences have cult status within my close family and all it takes to make us dissolve into peals of laughter is a reference.

An example? Ok, 'We do have white door handles...' (I know a couple of people out there who know exactly what I'm talking about, and to the rest of you, I apologise.)

This stating of random phrases happened a couple of times over the weekend in Bonn, and just to see if it's one of those things where you just had to be there to understand, or if it translates to innocent bystanders I thought I'd share a couple.

1. 'Oh, I was talking to Cathy and she told me what she wants to do after she's dead...'

2. 'There's a fascinating programme about Catherine the Great on after my gardening programmes. You know she came from nothing, married the heir to the Tsardom and then killed her husband. She was a wonderful woman.'

3. 'The thing about Nordic walking is the arms...'

Oh, the Nordic walking quote has an illustration. Just to underline the stable mental state of both my parents, this is their demonstation of Nordic walking:

Aren't parents great?!

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

All Saints... Wszystkich Świętych

Halloween is a big deal where I'm from, but in Poland, the real big deal is the next day, All Saints' Day. That's today in case you missed it.

Families gather and go to cemeteries, they offer flowers and candles and it all makes for a truly spectacular sight.

This is the cemetary at Jabłonna, where most of M's family ancestors are buried. We spent a while chatting to 'da family' and wandering round the graveyard, something which doesn't come all that naturally to me, but which turned out to be pretty interesting, and beautiful.

This evening we visited the Powąski cemetery in the middle of Warsaw and wow, that was quite a sight.

It was dark, we walked slowly around looking at graves of mostly dead poets and notable writers and candles flickered by graves for as far as the eye could see. What an atmosphere.

Halloween's all well and good but compared to candlelit cemeteries, commercial ghosts and witches have started to strike me as a bit lame.

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