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, May 31, 2006

Third time unlucky

1. Last summer I tried on some clothes in a shop and was walking down the road, feeling for my phone when I realised it had gone. BUTITHASALLMYNUMBERSANDIDON'THAVEBACKUP! I screeched inside my head and rushed back to the shop where it had obviously fallen out while I was trying on the clothes. I held back from hugging the guy who handed it back to me and promised myself I would back all my numbers up that very day. Ha.

2. In the Winter there were some great offers on phones and I thought about getting a new one, one that would connect to the computer and do exciting things, one that would wake me up with the radio and bring me tea in bed. One I could copy all my numbers from into a spreadsheet and save me doing the whole thing by hand. I decided that mine was fine for the time being though and anyway, there are those shops you can take your phone to and they print out all your numbers for you. I was going to do it straight away. Ha.

3. I dropped my phone on a regular basis. People would look shocked as it broke into several pieces, the battery spinning wildly and the cover sliding under fridge, table, whatever happened to be close. I always laughed it off 'oh, it always does this', put it back together, surprised if it turned itself off unexpectedly, or acted in another slightly eccentric manner.

While in Canada, I dropped it again. This time, when I'd put it together again, it wasn't so happy. It turned itself off almost immediately despite its full battery. I tried again and it flickered briefly before dying for good. It showed me. It showed me good.

I never made a backup. I now have an old phone of Marek's but nobody's number. If you think I might like your number, please please send me an email and I promise I will back it up. Honest.

If, on the other hand, you never want me to call you again and think this may be the perfect opportunity to break away then pretend you didn't see this. That would be weird though, and a little creepy, what with you still reading my blog and all.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What did I miss?

Despite having a wow time in Canada and the States (thank you all you beautiful people who put me up and put up with me) seems things have been going on here in Warsaw in my absense.

The biggest thing I missed was the Pope, who came and went pretty quickly, but whose trip entailed banning icecream, alcohol and tampon adverts. That's the kind of national hysteria I wasn't too sad to miss, although it would have been damned interesting to witness first hand.

Anyway, I'm back, I'm working (although the first rule of personal blogs is never. blog. about. your. work, so I won't) and I'm flat hunting.

ALL the photos are up now, if you really want to spend that much time in front of your computer screen.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006


There are more, but they were uploaded in a funny order so the only way to see them in the right order is in the set rather than just the photostream (is anyone understanding this?)

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Things I have learned...

As I'm far too busy having a good time to tell you about it, you'll have to make do with the edited highlights.

* Canadian McDonalds always have maple leaves on the M sign.

* Alcohol is really controlled in Canada: you go to the beer store for beer, the wine store for wine and the liquor store for the rest. No popping into Tesco's for your food and drink all in one go.

* Tim Horton's is awesome. Especially the mocha and doughnuts.

* People with boring jobs take initiative to brighten them up so you get announcers on the subway in Toronto announcing stations as if they are announcing a popular song on the radio 'Bathurst is next, I said BAAAAAAATHURST.... oh yeah'. You also get amusement park attendants saying things like 'the seats are now locked... if you are uncomfortable... tough' and 'please leave all bulky items in the bins provided... I will steal whatever I want'.

* Maple syrup on pancakes or french toast is awesome.

* If you go up the CN tower and order a coke in the fancy shmancy cafe, you'll have to pay an amazing amount of money for it, BUT you get a CN tower shaped blue plastic stirrer which more than makes up for it.

* Bubble tea is awesome.

* It isn't just London in Ontario that has an English name, all the streets in that area are called things like Manchester Road, and you can even buy stuff from Covent Garden Market.

* Bison burgers are awesome.

* They ID everyone when upon entry to bars in the US... unless your friend explains that you're a stupid foreigner who has no ID card and didn't want (what do you mean forgot?) to bring her passport.

* No smoking bars in Canada are awesome. Clothes don't smell at the end of the night and you don't have to watch for red hot ash catching you as you push your way to the bar.

* People who say awesome too much are annoying in the extreme.

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Who knew?

Turns out that if you're a Brit living in Poland with a passport issued in Germany coming from visiting your brother in Canada and crossing the US border to visit friends, they have to search your car, take your fingerprints, photograph you and charge you $6 to staple a piece of paper into your passport.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

lights, camera, action!

What do you call the children of your dad's cousins? First cousins once removed? Second cousins? Whatever they are, mine are cute.

The proof.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Your wish is my command

Photos! There will be more. Many, many more. You'll just have to be patient.

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The Poles. Loved by all (except daily mail readers).

The man behind the desk took my shoe box and glanced inside. 'Cute shoes' he said, scanning the bar code and reaching for a bag. 'At the right price too' he added as the unbelievably reasonable price came up on the cash register.

I grinned and pulled out my wallet.

'Do you guys have a points card?' the guy asked, and I shook my head, 'No, we're just visiting'.

'Oh, where are you from?' he continued, rearranging the shoes in their box and putting back the lid.

'We live in Poland' I answered, 'Marek's Polish, I'm English'. The man looked geniunely interested as he turned to Marek. 'I always raise my hat to Poles' Marek looked confused so the guy continued, 'in World War Two they really held their ground.'

'Well, yeah they're still pretty gutsy now' I contributed, winking at Marek. He continued to look confused, but smiled at the man.

We continued to make conversation about Poland while the guy fiddled with the register.

I handed over the cash and was given my change. 'Have a good trip and I hope you create wonderful memories in these shoes' the salesman said, with a slightly manic look in his eye as he handed me my bag. I thought that was a bit over the top, but I'm getting used to the overly friendly salespeople here so thanked him, smiled and turned to go.

'Welcome to Canada sir!' he suddenly let out at a rather high volume. Marek, extremely confused by this point, turned back towards the guy, who was striding out from behind the counter. He took Marek's hand in his and shook it warmly 'have a really good trip' he repeated.

We walked away from the emotional salesman and went towards the escalators, but he was still following. 'We have eight floors of wonderful things, be sure to take a look around' we heard as we escaped down a level. I got a glimpse of his grinning face disappearing as Marek looked at me with a puzzled expression. 'What was all that about?' he asked.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Where do I start?

I don't know whether to start from the beginning and tell you about the Polish-plumber-hating-granny who sat in front of us in the plane from London and spouted her prejudicial views, confiding noisily in her neighbour and assuring all around that her bigoted ideas were fully supported by the British press ('Did you see the Mail yesterday...?')

Or maybe I should skip that and not even bother with the story about the two trans-Atlantic planes both being out of service so a European one having to be used meaning no leg space and people having to be switched about all over the plane.

Perhaps I should go right to our arrival in Toronto: The joy of finally being at our destination after 20 hours of travel and no sleep; the excitement of being in a new place and understanding everything people were saying despite being in unfamiliar surroundings; the pure bliss of good food and beer with good friends; the comfort of a real bed letting us finally rest.

The more interesting parts for you to read about might be the actual discoveries of the city. The sheer size of the CN tower, sticking up into the sky and watching over you wherever you are; the banking district with the skyscrapers crowding around each other; the eclectic mix of people, food and shops at Kensington Market; the beautiful sandy beaches in the imaginatively titled suburb of 'The Beaches'; the far-from-city feel of the Toronto Islands with their parks and bike paths; the bustle of Chinatown which spills out onto the road; the seductive shops strung along Queen's Street and the coffee shops on each corner.

Or maybe you'd rather hear about the characters we are coming across: the way everyone walks along with a mobile glued to their head and a coffee held aloft; the sleeping rose seller by Union Station, cigar still lit in his mouth; the super happy Japanese waitress who served Marek his first ever sushi; the
bronzed toned blonde who jogged alongside our streetcar and looked perfectly at ease in her hotpants and cropped vest; the chatty hot-dog standholder who handed us our Polish sausages; the young party-goers at our hostel; the girl strolling along with her dog which she had dressed in a flowery smock and booties; the begger who smiled warmly and told us not to be sorry when we didn't give him change and wished us a good day...

Oh I don't know. We've only been here four full days so I'll have more to tell you later.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Why I'm grinning today

I'm feeling disproportionately pleased with myself today. Smug almost. The kind of uplifted feeling that makes you smile at nothing and gets you strange looks when you're walking down the street.

This time last year I walked around sunny Warsaw, getting the lay of the land. People kept talking to me on the street - asking for directions or money - and I had to shrug them off with 'nie rozumiem' (I don't understand) and 'jestem Angielką' (I'm English), the two things I knew in Polish.

The weeks and months went by and for a long time I lived through Marek. He ordered things and interacted with the natives... I looked on.

This morning I bought something from the market and chatted to the stall holder about the choice I'd made; I went to the doctor's and picked up a prescription, the receptionist explaining she thought she'd misspelt something; I went to several chemists as each had something missing from the prescription, and explained about the receptionist's misspelling; I went into a shop and ordered what I needed over the counter; I even helped a little old lady on the road who wanted me to turn some flowers that she couldn't reach by a shrine.

I interacted with Polish people! I understood them and more importantly, they understood me!

The reason it's such an achievement is because I remember the frustration of not understanding what was going on around me. I remember the hours of Polish lessons and the times we visited Marek's family and I needed a translator. I remember listening to Polish and just hearing noise; lots of sz-cz-rz but no meaningful words. Now I can pick out the words I understand. I can make sense of the ones I don't from the context and I can make myself understood. Go me!

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Three times three

Three facts about yesterday:

Good: It was exactly one year since Marek and I drove a very heavily laden car from Brussels into Warsaw moved into our Mokotów flat.
Bad: I was feeling very delicate after an impromptu party at our flat which lasted a few hours longer than it should have done and at which far too much alcohol was consumed.
Random: It was Constitution Day and there were lots and lots of Polish flags: On buildings, buses, even taxis.

Three facts about today:

My EVS voluntary project is finished! It was fun (well, and frustrating and all that too) while it lasted but now I can get on with the next step.
Bad: I have a list as long as my arm of things to do today and I'm not sure it will all get done.
Random: One of the things I have to do is to use up all the food inside the fridge. What can I do with a leek, cream and a cucumber?

Three facts about tomorrow:

Good: We're going to Canada! I have been looking forward to this trip for so long and suddenly it's here and we're off!
Bad: Before we get there we have two flights, a good many hours hanging about in airports and even longer on the actual plane.
Random: We haven't packed yet and Marek can't find the charger for his camera.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Stay away from cacti, especially blue ones.

I live in Pogodna Street ('good weather street', cute huh?) which meets Zajączkowska Street ('rabbit street') a couple of buildings along. Where the two meet there's a garish well-known ex-pat hang out and Mexican restaurant 'Blue Cactus'.

I hate that place.

We've only been there four times in the year we've lived in good weather street, so maybe this is hatred based on vast generalisation, but each time has added to my dislike and frustration. Why do we keep going? Well, like I said, we don't go often but it's all of 50m away from our front door and despite the fluorescent tack on the outside of the building, the interior and terrace are warmly and pleasantly decorated; people always look like they're having a good time from the outside and did I mention how close it is?

The first time we went, we were sat next to an obnoxiously loud group of American buisiness men who sent back the salsa (loudly, obnoxiously, in slow English for the foreign waitress) because it wasn't authentic enough for them (you're in Poland?), the next time we had a moderately nice time with a couple of friends, bland food and beer on the terrace in the sun, the third time we were turned away because it was quarter to ten on a Sunday night (and who in their right mind wants to go for a beer at such an ungodly hour??) and the fourth and last time I ever set foot inside that place again was last Sunday (at the much more acceptable time of 8.30pm.)

As we walked in we were greeted by a grimacing hostess: 'Sorry, the kitchen is about to close'. 'Er, good evening', we replied, 'we'd just like a couple of beers, we'll only be half an hour.' She looked pained, 'but we're closing very soon'. I suggested going next door to the Iguana Bar, 'it's closed on Sundays' she admitted. Marek tried to reassure her that we really only wanted a couple of drinks, no food, and that we'd be quick. She sighed and exchanged glances with a loitering waitress as she seated us, handing us the menus with a 'bloody customers' expression and repeating herself 'drinks, ok, but the kitchen is going to close.' She turned on her heel and left.

'Woah,' I thought out loud, 'someone is having a bad day.' Apparently though she wasn't the only one.

An unsmiling waitress came to take our order and went over to the bar without a word to get our beers. The barman, who until this point had been chatting to another waitress and lazily scratching an arm, managed to drag his feet over to the tap and pour our beers. They were brought over and plonked unceremoniously in front of us. I picked a couple of brown specks off the inside of the glass and Marek scooped something out of his foam. 'Is there a problem?' the unsmiling waitress asked. 'Not anymore' I said brightly, smiling at her, trying to coax the corners of her mouth upwards just a fraction. It didn't work, she left.

We tried to ignore the group of waitresses hovering by the bar, bitching about this and that. We tried to ignore the barman who was now polishing glasses, a slight scowl on his face. We tried to have a beer and chat, dismissing the sour atmosphere that hovered around our table. It was no good though; I was well and truly pissed off.

Look, I've been on the other side, I know waiters and waitresses put up with a lot of crap on a daily basis (just look at the stuff this waiter writes about) but honestly! If you work in a service industry, serve! Be pleasant, don't let attitude get in the way and if you want to turn customers away, do so by all means but with a smile and a sorry. We're there to give you money, don't make it so difficult! I would have rather been turned away than have to deal with the condescending, sighing hostess; unfriendly, sarcastic waitress and sloppy barman.

There were plenty of other full tables finishing off meals, we weren't in anyone's way and it was before 9pm on a day preceeding a public holiday. Get your act together!

No, I didn't leave a tip (and I always tip, I was a waitress, I know what it's like) and I won't be back. Ever.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Who said voluntary work doesn't pay?

When I realised that the bulk of my voluntary project in Poland was going to consist of giving English lessons to Russian speaking refugees I wasn't overjoyed. As I've mentioned before teaching has never been a career choice for me; I just don't enjoy it enough and don't have the patience for slow learners.

I think teachers should be passionate about their jobs as so much depends on good teachers. I just didn't feel passion when I thought about the lessons. It was more a resigned, 'ok then, let's get on with it' sinking feeling.

Still, I had agreed to do them and so decided that for the few months that they formed part of my work, I would do everything in my power to make them successful. I read up on interesting teaching methods, used lots of brightly coloured paper and interactive games, tried not to get discouraged when different people showed up to different lessons, tried to keep it organised and tried to be enthusiastic.

When I held my last lesson I realised that despite the trials and tribulations of the past months I had one small success which meant the most to me.

The success relates to one quiet woman in my class. When she first came to the lessons, always accompanied by her son, she rarely spoke. If I directed questions towards her she visibly trembled and answered in an unsteady whisper. I made a conscious effort to encourage her, and she was clearly trying very hard, never missing a class and remembering things from one lesson to the next.

Over the months she changed. She continued to be quieter than the others, but behind her silence I witnessed a strong determination. In the last few lessons she took to blurting out answers when I asked the class something. Each time her hand flew up to cover her mouth and she met my eye with a look of pure surprise, quickly followed by a slight smile.

I don't know if she was surprised that she knew the answer or whether it was surprise at her confidence.

After every lesson she came to thank me. At the last lesson she touched my arm and said 'thank you very, very, very much'. I told her she was my best student, which she quietly laughed off with a 'no, very bad'. She doesn't realise that without her my classes would have had so much less meaning.

The wide-eyed girls, the flirty young men, the earnest hard-working boys, the conscientious women, the bewildered old men... none will fix in my memory like the mother and son who made so much of the opportunities they were offered.

I really hope her increasing confidence seeps through to the rest of her life.

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