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

Monday, July 17, 2006

Berry picking and gender stereotypes

Once a fortnight or so, we go to see Marek's family out in the country. I say 'out in the country' but actually it's just half an hour from the centre of Warsaw.

When I first came to Poland, the trips were nerve wracking, I'd spend the journey busy preparing different phrases in Polish, and worrying if we were arriving without presents.

In those early days Marek would leave me, tongue-tied and bewildered, in the kitchen with the girls, while he went off to help his dad in the greenhouses or in the garage, or I'd follow him round like a puppy while he cleaned the car or fiddled with his bike.

There was always something to do, but I always felt a bit lost. How was I supposed to fit in with this happy family, where everyone knew their roles and got on with their thing? Marek's mum would take pity on me and, ignoring my offers to do the washing up, would show me how to make a new cake, or get me to peel the potatoes for dinner.

At that time, my desire to be useful and avoid making waves was stronger than my desire to fight against gender stereotypes.

Over the months, the situation has eased. My Polish has improved and I no longer face Marek's dad's jokey comments with a blank stare, I can return the digs with a wink of my own. Marek's mum still asks me questions about the prices of vegetables in 'the West', but instead of inanely nodding along to dismissals of other EU countries as 'expensive' I can start discussions about other considerations like the higher wages.

If the others are busy with their jobs I find things to do. I help Marek and his dad with the 'men's work', I help his mum and sister with the 'women's work' and I find my own work. More importantly, I can relax. I can breathe. If the washing up needs doing I do it, but if the sun is shining, I sit in it with my Polish exercises or a book, fighting off the dogs, who follow me round the garden, tails wagging now that they know I'm the one who can't bear to shout at them if they jump up and dirty my clothes.

This weekend, while Marek cut the grass, his sister made a cake and his parents worked in the greenhouse, I wandered around the garden. I was just thinking what a shame it was that the cherries had finished, when I noticed the berry bushes. I spent the next hour picking berries. Redcurrants and blackcurrants. Great piles of scarlet and deep purple, ripe to bursting and sweet on my tongue. I picked and I picked, and the fruit was greeted with a chorus of happy surprise.

I may forever associate berries with a feeling of belonging.

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Anonymous szwed said...

Great stuff this - I envy people who can describe trivial things in words so rich and through imagery so original, that the form overshadows the content, which becomes irrelevant. I bet you could make the process of watching paint dry sound exciting.

You`d make a great short-story writer. Or a PR consultant.

12:09 pm  

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