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

Thursday, December 21, 2006


I'm leaving this afternoon for a family Christmas in Brussels and New Year in the French Alps - see you next year!

I truly hope everyone gets a chance to relax and breathe over the holidays. Don't take life so seriously and try to smile more. The New Year's going to be fab!

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Stoopid rain

I totally agree with the nice lady in the market who sold me things today. It's stupid to rain like this in December. Where's the snow? Stupid rain. She used the word głupi (gwoopy) which, if you consult this website means:

1 foolish
2 stupid
3 silly
4 idiotic
5 asinine
6 weak-minded
7 hapless
8 anile
9 trifling
10 insignificant
11 trivial
12 anserine
13 inert
14 tompish
15 mutton-headed
16 oafish
17 dumb
18 slow-witted
19 witless
20 wood-headed
21 addle-brained
22 addle-headed
23 addle-pated
24 fatuous
25 fool
26 idiot
27 numskull
28 addle-brain
29 addle-head
30 goof
31 fathead
32 stupid
33 addle-pate

The fact that 2 and 32 are the same confirms my translation I reckon. I have to say I would never use 14, 15, 23 or 31 to refer to anything, let alone rain, but you get the picture.

It is głupi.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Heaven is a place where hair doesn't need cutting

On a scale of one to ten of my comfort level in certain situations (1 being sitting in a small group of close friends and family and 10 being standing on stage making a presentation about something I know nothing about in front of hundreds of people who hate me), walking into a Polish doctor's or hairdresser's and negotiating the situation on my own ranks pretty high.

I'd say a seven. OK, maybe just a six, but it's not on my list of things I have to do before I die, and yet I did both today.

The doctor's was fine. I remembered all the vital words and I had the safety net that she spoke English if my vocab gave out and my mind went blank. It was all quite straightforward and I came out with a minor sense of achievement.

The hairdresser's was more tricky. I have my hair cut about twice a year and I have a really hard time understanding those people who go once a week, or even more often. I put it off until the last moment and, if possible, go somewhere where they speak a language I feel comfortable communicating in (last time my hair was cut was in the States in May. I'm not exaggerating.)

Staring at myself in a (usually incredibly unflattering) mirror while a complete stranger chops away at my limp wet hair in front of a huge window that random shoppers look into regularly, is not my idea of a good time. I feel relatively confident with Polish now but when you have no idea how to explain your ideal haircut and you weren't organised enough to learn the Polish for layers or fringe, the fun rating comes down another couple of notches.

The hairdresser herself was fine. She looked about 17 and was obviously not in the mood for conversation, but she was fine. She cut it, and I said 'yes' and 'ok' in all the right places. Of course, I had this mental image of a bubbly confident me chatting away, filling in the missing vocab with hand gestures and smiles, but in fact I just turned red every time she asked me a question and stuttered out my pre-prepared phrases as best I could. The cut is nothing special. Still, I've made more progress in my personal 'practical Polish' language course.

Next in line is dinner with Marek's family this evening, as I'm leaving in a couple of days and will miss out on the Polish Christmas experience. That's fine though; well within my comfort zone.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Random thoughts from a runaway train speeding towards Christmas

I (obviously) missed internet shopping deadlines and left card making and sending, present buying and wrapping, and cake and cookie making until the last minute so this weekend was a crazed dash of all that plus more.

I was invited to three parties yesterday at 16.00 and didn't make a single one. There was still so much to do.

Our flat looks as if someone shot down Santa and he landed in our living room, spraying wrapping paper, gifts, ribbon, tape and glitter all around as he fell.

My plane's in three days.

The radio has switched from awful 80s music to awful Christmas 80s music. I heard a Polish version of Christmas time yesterday, no, that's the song playing on the radio now. What's that other song? with the 'it's Christmas!' shouted out in the background towards the end and the 'here's to the future now-it's only just begun' bit? Nevermind, it was that. In Polish.

My Christmas cards are made of red and green card with gold sequins. They kind of look like kindergarten rejects but they've still been sent (oh, who am I kidding? they're going to be sent this morning, right away).

It's a good time to be a busker or a waiter around me now. I'm handing out cash like there's no tomorrow. 20% tip? Merry Christmas! Singing Jingle Bells in a Spanish accent with no idea of the words? 5 zloty for effort! All the best for the New Year!

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Bus ride

I checked my watch and swore under my breath. Looking back at the timetable, the empty road and my watch again, it was clear the bus I'd wanted had been and gone two minutes earlier. At that time of night, the next wouldn't be along for another half an hour.

After ten minutes or so, another pulled up, and although it meant a tram ride at the other end, I got on. On the back seats, two men were having a drunken argument. A little further forward, two homeless men were catching up on some sleep. I sat myself in the middle of the bus and looked out the window.

As it was dark and most people were tucked up in their houses, nothing was happening on the streets. As the bus neared the centre of town though, more and more people got on, giving me something to watch. People had been at Christmas parties and late night shopping for gifts.

There was a pattern. Someone would get on and head for the back of the bus, which, apart from the four men, was empty. Then, either a drunken curse would be heard from the very back, or the new passenger would come up against the unwashed odour of the two sleeping men and abandon that plan, heading for the increasingly crowded front and opening a window on the way.

Some people obviously struggled with their emotions before taking up a standing position at the front of the bus, quickly glancing about the back and moving forward without a word. Others were less subtle, wafting the air in front of their nose and screwing up their faces with the stench.

The sleeping men suddenly awoke and raised their heads from their arms. Although one fell asleep again almost immediately, the second, a younger man, stayed awake, and seemed aware that the seats around them were empty. He looked at the crowd in the front and then cast his glance swiftly outside.

The second, bearded man, leaned against the younger man, trying to get comfortable in his sleep. The younger man, obviously not happy with this arrangement, gently shrugged him off, but caught the sleeping man's head in his hands before it hit the seat in front.

For a while they stayed like that, the younger man cradling the bearded man's head as he slept.

My stop was getting closer and the drunken men had traded their last insults and got off the bus. A few people had moved further back, now the drunken brawl was out of sight.

I looked back at the homeless men as I got up from my seat, on my way back to my warm flat when all they had was this draughty vehicle. The bearded man was still asleep, propped on his own arm again. The younger man had his arm around the sleeping man and as I stepped off the bus, I saw his hand was in the sleeping man's pocket, rooting around for anything he could get.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sing along...

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Palace of Culture, Science and Festive Cheer

My "little" brother Edd has been here for a couple of days and will be here for a couple more. It's been a lot of fun so far.

Late on Saturday afternoon we were making our way back from a walk in the Old Town and around, and we decided to go past the Palace of Culture and Science. It was perfect timing, because our new Mayor Hanna was just about to light the Christmas tree and a large brass band was just about to play "White Christmas" so we got festive atmosphere thrown at us for an hour or so, topped off with fireworks.

The only thing that makes sunset before 4pm worth it, is if you have fireworks before 5pm. Admittedly, they were rather close to the Palace and we did get bombarded with flaming firework casings that showered down on the crowd, presumably hitting the kids on parents' shoulders first, but it was an impressive show.

Since then there's been drinks with friends, a dinner with Marek's family and a cinema outing, but weekends just aren't long enough. Damn you, Monday.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006


One night years ago, awoken, or so I thought, from an eerie dream, I pushed the covers away and padded out of my room in my bare feet to find a parent. I came across my Dad first and seeing the look on his face, tried to persuade him I wasn’t up to my old sleepwalking tricks.

‘It’s this dream’ I started, trying to break through the confusion it had left me with. ‘I know this has got to, I mean it will be strange, for you I mean’ I continued, annoyed with myself for such a poor opening. I tried again, ‘I’m not asleep’ I said firmly, as, steered by his hand on my shoulder, I found myself being led back to my room.

We stopped and again I tried to explain what I felt I needed to tell him. There was something the dream had left me with that had to be expressed, and Dad was the one who had to hear it, so why couldn’t I find the words? ‘I just have to tell you this thing, then I’ll go back to bed’ I promised, as we sat side by side. ‘Ok, go ahead’ he encouraged and I struggled with the thoughts swirling around my head. ‘It was odd, but now, but I guess someone made it, and then I didn't understand, and I know this won’t make sense but maybe in the morning I can explain better.’

The sense that I had to tell him something was still strong in my mind, but I could see myself from his perspective, the wild hair and half-closed eyes. I started shivering in my nightgown and took myself back to bed. He didn’t think I would remember but the following morning I could still feel the urgency with which I had tried to relay my message, although I no longer had any idea of what that message could have been.

It’s still like that sometimes, although I’ve long since given up sleepwalking. Some days I get the feeling that there’s plenty I need to get across, plenty that needs to be said and listened to. I don’t know how to say it and even if I did I might not be taken seriously, dismissed as the vague imaginings of a girl with wild hair and sleep in her eyes.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

weekend walking

It went by in a flash, but it was a good weekend. They always are in Bonn.

Highlights were the Cologne and Bonn Christmas markets with their excessively good food and drink, row upon row of stands with pretty things to buy, and festive atmosphere. We also got to the Ahr valley and wandered around the Vineyards, tasting a nice Riesling and deliciously sweet peach liqueur along the way. We strolled along the path by the Rhine in the winter sun, watching the rowers and thinking how it was the same as when we moved there originally, ten years ago.

Bits I was less happy with included shouting out 'NAZI!' in a sleepy Ahr valley restaurant, something I repeated a surprising number of times before my hand flew to my mouth with the sudden realisation. Payback for my thoughtlessness was scalding my hand so that I had to walk by the Rhine with an ice pack. The whole catching the plane at 1pm on a Sunday thing was a little annoying too. I guess Germanwings pilots like to avoid landing in the dark or something.

The festive spirit is getting to me already though - bring on the bells!

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Ban borders!

I walked up to the Passkontrolle.

'Guten Abend' I said to the man behind the counter as I handed over my passport.

'Guten Abend' he replied, looking at me with the special immigration officer stare.

'Frau Steel?' he asked, glancing at my passport and swiping it thorugh his machine.

'Ja,' I confirmed, hoping this wasn't going to turn into a lengthy interview, as my German is weak now, to say the least. I was ok though, he switched languages.

'You are English?' he said, incredulously.

'Yes' I smiled.

'But you are coming from Poland?' he asked, giving me another hard stare.

I fought the urge to correct his grammar, and protested 'I live there!' a little louder than I'd intended.

He smiled at me. 'Almost not possible!' he pronounced. He glanced at my passport again, presumably noticing its place of issue as Dusseldorf.

'Ah, Sie sprechen auch Deutsch'

My heart sank. Why was this taking so long? 'Ein bisschen' I confessed.

'Schoen Abend noch' he said with another smile and I took my my returned passport with relief.

He must just have been bored.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Today is...

Support World AIDS Day

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Formerly known as Patricia

Expat. Gettit?

Nevermind. I seem to have inherited my dad's sense of humour...

I'm one, and here there are some more, and you might find it interesting. There.

I'm off to Bonn to drink Gluhwein and look at cute things in Weinachtsmaerkte.

Have a lovely weekend.

Good God it's December already.

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