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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

So! er... no. well whatever.

I was going to write about the fantasticness of Polish 'milk bars' as demonstrated by this photo:

and then I thought I'd tell you about my musings on how great dogs have it, as demonstrated by this series:

but I seem to have a cold, and no energy for such excitement.

Plus, the snowflakes that I wish were falling softly to the ground outside my window, are actually zig-zagging all over the place, with just as many floating up as floating down, and it's having a strangely hypnotic effect on me.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

oh and while we're on the subject of advice...

I actually have some for you.

If you're washing a winter coat, it's probably best to check all the pockets. Twice even - those pockets can be quite deep, and you wouldn't want to miss anything.

Like your mobile phone for example. If that's in the pocket, and it goes through the wash, it might not work later. And you might feel stupid.

Just saying.

And if anyone is trying to get in touch with me in the next day or so, maybe best to email.

Just saying.

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...and breathe

Now I'm into my last week here, I'm getting a little panicked. My schedule is packed with goodbye meetings, and I'm winding down the work I have to finish before I go. Packing will come later, but the little anxious knot in my stomach tightens every time I think of how little time is left.

If there's one thing I will NOT miss about this place (the only one I have thought of so far) it's the way complete strangers feel free to give you plenty of advice. Thank you for your suggestions, but I'M OK.

I walk to the bins, my arms full of cardboard and plastic that we have dutifully collected to be recycled. A neighbour opens the door and I thank him.

'That all wants to go in the yellow bin, the one for recycling.' he points out helpfully. No, really?? Did you think I'd go to the trouble of seperating my waste, only to throw it in with the rest of the rubbish? Do I really look that simple?

I take little Atom for a walk in the park across the road. He jumps about, thrilled to be out in the middle of so much excitement. As he whizzes back and forth, sniffing, looking about, refusing to pee, an old lady approaches. His back end contorting with the strength of his wagging tail, he goes up to greet her and she strokes his little head, commenting on how much energy he has. She then moves on to telling him that he has nothing to be so excited about, as it's cold and miserable outside. Then, giving me a critical glance, she suggests I buy him a little dog sweater to keep him warm. I smile and move on.

On the next walk, as Atom is growling at a dog in the distance, barking as if he wouldn't curl up in a whimpering heap if the dog were to get within 100m, an old man approaches. I look at him warily, as he is definitely going out of his way to come close.

'Dogs that small should have sweaters' he says, as Atom runs up to him, and jumps at his shin. I sigh, and nod half-heartedly. 'It's too cold for them and they get pneumonia very quickly.' I explain that the dog isn't mine, that I think he's probably ok for a few minutes running about in the fresh air, and that I'll pass on his message to the owner. 'OK, but just bear in mind that they get used to nice warm apartments and then the cold outside comes as a shock.'

I will bear it in mind.

This weekend, I am taking a large (sweaterless) labrador for a short walk around the block of a wealthy neighbourhood. As he is sniffing a patch of grass in front of a big house, the owners pull into the drive in a large SUV. A young woman gets out and glances in my direction.
'Would Pani mind terribly clearing up after her dog?' a shrill, indignant voice issues in my direction. As the dog hasn't done anything, I'm not sure she is talking to me, but I look around anyway and she walks towards me, her husband standing behind her like some kind of mute bodyguard.

'I'm sorry, did he do something?' I ask, confused.

'He was sniffing around here, and I really think people should clear up their dogs' crap!' she says, a little less shrill, but still indignant.

'Of course I will clear up after him,' I say, showing her the bag I have in my pocket. 'But until he gives me something to clear up, there's little I can do.'

'Oh. Thank you.' she says, deflated. What did she want me to do, run around crouched behind him, bag held up to his butt?

I suppose it's quite touching that so many people care enough about so many issues to confront me, and present their opinions, but to be honest, I'd rather they didn't.

I don't tell you, Mr Neighbour, that your incompetence at reporting accurately from house meetings has resulted in a lot of trouble and misunderstandings between the residents.

I don't tell you, Ms Dogsweater, that your fur coat is not only ugly, but probably saw the unnecessary and possibly painful death of several beautiful animals, which is a little ironic really as you think I am not doing enough to protect one little animal that already has everything his little heart could desire.

And I certainly don't tell you, Mrs SUV, that heating your ridiculous mansion and powering your excessive car is doing more damage to the environment than any number of dogs crapping on your lawn.

It's probably good that I'm leaving, or I may be tempted to start answering back.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

a warning to us all

This is Tusia, a calm, brown, slightly overweight dog. And that black blur is her 5 month old son Atom. As in the bomb.

That's not just a bad shot, he always looks like that. A fuzzy blur with a wildly wagging back end.
Oh, ok he does stay still occasionally. On those rare occassions he looks likes this.

Don't let that sweet face fool you. He is Marek's sister's dog and as she is in China for 3 weeks and Marek's parents were asking Marek to sell the little bugger on the internet before she gets back, we decided it was time to do a good deed. Atom came to Warsaw on holiday for a couple of days. Oh yeah.

The first evening was a laugh. He explored, played with a nut (beats a stuffed doggy toy every time) and fought with us. Oh yes, there was a little 'naughty puppy!' moment too. But the real fun began when we went to bed.

Atom usually sleeps in the kitchen with his mum. This was the first time in his short life that he had ever been left alone. We waited for the crying to begin. He whined and scratched at the door. Leave him a little longer, he'll settle down we told ourselves. He whined some more, and after long long minutes of this gave a couple of tenative little barks. I'll put him back in his bed and see if he settles down I said, worried about what the neighbours would think about a barking dog at 1am.

As I loomed out of the darkness towards him, he was so terrified he let out the most godawful noise I have ever heard from a creature that small. A mixture between a continuous bark and a repeated howl, mixed up with a splash of raw pure fear. Marek rushed in and picked him up, trying to calm him down, while avoiding the puddle on the kitchen floor.

If he were our dog we'd have made him stick it out, but for a couple of days, it was just not worth the sleepless nights. Or the evil looks from equally sleep-deprived neighbours.

We ended up sleeping on the sofa-bed, with him curled at our feet. Worse than a baby I tell you.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

broodiness is just not helpful at this point

We were just trying to decide whether Marek's parents should buy exactly the same lamp as we have for the kitchen, or one slightly different but for the same price, when a familiar face appeared out of the crowds.

'Oh hi!' we said, as the people we bought our flat from came closer, the man holding his infant daughter and the woman pushing a laden trolley. While Marek filled them in on recent events, I made silly faces at the baby and smiled back when I got a giggle.

We chatted about the flat next door, which has come on the market at an extortionate price, and they tried to discourage any thoughts of buying it. As I was telling them we were thinking of getting in contact with the owner anyway just to chat even if nothing came of it, I caught the baby's eye again and smiled. She beamed at me, and leaning out of her father's arms, held her little pudgy ones out to me. I tried not show how touched I was, balanced her on my hip and told her what a big girl she was. We chatted for a few more minutes and then went back to Sunday afternoon ikea, the little girl waving bye bye until she was out of sight.

That lovely feeling of someone reaching out to be closer kept me warm all afternoon.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Polska 2 - Belgia 0

I'm not a huge football fan. I can easily sit through a football match , and even enjoy it at times, but it's not something that really gets my pulse racing. For obvious reasons though, the Poland-Belgium match on Saturday night held a particular attraction.

Marek was exhausted after partyi- I mean training, with his colleagues the day before and mainly kept quiet as I sang along to the Polish national anthem (thank you university choir for teaching me the words) and then provided a very unfocused commentary along the lines of,

'That Artur Boruc goalie looks a little bit like that actor in the film I watched last night, Maciek Kochan-something what's his name? He's in Kriminalni as well, not that I've ever watched it. Did he just say Giraffe-ski? Is that someone's actual name? Look how the shadows of the players change as they move betwen the lights. That one has four shadows but that other one has three. Have you seen that snow all around the pitch? The supporters must be freezing. Do you think faulować (to foul) is a proper verb?'

The match wasn't the most exciting I've ever seen and the Poles waited until just before half time to score the first goal.

'Oooh, it's Żurawski! Not Giraffe-ski after all. Is that related to Żurawina? Cranberries?'

Marek came back to life. 'No, more likely Żuraw, crane.'

'The machine or the bird?'


'How weird that the same word in English stands for both objects and the same word in Polish stands for both objects. I wonder why.'

'It's like German schloss and Polish zamek. They both mean castle and lock.'

'Wow. [thoughtful silence] Do you think these are the kinds of discussions other people have during football matches.'

'Possibly not.'

'I'm glad we're both word geeks. Maybe that's why we never watch football with other people.'

The second goal came just five minutes into the second half and then nothing really happened. I continued giggling every time the commentators mentioned Bąk (pronounced 'bonk', for those of you who still haven't got the hang of Polish letters) and half expected them to carry on in the same vein, shouting 'kapow' and 'wheee' as the ball bounced around the pitch.

I also noticed how they mentioned Polish players much more than the Belgians. Marek's theory was that the Poles had the ball more often, but I think they just wanted to avoid trying to pronounce the Belgian players' names. I wonder how the poor Belgian commentators got on with Blaszczykowski.

Poland deserved to win, and they did. They will now play in the Euro matches for the first time ever. I won't pretend I'm not a little bit chuffed for them, although perhaps the fireworks, tears and claims they were champions of the world (at least that's what that bloody Queen song they always play over and over says) were a little exaggerated. Or premature at least.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

I also noticed that...

Romanian sounds like the kind of language you should understand. Hello is something similar to salut and good evening is something like bueno sera. It's quite melodic and it is possible to listen to someone speaking it for a good few minutes, believing you are just about to understand exactly what is being spoken about, before realising uh, actually? you're not.

On the drive between the beautiful Romanian mountains and the crazy eclectic Romanian capitol there were a lot of pointy haystacks (which look like this) and people walking cows like they were dogs, or waving sticks at little groups of goats. That was all quite exotic.

The adverts lining the main road tended to have little semi-circular holes cut into them at regular intervals. So the wind doesn't push them over? So they don't totally obscure the view? So people can climb up them with mountaineering ropes? Who knows.

I love going to new countries and seeing what they include as part of their day to day life. Diverse doesn't even begin to describe the EU really does it?

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

I was in Romania for three nights, each at a different hotel.

The bleak view from the airport hotel

The stunning view from the conference hotel in the mountains
The city view from the hotel in the centre of Bucharest

It's a country I haven't got to grips with. The horses and carts were familiar from rural Poland, as were the women in headscarves. The younger generation with fast cars and flash clothes was understandable and the boards explaining EU investments heartening. The ancient crumbling buildings of Bucharest were in more extreme need of care than anything in Warsaw and the enormity of the communist blocks was far more crushing. Ceauşescu's palace was ridiculous but the mountains were beautiful. It was a very interesting way to spend a couple of days.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

or, 'sorry, I don't understand. I'm English'?

I've had birthdays in England, and France, and Germany and Belgium and Poland.

This year, though. This year will be something new. This year I'll be in Romania.

What's Romanian for 'I feel old'?

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

this doesn't bode well for being taken seriously in my new job

A pack of schoolkids had got to the interval queue before me, and I prepared to wait patiently while they ordered their cokes and chocolate bars.

The woman behind the counter was serving them one by one.

'Dla Ciebie?' she'd say ('for you?'), before handing over a can, 'a dla Ciebie?'

Ciebie is the familiar form, and Pan/Pani is polite. It's the worst part of other languages, this, and I have become the queen of creating sentences that avoid all mentions of 'you'.

Soon, there were just a couple of kids in front of me.

'Dla Ciebie?' I heard, directed at the girl directly in front of me. She wanted a sprite, and some crisps.

'A dla Ciebie?' I heard again, and realised, as I met her eyes, that it was directed at me.

'Oh, ah two coffees please,' I ordered, wondering if she was always this familiar. 'I only have 100, will that be a problem?'

Now in Poland, not having change is a sin that can get you booed out of a shop. As a customer, you are expected to have worked out the exact total of your purchases and have it ready, down to the grosz. I expected a sigh, a raised eyebrow at least, and maybe some light swearing if she was really low on change.

'Should be fine!' she smiled, as I steadied myself on the counter from the shock. She must just be a friendly, over-familiar pleasant person, I thought to myself, marvelling at the astonishingness of it all. I wish I could just call people Ciebie, without caring, without worrying about the consequences.

I moved to the side to put milk in the coffees and let the girl behind me order.

'Dla Pani?' I heard, and almost spilled the drinks.

The girl behind me in the queue must have been my age.

The girl behind the counter must have thought I was still at school.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

the windows are shut and the heating is on

It's cold today.

The thermometer told me '1' at 8 o'clock this morning. Now it's saying '2.5' but I think exaggerating so it doesn't scare me. It's bloody freezing.

There are going to be some distinct advantages to finding myself in Western Europe this winter.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

A friendly word of advice

When the buttons on your favourite pyjamas do this... may be time to start thinking about getting new ones.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

spreading the happiness

The thing about All Saints' Day in Poland is that it's a tradition that should be all holy and deep, but too often turns tragic and cheap. (I really didn't mean that to rhyme. But now it's there I kind of like it. Will. Not. Delete.)

Anyway. Everyone heads for the graveyards and spends crazymoney on candles and big impressive displays of flowers. They meet relatives, pray, then get a bit chilly standing around for hours while priests circulate, taking money for prayers.

What do Poles do when they get chilly? Break out the vodka! No, of course not everyone. I am very sure there are plenty of teetotal households where the 1 November is vodka-free, but an awful lot of Poles have a couple of shots, if not at the graveyard itself (although that does happen), then with the family at someone's home.

That in itself is not a problem - hey, who doesn't like to celebrate a holiday with a couple of drinks? The problem is when too many of these people then decide to drive home. In a car. Behind the steering wheel. Drunk.

Every year the police stop hundreds of drunk drivers, and every year people are killed on the roads. Lots of them. No, I don't have numbers to hand, this is not a science report, but lots. Trust me.

From the bus last night we saw ambulance men tending to a body lying in the middle of a busy main road. I'd be pretty thrilled never to see another body lying in the road ever again. This week's been full of them. The news showed the wreckages of cars wrapped around lamp posts and enormous lorries lying on their sides after collisions. I can do without that too.

People are killed on the roads, they are buried and people pray at their graves on November 1 before getting drunk and being killed on the roads.

What a neat cycle.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Our Halloween...

...was all candles,


...and collapsed heaps of shrieks, arms and legs thanks to the scary spin game...

oh yes we did.

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