A Village Weekend
A City Weekend
A picnic in the park
We all brought our tents
Rosie’s counting…like this….Two, three, two, three, two, three. Szukam!
Wishing you a summer full of nice weekends!
A Village Weekend
A City Weekend
A picnic in the park
We all brought our tents
Rosie’s counting…like this….Two, three, two, three, two, three. Szukam!
Wishing you a summer full of nice weekends!
Well, we were not flooded, thank goodness. I mean, our part of the City was not flooded, but inhabitants of one district of the City were not so fortunate. In other parts of Poland, the damage was much, much worse.
But that’s not the impression you’d get if you asked some City citizens from the street…
“heads should roll”
Why? Because one district of the City was flooded a little bit? A district of new blocks of flats built after the flood of ‘97?
Whose heads should roll? Maybe the people who gave building permission for those blocks of flats in the first place, certainly not the officials (and local people) trying to prevent them from being flooded.
We were a little bit afraid that the City would be flooded. A few days before the flood water actual hit us, we were warned by the TV and newspapers that it probably wouldn’t be as bad as in ‘97, but to be prepared just in case. On the Thursday before the flood waters hit, there was a false alarm that the City officials were going to shut off the water (and perhaps the electricity) in preparation for the flood wave. I immediately turned on the local radio where I heard an announcement by City officials that it was absolutely not true, that there were no plans and no need to shut off the water. That didn’t stop me from stocking up on water and other essentials (such as diapers, lollipops, and coloring books) just in case. In addition, there was a report of when the flood wave would hit and that some parts of the City may be flooded. The mayor of the City ensured us that we were all safe and that no one in the City would be flooded. It was his mistake, but he was going on the information he had at the time.
And then the flood wave hit the City. Our City is built along the river in the flood plain, what can we do? The levees did their jobs all except in one area. Even the sand bag embankments didn’t hold up.
On the way to the Village a day after the flood wave hit, I was able to see that the flooded streets were blocked off, protected by police officers and fire fighters who were directing traffic and giving information. There was a huge traffic jam on one of the main bridges as drivers slowed and even stopped to gawk at the high river waters. Along the way at the smaller bridges, sand bags were ready with volunteers and officers awaiting the signal. Everything seemed to be under control.
Now that the flood waters have receded, the financial and political bill must be tallied. While awful for those whose homes and businesses were flooded, the physical damage is not that great (I’m talking about my City). It shouldn’t cost exorbitant amounts to clean up. More costly will be building more levees to protect more areas of the City in the future…if only the działkowicze will give up their precious garden allotments for the good of the rest of us. Politically costly was the risk the mayor took in guaranteeing the City’s safety. Many citizens (even those who remained high and dry) cannot come to terms with his infallibility.
As to other places in Poland that were flooded, I do not know if heads should roll. I’d like to think the emergency effort was a success. Floods will happen, but the goal is to first minimize human loss and then if possible financial loss. I did see a crying lady interviewed live on TVN 24, getting out of a boat that had just saved her from the roof of her flooded home. I must admit I shed a tear right along with her as she lamented the loss of her whole life’s wealth, her family photos, her family pet. Then the report showed 2 previous visits to this lady’s home. One 4 days earlier on foot by the firefighters who had tried to evacuate her. Another visit 2 days prior by boat when the water had pushed the lady to the second floor of her home. She wouldn’t budge. Whose head should roll that this lady almost lost her life along with her home?
The best tallying of the flood’s bill, I heard on the local radio. It was the height of Polish self-criticism. Because in case you didn’t know, Polish folks are super self-critical. The journalists discussed everything that had gone wrong in this flood, every misstep of the officials, every forecasted misstep in the clean-up effort. The general atmosphere was that we (Poland) can’t do anything right. Sure, their were some mistakes made, but in my opinion there was a lot of “done right” in this flood.
The most unbelievable part of the radio broadcast was when one journalist used the response to Hurricane Katrina in the US as an example of “done right”. I’m not saying that nothing was done right in the response to Hurricane Katrina, but so much was “done wrong” that the mistakes kind of cloud over the rest. And what did I say, American citizen, when I got to know about the tragic errors in the Katrina effort? Did I blame my country and say that we (America) cannot do anything right? No, of course not. I said that George Bush cannot do anything right, not the whole country. My super critical self-criticism only extends to me, not the whole nation, but that’s just me. (See PS1)
I do not know exactly where Polish folks self-criticism stems from. Perhaps from living among other countries, always comparing how we (I mean you or I guess they) measure up. Perhaps it has something to do with Poland, always the nervous neighbor, being forced to host a few invading nations in the past. Perhaps it is connected to the communist era? Maybe it is a little bit of each of these all rolled into one. I’m open to any of your theories.
One good thing to come out of the flood is that Lizzie has discovered (to her extreme delight) that firefighters have duties other than just putting out fires and saving kittens from trees. She got to know that firefighters can evacuate people from flooded homes by boat or even by helicopter and can help build sand bag levees to protect against the approaching flood waters. So now instead of our everyday game “pali się w piwnicy”(the basement is burning), we now play “wielka woda idzie” (the flood is coming), build a pillow levee and evacuate Rosie from the bedroom. So fun!
PS1: Hurricane Katrina happened in 2005. 1836 people died. The criticism of the response was that there was a serious lack of communication between officials, agencies, and citizens. It was often unclear who was in charge. This led to evacuation orders coming too late without sufficient transport or shelter provided. These delays in response continued even after the hurricane hit and only fueled the criticism. With no, one entity being responsible (or to blame) for the inadequate response, most fingers pointed to the easiest and clearest target, President George W. Bush.
PS2: My hometown has a kick-ass levee built by the Army Corps of Engineers when I was a teen. It was controversial and expensive. Controversial because in my historic hometown after most industry moved south or abroad, the river view was the one thing that we had left. Expensive, well, because it is expensive. It is expensive to design, build and maintain a levee. It is expensive to remove people from their homes and compensate them for the loss of their property. It is expensive to get the citizens behind the plan especially those ones a little ways down river who will not benefit at all and probably will get flooded even more.
But the plan passed, and the levee was built. Those people who lived along the river lost their view but gained security in knowing that their homes (and the whole downtown) would not be flooded. The whole city gained a fantastic meeting place as the levee was built with a running/walking/biking path on top complete with park benches, lighting and an amphitheatre with a floating stage out on the river for concerts and shows. My parents lost a rental property and a river lot where my father kept his boat. But he had no choice (eminent domain), and he was compensated more or less fairly.
From the time of the last flood and until the levee was built, no building projects in my hometown could be built on the ground level. All projects had to be raised. That makes for some pretty interesting buildings, homes and shopping centers in my hometown especially now that the levee has been built. As for my father’s rental house, it was said that his house (along with the whole street of homes) would be destroyed. You can imagine my surprise one day as I waited to exit my university’s parking lot only to see my father’s house travel past me on the back of large truck. The city didn’t destroy the homes, just picked them up and moved them to higher ground.
Hope you are able to stay high and dry!
An accident waiting to happen.
“No,” I answer indignantly, “The wall did not jump out at me. It was the door.”
His parting words to me each day are not the generic “Have a good day” or even “I love you”, but “Don’t hurt yourself”.(Nie zrób sobie krzywdy")
He knows me well.
I am a danger not only to myself, but also to the things around me. I just don’t know my own strength. I have a special acuity for breaking things especially handles, knobs, buttons and levers.
First, we must know 2 things. Toilets in America and toilets in Poland have a slightly different flushing mechanism. The amount of force needed to engage the flush is also slightly different. You may never have thought about it, but your body carries with it the memory of this (toilet-flushing, door-closing, etc.) force. For that reason, you tap on your computer keyboard and not pound. You close the fridge door lightly and not slam. You flush with the force necessary as found in your tactile memory to make the water come down, but not enough to rip the toilet from the wall.
So, I always flushed with just the right amount of force until the day I exited my parents-in-law’s bathroom, eyes looking guiltily at the floor, clutching the broken flusher in my hand. My father-in-law tried to fix it, several times in fact, but somehow I managed to break it again-the action in my hand always overriding the order from my brain, don’t break the toilet, don’t break the toilet, don’t break the toilet. In the end, they had to buy a new toilet…with a different flushing mechanism which remains to this day intact despite my many visits there.
The door handle to their bathroom has not been so lucky. First in my defense, in the US we mostly have door knobs and not handles. These handles have always caused me problems. Often I cannot get a door to close properly, and I usually let it open, except for the bathroom…at my parents-in-law’s. That’s a place I need to close the door. And with my closing, so went the door handle not once but twice, unto countless times. Fortunately, the door can be closed by grasping the lock lever (which I will never use for its intended purpose as I would surely become imprisoned in there) and pulling tightly.
Sigh, if only my accidents were limited to home. I recently removed the door handle from the bathroom at my gynecologist’s office to which he swore that it had been broken earlier that day and he hadn’t had time to fix it yet. Yeah right.
The most embarrassing of my accidents (so far) had to be in a bank. Well, not in the bank but in the offices of the holding company that owned the bank. Of course, the office was all very elegant, at that time located in a tastefully renovated brownstone, complete with a lot of sexy glass doors….with door handles. It’s funny how they always seem to come in pairs, doors and their handles.
Anyhow, I finished my lesson on the top floor and decided not to take the elevator down but to walk instead. I didn’t want to be lazy, and I also have problems with elevators. As I pulled on the door handle of the sexy, glass, floor-to-ceiling doors, a strange but familiar thing happened. The door stayed put, and the handle came with me. I knelt down and tried to put it back on giving quick glances behind me to check if anyone had seen me through all those damn glass doors. I tried and tried to put it back on, but jeez I’m not MacGyver. I had no choice, but to turn myself in.
I descended the staircase running through some possible explanations in my head. As I got to the bottom of the staircase, I was met by the security guard. I sheepishly showed him the handle in my hand. He asked me, “Co się stało?” as if I were his daughter showing him my empty ice cream cone with the ice cream melting at my feet on the sidewalk. I handed him the handle and said, “Nie znam swojej siły”, and then I escaped!
Know your own strength!
PS Door in Polish is plural. Doors are…Drzwi są even when you are talking about one door. My husband kept me quiet one whole evening by asking me how to say 10 doors in Polish. Dziesięć drzwi. Dzisięcioro drzwi. How about Dziesięć par drzwi….but wouldn’t that mean 20? Oh cholera, who cares?!?
I am American and I am proud of it. But I don’t live in America. I live in Poland. That must mean that Poland is super duper, right? Not really. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking Poland. I think that some things in America are great and some things are not. I feel the same about Poland. I think that some things here are great and that some things are not. Mostly things here are just different.
My father would not agree with me (or you, if you feel the same as I do). Yes, he’d agree that things here are different. There’s no denying when I look out the window that I’m not in America anymore, but the buildings are no better or worse, just different. For my father, different means worse. Everything in America is how it should be and things should be done the American way (read: the right way). Or at least that’s the impression we got when he visited us.
Having said that, I have to defend my father and any others out there who view their own way as THE WAY (such as myself when I first came to Poland). When I first came here, I often found myself saying things like, “In America, school is organized this way…” half-expecting my teacher friends to declare, “Yes! Finally! A school system that makes sense. Why didn’t we think of that?!?” OK, I said half-expecting which really means secretly hoping, so don’t judge me for my reaction to my first real taste of a foreign culture.
We like what is familiar to us. If you only know one way, be it the American way, the German way or the Chinese way, you tend to think that your way is the best. Exposure to other cultures and other ways of doing things is the best way for us to see what is good, what is bad, what is the same and what is different in other people and other ways of doing things. And even my father, the most American of all Americans, would certainly agree with that.
But this is supposed to be about the Polish way, not the American way, but I digress.
If you are planning to visit Poland, you should know a few things.
Disclaimer: If you do not have a sense of humor and are genetically unable to recognize satire and/or sarcasm, you should stop reading now.
You should know that Polish women are the most beautiful in the world. If you don’t believe me, just ask one of them (or one of their spouses). In addition, Polish landscapes, nature, flora and fauna cannot be beaten by any other.
You should know that Polish folks are pretty good dancers and they will assume that you know how to dance too. If you are like me and cannot dance, I suggest feigning illness. The previous statement is true for drinking. Please replace “dance” with “drink” and the same rules apply.
You should know that Polish schools are the most difficult of any you have ever attended and if you are American you should know that you are a moron. (I couldn’t resist;)
You should know that the Polish health care system is at the same time the best and the worst you could ever experience. Moreover, every health care professional earns peanuts especially my OB/GYN who drives a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Apparently peanuts are worth more than they used to be.
You should know that Polish salaries are low (which actually is kind of true) and that gasoline is expensive (especially compared to America).
You should know that Polish food (the actual food, not the cuisine) is far superior than the artificial, jedzeniopodobny food of where ever you are from.
If you are American, you should know that Poland would like to thank you and at the same time strangle you for the introduction of Coca-cola, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, etc. into Polish society.
You should know that Polish folks have a tendency to complain. Complainers should not be seen as pessimists. It is just a societal feature such as American people who are always “fine”, end every conversation with “have a nice day” and who never tire of talking about America.
Lots of brave and intelligent Polish folks have made many valuable contributions to history and to the arts and sciences over the years and damn you if you don’t know every last one of them. A piece of advice – Never tell anyone that you used to think Copernicus was Italian or that Marie Curie and Chopin were French. Trust me.
You should know that traffic jams in Poland are worse than anything you have ever experienced at least in Europe, unless you are from Brussels. The latest ranking for the worst traffic in Europe is as follows: #1 Brussels #2 Warsaw #3 Wroclaw. You see, I told you Poland is better at everything.
Are you royally perturbed at the moment? Yes? No? Maybe? It’s like with your siblings. You can beat on your sister as much as you want, but just wait until somebody else makes fun of her. So I guess I’m just another foreigner making fun of Poland. Not really. I am another foreigner, but I do live in Poland and have lived here awhile. My husband is Polish and my children are Polish. I have a NIP (a tax-payer #) and a PESEL (like America’s Social Security #). I have made pierogi by hand, by myself on more than one occasion…and they were really good. Enough said.
Please don’t think I haven’t fallen victim to the “Poland is better” syndrome myself.
I haven’t had it easy either. I often have to defend my country and my countrymen. “Chris, why are you all so ………. over there in America (fill in whatever you want in the blank)?” I have a lot less explaining to do now that George Bush is out of office. I remember one student who gave me no peace. She was an IT specialist in her mid 50s and she informed me that I was stupid every chance she could. She often laughed “what a talent it is to teach someone your own language”. She also thought it was a pity Hitler didn’t “finish his job”, so I figured she was pretty nutty to begin with.
And on that nutty note, I end this post because my Polish husband who is better at everything is waiting for me.
PS I forgot to mention that my father hangs the American flag outside his home every morning and takes it back in every evening. In honor of the Polish plane crash victims, he hung his Polish flag along with the American flag for a week. That’s my Dad.
Washing the family cars was my job as a kid (along with raking the leaves, cleaning out the roof gutters and shoveling the snow), so I have always believed that I am more than capable of keeping my car(s) clean - until I came to Poland. Polish folks like their cars clean. I mean really clean, like once-a-week-washing clean.
And there is nothing wrong with that. "Cleanliness is next to godliness," they say and as my Grandmother used to say, “There’s nothing wrong with being poor, but there’s no excuse for being dirty.”
In Poland, in addition to the every day kind of clean, your car should also be cleaned before special holidays in which you may be driving around visiting family. Of course, you should wash your car before driving to a wedding or funeral or another similar occasion.
I’ve kind of given up competing with Polish drivers in their quest for a clean and shiny car. Maybe it is because I drive on a dirt (and mud) road several times a day, so my efforts would be futile anyway. Maybe it is just because I am lazy. Just call me “brudas”.
In Misiu’s hometown there is one very popular carwash. It isn’t cheap, but you can easily acquire enough points from the gas station for a free wash. There’s always a line of cars waiting to be washed…and in my opinion, not a one of them is dirty enough to warrant a wash. Those are the cleanest “dirty” cars I have ever seen.
On more than one occasion, I have been told by someone (usually a complete stranger) that I should wash my car. One parking attendant examined my super muddy SUV-ek and said, “Cars are to be washed, in case anyone hasn’t told you.” I replied that cars are first and foremost for driving, in case he didn’t know. And maybe that’s where I am wrong.
Maybe cars aren’t just for driving. Maybe they should look nice too. Maybe it really does say something about me that my cars are almost always dirty.
I was considering the title “Poland’s Got Talent” for this post. I’m referring to Polish people’s amazing talent of washing an entire vehicle with only one bucket of water. I have seen it done many times and am amazed that it is possible. Really, it can be done.
Wishing you sunny skies and shiny, clean cars!
It may be the end of Kielbasa Stories as we know it.
Reaction 1: What? Chris, no! We love you and Kielbasa Stories so much. You are such a clever and talented writer with an amazing sense of humor. It would be a tragedy to end such a fantastically funny and informative blog. You are a national treasure.
Let’s just clarify that Reaction 1 exists only in my mind where I hold myself in very high esteem.
Reaction 2: Who cares? I just read Kielbasa Stories while I’m waiting for Onet’s homepage to open.
Let’s clarify that Reaction 2 exists in a deep, dark corner of my mind where I go when I’m having a bad day and when my hair looks like crap which is much too often these days.
Reaction 3: No more Kielbasa Stories? Bummer. Let’s see what Stardust is doing.
Let’s clarify that Reaction 3 is probably somewhat closer to reality than Reaction 1 and Reaction 2.
Here’s the deal. In order for Kielbasa Stories to exist and make sense, we have to live in Poland. I mean it is the story of how I moved to Poland and survived.
But….if Jarosław Kaczynski wins in the next presidential election, Misiu says we are out of here. I guess I should start preparing Hot Dog, Hamburger and Apple Pie Stories because we’d be going back to America. Or would we? Misiu said the same thing when Lech Kaczynski became president and somehow we survived.
A brief summary for the politically non-interested people: Jarosław Kaczynski is the identical twin brother of the late Lech Kaczynski, the president who died in a plane crash last month. Lech was seen as conservative (by many as ultra-conservative) and he was accused of nationalism on many occasions. Lech also had very strong political ties with the Catholic Church. His brother, Jarosław, is seen as all those things times 10. I mean his campaign slogan says it all - “Poland is the most important” (Polska jest najważniejsza).
Come on, everybody knows that America is the most important ;)
I’m not saying that Jarosław is a bad candidate. If you are very conservative and religious (read: Catholic), then he is the candidate for you. It used to be said that he would never get elected as he is and always has been single. But (and I don’t mean to be crass) in the hearts and minds of the electorate, a deceased twin brother totally trumps a non-existent first lady.
That leaves us in limbo (not really, I’m just kidding about the move) until after the election. Of course, there is a strong chance that the acting president Bronisław Komorowski will win the election as predicted before the death of Lech Kaczynski.
It got to me thinking about my voting habits. I tend to vote moderate to liberal, and since I have moved to Poland I have voted pretty liberal (I’m talking about the US elections ‘cause I can’t vote here). Americans abroad tend to vote like me. Poles abroad are split. Poles in Europe tend to vote moderate to liberal as well, while Poles in the US tend to vote conservative. Perhaps it has to do with age and has not as much to do with immigration. Poles spread throughout Europe tend to be part of the new immigration and are a bit younger, while Poles in the US tend to be from an earlier wave of immigration and tend to be a bit older. They’d probably vote the same way if they still lived in Poland.
A couple of nights ago, I did have a dream that we were moving back to the US. In my dream, I was crying uncontrollably. Yes, yes, I would miss Poland a lot, but that’s not why I was crying. I was crying because I had come to the realization (in my dream) that I wouldn’t be able to pack my Polish pottery collection and take it with me and I would have to…..SELL IT!!!!! And the tears came rolling down. I know that some of you completely and totally understand what I am talking about.
Anyone want to buy a superb Polish pottery collection real cheap? Contact me after the elections.
You may have heard of the pink slip (it is a euphemism for getting fired in America), but have you heard of the yellow papers? No? Then you are probably not Polish. Getting your “yellow papers” in Polish means that you are certified crazy…I mean mentally ill.
I do not have a lot of experience with the mentally ill, but I think that everybody knows someone (or at least knows of someone) who has some degree of mental illness. I just have the misfortune of attracting these people to myself…like a magnet…like a big old crazy magnet.
As I was walking the 3 minute walk from my room at PZU to school in the Village, I had my 2nd encounter with crazy…Polish style. (My first encounter was Karolek who followed me home). How much trouble can you get into in a 3-minute walk? Just leave it to me.
First, I have a habit of greeting people on the street. Well, I had a habit. It is a small-town-America habit and doesn’t really translate well to another culture, so I stopped doing it. People were starting to think I was crazy.
On my walk to school, I pretty much kept to myself and only greeted those people (usually students) who greeted me first. On this particular day, I noticed a well-dressed man approaching me. Could it be a student’s father? Probably not, he seemed a bit too old, but who was I to judge? Well, he was well-dressed in the sense that he was wearing a suit, a 3-piece suit if my memory does not fail me and a smart overcoat. He was wearing a nice hat and carrying an umbrella as well, one of those large umbrellas with a wooden handle. Strangely, one of his pant legs was rolled up to the knee, but I thought perhaps he had been riding his bike and had forgotten to put his pant leg down. But then I noticed that he was wearing only one shoe. Quite odd. Of course, my summary of this man lasted all of about 15 seconds. And then he marched straight up to me with a determined look on his face and hit me with his umbrella sharply right on top of my head…and it hurt. Then he marched away saying nothing.
I told no one of this encounter because who could I have told and who would have believed me anyway? I later found out that this gentleman was Crazy Jurek. I did not give him the nickname no matter how suitable it seems. Crazy Jurek, as it turned out, was Misiu’s sister’s downstairs neighbor. Long divorced from his wife, Jurek had been given just one room in his marital home. His wife and children remained in the rest of the apartment. I don’t know how it was possible by law to do this, but the room was simply bricked off from the rest of the apartment (it does have an exit to outside) without access to heat, water or any bathroom facilities. And I forgot to mention that Jurek was/is under sporadic treatment of schizophrenia. Hitting a passerby with an umbrella is one of the tamest things he has done.
To make life at my sister-in-law’s even more interesting, Crazy Jurek’s sister, Faustyna, also suffering from schizophrenia lived upstairs in the attic apartment. My sister-in-law lived in the middle of a kind of schizophrenia sandwich. Every time I entered the main doors of the house, I was bombarded from above with cursing screams of “You f-ing whore. Get you f-ing ass out of here”. I did not take these comments personally because #1 she was mentally ill (she has now passed away) #2 she screamed the same thing to everybody who entered the building. #3 I didn’t understand what she was saying.
Once when we came back home to my sister-in-law’s, Faustyna was hanging by her finger tips from the 3rd storey window to which my sister-in-law told her to jump, but not before she moved her car. Some dark humor for ya.
Another time while sitting in the kitchen my niece wiped a drip of a mystery liquid from the tip of her nose. This mystery liquid was dripping from the ceiling. Origin? Faustyna’s apartment. As it turned out, Faustyna had been storing bagged milk under her sofa and some of the bags had broken and dripped down to my sister-in-law’s.
Despite my sister-in-law’s dark sense of humor, she really was sorry for them. She often called the authorities out of pity and out of fear for everyone’s safety. Usually they were locked in a mental facility for some time and then released back home where they had no care and stopped taking their medication. Jurek, this last very cold winter, in his last attempt to survive somehow, destroyed my nephew’s car spectacularly and was then locked up in a mental hospital where unlike at home they have heat, water, and food. Could you blame him?