Sunday, July 31, 2011

You probably thought I was on vacay

No such luck. Actually, I’ve been very busy. I may be one of the few English teachers who has a busy summer season. Summer for ESL teachers in Poland usually equals starvation- school kids are on holiday, business people are on holiday. Just about everyone is taking a vacation. Except me. (dramatic pause to dry a tear)

Summer can equal starvation unless, like me, you take all “your” teachers’ lessons and all your friends’ lessons plus all your own lessons. Then you don’t have time to scratch your arse…or check your blog.

Oh, sweet September. I am waiting for you.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Liquid modernity and wyrwa enroiczna

“Kiedy przestaję już ogarniać współczesność, kiedy świat mnie otoczający stawia bariery, który nie jestem w stania sforsować umysłem, gdy zdumienie nad zmieniającą się kulturą masową i obyczajowością przyjmuje już formę graniczną – wtedy sięgam po książki Zygmunta Baumana i w nich szukam wyjaśnień, szukam, mówiąc krótko, ratunku.”

Krzysztof Varga 14 LIPCA 2011 Duży Format GW

Whoa. This is the first line of Krzysztof Varga’s column entitled Lost in the Supermarket czyli ja wszystkożerca in Gazeta Wyborcza’s weekly supplement Duży Format. After that first line I not only wanted to immediately pick up a book, any book, by Zygmunt Bauman, but I also wanted to read Varga’s column beginning to end, which I have done - a few times actually. It was difficult for me. C’mon, liquid modernity is a difficult subject in any language, let alone a “foreign” one. Lucky for me, Bauman who was a Professor of sociology at the University of Leeds, published his many works in English. Oh empik, please, please, please be able to get me some of his books.

Wandering down the page, I decided to read the column by Wojciech Orliński entitled Wyrwa enroiczna. Yeah, I didn’t know what it meant either…but now I do. Thank you Mr. Orliński. You may have experienced wyrwa enroiczna (phrase coined by Anna Bednarczyk) if you have done translation of any kind.

For example, your client asks you for better price terms in the contract for the upcoming year asking, “We are interested in increasing our discount in the contract for next year.”

You reply, “Niestety nie jesteśmy w stanie panstwu przyznać wiekszy rabat w tym roku na takim poziomie zamówień.” (Unfortunately, we are not in a position to offer a larger discount at such a volume of orders.)

Your translator translates your statement as, “No discount.”

Get it?

Wyrwa enroiczna is the gap in meaning or eloquence from the original text to the translated text. It can be the fault of the translator (as in my example above) or just a product of the differences in languages. Orliński describes this phenomenon giving examples from the works of Stanisław Lem, famous Polish science fiction writer, from the book “Lem i tłumacze” a collaborative effort under the editorship of Elżbieta Skibińska and Jacek Rzeszotnik.

The phenomenon is not exactly “lost in translation” but at least “diminished in translation” – the assumption being that the translated text gets the short end of the stick. And that is every translator’s dilemma. For the translated version to be just that, a translated version, not a better version, not a worse version. I recently completed my first large translation (Polish to English, of course) completely on my own. It was a challenge for me, but the text was well-written without too many hearts or flowers if you get my drift. I feel that the English version is very loyal to the Polish version. My success!

To be a good translator, it is not enough to know the 2 languages. Some degree of creativity and imagination is necessary especially in works of literature. It is said that Stanisław Lem was a great poet. I have read his books in English and it never crossed my mind even once to describe his work as poetic, but Orliński has given me something to consider.

Take this line from Solaris (given as an example in Duży Format) of “Bezwzględna cisza wypełniała całą Stację” translated as “Nie słyszałem żadnych dźwięków”. I can see why we hold different opinions on Lem as poet. Orliński read the original book and I read another book entirely, a book free of poetic turns of phrase.

So how should we translate this line from Solaris?

Should it be…?

“The absolute silence filled the Station.”

or maybe…?

“The ruthless silence filled the Station.”


“The merciless silence filled the Station.”

or even…?

“The Station was filled with a cruel silence.”

or maybe as it was very dryly translated…?

“I couldn’t hear a sound.”

It’s not so easy.

I think we could coin another phrase here…let’s call it reverse wyrwa enroiczna meaning when the the translated text is shinier and more beautiful than the original. First of all, let me say that I like to listen to eloquent speakers just as much as the next guy, but I also appreciate the simple eloquence of plain talkers, for example Lech Wałęsa. However, my first contact with Wałęsa was during his visit to the U.S. and his address to the U.S. Congress. So eloquent was his speech that even the hardened, jaded U.S. congressmen and women were drawn to tears…as was I. Fast-forward to today…I know Polish…kind of…and while I enjoy the straightforward manner of Lech Wałęsa (in Polish), I now know that his moving speech in the U.S. was the combination of good speechwriting and reverse wyrwa enroicza – the translation being a polished version of the original.

Now, I gotta go. The match is on.

Or maybe it should be…

Teraz muszę się z wami pożegnać. Mecz jest transmitowany w telewizji.

or maybe…

Idę teraz. Mecz grają w telewizji.

or even…

Na ra. Spadam. Mecz jest.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wiejski Dzień – A Village Day

07092011148What a wonderful day we had yesterday. Clear skies, a light breeze, wonderful. Today is a different story. We are considering building that ark.

We entertained ourselves with various forms of doing nothing. Well, at least I did. There’s a spade somewhere there in the grass under the apple tree. I believe it was even used by someone, but that some07092011162one wasn’t me. I am the one practicing the art of “relaks” in my plastic chair. I’m quite good at it after all these years of practice.


We invented a new game to while the time away. Rotten apple badminton. The only problem being when the apple gets stuck in the strings of your racket.


I almost forget, we harvested our various crops.

nasze plony


Most of the wild strawberries (poziomki) didn’t make it to the plate. Our poziomki logistic chain is quite a short one involving wild strawberry bushes, little fingers and hungry mouths. The cherries were declared “słodziutkie” (sweet) by Lizzie and “kaśny” (kwaśny-sour) by Rosie. And the mint is necessary for mojito, the traditional drink of Polish villages. No? Ok, the traditional drink of Chris’s “relaks”.

PS My take on plastic chairs

Plastic garden chairs or as I like to call them “Cultures of the World Unite” chairs are the international common denominator. Pick any seemingly incongruous samples of culture and you will find the one uniting element among them – plastic chairs. American girl enjoying a day in her Polish garden? What is she resting her bottom and her feet on? Plastic chairs. KKK rally? What are the hillbilly rednecks sitting on? Plastic chairs. Bin Laden taped terror message? What was O.B.L. sitting on? A plastic chair.

The best use of a plastic chair I have ever seen was on CNN a few years ago. It took place somewhere in the Middle East, but forgive me I cannot remember exactly where. The journalist was interviewing a man on the street (standing) in front of a group of other men some standing and some sitting (on plastic chairs). They all were holding some impressive firearms.

During the interview the men in the background were vying for position, wanting to be in the shot too. They were standing up and sitting down, arranging their weapons and their faces in the most dangerous looking of poses possible. Until one moment, the moment when one young man stood up, intending only to straighten his robes and return to his seat. Unaware to him, his chair had been removed. As he stumbled, his bottom searching for the seat of the chair, all the men broke role just for a moment and started to laugh. Ok, dangerous poses were not overturned in favor of knee-slapping and tear wiping, but it was clear that the mood had changed. Then, suddenly, they remembered that they were on air and quickly composed themselves into a band of dangerous street-fighters again. Laughter. Another common denominator.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What all the hubbub, Bub?

Poland’s educational system is undergoing a reform. According to the new regulations, the age for starting compulsory education will be lowered from age 7 to age 6 for first-graders.
The result is that 5-year-olds will begin their education in zerówka, so-called zero class (like kindergarten in the US) and 6 year-olds will start 1st grade. The 3-year reform will, in September, be in its second year. So this September, parents still have a choice to send their 6-year-old to 1st grade or wait until next September and send their 7-year-old. After that, all 6-year-olds will compulsorily enter the 1st grade.
So what’s all the hubbub, Bub?
Parents against the reform want to return to the pre-reform status concerning the age of kids starting school and also the curriculum for teaching them. They feel that the new program is too ambitious for this age group and that the children are unprepared. Those parents feel that their freedom of choice has been taken away from them in the issue most important to them – their children. Those supporting the campaign “Ratuj Maluchy” (Save the little ones) have delivered their petition signed by more than 330,000 parents to the government.
Let’s get down to it…
Your child being ready for school and the school being ready for your child are two different things. I think many of the parents who claim that their kids are not ready actually mean that the kids are not ready for 1st grade as it existed before the reform and many fear that the schools haven’t made the necessary changes to accommodate these youngest pupils.
I understand that. Nobody wants their kid to be a guinea pig, me either, but I also don’t want my 19-year-old to still be in high school.
As I listened to my talk radio on this subject yesterday almost every caller’s complaint boiled down to this -the Polish inferiority complex and fear of change (sorry, but  normal people rarely call in). Reform? No way! No how! For sure the government will screw it up somehow. My kid? Go to school early? No way! No how! The government is stealing our children’s childhood. We cannot allow it! The government just wants money for books and able-bodied workers (one year earlier) working for their retirement. I went to first grade when I was 7 and my kid will too!!!!!
A little faith people.
By the same token, I can claim that I went to school at 6 (even at 5, actually) and everything worked out well for me. The difference being, I went to school in the US where every year five- and six-year-old kids started the 1st grade. The schools were ready for us. In addition, American schools have the same number of lessons for all grades each day. We all started at the same time and finished at the same time. There was no świetlica (after-school program) where we sat after only 2 or 3 lessons for the day. Maybe that is also a concern for the parents.
Roman Giertych, a Polish politician, claims to know the real reason behind the reform…to get parents to spend money on new textbooks. He calls the whole reform “idiotic”. This from the man who a few years ago spearheaded the school uniform campaign causing cost and confusing throughout the entire country.
From onet:
Cała ta reforma jest po to, by powstały nowe podręczniki, a rodzice musieli je kupić - mówił na antenie TVN 24 w programie "Fakty po Faktach" Roman Giertych. - Cofnąłbym całą reformę, bo jest idiotyczna - dodał.
What do the experts and the ministry of education say? I get the impression that they are surprised by the backlash. The Ministry reminds us that practically every civilized country operates on such an educational system. Opponents argue that 2 wrongs don’t make a right. The Ministry also points out that the children are under that same care as before, just housed in a different location (and sometimes in the same location). Opponents argue that primary schools are not able to take care of such little kids and protect them from the older kids. As far as the program goes, the Ministry and other experts claim that the new program is not too ambitious, but rather that the old program was not ambitious enough. Opponents disagree, but I think they’ve got a point there.
My first grade experience was a very pleasant one. It was quite similar to my kindergarten. We learned a bit more of course, but we had plenty of time to play and draw and run…and pray…it was a Catholic school. Misiu also remembers his first grade as a pleasant experience with a lot of playing and drawing and fun. The difference being, he was almost 8, the oldest in his class, and could already read and write. He was a real bookworm and insisted that his parents teach him (just like our Lizzie). Reading and writing were not skills that all his classmates had acquired at home. At that age, I was in the 3rd grade and already deep into my passion for books about Ramona Quimby…my favorite entitled, “Ramona Quimby, Age 8”. By the way, that’s exactly how I looked at age 8.
The worst, in my opinion, are the moms standing with kids in front of the TV camera, pleading “A moje dziecko nie da rady….” Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mom.
So what can I do? Nothing, my 6-year-old child will go to the 1st grade compulsorily in one year. I will send her and hope for the best. Unfortunately, my 6-year-old will enter 1st grade in the final year of the reform…meaning all the kids who were not sent this year will go next year by law. The classes will be packed. Through their whole educational life and future job search, this group of kids will struggle. Well, not my kid, she’s a superstar.

Monday, July 4, 2011


We know how to park. 


We sometimes know how to spell. (Wysoki Standart!)


We know how to entertain.


We know how to make something from nothing.



We know how to take pleasure in finding something we thought we had lost (our favorite nie-kapek almost lost in Grycan).


We know how to insult all office personnel with our offensive office “art” (ok, not we but gross boss).


We know how to disappoint (closed toy store).


We know how to have fun (but not how to snap a photo).

1806201134418062011330 18062011350 

We know how to enjoy the moment…

autumn 2010 080

autumn 2010 083 before it slips away.

Friday, July 1, 2011

That’s So Polish: Exact Change and Nie Wydam

I am not the first foreign person to notice this or even the first to write about it on their blog, but I will add my 2 cents anyhow ;)

Exact Changecoin

Polish shop assistants have, in my opinion, an abnormal fixation on receiving the exact change meaning that you give them the exact amount of your total complete with all the coins and everything. The next best thing for the shop assistant is to receive an amount of change which allows them to give you back better change, meaning they can give you back, for example, a 20 instead of a 10 and some coins. What’s the reasoning behind this? I suppose, it is to hedge against all the yuppies who clean out the cash register with their fresh bank-o-mat hundreds, but I have often been shaken clean of all my change from a cashier whose cash register was overflowing with coins.

What can ya do?

This habit used to really bug me because even after all these years, I still have to look at the face of the smaller coins to recognize the amount. I usually do the dump-out-all-my-change-in-my-hand thing, turn all the coins over so the numbers are up, and then figure out what combination of these coins will please the shop assistant most. Now, I am much more easy-going and if I have the coins, I hand them over (of course, leaving my precious reserve for parking) sometimes without being asked.

Nie Wydam!zloty

Ok, so the exact change thing I can deal with, but what gets my goat is “nie wydam” (I cannot make change). First of all, let me state that I worked in a clothing store at the mall while at uni, so I know what it means when your first customer of the day cleans out your register. Our store was new so after it happened a couple of times, we decided to increase the starting amount in each register from 200 to 300 dollars. In addition, we had another 300 in the safe in the back consisting of 1’s, 5’s, 10’s and coins. If for some reason that wasn’t enough, we made a trip to the neighboring shops and even to the bank if necessary. It never happened, but we had such a procedure just in case.

So, after the third time the lady at Reserved Kids (something like Gap Kids) told me that she couldn’t make change (a 50 zloty banknote on a 40 zloty purchase) and asked if I could pay by card, I decided that I had had enough of Reserved and Reserved Kids. I left my purchases at the register and walked out of the store. It was a painful decision but I decided to boycott Reserved Kids….for 3 whole months. That’s as long as I made it ‘cause I really love that store. When I returned from my boycott (which I am sure hit them hard), I waited for what the sales assistant would say as I handed over my cash. Unsurprisingly, she couldn’t make change. I asked why in Reserved Kids they never have change and in (regular) Reserved they more often than not have the same problem. She replied, “Store policy.” Hmm, interesting store policy, to never have change for your customers and piss them off at every visit. Excellent store policy.

This week, however, I met my match.

The lady from RUCH.

The Polish readers probably already know why.

If you are not in the know, RUCH is a newsagent which operated during communist times and continues to do business today. What you may not know is that you cannot win with the lady from RUCH. She is always right and you can go f@*# yourself.

I often go to the RUCH in question and my complaint is exclusive to this particular location. It is conveniently located for me near one of my clients. This particular RUCH is not a little kiosk, but more like a shop. It is always clean and well-organized and the shop lady is always nicely dressed and groomed. That being said, if there was a dirty, ugly place next door with a smelly but pleasant salesperson working, I would probably choose the smelly guy over this lady.

So a few days ago, I parked in front of RUCH, got out of my car and headed to the door…where I met my favorite lady backing her way out of the door with keys in hand.

Zamknięte. –she said. [We’re closed]

A Pani wróci ? – I asked. [You’re coming back?]

Tak. – she answered. [Yes]

No to czekam. – I said. [I’m waiting.]

She was surprised that I wanted to wait, but I was early for my lesson so I thought –what the hey- I will wait. I don’t know where the lady, went but she missed out on 2 customers during her absence. She didn’t even hang the “zaraz wracam” sign. [Be right back]

Finally, she was back so I went in after her along with another guy. I know what I wanted, I had had time to figure it out while I waited and I plunked down my meager purchases on the counter while the other customer perused the press. I handed over a 50 to which I heard a mumbled response.

Proszę. Nie słyszałam. – I said [Pardon. I didn’t hear.]

Proszę Pani. Ja nie wydam! – The RUCH lady shouted peering at me from over the top of her glasses which rested at the end of her nose. [Ma’am, I will not make change.]

Hmm. Za ile musze kupić żeby Pani mogła mi wydać? – I asked. [Hmm. How much do I have to spend in order for you to be able to make change?]

No, no, no, proszę Pani, ja nie wiem za ile Pani musi kupić żeby wydać – she answered throwing her hands up in exasperation. [Well, well, well, Ma’am, I don’t know how much you have to spend for me to make change.]

My reply – A kto wie jeżeli Pani nie wie? [Who knows if you don’t know?]

She wasn’t happy with that comment.

Wszyscy ludzie tutaj przychodzą prosto z bankomatu i mam same pięćdziesiątki i stówki i nie wydam Pani. [Everybody comes in here straight from the ATM with 50’s and 100’s and I won’t make you change.]

Chyba Pani musi. – I answered, meaning that she has to make change in order to serve her clients…she understood it a little differently. [I think you have to.]

Ja jako sprzedawca nie mam obowiązku wydać resztę tylko klient ma obowiązek zapłacić daną kwotę. – she explained. [As a merchant, I am not required to make change. It is the customers’ responsibility to pay the right amount.]

Ale w taki sposób Pani nic nie sprzeda. – I countered. [But that way, you won’t sell anything.]

At that moment, the guy behind shouted – Pani nie wyda z 50tki? [You can’t change a 50?]

Nie. [No.]

As if I had planted this customer to prove my point, he put his purchases back on the shelf and left. I took back my 50 and did the same.

Do widzenia – I said. [Good bye]

Do widzenia, Pani. [Good bye, Ma’am]

And 30 minutes of work for this lady, from locking the door in front of me to my leaving the shop, resulted in 4 potential customers who spent 0 zloty. Excellent policy, excellent.