Much like myself, who has a slight problem committing to one continent, this blog has moved and rebranded.

Please check out the new site – www.missponglish.com

Pa!


Sto Lat!Birthdays can be a great barometer of cultural difference.  Surrounded by tradition and often accompanied by standard etiquette, they can be a potential minefield for a foreigner.

In Poland most people celebrate birthdays however they may not be celebrated with as much enthusiasm as is reserved for “name days”.  Name days are not unique to Poland, but aren’t known in most other countries either, and a post on them will follow shortly.

Greeting card

You can do it, just channel your inner Hallmark writer

Perhaps one of the biggest cultural differences is the idea of “wishes”.  In Poland it is common to give quite formal wishes to people and this can be seen on many occasions including Easter and weddings. Basically you reel off a string of things -for example, health, happiness etc – that are actually largely within the person’s own control if anyone’s, but certainly not yours.  Whether you know the person particularly well, or genuinely wish any of these things for them, appears to be irrelevant. It is one of those cultural traditions that makes me feel like a fish out of water. Even repeating word for word what I am told to say by a Polish person,  and knowing that it is the appropriate and expected thing to do, I still feel like I’m a walking, talking Hallmark card, or whatever the closest Polish equivalent of Hallmark is.

So – what exactly do you say to your Polish Birthday Girl or Boy?

Well, if you are pretty new at Polish and still finding words with far too few vowels a challenge, stick with “Sto Lat” This literally means 100 years, and is the name of a reasonably famous Polish song that you are bound to hear if you spend any length of time in Poland.

The words of the song are below.  If you’re actually going to a party then learn them.  Nothing screams “foreigner” or “my, what a sour unfestive guest” than a silent mouth during Sto Lat.

Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje zyje nam.
Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje zyje nam.
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz, niech zyje, zyje nam.
Niech zyje nam!

And the English version, so you have a vague idea of what you’re saying….

Good luck, good cheer, may you live a hundred years.
Good luck, good cheer, may you live a hundred years.
Good luck, good cheer, may you live a hundred years.
One hundred years!

With words in hand you can get an idea of the tune by viewing this video:

(coming soon, youtube currently down)

Or, if you’re musically inclined, the sheet music is below, courtesy of Gene Mikrut.

Sto Lat Sheet Music(Incidentally – I wonder what Polish people sing at the celebrations of people older than 100?)

If all this is making you nervous, don’t panic too much.  Sto Lat is often accompanied by vodka, which somehow makes the pronunciation easier.

However, if you are at the level where you can master more than the two word “sto lat” and  attempt “szysztk” without sounding like you’re choking and in need of urgent medical attention, then you can try:

Wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji urodzin – all the best on your birthday

Przeysyłam najserdeczniejsze życzenia z okazji urodzin – send the warmest wishes on your birthday.

And an example of the wishes that make me feel like such a foreigner….

Życzę zdrowia, szczęścia, radości, uśmiechu….. – I wish you health, luck,  happiness, smile…..

If you arrive bearing gifts then hand them over accompanied by:

Zorbiłam to dla Ciebie – I made this for you (if you are female).

Zrobiłem to dla Ciebie – I made this for you (if you are male).

To jest prezent z mojego kraju – This is a gift from my country.

Hopefully, you won’t need to say:

Przepraszam za spóźnione życzenia urodzinowe – sorry the birthday wishes are late.

And if you’re in Poland on your birthday? Well, you definitely need to celebrate Polish-style.

Chciałabym zaprosić Cię na moje urodziny – I would like to invite you to my birthday party (if you are female).

Chciałbym zaprosić Cię na moje urodziny – I would like to invite you to my birthday party. (if you are male.)

Party jest ….– The party is at….

Będą osoby na przyjęciu/imprezie… które mówią po polsku i angielsku – There will be people at the party who speak Polish and English.

If you succeed in getting the message through about the party and nothing is lost in translation, then it’s time to say…

Dziękuję za przyjście –  thank you for coming,

Dziękuję bardzo za życzenia urodziny –thank you for the birthday wishes.


This is the first in what I plan to be a series of weekly posts commenting on interesting Polish news.

A Court in Katowice has this week fined a magazine (the Catholic Weekly Gosc Niedzielny) 30,000 zloty for writing inappropriate material about a Polish woman who wanted an abortion because her health was in danger.  Exactly what they wrote is a little unclear.  According to the BBC coverage, the magazine likened her to a child killer and compared abortion to the Nazi killings at Auschwitz. According to Polskie Radio they published  “a series of articles claiming that she attempted to kill her baby and received compensation for not having committed the deed.”  (The compensation referred to here was an award the woman received in 2007 when she sued Poland at the European Court for Human Rights and won.) 

The woman involved was utimately denied an abortion in any case – hardly surprising given Poland’s anti-abortion law (which incidentally has been heavily criticised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee who have called for it to be liberalized).    Her health deteriorated after her baby was born.  But despite her victory at the ECHR and in Katowice this week,  it seems unlikely that the situation for women like her will change any time soon. Just earlier this month Poland’s bishops threatened to excommunicate Catholic politicians (and that’s pretty much all of the politicians in Poland) if they supported abortion.  Seperation of church and state, anyone?

Also in law-related news, Poland has voted to become the first EU country to chemically castrate pedophiles.  Or should we say, people the Polish justice system finds guilty of specified criminal acts. Apparently such disregard for human rights is okay though, because Reuters reports that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk doesn’t consider pedophiles human.  Hmm, doesn’t that sound familiar?  Didn’t certain German politicians once consider Jews not human too?! Did that not have horrendous consequences for millions of Poles?

Good to see we’ve come so far.  Pedophile behaviour is to be disdained and abhorred.  Unlike the Jews, those who behave in such a way do deserve punishment.  But they do not deserve this level of punishment, dished out by an inevitably error-prone justice system (as all are) by a country whose leader considers some citizens to be not human.   Regardless of which citizens he is talking about, and of how much their behaviour may rightly disgust many of us, that is a very dangerous sentiment indeed. Where human rights in a country are  reserved only for people whom those in power approve of,  there are no human rights.

Last week in the news record numbers of visitors to Auschwitz were reported.  Well,
it looks like that number is going to get even higher, with a prison in southern
Poland launching a plan to send some of their inmates to the site for
"re-socialisation", despite the idea being questioned by psychologists and
sociologists.
http://www.newpolandexpress.pl/npe_news_story-757-poland_to_send_prisoners_to_auschwitz_for_shock_therapy.php
The PolandBut

Awww

I grew up in a culture where I regularly heard  “you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your Prince” .  Then I met my Polish Prince, and was told I could affectionately call him my little frog (żabko). I didn’t think he bore any resemblance to those ugly slime-covered pond-dwelling creatures, and I was pretty sure he wasn’t another frog I was going to kiss along the way – so I stuck to the pretty mundane kochanie (loosely, sweetheart, though it has other uses too).

Polish couples often use “animal names” to refer to each other.  Perhaps you think you/your partner would suit kotku (little cat)

Kotku

No? Then how about rybko (little fish)

That's the orange one....

Perhaps myszko (little mouse) is more appropriate?

Now how could that not be cute

Or muszko (little fly)

MuszkoMisiu (little bear) could be more your style

Kocham cie

If all else fails, you must be króliczku (little rabbit)

Rabbit

Of course you can each be different animals. Kotku i myszko, for example.

See, they get on fine

Króliczku i Kotku works too.

Króliczku i Kotku

Just don’t try being two at once.

Kotku-żabko

Kotku-żabko

That would just be silly 😉


Everyone smiles in the same language.  ~Author Unknown

Smiling doesn’t hurt.  Except when you do it for hours because you’re being hosted for a meal by people who you can’t speak to because of a language barrier.

“Zapraszamy do nas na obiad” (We’re inviting you to our place for dinner)

You’ve been invited to a  meal with a Polish family?  You don’t speak Polish and your hosts dont speak much/any English? Welcome to the club. If you have time to learn a reasonable amount of Polish before the dinner, do, and then teach us in the comments section.  For everyone else, these phrases might help rescue you from a rather silent meal and a sore jaw from all that awkwardness-deflecting smiling.

Proszę o sól. Please pass the salt.

Proszę o pieprz. Please pass the pepper.

Proszę o…Got the idea? Well done!

If something is being passed around the table, say dzięnkuję when it is passsed to you, and proszę when you pass it on to the next person.

Wszystko znakomicie smakuje. Everything tastes wonderful.

Lubię pieorgi i polską kuchnię. I like pierogi and Polish cuisine. (Feel comfortable saying this even if you have never tried peirogi before.  There is no way you could not like pierogi. You should probably know what they are though.)

Dzięnkuję, bardzo smaczne! Thank you, very good meal. (My first dinner in Poland consisted of mainly this, and a permanent forced smile. Hint 1: wait till the meal is finished before saying this, it’s only cute the first few times.  Hint 2: until you recognise dessert, there is probably another lot of food coming. You’re not finished yet, despite what your stomach might think)

You will probably be offered tea (the wonderfully recognisable “herbata“).   In Poland tea is normally drunk black.  If you’re used to milk, and really can’t stomach it without, then smiling hopefully and saying “Czy jest mleko?” might do it.  This may surprise your host though.

Of course it’s not all about you.  Listening is also good.  You may hear:
Obiad gotowy. Dinner is ready.
Proszę do stołu. Come to the table.
Smacznego! Bon appetit (You can say this too.  Go on. It’s actually easy to pronounce)

A Polished Polish photo, taken in Piotrków Trybunalski

A Polished Polish photo, taken in Piotrków Trybunalski

Toasts may also be given, generally with hard liquor and most often vodka.  Get used to saying Na zdrowie! (to your health) as you continue to ingest a substance that is probably doing more damage to your health than good.

While this post isn’t going to get in to a sociocultural exposition of food and eating customs in Poland, a few tips won’t hurt.  Remember that what will  actually happen varies across regions and, of course, depends on your hosts, so take these tips with a grain of salt.  Presumably someone speaks enough English to have invited you, so don’t be afraid to ask them about what to expect.

  1. You should probably take a gift. Vodka is generally acceptable.  Flowers are also fine, but avoid yellow, and only give an odd number of flowers (for the math-challenged – if you’re used to buying a dozen, don’t).
  2. You may need to take off your shoes and wear slippers. For everything you could want to know relating to feet, slippers and shoes in Poland, read this rather hilarious post from Polandian on “The Polish Foot Fetish”.
  3. This should probably be common sense, but if you’re allergic to something, tell your hosts.  Do not rely on your ability to recognise the offending ingredient in the food that is offered to you.

Of course with all of this under your belt, you will survive quite fine.  In which case, it is time to say “Ja pozmywam, dobrze?” (I’ll help wash up, ok?)

As always, check out this post for pronunication help.


Also in the news this week – a record number of people are visiting Auschwitz.

I spent my first day in Poland traveling to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp near Oświęcim.  It was a highly educational and thought-provoking experience for me, and I would recommend it very highly to those who wish to visit.

If you do want to go, there is an excellent website with information in English here: http://en.auschwitz.org.pl/z/ Entry is free, though you can pay to go on a guided tour.  I went around the sites on my own, and found the space to go at my own speed and reflect invaluable. There are many signs that you can read if you chose to go without a guide.

There is also information on the above website about how to get to Oświęcim.  I traveled from Krakow, via a local minibus I caught at the central station.  Unless you want to be crammed in as the driver picks up twice as many people as he has seats for, and then to enjoy your newfound company for two hours as he stops at every third house along the way, take a PKS bus or the train.

See the story about visitor numbers here:

http://www.polskieradio.pl/thenews/national/artykul115919_record_number_of_visitors_to_auschwitz.html

Photos from my visit:


US clumsy?!

19Sep09

This week marked the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Invasion of Poland. It also marked another notable event.  The announcement from the Obama administration that they are canceling a US anti-missile shield that was being planned for Poland following an agreement with President Bush in 2008.

Polskie Radio has reported that this is being seen by some as a victory for the Kremlin, who opposed the idea from the time the agreement was signed.  While the reasons for foreign policy moves are often unclear, and remain so for some time, I would have thought the move probably has more to do with the fact the US has a new President, with a rather different security agenda.

What interested me most, though, was the reaction to the announcment from Poland’s Foreign Minister.  He suggested the timing of the announcement, which coincided with the 70th anniversary, was clumsy.  I can only surmise then that Foreign Minister Sikorski  expected that those in the Obama office should have had marked on their calenders that something dreadful happened in Poland 70 years ago.  Expecting intercultural courtesy is fine, but surely this goes beyond any reasonable expectation.

See the full Polskie Radio story here
http://www.polskieradio.pl/thenews/international/artykul116158__uss_clumsy_timing_for_anti_missile_announcement.html