Our last day in the lovely and sunny Stockholm – we have been having a great time in Sweden and I will soon tell you all about it! For now, to keep the blog busy, I will entertain you with a piece that has been hiding in my Drafts for a while. It was hugely inspired by the Daily Mail. Enjoy!
2004 was a significant year for me on many levels. I was about to finish university and was staring long-term graduate unemployment in the face and I managed to avoid watching every single sporting event during the Athens Olympics. Tony Blair opened the United Kingdom’s borders to the 10 new European Union members, including Poland. Great Britain and a handful other countries like France, Sweden and Holland kept their doors ajar, while others slammed it in our face for a maximum of seven years.
And so we forced the British doors open a bit more and what happened next is history. Nobody could have predicted the scale of the exodus from the former Eastern bloc – the Poles were migrating lemming-like to the British Isles, dropping out of the sky (or rather Ryanair and Easyjet) and flooding out of an incessant stream of buses, smelling of sausages and hard-boiled eggs. They took up jobs nobody else wanted, improving your plumbing, washing up your dishes, building the Olympic stadium and giving the Daily Mail a few headlines to fall back on in case Jordan decided not to enlarge her breasts that week.
The quiet British streets were flooded with Polish delis hiding such dark secrets as pickled cabbage and kabanosy. There were warnings that the whole of Poland was moving over, only leaving the very oldest and the youngest behind. That soon “Britishness” would disappear. The Daily Mail became even more popular.
And now, nine years on, Britain and its people are still here. And so are the Poles. Polish has become the second largest language in Britain and even though some of my countrymen and women went home discouraged by the grey pavements not being gold-plated after all, the rest are not going anywhere. And neither am I.
I have a good job that I enjoy and a wide circle of friends and a baby, who is going to grow up sharing a Scottish and British and Polish heritage.
After a lot of musing and pondering I have decided it is about time to make everyone’s lives easier and debunk a few myths. The Poles are not that bad, but we are different and out of my affection for the British and their Britishness I am going to share a Keeping Up with the Polish Guide with you. Read it, memorise it and you might just get away with not having to learn Polish one day:
- We are glum. Life is tough, we know it and will not pretend it is otherwise. So next time you ask a Polish person how they are don’t expect the straightforward “I’m fine, thank you. How are you?” No, you had better have time on your hands as you are more likely to hear this: “Ah, my left toe is rotten, my eyes are not what they used to be and my uncle is dead. He died in the battle at Monte Cassino. My cholesterol levels are too high so I ‘m planning my funeral because I don’t trust my doctors. What do they know anyway?” \My advice – next time someone asks you how you are doing try the Polish way and mention all the possible sickness that has decimated your family, just make sure you go back at least 10 generations. Mention your bankruptcy and depression, and the impending divorce.
- Only Polish bread or chleb counts. Its secret? Sourdough and cumin seeds. Nothing compares to it. It fills you up and doesn’t taste like cardboard filled with 90% air. We eat bread when we drink vodka (lines the stomach), we give bread to teething infants (keeps them quiet) and we get it officially blessed by a Catholic priest at Easter. Our chleb is us.
- Limp upper lip. If we don’t like you or something you have said or done we will let you know. What do you mean it is too personal to discuss difficult labour and second degree tears with a stranger on a bus? If in doubt, go back to point one.
- Don’t mention the war. Unless you want to thank us for winning it for you. We are still bitter about Britain not joining in when we needed it most. We never forget.
- Never mix up Poland with Russia. Ever. It took us a while but now we know that Scotland is in Scotland and not in England. Also, to all British TV producers – when you want an actor to do a Polish accent and they speak with a Russian twang it is wrong. Very wrong.
- Don’t call me an Eastern-European. Poland is in Central Europe, not Eastern Europe. Repeat after me. Central Europe.
- No house is too small. We don’t mind housing a three generation family and an Alsatian in a two bedroom flat you would find too small for your goldfish. If there is no space we make space.
- No rounds in a pub. We don’t get the whole pub rounds malarkey. Mainly because life is tough and you can’t trust people. We suspect that everyone else orders the most expensive drinks when it isn’t their turn. So let me buy and drink my own beer and you can buy and drink yours. Simple.
- To beer or not to beer. Beer is beer and lager is beer too. And so is ale. Ale is simply a lukewarm beer. And here is my family secret, hot beer with spices and raspberry syrup is the best cure for a mean cold. You are welcome.
- Vodka of life. Wine is for wimps, vodka is for real people. After enough shots of vodka we can even crack a smile at your jokes.
- What’s in an accent? In Poland we all sound the same and after the dark years behind the Iron Curtain we emerged as a classless nation. Our noblemen jumped the ship a long time ago, everybody swears and our cleaners have degrees in ancient Greek.
- Public schools, doh. If your parents have to pay for your education then there is something wrong with you and your cognitive abilities to learn to read and add up – this is how we see it back home. In my free state secondary school we learned two foreign languages, there was an option to study Latin and 90% of my classmates went on to achieve one or two degrees. I could go to that school because I scored high at the entrance exams. Not because my parents had to pay with their sweat and blood for an overpriced property in an area with a decent school. Sorry Peanut. Sigh.
- Happy to rent. We don’t get the obsession with climbing up the property ladder. We are happy that we have a job. And don’t have to share our room with a snoring grandmother, a dog and a baby.
- Don’t ever criticise the Polish pope.
- What’s cricket about? Again. What is it ACTUALLY about?
- I’d love to overfeed you. This is how we show love. With food and vodka on the table. If you are ever invited to our house, don’t eat for a week before the event and I can guarantee you will not have to eat for at least a week afterwards. Sorted.
Now that you have greater insight into the Polish psyche it should ease your fear of the Poles squeezing the Britishness out of the British until there is not a single drop left. We actually love Britain, otherwise we would not have stayed here. Not everything is about money and stealing benefits. Longer term it is the culture and its people that count. And all the things we don’t understand about Britain we have learned to admire and respect. Apart from the bread. The Daily Mail. And the weather.