Sunday, November 30, 2008

Polish Pop Quiz

What are these people doing?

And why?

This weekend marks one year since I moved to Poland.
As soon as I arrived,
Mr D brought me to this event to celebrate.

The food was amazing...

and we were absolutely the very worst dancers in the room, unlike these two...

but we had a wonderful time.

What was it all about?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bitter? No way.

Because Blogger's photo upload feature seems to be taking hours today, I am unfortunately unable to post the luscious and clever photos I had in mind for you, dear Readers Reader. Instead, I hope you will be satisfied with this moderately amusing Central European joke. We could also have a big argument right now about whether Poland is in Eastern Europe or Central Europe, but it's too late at night. You'll just have to trust me on this one.

* * * * * * *

After a long illness, a woman died and arrived at the Gates of Heaven. While she was waiting for Saint Peter to greet her, she peeked through the Gates. She saw a beautiful banquet table.
Sitting all around were her parents and all the other people she had loved and who had died before her. They saw her and began calling greetings to her:

"Hello, Ania! How are you? We've been waiting for you. Good to see you." 

When Saint Peter came by, the woman said to him, "This is such a wonderful place. How do I get in?"

"You have to spell a word," Saint Peter told her.

"Which word?" the woman asked. 

"Love." The woman correctly spelled "l-o-v-e", and Saint Peter welcomed her into Heaven.

About a year later, Saint Peter came to the woman and asked her to watch the Gates of Heaven for him that day.

While the woman was guarding the Gates of Heaven, her husband arrived.

"I'm so surprised to see you, Marek," the woman said. "How have you been?"

"Oh, Ania, I've been doing pretty well since you died," her husband told her. "I married the beautiful young nurse who took care of you while you were ill. And then I won the lottery. I sold the little house you and I lived in and bought a big mansion. And my new wife and I travelled all around the world. We were just on vacation in Zakopane, and I went skiing today. I fell, the ski hit my head, and here I am. How do I get in?"

"You have to spell a word," the woman told him.

"Which word?" her husband asked.


Friday, November 28, 2008

neeeeeeeeeeeeeeee SLAP!

So, back to where we left off, in Zimbabwe.

We met out on the veranda for dinner. The sun was just setting, and the grassy lawn stretched out long and away in front of us. The mists from The Falls rose in the distance. An exquisite landscape.

Mr D and I sat there like lumps, not really talking. He was scared witless and was afraid to open his mouth for fear of making some other detestable, contemptible mistake. I was furious about absolutely everything.

But I was also listening for the whine of mosquitos, who would soon be detecting my alluring scent and would descend upon me en masse to bite me and suck my blood. In the process, of course, I would be infected with the deadliest kind of malaria, the kind that strikes you down unexpectedly in a week's time. The kind where you're out at the shopping centre in the morning, picking out new shoes, and by the evening you're lying on a slab, dead as a doornail.

Because that's the kind of malaria I would surely be getting. Any moment now.

Miss T joined us.

She looked at both of us.

She cleared her throat.

"Ummmm. I think I should tell you that I was reading the hotel information book, and they say that this is a malarial area and we should be using mosquito repellant and taking anti-malarials."

I looked at Mr D and raised my eyebrows.

He swallowed and said, "Yes, we saw that too. I'm going to go out to find some Off! right after supper."

He did find some Off! for us, and the rest of the weekend went according to plan.


We saw the Falls, and we learned about the current state of Zim from our very articulate and well-educated guide, Bryson.

Zimbabwe was terrible then, in Feb 2007, and it's much worse now.

We walked along the edge of the Falls.

I imagined myself slipping on a wet rock and "Eeeeeee!" I was hurtling down the short wooded bank, grabbing for branches, tearing fingernails on rocks, and then suddenly, it was a freefall toward the raging waters beating the rocks far below.

That would just serve him right. Who's sorry now, buster?

We swung on vine swings. You see how pleased and happy I was.

"If this vine breaks, buddy, it'll all be YOUR FAULT!"

That evening, we saw hippo families bathing in the great Zambezi river.

"If one of those hippos comes over and bites our riverboat in half and we have to swim for our lives and I get pulled under and chomped to bits, you'll know who was to blame, pal!"

Miss T and expateek. Which one is still seething?

By the last morning, I'd gotten my MOOD under control, but only just. The monkeys stealing fruit from the breakfast buffet cheered me up quite a lot.

We were really lucky to see what may have been a last glimpse of this unique spot. And of course, none of us got malaria, so it was all fine in the end.

So anti-climactic!

When we returned to safe old Jo'burg (ha!) Miss T and I scurried off to get anti-malarial drugs to be taken retroactively. Four weeks of pills. Mmmm, mmmm.

And we learned that of course, South Africans and a whole bunch of other nationalities don't need visas at all for traveling to Zim, which was why the travel agent hadn't thought to mention it. And of course, every South African already knows that malaria is rampant in Zimbabwe, so no need to mention that either.

Dumb Americans, on the other hand.... don't know much at all. Hey, live and learn.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sex in a Cold Climate

Back to Warsaw for a moment. 

(Writing this blog brings out the Scandinavian in me. One posting we're roasting in the sauna that is Zimbabwe, the next minute we're rolling in the the snow in Warsaw. Never mind.)

Here's a little something from the Warsaw Business Journal. Usually I only read the Lifestyle bits about art exhibitions and such, because I'm kind of a fluff-and-froth type of gal, but Mr D was kind enough to point out this article.

"Hey, read this and tell me what you think...."

Joanna Wóycicka, in her op-ed piece entitled Poland's Gender Problem, analyses current attitudes about sexual harassment in the Polish workplace. She highlights the recent referendum in Olsztyn that resulted in the removal of the town's mayor on sexual harassment and rape charges.

Fine. All very interesting. She concludes the first half of the article with this.

Poland is on the right track. The problem of sexual harassment in the workplace has at last been recognized and - more or less - condemned. Women know that they do not have to agree to such propositions and that an abusive employer can be permanently removed from a position of authority through due process.

Then she begins to careen slightly off track.

It would be good if more Polish women became aware of this. However, it would be bad if the role of gender in the workplace became overemphasized. I hope that Poland will not cross the line into the absurd, where a sincere "you look nice today" will result in the speaker being dragged off and hung from the scaffold of political correctness. It would be silly if every compliment linked to physiognomy led to a dismissal.

Okay, fair enough. We don't want too much political correctness, granted. That just makes everything so complicated. But now, here's her personal take on the matter. And we're really going off-road now, guys. Hang on to your hats!

I remember when, 10 or so years ago, my employer at the time entered our office. "You look fantastic," he said - I had just come back from holiday, felt relaxed and had a suntan. However, my colleague, an ardent feminist, immediately gave me a lecture on what had really occurred. I learned from her that this was a form of harassment, almost a sexual proposition, which I should have firmly and unambiguously rejected instead of acting like he had given me pleasure!

Aha! Of course! The ardent feminist helps re-educate the pretty young thing. Well done! 

And what is the ardent feminist's reward for her concern? Read on, dear Reader.... because Joanna has an insightful explanation that cracks open the whole mystery of what is or is not sexual harassment in the workplace.

I felt stupid, but after a while I decided that perhaps my colleague was objective because she was looking at the problem from the outside. She had the face and figure of a troll, and spent little on clothes or make-up. But not every little comment amounts to harassment.  [italics mine]

So much for The Sisterhood. 

With girlfriends like this, who needs enemies?  

Mosquito repellant? What?

After more than three hours of sitting and seething in the deserted airport in Livingstone, we finally heard the sound of a door opening. 

Mr D and his armed escorts had returned.

We were pretty glad to see him by then. 

The guards motioned at us to get up. We walked back over to the other side of the arrivals hall (our waiting area seating was actually inside Zambia so we apparently needed to leave the country again to queue up in front of the immigration counter). 

At last our visas were processed. Mine looked like this. 

Not especially impressive looking, but hey. Who's complaining?

And guess what, I can come to Zambia again and again, for three years, until February 2010. Wonderful. I'm booking my trips right now.


We all breathed sighs of relief as we piled into the people carrier that would take us to our hotel.

"We just need to make one quick little detour. We have to stop and sign for a cash advance at the Crocodile Farm."

"The Crocodile Farm?"

"Don't ask."

A few miles later, we turned down a dirt road, pulled up at a small shopfront, and Mr D went in to sign a slip of paper.

Miss T and I stayed in the minibus. Signs posted on fences surrounding the car park warned against wandering off the beaten path. Roaming crocodiles, evidently. Miss T and I decided not to push our luck.

And now, onward. Because Zambia wasn't even our final destination.

We still needed to get into Zimbabwe. 

We reached the border. The driver took our passports and disappeared for 15 minutes. After the last border fiasco, we were anxious and sweaty, but it was no problem. We had our passports back, decorated with visas like this one.

Gorgeous, eh? And it takes up an entire page in the passport, but whatever. 

We arrived, finally, at the Victoria Falls Hotel. This beautiful old colonial establishment is one of the few remnants of European influences in Zimbabwe. Mugabe hasn't destroyed it because it's still a wonderful old tourist attraction, and one of the few remaining ways to get foreign money into his dying country.

We checked in, and Miss T went to her room and we went to ours.

Mr D sat down in the chair with a sigh.

I lay down on the bed.

"I just have to shut my eyes for maybe twenty minutes. I have an unbelievable headache."

Mr D didn't say anything.

In about half an hour, I woke, and wordlessly began dressing for dinner.

Mr D cleared his throat.



"Ah, well. Apparently.... uh, I was just reading the hotel information book here... and yes, um.... apparently this is classed as a malarial area."

I said nothing.

"So, yes... ah, one's to use mosquito repellant and take anti-malarials if one has them."

I said nothing.

"Did you bring any mosquito repellant, maybe?"

I said nothing.

"I'll take that as a 'No' then....   

           Does this mean you're going to divorce me now?"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Disaster Travel, Part Deux


Miss T and I sat on the chairs. Pulled our suitcases near us. Put our feet up.

Clearly, it was going to be a while.

We sat.

And sat.

And sat.

An hour was gone.

Flies lazily buzzed around. As they do in Livingstone.

The heat was just barely tolerable.

We didn't talk much. We knew we were both ... just a bit... anxious, shall we say. Talking would only make it worse.

So we sat.

And sat some more.

And sat yet longer.

Another hour gone. 

Went to the toilet.

Sat down again.

Waited. Wondered about jail in Zambia. Wondered where the hell Mr D had got to. Just wondered in general.

Finally, I was fed up.

"Let's go outside."

So we went out and sat on the dry, dry grassy lawn, watching ants build hills and hoping no poisonous snakes or scorpions were lurking.

And waited longer. Poked broken grass strands into anthill entrances, now miserably hoping to incite ant-riots. Sat on the kerb. Slumped on the kerb. Sat up straight again, still on the kerb.

"What do we do if Dad doesn't come back?"


No good answer to that one.

Eventually, after still another 45 minutes, the police strutted out and informed us firmly that we were to go back inside.

Dutifully, we complied.

Soon, a small jet swooshed onto the runway, and a group of black Africans in very expensive suits disembarked and were escorted effortlessly through immigration and away.

No such luck for us.

We waited more. The sun was baking outside, and the air indoors was crushing. Time pretty much stopped. 

Disaster preparedness

You might be surprised, but you can play tennis all year round in Warsaw. About mid-October, all the tennis places around the city erect huge pressurised bubbles over their courts. Once all the lights are up and the heaters are going, it's tennis as usual. Although you can't lob as high, you also don't have to cope with sun and wind, so it's a nice trade-off. 

And lobbing is for old ladies, anyway. Which I ain't. Yet.

I played tennis yesterday morning at Sadybianka. About 20 minutes into the game, I noticed a strange burning-plastic smell. Something of the petrochemical persuasion was melting. When we changed sides, we all commented on it, and Noriko said, "Yes, me, I'm looking around for the emergency exits."

"Me too," I agreed. In fact, I'd really been thinking that in the future I needed to bring a big knife with me in my tennis bag, in case I needed to cut us all out of the flaming, burning bubble as it collapsed in a massive fiery funeral pyre of melting plastic.

Kornelia just looked at me and laughed. "You are always thinking big disaster! Only in America you have these big disasters. Here, no."

"Of course. You know those things where circus tents go up in flames, and hundreds of people are screaming and running for the exits and children are trampled and scores of people are killed? You know! And the horses are running, mad with fear, and the high-wire guy is falling into the flaming inferno, and the clowns are crying and...."

I stopped. Kornelia was looking at me like I was nuts. Which I am, I suppose. 

No, let's just say I have a vivid imagination.

And I've experienced a few near disasters, which reinforce the idea that you can never be too prepared. Even when you think you've forseen every possibility, there are always two more things that can go badly wrong.

Take our trip to Zimbabwe, for example.

In February of 2007, Miss T and I flew from London to Jo'burg for a couple of weeks with Mr D. Both of us had previously left South Africa for the safety of England, leaving Mr D behind to work.

We agreed that it would be lovely to go to see Victoria Falls, at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. South Africans routinely go up there for a long weekend, as it's just a short flight away.

Fine. The travel agency booked our tickets, and we were soon winging our way to Z-land.

The plane landed in Livingstone, Zambia. We walked across the tarmac and stood in line to go through immigration. As usual, our line was the slowest, so we were processed last.

"One hundred twenty American dollah," said the official at the counter.

"What?" said Mr D.

"One hundred twenty American dollah."

"What?" said Mr D again.

"One hundred twenty American dollah."

"For what?"  Mr D was getting irritated.

"Three visas." The guard pointed to each of us. "One. Two. Three."

"Nobody told me I needed visas! The travel agent was supposed to arrange this! What are you talking about?"

"Three visas. $120."

"I don't have any American dollars on me. I haven't been to the States for two years! No. I'm not paying it." 

Mr D likes to go all irrational when he gets angry. 

"We'll just fly home."

Miss T and I looked at each other. Damn. This wasn't going well.

"You can't."

"What do you mean I can't fly home? We're just going to get right back on that plane we flew in on, and we'll leave."

"No. You can't."

"And why not?"

The guard shrugged and pointed toward the windows, just as the jet screamed past and took off up into the sky.

"Fine." Mr D was steamed now. "We'll take the next flight then."

"Only one flight today. That one." The guard smiled. He was having fun.

"Okay, fine. We'll stay here in the airport and take the first flight out tomorrow morning."

"No. The airport closes at night. We must take you to jail then."

Miss T paled. Jail, eh? In Zambia. I bet they don't let you keep your suitcase with you, and they probably don't have hairdryers and stuff either.

"Mmm hmmm." Mr D started to calm down again.

"Fine. Where is a cash machine? Here in the airport?"

"O, no, man. No cash machine here."

"Well, dammit, what the hell am I supposed to do then? Can you take me to an ATM?"

"Ok. We can see. But those two, they stay here." The guard pointed at Miss T and me.

With that, three uniformed guys escorted Mr D away. Through immigration, I might add, but there you go. Sometimes borders need to be only loosely monitored. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Your ID, ma'am?

Boy. Getting your identity card sorted in Poland is quite the ordeal. 

I already have self-image issues, but that's just the beginning. 

About 4 weeks ago, I finally got to pick up my .... card. I'm not entirely sure what it's good for, but dammit, I've got it.

In fact, it took so long to get this little card, from the beginning of the process until completion, that I had almost forgotten all about it. The photos for this ugly thing were taken in June 2007. I finally received the card in October 2008. 

The office that deals with this stuff is reputed to be the most difficult in the city. Or perhaps in the country. Polish people just moan and roll their eyes when discussing this organisation.

Anyway, the whole thing involved numerous trips to the town hall in Zoliborz with our elderly landlord and his wife, to prove I live at the address on the card. Papers, birth certificate, passport, visa, husband's visa and passport, rental agreements, pointed queries about my parents names. Blah blah blah. The fact that I'd kept my maiden name as my middle name after marriage seemed to pose a particularly curious mystery to the clerk. ("But her maiden name is the same as her current middle name!! Did she marry her first cousin or what? Is that really how they do things in the USA? Hmmm." Raises one eyebrow.)

It would have all felt really worth it except that the photo on this ID card is absolutely hideous. Here's me on my US driving license. I look relaxed and happy, like I just rolled out of bed at 11 am on a Sunday morning.

And now here's me on this ridiculous ID card.

I look like some kind of stalking bird of prey. My hair's been cropped out and I'm definitely not smiling. In fact, I look extremely tense. Probably because I know that this hideous photo is going to be ME for the next couple of years. Ugh. 

Can't you see that I'm getting a headache? It looks like a migraine with all those shimmery stars and stuff above my left ear. Man. I'm going to go back to bed, preferably in a really dark room. And it's going to be a room without mirrors.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My snowman can beat up your snowman

Snowman? Snow? Brrrrrr.

Ooooh, all of that white stuff brought back some scary memories. 

Between July 1993 and Easter 1994 we lived in Raleigh, North Carolina. Good ol' U S of A. We'd been moving progressively southward over a period of several years, despite my strong Yankee protestations, and when we finally left Philadelphia for Raleigh, it meant that snow was probably going to be a thing of the past. 

Leave the sleds and cross country skis packed, guys. Snow sports are so over.

But one wintry day in Raleigh, soon after Christmas, we woke up to a thick blanket of snow. A cardinal flew by, astonishing with its brilliant red feathers in the newly white world, and every tree-branch hung low and heavy with fluff. What a surprise! The kids were stunned speechless, and then in an instant everyone donned the parkas and snowpants they thought they'd never wear again. 

Actually it was a half-hour of chaotic screaming and running around, unpacking boxes. Tears from small daughters, ages 5 and 3. Hollering from slightly older sons, 7 and 10. 

"Where's my mittens, mommy?" 

"These boots are too tight!" 

"Can't I just go out like this?" (t-shirt and p.j. bottoms) 

Lots of other assorted whimpering from innocent, fun-loving children, proving once again that I was ever an unprepared and totally useless mother.

But eventually, the children went out and built a snowman. The snow was super packy, so the snow-sculpture was huge. Each ball of the snowman's body took ages to roll, and the scrunch, crunch, crunch of wet packing snow was so satisfying. The boys engineered the stacking of the balls, the girls came inside for coal for eyes (charcoal briquets) and a carrot for the nose (there goes supper!) and all foraged for arms/branches in the thick woods behind our house. 

Ta da! Festive snowman, 7 foot high. All the bits and bobs in place. Done.

All over the neighborhood, we heard other families doing the same thing. The excitement of such an unexpected turn of the weather was too much. And of course, no school, so lots of time for parents and children to have a happy morning together.

Fine. I sat down with a cup of coffee and a book, thrilled that the kids were out of my hair for a while and safely playing.

Suddenly, the doorbell rang.

Our neighbor from across the street, a young father, stood on the step, holding the hand of his little toddler daughter.

"Yer children," he sputtered. "Yer ... yer children.... why, they have destroyed mah snowman. Mah little girl an' I built a beautiful snowman, and your nasty children came over into mah yard and knocked it down and ruint it. Mah little girl is bawlin'."

Said little girl was actually peering around, looking through the door, apparently wanting to check out the home of these wretched heathens who'd so upset her Daddy.

"And now there's glass all ovah my front yard, because they had th' audacity to break mah snowman's nose."

Wait. Wha'?

Glass? Glass nose? WTF?

"I'm sorry. I'm really sorry! (Kids! Shut UP!) Gosh, I'm so sorry, sir! (Kids. Please!) But I don't understand about the glass breaking. (Children. Shut up NOW.) Did they throw a snowball at a window? What did they do? (Shhhhh!) O dear me, I do apologise! I'm so so sorry!"

"Yer children are gonna come ovah right now and pick up every single piece of glass and then put that snowman back, right like it wuz."

Dear Jesus God. What in heaven's name happened?

"I'm sorry. That's fine. We'll come over. But what is the glass? What are you talking about with glass?"

"Ah used a light bulb fer mah snowman's nose. 'N yer kids broke it."

Jesus Mary and Joseph. A light bulb. A white, frosted, glass bulb for a snowman's nose. Didn't this guy read Frosty the Frackin' Snowman? Damn.

Hell, I bet he got it mixed up with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

Lighted. Nose.  





It all makes sense.

Fortunately, it happened that the fabulous Mr D was actually at home for a week's holiday. (We were too poor to vacation anywhere, so we'd taken the cheap option and stayed home. Poor unlucky Mr D.)

So restful, these home-based holidays. You know.

I sent him over to deal with Bulb-Boy across the street.

Mr D was ever so polite and conciliatory (he seems to be able to put his irritation on hold when dealing with irrational and possibly gun-slinging neighbors) and the glass was picked out of the snow and the snowman was rebuilt and the little toddler girl-child went to bed happy.

The End.

Note to self:  People who live in warm climates can sometimes be a few bulbs short of a Christmas tree string. Just sayin'.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


As dawn broke (with a slight tinkling of icicles) in the village of Baranów Sandomierski yesterday morning, we went outside to find the grounds of the palace covered with a lovely light dusting of snow.

A perfect day to go out prancing about in the forest. 


"Brrrrr," said expateek.

We met up with these two guys in Mielec, 

and the hunting party soon took off pell-mell in one direction, while the rest of us dilly-dallied over breakfast and then went for a walk in the woods.

We walkers returned to the hunting lodge first, for a hearty second breakfast (or was it the third breakfast? or perhaps first lunch? Not sure... we seemed to have a full meal every hour and a half). 

Anyway, the żurek was fantastic and warming. Here it is, before the life-giving broth is added.

Now it was time to don our outerwear again, and scurry off to find the horses

and wagon.

Thank goodness we had a driver! 

Fortunately, he had a GPS installed in this thing, or I doubt we would have ever gotten back.

 I'm kidding about the GPS, but he did take a mobile phone call while we were miles deep out in the forest. Weird.

The woods were beautiful, and this was high noon. 

The sun was so low in the sky even at midday.

One can see why the Poles are so mad about Nature. Their country is breathtakingly beautiful.

And of course, all of the vodka shots don't hurt either.

Back at the lodge, the hunters were pleased with their takings.

We bundled up once more after one more huge meal, and headed for home as the snow began to fly in earnest.

All in all, a most amazing day.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tally-ho and all that

Well. Even palaces have internet these days. 

It just takes a while to find it. So many rooms, you know. 

Here's where we're staying for the forest adventures. Yeah, yeah, it doesn't look that wilderness-y. But if we'd had to stay out in the hut in the forest, all I can say is that expateek definitely wouldn't have been along for the ride. We've driven out to Mielec, about 4 hours south of Warsaw, and we're staying at this stately old country palace. It's beautiful, with exquisite grounds and even its own garden maze. 

But the loveliest thing is, it's so quiet. You can hear the wind moaning in the tall trees, and that is all

Now, off for a very chilly day in the woods. Mr D got his guns sighted in (or whatever you call that) at the shooting range yesterday afternoon, and the boys also got to shoot Uzis and Kalyshnikovs and a whole bunch of other bullet-shooting things that I hope will not be involved in boar-hunting and birding today!


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Me and my CrackBook

No, it's not as cute and sexy as a Blackberry, but my MacBook is just as addictive and it's running my life.

You know you have a problem when you worry about internet connectivity whenever you travel. In fact, I think I ticked ALL of the boxes in ExpatMum's blogging-addiction self assessment test

Hell. I do have a problem. 

Never mind. I'll sort myself out someday.

Meanwhile, Mr D and I are journeying off into the deep deep forests of Poland for a day or so. We're invited by colleagues of his for a wilderness weekend. They're apparently going to hunt birds in the morning and wild boar in the afternoon. As I write, it's absolutely raining pitchforks, so I'm already feeling smug about my crafty plan to stay inside and knit and drink hot chocolate. Or something. 

Apparently girls don't hunt, which is fine by me. In the olden days, I suppose we stayed home to mind the children and whatnot. Mr D has hunted his whole life, which frankly didn't exactly endear him to me. On the other hand, if you eat what you kill, then it's not entirely bad, I suppose. 

I prefer to do my hunting in the Carrefour meat case, so that's that. 

Depending on internet availability, I may or may not be able to post. However, rest assured, I'll still be writing every day, so when I return you can look forward to  dread a massive data-dump.

Tally-ho! I'm off to listen for wild pigs braying  snuffling in the undergrowth and foxes yipping at the moon. Wait, are there foxes in Poland? Hmmm.  I'll have to Google that later. I'll get back to you on that.

Harridans, again

Well, we're just on a roll here at expateek. A friend sent me this today and it was just too good not to share.

Let me assure you, all of my expat dinner parties are just like this one, with no outspoken harridans ruining the conversation by braying laughing too loudly or trying to weigh in on foreign exchange rates.

Thank goodness we know our limits!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bring me my spork!

Oooooo. Creepy. Washington D. C. is listening in.

Not only is Big Brother listening, but he shows up on some site stat counters, and not on others.

Hey, Washington D. C.! Get a clue! If you're going to be invisible on SiteMeter, why not take the time to make yourself invisible on Feedjit too? I didn't see your dot on ClustrMaps, so you've got that one knocked, baby. But smarten up your overall approach. You've got to make yourself invisible EVERYWHERE to be really invisible.

Perhaps you'd like to hire me on as a consultant? A blogosphere babe? I'm not that technically adept, but I'm a clever systems tester. Or I could be the American Embassy's Secret Shopper. You know, where I travel to every country in the world to get new pages added to my passport and then evaluate Embassy office efficiency? International WoMan of Mystery. That would be great! I could use a day job. 

And since my underwire bra sets off airport security every single time, I can even report back on international travel security bottlenecks in the same breath.

At least if I link to you, you'll check me out again.

And again.

And again.

Or not. But seriously. It's a slight security flaw. Just sayin'.

On the other hand, it'll be great for my visitor statistics, so do whatever you want.

Moving on. Must type quickly. I can hear the sirens in the distance.

Am I reminding anyone of George Clooney in Tajnę Przez Poufne? Funniest movie ever! Especially good to watch in Poland because you get to laugh first, before everyone else has completely finished reading the Polish subtitles, thus making a complete braying ass of yourself at the 5pm matinee. 

But that's what I'm here for, as I've already said. To keep Poland amused.

So.  What are we on about, today, then?

Well, perhaps the strength of the dollar against the pound? Brilliant. After 6 years of being abroad I finally understand exchange rates

I think. Sort of. 

Mr D and I had an argument as recently as last month, in Bucharest, about which way the Leu/Dollar multiplier was supposed to work. I do find it all rather confusing, and since Mr D likes to think in dollars, and I like to think in pounds, we don't get on very well. Especially in Romania, which, while it does actually have its own currency, generally refuses to use it, and prefers Euros instead. Just try to spend your Romanian Lei in the airport. It simply can't be done. Fortunately Mr D had me on such a strict allowance that I had barely enough for a Nestea.

Still, given the current economic situation, Miss T's decision to go to the University of Edinburgh to study international business is starting to look like the most fiscally responsible plan of all time. In three months, her school fees have essentially dropped 25%, due to the weakening pound. Mmmm, baby! 

But no, this is all heavy rowing for the math-challenged expateek

How about a little mystery-tinged anecdote, then? 

I was talking with my marathon-running (New York 2008, 4hrs 2 min!) friend Janice a few weeks ago, and we were once again brainstorming about taking up a new sport. I reminded her about the romantic allure of fencing, which reminded me of a guy I saw the other morning on my walk toward the Metro at Plac Wilsona.

A man in a beige overcoat strolled toward me. We were the only ones around, and as we got closer and closer, I could see he was a handsome, fit, and ever-so-slightly graying guy in his mid-50's. Very smart looking.

As we passed on the pavement, I looked down at what he was holding in his right hand.

It was a huge sabre! In a scabbard! (I guess. My 19th century weapons vocabulary is a bit rusty.) He hummed a little tune under his breath and walked off into the distance, toward the river.

What was that all about? Dueling at dawn on the banks of the Wistula? Sword-fighting drills at the Olympic Sports Centre? Or just out for a morning stroll in Żoliborz, armed and ready?

Normal in Poland? I'm totally mystified.

  1. Never mind, Washington D. C.! You do show up everywhere after all. My mistake: there was just a slight delay in the Sitemeter updates. But come to my place anyway and tell me what you do at the Southern MD Facility. Is it the kind of place that cares for folks like me? Where no pointy objects are allowed and you eat your porridge with a spork? Do tell! Me and my secret boyfriend, George Clooney, are dying to know!
  2. Note to self: Use "braying" every day for the rest of November/NaBloPoMo. It will release the toxins and cleanse the soul.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mission Impossible. Impossible-y slow.

Today I took a little break from my grueling NaBloPoMo blogging routine to go downtown to the American Embassy. My business was extremely top-secret, and its true purpose was known only to me. 

Because in fact I hadn't bothered to tell anyone else about it, so mundane was the mission. 

I can hear you yawning already, Dear Readers  Reader. 

Anyway, the idea was to get additional pages added to my passport. 

Legally, you're supposed to always have at least one completely empty page remaining in your passport. Why? Don't ask me.

But I was getting down to the end.

My pages looked like this.

And this.

And this.

And this.

And this was already after getting another wad of pages added, in London, about two years ago.

The process in London went approximately like this. It took two hours to get to the Embassy from the far reaches of Berkshire. Southwest Trains, to the Tube, to Mayfair. Through the security and scanners at the Embassy, after checking my cameras and mobile phones. Took a number, and sat down in a huge waiting room heaving with people.

After about 10 minutes, my number was called.

I turned in my passport and paperwork, and "hey presto!" Another 10 minutes and I was summoned back to watch as new pages were taped into the document and it was handed back to me. So easy. Pretty anti-climactic.

So then another two hours, back to Berkshire. Out into the sunshine of Mayfair, back into the grimy Tube, and another long ride from Waterloo Station towards Reading. 

But new pages meant I'd be free to travel for innumerable trips. And not just around the western suburbs of London.

Cut to Warsaw, 2008. The experience was almost exactly the reverse of London 2006. It took me 10 minutes to drive downtown. Another two minutes to pay the parking meter and get through security, and scanners.

Down a long corridor, past a somnolent guard slumped sideways in his chair.

"Dzien dobry," as he waved me a "hello" with a strange little hand gesture that resembled a half-hearted salute. 

"Po prosto". Straight ahead.

I walked into the waiting room, which was empty except for one other girl.

"Do I need to take a number?"

She raised an eyebrow and glanced around, as if to say "Are you joking?"

"No. They'll call you."

Ok. Fine.

I was summoned up to the desk after a few minutes, and given paperwork to fill out. I turned it back in, and the clerk said, "Sit down, please. We call you when finished."

Mmmm hmmm.

Tick. Tock. Tick tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. 

You get the idea.

A few staff wandered around behind the glass. A phone rang. Ms Clerk went down a corridor. Two electricians wandered by holding cables. Ms Clerk wandered back again. Mr Clerk plopped a big seal-stamper-thing onto the counter. The seal impression machine sat there, unused. Ms Clerk 2 wandered by. Ms Clerk 3 came back from lunch and turned on her computer. Ms Clerk 2 spoke to Ms Clerk 3. A phone rang. The electricians wandered away. 

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. 





Why didn't I bring a book?

Just as I was beginning to despair (thinking of my parking meter running out, or my passport being confiscated, or...?) I was suddenly summoned back to the counter, after 55 minutes of suspense, and...

 "Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrresssssssssssssstooooooooooooooooo!" my passport was delivered back into my sweaty hands.

Same process. Just slightly, slightly slower than in London.

I'm thrilled there weren't two of us there today, needing passport-page-adding Embassy-type services. Because if there had been, I might still be there, waiting, chewing my nails, and reading Minnesota Travel Adventures.

No, actually, that's a lie. Because they close at 3pm, on the dot. I would have had to come back tomorrow. Ugh.

End result? Mission successful:

That is all.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Self-image? Expateek blows her top!

Does that have a hyphen, "self-image"? 

Or is it just "self image"? 

No.... that's taking a photo of yourself in your own mirror, for a profile pic on Facebook. (You self-absorbed idiot, admit it, you're vain!)

Or is it "selfimage"? 

No, that looks like Selfridge's. Can't be right. 

It must be "self-image".

So what's mine? I know you were asking, I can just hear you in my head! All of you. All of the thousands hundreds tens a couple of crazy nutters who wonder about me....

So nobody then. But never mind.

What, indeed, is the word I use to define my central, essential self?

For the longest time, it was student. Brilliant student. 

OK, not brilliant. But pretty damn smart. I suppose. Or not so much, since I didn't get Phi Beta Kappa and didn't get a PhD. But good SAT scores and a super GPA. You know. Like those things actually matter.

Then I quickly segued into wife. Unemployed wife.

Until I became COBOL/Assembler programmer wife! Working wife/woman. Career woman.

Then it was .... oooh, mother. MOM! Good heavens. Then working mother.

After that... stay-at-home mom. Gradually, I became mother-of-four. As you do.

Then, homeschooling mom. Then, volunteer-in-the-public-schools mom. Then, volunteer-in-the-private-schools mom. Then nervous-breakdown-after-Africa mom. Then...

Then negligent-and-self-absorbed mom.

Well, now what? 

Now, I define myself as an expat. 

And what a frackin' can of worms that is.

Let's face it. I totally woke up on the wrong goddamn side of the bed this morning. Everyone's all worried about the economy and jobs and the world financial crisis and all the rest of that crap. As they should be. Some people, like the saintly Mr D, are out there busting butt, working the best way they know how. The rest are surfing the internet at the office and updating their blogs on company time and watching flippin' YouTube whilst getting paid by the hour. But never mind. We'll just mind our own business, shall we?

But just to show you what pushed my buttons this morning, here's what went down at 8:50am today.

Expateek comments on a Polandian essay:

"I woke up this morning here in Warsaw feeling depressed and lonely. I felt self-conscious about my blogging posts from the weekend, and had a twitchy, niggling feeling at the back of my brain. Something was begging to get re-remembered, after the black-tie ball experience from Saturday night. In a fit of unhealthful navel-gazing I googled 'braying expat' because I knew it would make me feel even worse. Lo and behold, I didn’t just get 'braying' and 'expat', I got 'braying harridan'. Damn, I’m good.

And here was the vaguely memorable excerpt, from comments contributed by Michael Dembimski on the most fascinating Polandian (an excellent Polish-topic English-language blog):

"In any case, the era of the classic expat in Poland is over; it ended with the economic downturn of 2001-02. In the late ’90s, Warsaw was awash with real expats. Here today gone tomorrow expats posted to Warsaw one day, off to Tokyo, Caracas, Abu Dhabi, Almaty or Beijing the next. They’d spend 90% of their life working, the rest fraternising with other expats at the Pink Club, the Hash House Harriers, events at the British School, and at one another’s houses. In themselves they were OK - it was their British-born wives that were utterly unspeakable. With zero sympathy or understanding of Poland, its traditions or its history, these braying harridans would launch into tirades about how awful Poland was (stupid people, appalling weather etc) and how they couldn’t wait to move to Houston, Paris or Stockholm or anywhere with a Body Shop and Marks and Spencers.

"Most of these expats are long gone; their jobs done by locals. Some of them ditched the braying baggage and acquired Wife No. 2, generally younger, more attractive, more intelligent, more driven, more focused and a better adjunct to the gene pool. They stayed on.

"Most of the Brits I know in Warsaw fall into this category. They speak passable Polish, know what 1918, 1939, 1944, 1956, 1970, 1981 and 1989 all mean, have children in Polish schools, and are here for good. I do not consider them expats in any way, no more than I’d consider a Pole living in the UK for a decade or more an expat.
[Italics and bold highlighting are mine. Natch.]

And now, here's the rest from me. 

"Without looking too carefully at (or commenting on) the rest of the expat-related commentary in this thread, I am completely appalled by the misogynistic tone of this remark. Sure, there must be some expat wives who complain about life in Poland and how supposedly 'uncivilised' it is. But there are others who genuinely love it here and try, as best they can, to learn the language, appreciate the culture, and pitch in. 

"In fact, ALL of the expat women I know are of this second type. They teach English to Polish nurses. They volunteer for charitable projects and organisations. They visit elderly shut-ins who wish to practice their French and feel the true warmth of human companionship. They take an interest in local culture and life, and genuinely try to blend in and contribute something positive. Generally they just try to do the best they can.

"And furthermore, the company my guy works for has moved us 14 times in almost 30 years. Even though it seems like I should have absolutely nothing to complain about, I can tell you that be transferred hither and yon is flippin’ hard work. As the trailing spouse, you end up doing the same thing over and over and over and over again. New doctors. New dentists. New schools. Closing old bank accounts. Changing addresses at the post office. Again. Trying to manage your finances from half-way around the world. It feels like Groundhog Day … every frackin’ day of the year.

"Not to mention being continents away from beloved aging parents and beautiful grown children and bestest old friends. 

"What would it be like to have lived in the same tight community for 30 years??? Hell if I’d know. It sounds really delicious though.

"In my experience, what human beings mostly need and want is contact and community. As an expat, you have to do the best you can with what you’re given. I just hope that my husband doesn’t trade me in for Wife No. 2 (the younger, more attractive, ever so malleable version that Dembinski finds so immensely appealing). That would truly make all the hard work and the loss of friends and the sacrifice of my excellent career just unbearable.

"Whatever. Maybe this morning I’ll go to Coffee Heaven and have a latte and laugh much too loud. After all, it’s only what’s expected of me. Perhaps I should simply sink to meet expatriate expectations.

  1. Note to self: Do not ever read blogosphere comments about expat wives ever again. 
  2. Second note to self: It's five o-clock and I'm an expat. Time for drinkie-winkies, yes? Oh Boy! Yes, you, Boy! Over here and chop chop! Hurry up, my nails are almost dry and I'm simply parched. God. The help. You just can't find good servants these days, can you, Mabel? I say, it's just a goddamn shame. Go ahead and deal the next hand, Mary Jane. I swear, bridge is just so taxing.
  3. Paris, Stockholm ... and HOUSTON?      PleaseYou've got to be kidding.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wow, I'm impressed!

Well, Grumbelina went to the ball last night, and from beginning to end she had a stunning time! Thank goodness she forced herself into her black party gear. It was worth the effort, despite all her whinging and moaning whilst struggling into black figure-slimming (read support-hose) stockings. 

Note to self: Always wear real, and real comfortable dancing shoes to any kind of UK-ish event that involves dancing. If you go for killer heels or statuesque elegance, you'll be bashing yourself in the head with those Jimmy Choo's an hour into the evening. You have been warned.

We were piped in to the Ball, which involves kilt-wearing bagpipers busting a gut to make the most noise music possible as guests walk past. The bagpipe music, especially in the entirely tile-and-marble finished Hilton lobby, reverberated in a way that was quite terrifying. Mr D went into a semi-trance, tripped slightly at the escalator, and found himself landing practically face first in the swelling décolletage of a gorgeous Polish woman. 

"And may I introduce myself?"

Ah, so suave!

At dinner I sat next to an immensely entertaining French banker, who gave me some marvelous travel tips for the côte d'Azur. On my other side was a handsome and sporty Pole who also spoke excellent English, so all conversations were totally tip-top.

We had Chopin vodka, and Scottish salmon, and Scottish beef, and of course the obligatory haggis which was divine. The dessert was a luxurious tiramisu, and each course was accompanied by wines, and endless taster tots of Scotch whiskies. Needless to say, my French speaking abilities improved ENORMOUSLY over the course of the evening.

The trick with a Scottish dinner and dancing event is to moderate your alcohol intake so that you're loosened up enough to take part in the ceilidh, but you aren't so sloshed that you end up arse-over-tea-kettle halfway through the reel.

After the pipers piped and the drummers drummed and the food was consumed, we all got up for some traditional Scottish country dancing

When I was in elementary school, we had a folk dancing "unit" for a couple of weeks every year. I never never never imagined I'd call upon this ancient instruction.  Just goes to show you, pay attention in school. There's a reason you're learning this stuff. You may eventually be at a Scottish black-tie dinner in Warsaw Poland and you will wish you'd tried harder in PE class, by golly.

We reeled up and down, and twirled and crossed, and though I wouldn't give us top marks for form, we won big-time for our enthusiasm and hilarity.

Here's the little Polish twist to the story, however. 

In all the ruckus of arm grabbing and whirling and passing and reeling, at least 5 people lost various pieces of clothing and jewelry. 

It's that wild and rough, folks. People came off the dance floor with their clothes hanging off their bodies in tattered rags.

No, not really.

But incredibly, here in Poland, people turn in lost things that they find. They are so unbelievably honest. It's quite astonishing and so heartening, as I became such a cynic after Africa. (And London, truth to be told!)

So my bracelet, which I hadn't even realised was missing, was returned to me.

I must say, I've been having strange luck lately, as I also won not one but two raffle prizes. A lovely bottle of Famous Grouse, and a photobook of Scotland. Mmmm, mmmm.

One lucky lady, eh? I didn't find the ginger-haired lad to snog behind the potted plant, but I guess I'll have to save some fun for next year, yeah?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Grumbelina goes to the Ball

We're going out tonight, to the ball. 

The Caledonian Ball. 

I was quite pleased about the whole idea until shortly after I awoke this morning. 

Suddenly the idea of dressing up in black and standing around in hideously uncomfortable heels and talking to strangers whilst stuffing down canapés seemed like an awful lot of work.

I know. Ungrateful. Perhaps I can snog a handsome ginger-haired lad in a kilt behind a potted plant later in the evening. Hopefully Mr D won't notice that I'm fondling some stranger's sporran.

But I will have to make Herculean efforts to get into the mood for this thing.

"And those efforts are?" you ask. Or don't ask, I don't care. Now I'm really crabby.

More eyeliner. And for the evening. When will the torture stop? I know, I know. Life's tough and then you die.


The up-side of moving every couple of years: I can trot out the same couple of black-tie-event ball gowns that I've had since before the flippin' turn of the millennium and no one's the wiser.

Unless of course I publish the news in my damned blog. 


Never mind. 

I'll have an extra glass of champagne in your honour, dear Readers Reader. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Pop Quiz

You knew when you enrolled for this class that there'd be some homework required.

So close your books and put them under your desks. Put on your reading glasses, and get out a clean sheet of paper and a pencil. Anyone with any chewing gum? Please put it in a tissue and toss it in the rubbish bin immediately.

We're not using pens, today, thank you very much. You'll see why in a moment.

Question 1.  Examine the following photograph in each of the various orientations provided. Which is the correct interpretation?

a) New cover art for re-release of Ray LaMontagne's Till the Sun Turns Black.

b) Animation cel for Warner Brothers production in development. The loud rooster, Foghorn Leghorn, is cast as the manager of the Chicago Cubs, and here is spewing invective at one of his baseball players.

c) Storyboard drawing for Return of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in which Raphael eats excessive amounts of genetically modified chicory, grows extraordinarily huge, and terrorises the city of Brussels, leading to the eventual dissolution of the EU.

d) What happens when you leave your pen uncapped in the bottom of your totebag for the entire duration of a two-hour flight from London Heathrow to Warsaw, Poland.

 In this case, an errant tissue saves the day and absorbs every single drop of ink. How lucky is that?

Question 2: (Extra credit)  Write a short paragraph with your own interpretation of photographs above. You may reference the end of communist domination in Poland, current trends in museum exhibition design, or the role of the sacroiliac joint in pelvic and lumbar spine stability.  Good luck.