Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Odyssey, re-enacted

expateek was pooped yesterday. She spent the morning cleaning (huh? whazzat?) and learned how to work the hoover. Usually she leaves the hard work to Mr D, but yesterday she felt an amazing and utterly compelling desire to avoid doing the taxes to clean the house, so she vacuumed the entire upstairs.

After this, full of zest, she decided that this would be the best day ever to dispose of gently used clothing in the local charity bin. Why not? A good walk on a crisp afternoon in Żoliborz. She went off in search of a donations bin looking something like this.

clothes and shoe drop, originally uploaded by bondidwhat.

(But with signage in Polish, of course.)

What could be more satisfying?

Plenty. Listen and learn as expateek describes her afternoon odyssey.

First of all, the charity bin at the end of expateek's street was destroyed by firecrackers at New Year's. You know how Polish people love gunpowder and explosions? Years of invasions and wars and fires and mayhem have nutured a love of all things incendiary. Naturally, some people use this tendency for good. Others? For evil.

So expateek knew that she'd have to find another charity bin. She walked to the next nearest bin. But the bin no longer had any instructions or pictures or Red Crosses or drawings of clothing or logos for the Sisters of Mercy, or any such thing. All details had been lovingly picked off the bin, and it was no longer clear if this was a charity bin or a bin for newspaper recycling or what. expateek was puzzled.

In the nearby hair salon, expateek asked her finely-honed state-of-the-art Polish question, which she uses at least 20 times a day. Czy pani mówi po angelsku? Do you speak English?

Nie, niestety. No, regrettably.

expateek pointed to the box outside, pointed to her two bags of clothing and made small mumbling questiony kinds of noises, and the woman said, "Aha!" Which is the all purpose Polish answer signifying enlightenment.

The woman burst into a torrent of Polish, out of which expateek got the words street, end, and to the right.

expateek walked the 65 city blocks 300 yards to the end of the street, turned to the right, and voilà! Nothing but parkland. No bin to be seen.

So she walked another 82 blocks three blocks to Plac Wilsona, because she knew there was a church nearby, and of course, a church would certainly have a charity bin near to hand.


expateek was getting frustrated. She decided to walk the 12 miles three blocks home, and then, one block from her house, she saw another charity bin. Her bags full of gently used clothes were starting to feel like bags filled with the heaviest shirts and skirts ever sewn by couture designer seamstresses sweatshop laborers in southeast Asia, so this was a welcome development.

But again, no explanation as to whether this was a charity bin, or part of some other nefarious plot designed to cleverly trick expateek into disposing of her gently used clothing in an inappropriate receptacle.

But Aha! Help was on the way, in the form of a small little old lady dressed in a fur coat and hat.

expateek stopped her. Przepraszam... Excuse me....

Czy pani mówi po anglesku? Does Madame speak English?


Po francusku? French?

Czy pani wie... Does Madame know.... and expateek pointed to the possibly-a-charity-bin and raised her eyebrows hopefully.

At which point the woman in the fur coat came right up to expateek and launched into the longest story ever told in Polish, which seemed to involve a trip to Paris, during which the woman only knew how to say thank you (Merci!) in French. Because the fur-lady spoke Polish and Russian, naturally, and when she went into shops, she did know the word for small (petite!) but that was it! And then, she continued, what about those language schools for small children learning English! And small children can learn! But she, no, she could speak Polish and Russian only! And so on and so forth! And more things! And whatnot! And the fur-lady came even closer to expateek and said even more very important things! And raised her eyebrows, as if to say, Isn't that so?

And then expateek, whose charity bags were now feeling as if they weighed 6 tonnes each, was wondering how in the hell she was going to exit this situation gracefully, so she said one of the other useful Polish words she knows, which is Tak! Yes! And then dziękuje! Thank you!

And then the fur-lady said, in Polish, Pani speaks very good Polish! And then she said another forty-four paragraphs of comments on the state of the world, and language learning, and Paris, and Russian and Polish, and this and that and whatnot and whazzat and how now brown cow and whatsoever and such. And expateek said dziękuje again, and then finished off with one of the last really useful phrases she knows, which is Do widzenia! Goodbye!

Do widzenia! the fur-lady said gaily, and they parted ways.

expateek walked the last block home, put the bags down in the front entryway, and vowed to try again another day. Or not.


pinolona said...

I find that 'no, właśnie,' is quite useful too, it means 'yes, exactly' or something like that. Also just saying 'no' and nodding (if you can overcome how weird this feels). It fools them every time.

expateek said...

Oooh, thanks! I'll try that one tomorrow. I have to get it all in before I move to Polonia (I mean Chicago). Excellent!

Christine said...

Reminds me of the time I my husband and I were lost in Montreal. We had stopped at a diner. Nobody could speak English. That did not put us off. We showed a gentleman a map and pointed to where we wanted to go plus we kept saying Ottawa, Ottawa! He launched himself off in rapid fire French. When he saw how confused we looked he slapped his left shoulder and said Gauche! then slapped his right shoulder and said Droite! then shouted Go Straight! We had no idea of how many blocks or kilometers. We finally got him to point out where in the world we were. I did learn one thing out of all that. You don't want to be lost in Montreal.