Here are three situations that happened to some Americans who visited Poland (not true). 😉
Extra note: What has it been? Three months since I last posted? (Probably more). Life has been hectic, an update will be up soon.
Right after graduating from high school, I flew by myself to Poland for the very first time as a summer exchange student. One of my earliest memories of Poland was an older man holding a big sign with the name “Grzegorz” written out with permanent marker. “Did someone word vomit?” I thought. I then walked around the airport back and forth, attempting to find for my host parents, but there was no luck. No one seemed to be looking for me.
After 5 minutes people began slowly heading out. I swiftly asked where the restroom was with a thick Midwestern accent. At first the female employee was a bit confused, so I asked her again more slowly while showing off my Polish skills. “Restroom, proszek,” I said. The lady began smirking. But it was much later that I found out that “proszek” actually meant “powder.”
What I meant to saw was “proszę” without the ‘k’ and that can have a slightly different meaning depending on the context. It can mean “please” like “proszę do something for me” or when a waiter leaves the pierogi on your table, they often say, “proszę” as a way of saying, “Here you go.”
Anyway, so the lady told me that the “toilets” are straight ahead and to the right. “Dziękuję” I said, which of course means “thank you,” and she replied. “Proszę bardzo,” which in that case translates to “you’re welcome.”
As I got to the restroom sign, I realized that it said, “toalety” as opposed to “restrooms” which may sound a bit off to most Americans, but at least I knew that I was in the right place.
When I came out, I then realized that the man with the big sign was the only one left standing. So I asked him, “Are you by any chance Mr. Stan?” He answered, “No, but I am Stanisław. Are you Grzegorz?” My response was, “No, but I am Gregory.”
There are moments in life when we screw up so badly, so very badly that we just wish we could go back and tell our past selves to please STOP or just SHUT UP, especially when there’s some family involved.
One September I visited my fiancé’s extended family in a small Polish village. She began strongly embracing each family member right after the doors opened. Some of them shed tears because they haven’t seen each other for so long. I realized pretty early on that each one of them kissed on the cheeks, sometimes several times. Me? I was just awkwardly standing there with a frozen smile. One of her aunts said, “Ah to jest ten Amerykanin” which I understood as “this is the American.” I finally changed my expression with a shaking head. “Tak! Tak!” I said excitingly.
My way of trying to fit in was by hugging one of her uncles, which was of course fine until I began kissing him on the cheeks just as they did. Then there was silence. Awkward silence. Then I realized that as a new guest, that was quite silly. That uncle stared at me. “Ktoś chcę ciasto?” Someone eventually asked. “Someone wants… something sweet?” At least I knew that one.
Moments later, we were eating desserts like babka, a bunt cake and pączki that are essentially Polish doughnuts. As a way of making things less awkward for myself, I tried to take part in the discussion with my limited Polish. “Moja dziewczyna jest ciasto.” Everyone including my fiancé began laughing, so I did something right. Then someone joked on. “Jak ty możesz chodzić z ciastem?” At first there was total confusion on my part.
I soon found out that ciasto means cake. He asked me how I could date a cake. Lovely.
The response was because I like her so “Ja lubie.” That same person started smiling, claiming that my fiancé has to watch out for me. “Natalko, musisz uważać.”
The Complexity of Polish
I’m learning Polish right now. According to some language experts, Polish is actually harder than Mandarin for its countless conjugations that make that ones who are intensely learning the language want to revert back to fetal position and cry. As any sane person who is learning a new language, I wrote down many examples of my real-life mishaps along with words that are easy to mix up.
In the beginning of my journey, I tried to show off what I learned by simply listening. This is the result: “Rana jest fajne. Jest słonie. Ja słonie lubię bo jest ładnie.” Those words sounded so poetic, so very right. Speaking each word made me feel such accomplishment, especially since the grammar was correct and every word I spoke existed in the language. But my friend, Alicja, corrected me promptly. “Eh. Rana is injury.” And “słonie means elephants.”
I meant to say that I like, “rano” which means morning. I actually told her that I like elephants, which is the furthest thing from the truth. To me is sounded close to słońce, which is sun. So remember, Rana=Injury Rano=Morning. Słonie = Elephants, Słońce=Sun. Do you see my point?
The best are the words that sound like English words, but they can have different meaning. “Ja chcę wziąść lis” I told the stranger, as he awkwardly stared at me. Most Poles will think that you are taking about a fox, if you just say “lis”. Almighty then. If you ever need to take out a lease, just say “wynajem.” There will be less confusion then, hopefully.
I learned pretty recently that “to jest” directly translates to “this is.” Simple enough. A co-worker of mine showed off a picture of her young son wearing a dinosaur costume. She proudly said that “to jest mój syn.” Wait. sin? How is he her sin, I questioned. Turns out that the Polish word for “son” is “syn.”
I’m sure more awkward examples will come in the passing months.