1. The concept of vegetarianism is still a relatively new one. I mean, you can order some vegetables. Especially potatoes, the Poles love potatoes. And they love red cabbage and all kinds of cabbage actually – sauerkraut and more, and you can expect mushrooms to arrive with your soup. But you can also expect your soup to have sausage in it (because otherwise, well, it really wouldn’t be a proper soup, would it?) and your potatoes will probably have been cooked in pig fat. And your cabbage? It’s very nice, but really just as an accompaniment to the duck, rabbit, venison or other game you must have it with. You really can’t just want cabbage, of course!
4. The people who sell the vodka, in fact the people who sell pretty much anything at all, practise a sales technique entirely unfamiliar to me as a Brit living in London and as someone who has lived in America. There is rarely a welcome as you enter most (admittedly the more mundane types of) stores. Yesterday Mat tried to buy a bottle of traditional vodka (see above) in one flavour. He and I were discussing which type he should by from the selection of fifty to seventy choices of vodka before us. (Just think of a Lush and how many of those soap bars they have, and now change each bar to a bottle of vodka, each one unique, with its own special something). “What do you want?” (“A co Pan?”) the delightful sales assistant asked Mat without making eye contact and using a tone some might describe as ‘abrupt’.
5. See 4, and then add to this the extra pain you cause the unfortunate sales representative when you not only attempt to make an unwanted contribution to the takings of the unlucky establishment, but endeavour to complete your purchase using a note in excess of two or three złoty of the price. How could you be so thoughtless? Surely you would not be so simple-minded as to expect the boutique in question to have such a thing as The Correct Change for notes over and above the exact amount or very near to it? Again, take note, traveller, and ensure that you speak sternly to any ATM machine whose hole in the wall you may darken to clarify that only twenty złoty notes (and preferably tens) should be issued to you. Fifties may gain you a sigh, a casting down of the eyes. Hundreds may cause ill-contained shouting. You have been warned.
6. You want to pay by card? Game over.
7. In direct contrast to 4, 5, and 6, above, and very like the British but – I would hazard – even more so – the Poles love to apologise. Przepraszam is the word you say when you want to apologise. Please use it liberally when you:
- Want to look at or (God forbid) buy something in a shop
- Want to pay with a note that means the shop assistant has to phone a friend to get change from down the road
- Want to pay with a card. (Likely conversation: You “Przepraszam.” Him/her: silence. Facial expression = [Sod off back to where you came from.]
- Do anything else at all. Pass someone in the supermarket. Use the toilet. Ask a question. (And, obviously, when you don’t speak any other Polish other than this and you can just look simple, say “Przepraszam” and emit the confident look of someone who expects to be helped despite trembling inside.
8. On a serious note, don’t diss the pope (and DEFINITELY don’t diss JPII),
9. Poles are sticklers for rules, so the above may indicate the problems caused by ambiguity: perhaps they might have change; perhaps they might be able to serve you, they just weren’t planning on doing that today. Woe betide the wanderlusty traveller who tries to cross the road without waiting for the green man, though. You’ll get a sharp ticking off from a Polish local for jay walking, and not following The Rules. (Also, you’ll miss the sight of a green man who looks like a character from Funny Bones.)