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Saturday, 27 June 2015

Poland Pick and Mix: Pork, Pork, Pierogi, Pope(s) Piwo and Przepraszam

We just got back home after a whole week in Poland, the country I’ve been trying to visit with Mat for over nine years. Both exhausted because I now (as previously documented) score points on the Richter scale for my snoring, I wanted to capture some quick, light reflections on the elements of Poland I’ve now experienced first-hand. And then go to bed so you can read all about it and tell me what you think tomorrow. So, I bid you goodnight, but before I go, having seen some of Warsaw and Kraków in Poland, I can now confirm the following:

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!

 Pork, glorious pork, served in so many guises 

2.     Every food must be accompanied by some sort of pig product if it is to constitute a Proper Meal. For example, a Proper Salad will include bacon. (I knew this already, Mat having already explained that Proper, Proper Salads are in fact burgers with bacon and cheese.) Pierogi (dumplings, nomnomnom) with meat is meat that is porcine. Cabbage leaves stuffed with meat (Gołąbki) means two cabbage leaves with a sliver of tomato sauce and a whole lot of minced, spiced pork. (Apparently, Mat tells me, it’s meant to have rice somewhere in with the stuffed pork. Clearly I missed this carbohydrate addition when I was stuffing my face with the stuffed cabbage leaves the other day.) Żurek (the name given to soup made with rye) contains rye, yes, so nothing against the trade description act there. And an egg, just so you get the full picture here. But it’s also guaranteed to have at least two if not three different types of sausage thrown in to make sure you’re hale and hearty for a day of logging the next day or, erm, walking the half a mile into the old town to eat a massive lody (ice cream), possibly phallus shaped if you’re really lucky.

Duck, with vegetables. Or vegetables with duck. 
You got vegetables, so you must be happy right?

A hot dawg to end all hot dawgs (bottom).
Yep, for pork, you cannot go wrong in Poland.

3.     There is a lot of vodka. A lot. And it’s on sale 24 hours a day in shops which don’t try to dress up their wares with off-licence or liquor store or wine merchant. No, it’s “Alkohole” or go home. Lemon vodka, ginger vodka, bison-grass-pee vodka (Żubrówka), traditional vodka, special vodka, ordinary vodka vodka. They pretty much have it all. And if you don’t want vodka, well, then you can buy pretty much anything else, especially if it comes straight out of the seventies. I don’t know how many years it has been since I saw a bottle of Sheridan’s cream and coffee liqueur, but if you ever wonder where you can get some, you can put your money on Poland to come through. (Although, caveat emptor, really, why would you want that dreadful stuff? Just have some vodka. Really.)

Just a smattering of supplies on offer

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’. 

It appeared that we had inadvertently walked into a shop wanting to buy something. This is not what shops are for in Poland. Shops are there for the employment of customer service representatives whose joy it is to sit texting or chatting to their friends or perhaps filling out a Sudoku puzzle during their shift hours. It is the height of rudeness to interrupt this delightful, lucrative way of passing one’s leisure time by entering a shop and expressing an interest in one of the products, let alone wishing to purchase it. Be gone, heedless traveller, out of the shop and onwards without your shampoo, your shoes, your fizzy water, and never darken the doors of this establishment again.

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.

"Errr, what? You don't have a ten? Well then, why should I sell you the biscuits?"

6.     You want to pay by card? Game over.

Really? I don't think so.

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.
Say it like you mean it.

8.     On a serious note, don’t diss the pope (and DEFINITELY don’t diss JPII), 

(He is (was / is) The Man)

And be careful around discussing issues of homosexuality. A beautiful artificial rainbow constructed of artificial flowers in Plac Zbawiciela has apparently been burned down 6 or so times, for its (unintentional) connotations of accepting attitudes to LGBTQ. Such was the appetite for burning this accidental effigy that sprinklers now moisten the rainbow at intervals, and a 24 hour police guard protect it from further attack.

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.) 

Green Funny bones guy says it's okay to cross. So cross!


Then again, you might also find yourself being heartily encouraged to drink up your vodka shots (as we heard one poor Pole, Adam was his name, being exhorted time and time again to do) just because it’s your birthday. The Poles wish you ‘may live for one hundred years’ when they say happy birthday. Not likely, with 6 shots for 10 złoty. You’ll be lucky to last till your twenty third birthday. On which note, after no shots, I bid you goodnight and if you are taking some shots in, well then, good luck to you.

Just say "No (thankyou)", and "przepraszam". Obviously.


  1. Love it! I hope it will be ok to share it on FB

    1. Of course! I cleared it with my (more discerning of Polish humour) husband before hitting "Publush". Thanks for reading! Xxx

  2. Looks a wonderful place to explore and a nice unexpected holiday for you all.
    Shimla tour