Adventures in Polski

The good news about the Polish language is that it’s in the same family as a language I speak. The bad news is that it’s not a close-knit family. What that means is that I can understand about 30% of what I hear (up to 40%, if someone magically speaks slowly), but I can say about 10%. Par for the course, some would say, but it has led to some interesting results.

On our last day in Łódź, we trekked to their biggest market with all of our bags. The internet claimed that this was an upscale flea market, featuring cheap name brand clothes. Perfect, since I was tired of my socks’ attempts to wiggle off my feet as I walked, B was tired of his scratched-up sunglasses, and we were both open to some new shirts. I was imagining TJ Maxx in an outdoor market, but this was more like an explosion of Big Lots, Fashion Bug, and the Grocery Outlet.

Finding the sunglasses was easy, and our communication with the vendor consisted mostly of grunts, so all was well. Next, we walked past clothing stalls, where we spotted men’s rain jackets. Given that I had packed one, but B had not, we stopped to consider the options. A friendly man in his 50s came by right away, to usher us into the stand’s dressing rooms, so B could try on jackets. (It was unclear to us why outer clothing fitting required such privacy, but oh well.) While B was in there, the man and his co-worker, a woman in her early 40s, tried to engage me in conversation.

First, they wanted to know where we were from. They decided to guess, based on my accent when speaking (bad) Polish. Was I Lithuanian? Romanian? Ukrainian? It was like a geography test on the former Soviet republics, and with each ‘no,’ I was raising the difficulty level of the exam. I tried to explain that I was from ‘America,’ but this didn’t seem possible to them, so they kept guessing. Was I from Brazil, they asked? I tried to explain that I was from Russia when I was little (pronounced ‘mawe’), but from America now, but nuance was confusing. B finally emerged from the dressing room after this seemingly never-ending guessing game. The jacket was okay, but turned out to be priced rather high – especially for a roadside stand of uncertain quality. So, after a little tete-a-tete in whispered English, we passed on it. B was somewhat embarrassed about the spectacle, but I choose to imagine that man going home to his family and getting to tell a great story. ‘You’ll never guess who came in to the store today! These bumbling idiots pretending they needed a jacket, with no Polish to speak of.’

But the linguistic adventures were not over. We walked onward, trying not to bang into anyone with our heavy bags. After a few stands of Lane Bryant-style dresses and white cotton bras in size 40DD, we arrived at the produce section. And then, bingo! We saw a stand with partially-salted pickles: the kind they sell on Delancey Street in NYC or in any US store selling Eastern European food; the kind my grandma makes. This could not be passed up. However, it hadn’t been long since we had eaten, so I just wanted a few pickles from the delicious-smelling barrels they had. So, I asked for ‘a little’ of the pickles (‘mawe,’ again), and the efficient-looking lady used the tongs to start filling a plastic bags with the salted goodness. Except that she kept filling and filling, until it looked like I had over a pound of pickles to consume! Looking at the pickles, I noticed that she had fulfilled my request quite faithfully: all of my delicious pickles were quite “mawe” (small) indeed.

We fled the market with our giant package of mini pickles, afraid that I would use ‘mawe’ again, and get us into a ‘small’ jail or a midget competition. Did I say that I could say about 10% of what I wanted to communicate? I meant 1%.

Follow us!

Or follow via RSS.

One thought on “Adventures in Polski

  1. Pingback: Buying Bread in the 21st Century | Novelty Buffs

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *