Marek looked at me with a very confused look when I answered his question “How did you sleep last night?” My reply was “awfully good”. Thinking he did not understand me I said it again to which he replied “was sleep awful or good?”
In another conversation during the same trip I was asked by someone what I liked most and least about Warsaw, the city I was visiting. Thinking for a moment before speaking I answered “we spent over half a day in Old Town. That is a very cool place. I just love the look and feel of it.” Pausing for a moment to come up with something that would not offend my hosts I continued “As for something I like least I think it would the big dark, plain and grimy apartment buildings on the edge of town. Those are pretty ugly.” A puzzled look came of both faces of the two people I was standing and talking to. A man listening asked me in his heavy accent “which, pretty or ugly?”
It is the nature of many people in Eastern Europe to enjoy alcohol more than many and each business day is often capped with a time of evening drinking. The favored drink is beer and I can always remember the brand I preferred. It is called “Okocim Porter”. For me the brand is easy to remember because the first two letters are the same as the abbreviation for my home state. Plus the English sounding second part of the name, “Porter”, always struck me as odd to be part of the name of a Polish beer.
During this particular business trip I think I created my biggest amusement for my Polish friends at a cocktail party one evening. The previous night I had experienced a really good time at a similar gathering for drinking; a little too good actually. Unaccustomed to beer with 8-9% alcohol content I ended up getting looped. Not completely drunk, but not completely sober either.
Knowing I had left early the previous night due to my “happy” condition a guest at the cocktail party asked how I got back to the hotel. My reply was “Janusz carried me”. I was standing with a group of four or five people and a puzzled look came over all their faces. One finally said something like “your hotel is a long way. Janusz really picked you up and carried you there last night?” As he spoke he made a motion like one might make if picking up something heavy and I instantly realized I had misspoke. I said “took me in his car” to correct the impression that a man had literally carried me back to my hotel. Everyone burst out in laughter. One said “you speak funny English”.
Starting within a few years after the fall of communism I was professionally involved as a consultant with a media company in Poland for about a decade. It was one of the high points of my life so far. I hosted Polish visitors here in the US at least eight or ten times and I visited Poland several times as well. I got to know quite well the two men who were the senior managers for the company I was consulting. One of them became a good friend and I am still in contact with Janusz today.
When I first met the first two Poles, they were visiting here in the states. The men were new to my type business they were undertaking at home and our management team had taken on the job of teaching them as much as we could. This initial visit was for two weeks. We took turns teaching our guests in the daytime and entertaining them during evenings and weekends.
On a Monday morning, imagine my surprise when I asked the Poles where one of our management group had taken them on Sunday and the reply was “Gerry took us to hookers”. It was a very uncomfortable few seconds as I thought surely they had not visited prostitutes, but for a blink or two I honestly thought that might be a possibility. Being new to Polish customs and habits I just did not know. My reply was a very puzzled “really?” with about ten question marks accenting my one word statement. Then the other visitor who spoke better English apparently saw my distress and chimed in with “Hooters, Gerry took us to Hooters”. What a relief! We all had a great laugh and it is a favorite funny story to tell even today.
Deep within there is much gratitude for the people in Poland I got to know. I gained many insights and learned at least as much as I was able to teach. I remember clearly being at dinner in Warsaw one evening eating a lot and drinking a bit more when my friend Janusz remarked that he could not imagine us being enemies, but our fathers had been. Then we toasted our friendship.
One of the most lasting remnants of my Polish education was to pay attention to what I say and how I put words together. I believe today I have eliminated things like “pretty ugly” and “awfully good” from my vocabulary. I do have some fun here and there with my awareness. When asking someone how they are, the frequent reply is “pretty good”. My response is usually something like “So you’re pretty and you’re good. That’s awesome that you have such a good self imagine and you are doing well.” Most don’t get it, but each time I am presented that opportunity I am grateful to be reminded of my friends in Poland and the gratitude I have for my times with them.
English is a funny language; that explains why we park our car on the driveway and drive our car on the parkway. Author Unknown