Archive by Author

custard – by Justyna

24 Sep

Thankfully this word sprung up on FFF and now I finally understand what custard actually is. As in what exactly is in it. It was never consumed in our house in any way. In fact back in the day my mum bought it once accidentally thinking she was buying buttermilk. We all crowded around it, sniffing it and tasting it and wondering what to do with it. It was universally decided it was not something to be poured over muesli. It stood in the fridge for ages until it went off and was tipped down the sink. It was too sweet for our Slavwog palette. Polewog? These are new. I like both. The latter a bit more athletic.

Anyway. The Polish language does not have a word for custard. The Almighty Google Translate gives us two options: cream or pudding. Both horrendously wrong when describing custard. The only custard experience, apart from Wahooti Fandango (an album I never owned but liked and now wish I had), is that desert I believe to be called truffle*. The look of it always reminds me of vomit. A perplexing thought as to how one can make such ugly yet surprisingly tasty sweet food. Especially when it’s chilled in a glass bowl. Super, super ugly once the first serving is dug out.

Pudding in Poland is equally gross in it’s visual dimension. And, unlike truffle, really, really crap to eat. For some reason this potato starch rubbish food is loved by kids. Bleh. Michal tells me long romantic anecdotes how back in the commie days when the supermarket shelves were bare, pudding was the only form of store bought sweet a kid could regularly get. When drizzled with home-made raspberry syrup it was the bomb. Apparently. Nah uh. My mum would buy me pudding in Oz thinking it was a mad treat and I always hated it. It was like a cop-out fake ice-cream disaster or a warm thick, stagnant semolina slab rip-off, dressed in vanilla flavour. Even when she poured Ribena over it I always knew it was going to taste like crap.

 

* What I actually meant was ‘trifle’. Thanks to the watchful editorial eye of Suzy, I now know my error. The French are probably disgusted at my plebness.

Hair – by Justyna

26 Aug

 

Here are my few thoughts I have about hair.

1. Never been a great fan of chest hair, however the idea of a chest free of hair is repulsive. I like the fact that the older Michal gets the more chest hair he sprouts. As long as it stays off his arse and back, I’m content. And even if it doesn’t, well, what can I do about it now? I also like how his arm hair goes super white blond during the summer time. Hypercolour hair. 

2. I’m not very hairy. In fact Poles are never really hairy as a bunch. My dad has very sparsely haired legs. I often got asked at school why I shave my arms. They’ve always been totally naked. When my mum caught me in the bathroom shaving my legs (I was thirteen and had completely succumbed to the ‘everyone-is-doing-it’ peer pressure), she was mortified and tried to explain rationally that there was absolutely no need for it. She herself only started shaving hers well after she turned thirty. I can go three months without shaving mine and no one is the wiser.

3. I may not be very hairy but I sprouted my first grey hair when I was about twenty. Today the top of my head is roughly 30 per cent grey. Okay, maybe even 40 per cent. It comes from my dad’s side. They all went grey when they entered toddlerhood. For me dying my hair regularly is one of the most annoying things on earth that I make myself do. Yet I cannot bring myself to get it done professionally at the salon. Or stop dying it all together. That is not even an option. It annoys me that grey men look distinguished. And grey women look like frumps. Michal’s mum in her late 50s finally put the hair dye on the shelf. She seriously aged ten years. Damn.

4. Being allergic to dogs and cats for a long time I was told it was because of their fur. When the truth finally came out in about 1995 that the allergen was in the animals’ saliva enzymes the world started to make total sense. Every time a cat or a dog lick me I get itchy bumps on my skin. But when I rub my face in their hairy fur I only sneeze.

5. On the subject of yester-week’s saliva, I taught Kazek how to do a wet willy a few days ago. Tonight when he was falling asleep he licked his finger and stuck it in my ear and giggled “wet willy”. I was super proud. I also pissed myself. I await the day when I can share the special Simpsons episode with him where we will piss ourselves together.

Secret false cake – by Justyna

3 Aug

I’ll let you in on a secret of mine. I don’t really like cake all that much. Same goes for tea. I would prefer to sit around pints of beer and pretzel sticks with my friends, but, as previously mentioned by Beth and Tabs, women tend to like cake. Loads. So I sit along with my dainty fork and join in. I’m not in pain really but I do often wish there was a plate of beef jerky in front of me instead. Cooking I can do, but baking, well my repertoire is reserved to muffins and oatmeal cookies (mainly because of Kazek who loves baking). Creamy cakes are definitely out. Torts are just some sort of misunderstanding. And the remainder? Well I’ll eat it and enjoy myself but mainly for the ritual rather than the taste. If you give me an espresso to wash the cake down with I’ll be happy enough. And I have never, ever, wet myself at a wedding when the cake has been brought out.

My cake eating patterns have changed somewhat in the recent years though. I eat cake more often these days than before. Mainly due to Michal. He is the biggest cake eater I have ever met. He likes peasant cakes mainly though (read no fancy shit or cream please), and he can eat copious amounts. Sometimes Michal’s mum will bake a massive apple strudel or a cheesecake and bring it over. Within two days Michal can eat the whole thing with me having but a sliver. He doesn’t apologise for it either. It’s his weakness and he’s happy to indulge every time. When we came down the mountains yesterday we stopped at a spa town famous for its underground springs (Krynica), wanting to show Anthony how smelly the water can get and how supposedly good it is for you. There is a massive building reserved for the water sampling. There is also a cake stall. Michal visited the cake stall first. My mother, never the biggest baker, bakes a cake every time Michal comes over. Her son-in-law-arse-licking-type behaviour. It’s pretty entertaining.

Under the commie times there was a sweet product here roughly called ‘similar-to-chocolate’ chocolate (czekoladopodobne). Basically it was fake chocolate. Apparently the masses were not allowed to enjoy the real taste of cocoa. I still have the taste of it in my mouth because I accidentally bought a block of it a week or so ago. I thought it was outlawed but it appears there is still a market for this horrid garbage. It looks like chocolate, it is packaged like chocolate, but it smells and tastes like cardboard dipped in a thin layer of a runny chocolate-flavoured milk drink. And then it leaves this horrible, oily film on your upper roof. Kids used to get it as birthday treats and for Christmas. It caused many tears and psychological issues.

Misnomer – by Justyna

14 Jul

My Polish has improved greatly in the last six years. The vocabulary as well as the true meanings of certain words. There were words that I knew existed but never knew the true meaning of them, giving them my own definitions based on, say, the onomatopoeic value of the word I heard used by others. Please see below the anecdote Michal likes to share with people about how Justyna was once a massive embarrassment to him:

 A semi-filled tram in Krakow. Michal and I are young, just married, and look respectable if not in love. All the seats are taken but there is enough space for sound to resonate.

 Michal at one end of the tram carriage, Justyna at the other.

Justyna: “Hej fiucie, masz bilet?”

Michal does not respond and looks away pretending he doesn’t know me. Laughter erupts from passengers around.

In-translation: what I thought I said

Justyna: “Oi, spazzy, have you got a ticket?”

In-translation: what I actually said

Justyna: “Oi, cock-head, have you got a ticket?”

Once Michal explained the true meaning of the word “fiut” my brain stopped regarding it as an endearing albeit politically incorrect vocative case.

Six Social Dos and Don’ts – by Justyna

8 Jul

Recently I had a ‘talk’ with Michal about the things each one of us does regarding Kazek. Michal pointed out that I am injecting into Kazek the idea that my word does not mean much at all. For example when Kazek comes to our room in the morning to wake us up, I usually respond by saying “alright alright, I’m getting up”. And then I don’t. I lie there for as long as possible and the little dude is forced to come in and out a few times trying to peel his mother out of bed. This has made me think of late about the things that I say I’ll do but then don’t. Like keeping my word to the other Flingers of Far Flung Four to post every week. Clearly I haven’t being doing this of late. I need major sock up-pulling. This was a topic of conversation last night with Titka, who also made a valid point that once you start breaking your word to others, it’s a slippery slope with regards to your own self. And this is so bloody true too! How many times have I said to myself that tonight I’d screen print that diesel engine for the wall? About 234 times. Have I done it? No. Anyway…

Ok so here in the spirit of saying I’ll post every week and not actually doing it, I will, once again try to save face by posting another double banger. Six social behaviours that are either utterly unacceptable in Poland or are the norm. Either way, some still amuse me, others continue to really trouble me. I haven’t had the writing steam to come up with much lately. So this will be just left in point form.

Splitting the Bill to the Last Zloty: Not on. It is considered extremely tight and anti-social to sit there with a bill and calculate who owes who what and who had the steak and who had the steamed broccoli. Things come full circle mentality and all that. I find this form of bill sharing easy and comfortable. There are never awkward moments or grimaces when the evening comes to a close.

Shoes Off: Considered rude to assume you can keep your shoes on when visiting someone’s home. This is hardly news-breaking but what is socially acceptable is for the host to bang on at you to put on some guest slippers should you decide to walk around bare footed. I still find this hilarious. Recently we were visiting Michal’s uncle who informed me, after I refused the slippers, that if I walk around bare footed on the kitchen tiles I will stuff up my joints. It was 37 degrees outside. Michal’s mother still cannot stomach my, and now Kazek’s, bare feet. I have had to sit through many lectures re lack of slippers. I guess Poles must really hate their feet.

The Birthday Flip: When it’s your birthday in Poland you do all the shouting. You’re shouting the drinks in the pub, you’re shouting the dinner for the friends you choose to invite, you pay for the accommodation for your guests should you decide to celebrate by having a birthday away. It’s the whole “Poles are Awesome Hosts” thing they’ve got going on here. Again the full circle concept comes into play. You invite and then you get invited. And so it goes.

No Questions Asked: This is a social norm I really cannot handle. People here don’t ask one another questions. Friends do not ask their friends questions. As bizarre as it may sound, it really is a social norm. It’s as if people are generally disinterested in one another. Six years I’ve been here and there is seriously about a handful of people combined whom I can claim as solid initiators of questions about my life, work, opinions, family etc. It is totally acceptable to offer information about your own life, experiences, share anecdotes, but direct questions or general show of interest in your friend are rare gems indeed. It is amazingly refreshing to meet new people who ask things about you or meet with friends who are genuinely interested in how your week has panned out. I find that I usually have a bag of knowledge about the people I have come to know here, but when it comes to me, my friends here know very little about me. Sad really. We had some friends come for dinner the other weekend. Incredibly intelligent, witty, hilarious anecdotes, live in Warsaw and have interesting jobs in governmental ministries. Throughout the entire evening both Michal and I were asked two questions. Combined! We hadn’t seen them in over a year. Often Michal and I after such evenings feel frustrated and baffled. Curiosity is meant to be a natural state for the human mind, yes? And how can true friendships be formed? With difficulty.

Cake Away: When you’re invited to someone’s house for dinner and you bring the wine or the beer, and the alcohol is not fully drunk, the host will never tell you to take the untouched bottle home. Ever. The host would be looked upon as a freak. I know because I have been that freak. When suggesting once to some friends that they take the unopened wine bottle back with them after we had had dinner at our place, I was met with a burst of troubled laughter like I was suggesting I would come back to their place and clean their bathroom. I remember Michal yelling out “Krzywa, what the hell are you doing?? No need for your mong tendencies here!!”. What is weird though that offering your guests some of the cake to take home that they brought with them is completely fine. Go figure. No alcohol back but cake defo. So who is the mong?

Telly On: In most Polish homes I have been to the television has always been on in the background. It is not necessarily being watched by the tenants of that home, but it is nonetheless on. Like a radio. Everyone goes on about their business to the muffled sounds of the television. I have been to official family gatherings like the name day of an aunt or Easter Sunday breakfast, with a massive spread of food and a stretched out table, everyone sitting around it, chatting, eating, and the television will be there not-so-silently on, watching us all. Maybe someone one day will explain to me why this is socially acceptable.

Beer – by Justyna

18 Jun

I love beer. It is probably my favourite alcoholic beverage. No, it is my favourite alcoholic beverage. When I was a kid my dad would let me slurp off the beer froth. Later when I was a bit older he would let me have half a glass now and again. It was usually Thooeys Old. It was usually drunk on a balmy night out in the backyard. A special bond between a father and a son he never had. I was totally into it. Now I live in a paradise of beer. If you thought Poland was a vodka country, you’re so 1993. In fact Poland is the second largest beer consuming country in Europe, a few pints off Germany. Poland produces amazing beer and there are still local breweries that have not been bought out by Heineken (unlike the national beer Zywiec, which has gone completely down the toilet since), producing mind blowing brews, albeit without the boutiquey prices. Every region has it’s own mainstream brew, but the true gems are the beers from crappy provincial breweries that have no marketing budget to speak of. You stumble upon them, and hey presto, your mouth is in hops heaven.

The women who do drink beer in Poland tend to drink it with raspberry syrup. It gives the beer a pinky glow and a sweeter taste. It is drunk through a straw. Bleh. Sometimes instead of raspberry syrup you can order your half a litre glass with ginger syrup. Equally yuk. Shandies are rare but they do exist.

There are next to no preservatives in most Polish beers. So guts remain relatively small. You also do not get extreme hangovers from guzzling the beer here, due to the lack of chemicals within. There. There’s my propaganda.

My local bottle-o sells Wojak, a very daggy beer from Poznan. It costs 1.74 zł. It’s delicious on a balmy night, even when not drunk in a backyard. The bottle is returnable to the bottle-o. Once you’re done with it, you get your bottle deposit back. Just like with milk bottles back in the day. Brilliant. Means we have a whole stash of Wojak bottles under our kitchen sink because no one can be arsed to walk the 38 metres back to the shop with the glass ware.

The Polish word for beer is “piwo”.

image by piweczko.pl

Parenting – by Justyna

11 Jun

I tried to get a conversation going with Michal tonight about parenting and about fatherhood. It lasted roughly 2 minutes. I was unable to provide him with questions that I did not know the answer he was going to give. Michal could not get into a momentum on the subject, probably because of two major reasons:

  1. Parenthood? How do I see it? It’s just normal isn’t it? It’s not like there’s an art to it. For me it’s just a natural extension to the next bit in your life. That’s all.

And

  1. He was/is streaming the Sweden v Ukraine football match. Live. And there was a goal by Sweden when I started talking to him (you may not know this but the UEFA Euro 2012 has begun and Poland and Ukraine are hosting it this time round. This is a very big deal).

But before I gave up I asked one more thing. How does Polish society view fathers? Michal’s answer was quick without his eyes leaving the laptop screen, “fathers are treated like disabled child rearers”. Yup. That sums it up. There is a prevailing archetype in Poland and it has a name, the Mother Pole (Matka Polka).* She dominates all that is domestic and she knows best. Including how children are raised. The term makes me shudder. Men who live with this Matka Polka type really do resemble dimwitted creatures when around their own offspring. They either run away to the pub or the tv to hide from the Matka Polka, or they stick around being mocked, listening to instructions on how to put on a pair of socks on a five year old, having to deal with constant eye rolling. I feel their pain. They bring it on themselves though, don’t they? Makes life a whole lot sweeter if you are kept at bay from a screaming toddler, a shitty nappy, a soup that needs to me mushed and a load of vomit washing that needs to be done. I’d sign up for it. And have my shirts ironed too, thanks.

When we first hooked up with Michal, I asked myself whether this dude could be the father of my children. The answer was yes. I didn’t have to over-think it. He was tall. He was a good sort. In my mind I knew he would be a tops dad because we were not dissimilar in our approach to life. Later when we were a couple I asked him whether he had similar thoughts when we first met. He said yes. Said he had checked out my hips and weightlifter thighs at the Romanian seaside and this was confirmation enough. See. It really was just that easy.

Michal is good at this parenting business. He’s into his kids and he is into his home. He doesn’t do stuff half arsedly. Unless it’s a Vegemite sandwich (never spreads it to the edges). Just goes with the flow. I think he thinks more about his business than about child rearing, because the latter is a natural process for him. He is more patient, tolerant and very rarely do I see frustration in his eyes. He is the one reminding me that it’s all not that much of a big deal. And most of all he’s just not into bullshit. This is very important for me.

Having said all this, he also has more freedom. This makes me jealous. He has an external life that he is maintaing and cultivating. Work, sport, his business interests. Things that will benefit him and strengthen him way into his middle age and beyond. Long when the kids have gone and left home. It is this that I, too, need to work on.

* I just heard a joke about the Polish mother. This joke is popular in Israel. What is the difference between a Polish mother and a rottweiler? The rottweiler will eventually leave the child alone.