Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy Washes for the New Year

Although we're already some five days into the New Year, some guy called Gregory seems to have created a calendar that puts the celebrations tonight - he didn't know the number zero either, so it's not surprising that he got it wrong. It's therefore time to dream of time washing past and to wish each other the best for the rest of the year.

May you be happy,


Swim through when you are feeling down,

Jump for joy,

Look great,

May the sun shine on you, whilst finding shelter when you need it,

Find beauty wherever you are (even if English style),

And dance and have fun (Polish style).

For those lonelier souls, may you find your exotic dream partners,

But beware of strange men,

The pictures are all from Tunisia in 2006, with Misia as the main star attraction.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Future Past: 2011

Weather 2011

If the weather in January follows (or at least reverts to) the pattern of January 2010, we can expect weather something like the pictures in this post.

Economy 2011

A major political topic sitting here in Poland, with its feeling of teetering on the brink of crisis and doom, is the heavy level of Polish debt and excessive government spending (with the inevitable why don't they spend money on what I want thown in for good measure). Polish Market Online provides a welcome note of sanity in reporting what the real experts say.

Euler Hermes, the worldwide leader in credit insurance, has raised Poland's rating from the level B to BB ... In 2009 ... real GDP grew by 1.7 percent. In 2010-2011, this ... should increase at ... 3.5 percent per year. Inflation is under control, the current account deficit has declined and foreign debt remains at a decent level. Poland has ... access to the flexible credit line of the International Monetary Fund, which is offered only to the strongest economies. Systemic risk of the political instability is low, but still requires caution in managing the fiscal situation ...

... Moody's believes that the A2 rating for the Polish debt in foreign and domestic currency, reflects the resilience of the Polish economy. ... Fiscal incentives have led to the increased budget deficits and public debt. The elections in 2011 mean that a significant deficit reduction will not begin before 2012. Currently neither the deficit nor debt are on the excessive level and the government enjoys the confidence of the financial markets. ... GDP growth in 2010 will reach 3.4 percent, and, in 2011- 3.7 percent. The deficit of the general government in 2011 will reach 6.7% of the GDP, and its debt will reach 57.4 percent of the GDP. ... The rating will remain stable if nothing unusual happens in the next 18-20 months. At the moment Poland has a very good access to the wider financial markets - deep domestic market and high credibility in the eyes of the foreign investors.

Crisis! What crisis!

Famous Polish Products 2011

What Polish products will be famous in 2011? Food and drink (mushrooms and asparagus, being some of the less obvious); furniture; and automotive parts immediately spring to mind. There have been lots of major inward investments, but I'm not sure what or how important they are. A Polish Market Online report on exports to France help me here.

... the Polish Embassy in Paris, reported that Polish-French trade for [2010 was] ... 14 billion euros ... The positive balance ... EUR 2 billion.

More than half the value of the Polish export to France are the products of electromechanical sector, including industrial machinery, measuring instruments, tools, appliances, and automotive equipment such as engines, gearboxes, car seats, as well as metallurgical and chemical products.

A new trend in France is the growing sale of Polish food - more often organic. Polish vegetables, fruits (especially strawberries), fruit juices and Polish cold cuts- mainly sausages and hams, are selling well on the French market. Even faster growing ... is the export of the wood-paper sector ... related to ... Polish construction or repair companies [working in France]. ...

Back to the weather

The slideshow below - click on the black surround first - shows changing weather in Młochów from November 2009 to January 2010. To see it better, go to, where you click on 'Slideshow'.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep Christmas


I rang my mother on Christmas Day. I could hear her voice in the background from the hospital ward desk, so, just from that, I knew she was feeling much better. She was busy - I think on the ventilation machine, but when I rang back a short time later she chatted away non-stop about everything happening around her. After times when she has been too depressed even to talk, I could only describe her as being chirpy - just like a budgie. Sometimes you're down and sometimes you're up, but this time she was definitely up, up up.

Cheep Cheep

I wondered what pheasants ate earlier, but with little information on the internet I just spread some general cheap grains, corn, etc on the ground in addition to that on the birdtable. On the 27th, we had a deluge. Cheep, cheep.

Not pheasants, but regular partridge visitors. There were at least 13, which I think are all in this shot.

Although, since I could only look out of one window at a time, there may have been more. (Having looked out just now, there are 14 this morning.)

Information on the internet about feeding pheasants was basically a) don't - someone will shoot them; and b) feed them the same commercial feed as your chickens. The latter, at least in the US, don't show the ingredients - they are processed foods. Since neither were helpful, I'll just have to keep trying.

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep

I was in the dining room and heard a really great Polish singer on TV, so I quickly went to watch. He was singing with a powerful rock voice, full of expression and emotion - the best Polish performance I can remember. It was Chance for Success (Szansa na sukces), a karaoke contest programme with the original singers commenting on each performance. It is routine for contestants to outclass the originals, but this was exceptional. Sadly, it turns out that Poland's greatest pop music singer is an Italian, called Thomas Grotto. Still, I now know that Polish lyrics can be sung well - I had wondered whether the pronunciation itself made this impossible. When it comes down to it, though, it's just slightly better than the bog standard Polish, Middle of the Road, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep stuff. Although I like the idea that everyone aged from 5 to 105 likes the same music, it doesn't make for excitement or originality. Babcia didn't like Grotto, which is recommendation of a sort.

I don't like You Tube's quality and this clip doesn't give a good impression of the sound on the TV show. However, the singing starts after about 2;30 minutes, if you want to miss the run-up garbage. Thomas's own website, in Polish, is

Monday, 27 December 2010

Other Christmas Highlights

Everything about the Christmas celebrations is fun, with the family get together for the evening meal, opening the presents and just being together being the main feature.

There were, however, a few other little things that gave me additional joy this year.

The lighting display, especially as seen from the dining room, was especially beautiful. We just used a more limited number of white lights for the Christmas tree this year.

The coloured lights were more widely spread, with the Christmas lights in the dining room, candles on the table, lights in the garden seen through the windows and the reflections on the glass all giving the dining room an especially warm glow.

Both our own external lights and those of the neighbours contributed.

Babcia had been worried that we would not have enough carrots a week beforehand, but on Wednesday she made her vegetable salad and prepared the vegetables for the Greek fish. It was therefore great to see her tucking into these like nobody's business during the evening meal on Christmas Eve, with her other great love, fish in jelly, joining them. She really loves her food. (The Greek fish isn't yet on the table in the picture below.)

The hoped for warmer weather arrived, with a great deal of the snow melting and large areas of grass appearing. There were even patches of sun on Christmas Eve, giving an unexpected rainbow.

Though just a few days, the warmer weather gave welcome Christmas relief to the feeling that cold and snow had become an entrenched way of life. The cold has returned, although with just a light scattering of snow added so far. The sun is smiling down on us and it is only -7c, but Loudon Wainwright III's words still come back to me:

Some day this weary winter will be gone.
Don't be fooled it won't be gone for good.
It will be back to freeze next year's moustache,
Blowing snow as every winter should.

Monday, 20 December 2010

An Apology for being anti-Polish

One of the things I have lined up to write, is a post that relates to the ease with which a foreigner can try to comment objectively on the country they live in and like, but can fail to do so do just because of the 'foreigner' perspective and through use of prejudicial language. I ask myself "do I do that?".

Thanks to a Post by Scatts on 20 East, I already have my answer. I do. I have written the appalling accusation "The way [Polish] people speak is so culturally ingrained with anti-Semitic, homophobic, Russophobic ideas and perspective ...". I completely and absolutely apologise for this stupid statement. Thank you very much to 'Guest' for pointing this out - it was only on the second rereading of my comment, that I found what I had done.

Everyone tries to excuse themselves for such things, and I do want to explain. However, the fact that I wrote something so awful, so soon after questioning whether I do such things, does not give me any excuse.

What I should have written, adding the follow-on text, is "The way [Polish] people speak seems to foreigners to be so culturally ingrained with anti-Semitic, homophobic, Russophobic ideas and perspective that it seems obvious that Polish people feel this way. However, in conversation it is often clear that people who use this language consider themselves normally neutral and unconcerned, but sometimes completely supportive."

I had written it from a foreigner's point of view, rather than balancing the Polish perspective: my intended point was that a Polish person would not consider this anti-semitic, as I fully know. However, from my background, people who keep commenting on a specific group's racial background can normally be assumed to have negative racial feelings ie to be 'rascist'. This is so ingrained, that coming to Poland and hearing regular and unprovoked, as it seems, references to Jews, one immediately gets the impression that there is an enormous amount of hostility. Not only consciously understanding that this not the case, but also getting over one's 'gut reaction' on hearing such talk: that is "for me one of the hardest things to understand about people from Poland", as I put it, or "Western europeans will probably never understand the Polish Jewish relationships" as Guest puts it.

Apologies again. I am slightly scared that I am making it worse, but I hope this makes it clearer.

Shopping for Christmas Presents

Christmas shopping began in earnest on Saturday, with a trip to Warsaw to buy presents. I've always been happy just to be a supporting part of this process, as I find buying presents very difficult.

I guess its just a hang over (not hangover) from the childhood ideal of Christmas presents being a completely unexpected delight. I would take ages going round shops looking for that something a little bit special and different. I would never buy clothes without the person being there to check size and style, whilst music, books, women's perfumes, etc are normally the wrong ones, and so on.

Saturday was largely a matter of going round clothes shops, where my main task is to agree how nice the choice is. There is the odd occasion when I don't like something, but I have to be careful how to word my comment, since that translates into me being negative. Carrying, sometimes paying and driving is what I do best.

I do, however, get the chance to look at men's clothes if the shop has them. I am pretty fussy, but Marks & Spencer in Galeria Centrum (maybe now just called Wars & Sawa) did have a thick jacket that I liked - their Christmas promotion has all men's and women's jacket half price. It was just a bit too close cut to allow for any significant increase in weight, so I was hesitating. Anyway, we left quickly to go to the next shop so I didn't need to decide.

I did buy cotton handkerchiefs in Marks though, which I have been looking for for some for some time. They are difficult to buy in Polish shops. People prefer to blow their nose into their hands and wipe them on their clothes, rarely having the paper handkerchiefs that they consider better.

Time ran out, so we returned again on Sunday. Most of the time was spent in the dreaded Złote Tarasy, which I always think of as being one of those shopping centres full of internationally famous clothes shops, all selling roughly similar, limited, uncoordinated selections of bland ranges of over-priced, low taste, last decade's fashions. (The better shops, that is.) However, winter sales now seem to have fully set in as standard in Warsaw and the range was far better than I remember last year. It was no way near as much of the excruciatingly awful experience I had expected. We were generally successful, with just some additional purchases to be made from the local Maximus, which has a much wider and better range than Warsaw centre, but not so many of the big name shops.

We also popped into Marks here and I took the opportunity to pop into the food closet - sorry, food section. I tend to treat these as a sort of working museum of English shop foods rather than a serious purchasing option, but I was interested to find that teabags are again competitively priced compared to normal, weaker teabags in the hypermarkets and probably cheap compared to small Polish shops. I say 'again' here because I have noticed this before, but when I next went there most of the range had disappeared and the one variety was very expensive. I have plenty at home already so I didn't buy any.

They also had 'salad cream' on sale. I have read in various places how awful this is compared to mayonnaise. I can't remember what it taste's like - see this BBC site for more information, but since mayonnaise is one of the most overused food ingredients in Poland (and because mayonnaise is one of the reasons I hate McDonald's), I did think for a second about buying it. No more than a second, because I could not stand the social disapprobation. How can it be possible that some Polish people really believe that English food is the worst in the world? The world's worst meal must be Christmas Eve supper in Poland - great if you can't use a knife and don't have any teeth, but otherwise forget it.

Oh, and while I remember it, we went into Restauracja Fryda on Nowy Świat for a meal on Saturday evening. I had to try the Chilli Con Carne, which I like, but it was the worst I have ever had. The meat had the consistency of the inside of a meat pierogi - that is to say it might not be meat at all; there were only two red beans - which, from my later digestive reaction, may not have been boiled properly, and the chilli was little more than subtle after taste. Everything else may be fine, of course - well, OK the coffee was cold. I was going to give a link to their website to offset my negativity, but the Union Jack in the corner seems to be just for decoration: it only gives you the Polish version again - if they don't care, why should I? It is recommended by Polish friends, however.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Snow on the Roads

Amongst all the other things I have been contemplating, I wanted to write something about how to drive on snowy roads for those who have never done so before. The basic rule in London was: don't. Use public transport if there is any. I vaguely remember the unusual event of snow on Christmas day, when I was driving to my Mum's, and it all worked out okay, but I equally remember the car sliding on a road in Wales and smashing much of the left-hand side. However, a post on 'The Streets Are Black' at Kielbasa Stories has given me a different focus. Chris there writes about the city experience. I can show something of country life.

There's no escaping it in Poland. The above picture was taken during the first heavy snow fall back in late November - you might just make out the snow falling against the background of the fence. We have had perhaps 50cm of snow altogether, although we some melting and compacting it is now less than 10cm in undisturbed areas - just a few centimetres in water content (precipitation), I guess. The description of the roads below therefore shows what you can expect during a fairly clear period. The story is much different during and immediately after snowfall.

The last few days has had some periods of light snowfall, dull dry periods and some sun. The freezing fog banks gathering in the above picture were taken driving just around the corner from home.

The first few times of snow driving were gut-wrenchingly nerve racking. I had to deal with the car happily moving sideways without any interference on my part. I have pretty much got used to it now, although I probably remain more conscious of it than Polish drivers.

The best quality roads are the national highways, which are snow ploughed and salted/gritted, whatever, although I did hear at a seminar once that this is only effective down to about 8c. In the picture below, the main road from Warsaw to Katowice is almost completely clear of snow and ice, which can be compared to the access lane quality. 90 kilometres per hour (kmph) is quite safe on the main road at the moment, at least on fairly straight stretches. Few people drive above the 100kmph speed limit and there is much less reckless driving than in the summer.

Driving along on the Katowice Road during snow fall, you can come across three snow ploughs stretch across the compete carriageway, clearing the whole thing in one go. The effort (and national budget funded expense) put into this, compares with lower level local authority roads, Gminas. Nadarzyn, technically a village, but better thought of as the small town centre of the Gmina, maintains its reasonably busy bus route as shown below. Going at about 50kmph, the legal maximum, is quite standard here.

Getting into the villages, Rusiec's old village centre road is snow ploughed, but the low level of car traffic has left much more snow. There are sharp corners at the end and the road is too narrow to pass other cars at speed, so its generally 20kmph unless the road is clear enough to go up to 30kmph. The road humps here advise 30 kmph, but it gives a bad wack to the suspension above 20 kmph anyway. The road is not very long and I don't have the Polish habit of giving maximum acceleration and then slamming the breaks on a few seconds later. I also change down a gear to brake, which ensures I have no loss of traction going into a turn, but which gives me a much longer distance slowing down, so going fast is pretty pointless. 40 kmph on an empty part of the road is probably safe.

There are plenty of unmade roads here. You can just see the change of colour on the road in roughly the middle picture, where the made road ends. It is very stony and dusty or muddy without the snow, and there is probably little difference in the speed you can drive, not that I've been down it in the snow.

From Rusiec, the road below to Belina Estate is very quiet and is more often used going towards Rusiec, hence the wheel lines are on the left hand side of the road. This is only roughly snow ploughed, so there is quite a thick layer of condensed snow. It is here that the car wanders about most, taking you into the tyre tracks, whether you want to or not. 20 kmph when passing cars and at the bends, but 40kmph is fine, whilst, if I had the courage to try, 50kmph might be OK.

Then a right turn into a road which is clearer. Although its not a bus route, I think its part of a circular route around Rusiec, given priority by the Gmina. The road turning left heads into Belina Estate.

The Estate road hasn't been cleared at all and is just compacted. Even so, you can just about see the road surface underneath in some places. The piles of snow are from people clearing their drives.

And then the sun came out, so a picture of the road through Młochów, with the bus stop on the left.

Today is a beautiful sunny day, with the diamonds glittering their white, red and blue in the snow. Although I clear my drive, the compacted snow where we have driven the cars is, contrary to all the other roads, the main place where the snow remains. It is much whiter than I would like, but a layer of snow after the short period of thaw has stuck to the ground. If that thaw comes next week...

So that's my complete guide to country roads. However, I was just taking Misia to school this morning and there, standing in the drive, was a male pheasant. I mentioned pheasants in a previous post, when a female came into the garden. This male was closer to us than I had seen before, but we were sitting in the car and I only had time to take a quick snap through the windscreen.

What do pheasants eat?

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Miscellaneous Matters That Don't Matter

I was asked how many people look at this blog, but had no idea. I went to view the 'Stats', but then saw the Comments tab and found that I could see the latest comments without looking at the old posts. I must have been blind.

The latest comment is from Sylwia and I have added her Polish blog, Serenissima Res Publica Poloniae to my recommended sites. The front page is deceptively simple. Click on the picture entitled "Considerations on the Government of Poland" and at the bottom of the next page there is a link to a Jean-Jacques Rousseau text on this. I see Raf Uzar commented, which is recommendation in itself. Will we see you back in full flow before too long, Raf?

Sorry Paddy for being far too late, but I did try making Toad-in-the-Hole with Polish sausages a long time ago, but as far as I can recall the Yorkshire Pudding part was the big failure. I also left the skin on the sausages, which wasn't a good idea. If you try and are successful, please tell us about it.

Małgorzata, I got the bird feeder/peanut holder in Lidl in Autumn 2009. As is normal for Lidl, they didn't have any replacement stock once the first lot were sold and they didn't appear this year in either of the two Lidls I now routinely visit.

Finally, if humour be the drink of life, a couple of jokes currently being told in Polish circles. This first was told by a Polish priest, allegedly.

A nun was going back to the convent from the local town. An expensive car stopped beside her and the driver, an elegant, expensively dressed women, offered to drive her home. She dropped her off at the convent door, where the nun thanked her and said: "You have such beautiful things, you must have a very rich husband."

The woman replied: "Well, no, actually, I'm not married. My boyfriend bought me my beautiful house. My lover bought me the car, and my sweet pussycat friend, who only visits once a week or so, he buys my clothes and jewellery. I hope you don't mind me telling you this Sister, but you did..."

"No, that's all right," said the nun with a sad smile. "I understand. It's important for me to know what really happens in the outside world."

That night the nun is going to bed. She thinks of the woman and kneels, prays and then lies down. A short while later, there's a quiet knock on the door.

"F**k off with your chocolates, Father!"

Jokes about nuns and priests are reasonably common in England, but there do seem to be more here, for obvious reasons. I don't find it surprising that a priest would tell this joke. Although I have not known any priests well enough to say that I know them well, the overall impression I have is that many are quite open and, for the want of a better word coming to mind, human. The next one, however, is about a very familiar English subject:

Do you know why the Germans couldn't deal with the floods they had last year?
No, why?
They couldn't shoot them.

Actually, Polish people seem to be much more relaxed towards Germans than I would have expected from their history. Their prejudices are not generally any worse than my own, often less.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Spelling and Reading

My mind was just wandering and up popped a recollection of a news item about Polish sports personalities getting less money from advertising than their foreign counterparts. The prime problem seemed to be that the non-Polish public were expected to find it difficult to recognise their names.

Following the line of thought, Świętokrzyskie came to mind, as its spelling makes it hard to sell the Voivodeship to foreign investors and visitors who find it extraordinarily difficult to even try to (mis)pronounce it, let alone remember it. I often describe it as the Holy Cross Voivodeship because, even though I don't normally like Anglicising Polish names (eg the use of Silesia and Pomerania), Świętokrzyskie is just too difficult.

I then moved over to the English language, where I remembered a spoof EU agreement with the UK to change English spelling. This circulated by email around the British Eurocrat network, starting with obvious common sense changes - the silly 'Qu' becoming 'Kw' (eg Queen to Kween) and the equally silly 'ck' just becoming 'k' (so quick becomes kwik - "no one fits quicker than a Kwik Fit fitter" being a UK advertising slogan). I couldn't find it when searching the internet, but there are lots of variations on a much shorter version. (There is also an original Mark Twain version.) They don't have quite the same impact of starting with unquestionably sensible and desirable changes as the version I remember, but the principle is the same. The following comes from

Having chosen English as the preferred language in the EEC (now officially the European Union, or EU), the European Parliament has commissioned a feasibility study in ways of improving efficiency in communications within the EU.

European officials have often pointed out that English spelling is unnecessarily difficult; for example: cough, plough, rough, through and thorough. What is clearly needed is a phased programme of changes to iron out these anomalies. The programme would, of course, be administered by a top-level committee representing all Member States.

In the first year, for example, the committee can be expected to suggest using 's' instead of the soft 'c'. Sertainly, sivil servants in all sities would resieve this news with joy. Then the hard 'c' could be replaced by 'k' sinse both letters are pronounsed alike. Not only would this klear up konfusion in the minds of klerikal workers, but keyboards kould be made with one less letter.

There would be growing enthusiasm when, in the sekond year, it would be anounsed that the troublesome 'ph' would henseforth be written 'f'. This would make words like 'fotograf' twenty persent shorter in print.

In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments would enkourage the removal of double letters which have always been a deterent to akurate speling.

We would al agre that the horible mes of silent 'e's in the languag is disgrasful. Therefor we kould drop thes and kontinu to read and writ as though nothing had hapend. By this tim it would be four years sins the skem began and peopl would be reseptive to steps sutsh as replasing 'th' by 'z'. Perhaps zen ze funktion of 'w' kould be taken on by 'v', vitsh is, after al, half a 'w'. Shortly after zis, ze unesesary 'o' kould be dropd from words kontaining 'ou'. Similar arguments vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.

Kontinuing zis proses yer after yer, ve vud eventuli hav a reli sensibl riten styl. After tventi yers zer vud be no mor trubls, difikultis and evrivun vud fin it ezi tu unerstan ech ozer.

The explosion of electronic personal communications in the last ten years or so has led to greatly increased use of more phonetic spelling, whether for fun, because its easier (eg for mobile phone keyboards), or simply because people can't spell the standard way. The pets forums has an example on 'Bucky Survives a Tornado', which starts:

Bucky survyvez a tornaydo!!
Yup, yoo red dat ryte!
Wee hadda TORNAYDO rip throo dis areea just a fyoo owrz ago.
I onnestlee beeleeve dat Frankie skared it awae, but it wuz too kloase for kumfurt!

While the SpeakLolspeak site, dedicated to Lolspeak, which both changes the spelling and has fun with language as well, nicely sums the problem up as:
Iz simples 2 understand lolspeak. U can read owt lowd teh wordz. Teh english haz funnee spellingz, wot is diffrence between saying for/four/fore, too/two/to? Also y iz cough, rough and bough all spelt same but pronounce diffrentlee? Y do go and to endz in o but pronounce differentlee? Y do snow and now end in now but pronounce differentlee? Lolspeak no diffrent to teh english. English spellingz not halp fore teh pronunciationz

One might suspect that all of this may eventually lead to English spelling evolving to more closely reflect the way words are spoken. There are, in any case, continuing efforts to persuade people of the need for spelling reform. The English Spelling Society website has a pamphlet on the LOJIKON system of spelling, which sets out one such proposal.

The problem is us old folks, who could never adjust to such changes. However, although it take me slightly longer to read, I wouldn't have any objections to changes that just adjust spelling to spoken English, although I would still want to use traditional spelling when I haven't adjusted to the new version. What I would obviously object to, however, is changing pronunciation. In case you haven't guessed, many of the internet versions of the European Parliament spoof end with an intended German-like statement along the lines of 'Ve wil zen rul ze Veld'. Oh, ha ha, how droll!.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Farting and Cultural Understanding (PARP)

Since I've heard often enough that English people are unusually reticent to talk about bodily functions, I make no assumptions about other people's willingness to talk about them. This makes it very difficult for me to know what Polish attitudes are.

There is no reason for bodily functions to be standard topics of conversation, so I have little guide from listening to and talking to Polish people generally. I don't follow TV that much, but again, why should they mention bodily functions, whether they're considered too boring or too risque? I do get some impression at home, but one family group cannot be considered representative of people generally. Even if I did have wider information, however, I suspect that I could not fully appreciate any subtleties of approach: I would probably have to have been through a childhood family and school learning process to do this.

'Farting' is often considered a vulgar term in English: indeed, I feel reluctance in saying it. Trying to think objectively, this is very strange. I can be polite about other things and have no problem with defecating and urinating. (Sorry, whilst that is true, I should have said : "I have no problem with 'defecating' and 'urinating' ".) However, I only have euphemisms for 'farting', such as 'breaking wind'. Indeed, the word 'fart' is very old: it goes back at least to Middle English; the action is completely normal and, as far as I know, done by everybody at some stage or other; one would expect a non-offensive single word to exist in such cases, but there isn't one. I thought of 'flatulence', but this is excessive gas in the digestive system generally, with a fart being its external expression. I checked this in a number of dictionaries to be sure, so I failed to be swayed by English Wikipedia's incorrect description.

What about Polish? My dictionary gives three basic variations, one of which, the most common I think, (pierdzieć) has the same origin as 'fart'. However, even though the Polish dictionary I looked at labels this vulgar, I have no idea what emotional content it really has, nor, for that matter, whether it is one of those words which is in theory vulgar, but which everyone uses so much that they don't realise it.

'Fart' is a Polish word as well, but I think it means something like 'a lucky streak'.

Funnily enough, though, I do know another Polish word for 'fart' that I didn't find in the dictionaries. I had to check the internet for actual use, which confirmed it. The joke below is a translated example. I don't find the joke particularly funny, but I used to know people from the Polska Agencja Rozwoju Przedsiębiorczości (Polish Agency for Enterprise Development) and I always felt that I should explain what PARP meant in English, which I don't think I ever had the courage to do. In honour of their 10th Birthday - and I am not trying to insult them and their work, I correct my previous failure.

Two gays get into a taxi. Suddenly one says:
- I′m sorry, do you mind if I fart (pryknąć)?
The Driver replies:
- No, that's OK
- Psssssssssss
On this, the second says:
- I′m sorry, me too?
- OK
- Psssssssssss
Then the driver:
- I′m sorry, do you mind if I do it as well? The gays nod.
- Paaaaaaaaaaaaaaarp!!!
At this, the gays:
- Ooo virgin!

The only thing now is, when I reread this in the future, will I have gone some way towards exorcising a cultural demon in myself, or will my inhibitions remain as strong as ever and I'll just feel embarrassed? How about you?

Monday, 13 December 2010

Happy Days

Yesterday was a good day:
  • Instead of a minor thaw turning the ground and roads into ice fields, there was a full blown melt. Not sufficient to eliminate that much snow, but enough to feel that it isn't here for ever.
  • Looking at the forecast at AccuWeather, above freezing daytime temperatures were forecast from 21 December to Christmas Day (the last day on the 2 week forecast). A green Christmas would go down nicely, thank you.
  • TVP confirmed Accuweather's forecast, although expecting it to be colder. Since they seem to be especially pessimistic in their forecasts, it seems pretty convincing.
  • I found that I have CNBC on the television (via N Satellite transmission, channel 159). The morning broadcast from London used to be my equivalent of soap opera addiction, but I haven't seen it for over two years. Its absence was my only regret on the choice of system: I didn't care what was on otherwise.
Today is coming along nicely too:
  • I watched CNBC a bit this morning. Although some of the cast, the presentation and the detailed content have changed, I still got that soap opera feeling of immediate familiarity and ability to pick up the plot. I'll have to watch the addiction though.
  • Only a few centimetres of snow last night, easily cleared away. The weather still hasn't got bitterly cold, so no painful fingers or toes.
  • My Mum is in hospital in Swaffham, England. She has been in and out of hospital recently as a result of various infections, etc and when I spoke to her last Friday she felt pretty desperate about everything and didn't really want to talk. However, she sounded a million time better this morning. Not good, but just knowing that she feels a bit happier is welcome.
  • Accuweather now has above-freezing days from 16-26 December. I expect it to return to yesterday's forecast of a more limited warmer period, but it's still pretty good.
  • I read a report from "A new internet survey undertaken by ... 12 percent of respondents stated that the EU should replace the euro with the Polish zloty as the Bloc’s common currency."

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Clever Lukashenko

I saw a headline on the front page of, which started:
Belsat TV celebrates third anniversary
Polish funded Belsat TV - which aims to provide an alternative to Belarusian

I immediately remembered Belsat as the Polish propaganda channel broadcasting to Belarus.

Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines propaganda for me as:
2: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
3: ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect

The Polish version of Belsat's role is that it "aims to provide an alternative to Belarusian state censored media". Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko is said to describe it as a western propaganda vehicle, which is obviously true. He is much more clearly stating the truth than Since a recent opinion pole showed that Polish people want journalists to tell the whole truth, no matter what the cost, Lukashanko is doing better than the journalists here. The whole article reads like the journalist approves of this Polish political broadcasting vehicle, but wants to avoid stating it's true nature. If there's 'whole truth' here, Lukashenko seems to have the edge.

So what should I think of his claim that Belsat is “stupid and uncongenial”? As far as I'm concerned, if it's anything like most TV channels across the world, he's dead right again. He must be a pretty clever fellow, that Lukashenko. Thanks to for giving me this insight.

Friday, 10 December 2010

More Pleasent: Pheasant

My dream of an unseasonally and unforecast period of warm weather, leading up to a dry warm Christmas, now having been firmly smashed, I was in contemplative mood. Two recent posts needed to be brought together, various other strands of thought on Poland and Polish people, bringing together years of speculative wisdom, flowed directly from them. All something I want to write about, but not too much too much of the time. It doesn't reflect the reality of life here.

I was saved by an unexpected visitor.

Pheasants are all around me. A couple of days ago, a group of six were feeding in a field where the wind had swept away most of the snow. Walking in the fields when there isn't snow, I would often disturb a group hidden in the grass, which flew off too quick to photograph. They walk along the back lane, but they're too far away to get a good picture with my camera.

I can still therefore only be envious of W-wa Jeziorki's pictures of the colourful male pheasant, but I am nonetheless pleased at having the female visit the garden, walking just a metre or so past the window..

Partridges, on the other hand, are regular visitors.

As it's difficult to remember hot, dry weather at the moment, this picture of young partridges in September 2009 offers secondary delights.

I do have an enemy in taking these pictures, though. Mika heads for the patio door when she hears me turn on the camera. If she sees anything interesting, large birds especially, she will bark and jump at the door, standing there scratching the glass and demanding to be let out. She's even learnt the word 'ptaki' (birds), which gets her looking through the window, although 'kotek' (cat) has her immediately ready to start the chase.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Polish students among best in OECD?

I read an article in entitled 'Polish students among best in OECD', but pretty much rejected it as old news, just repeating previous surveys and reports that had, anyway, only reinforced my own views (albeit based on a very limited field of experience).

After discussing it last night, however, I reflected on Polish educational levels from a more negative aspect: the cult of the professor - "My professor said so" being a decisive argument, and my own feeling that the Polish educational system is excellent at developing factual knowledge and the use of direct logic (as in mathematics), but less so in developing analytical skills and considering alternative scenarios. I therefore decided to look a bit deeper and opened the OECD International Programme for Student Assessment 2009 results page and had a quick look at the summary.

I was surprised to find that there was some support in the scores for reading for my point of view, as Poland seems to do less well on flexibility of thinking. The points are shown below, with the green showing above OECD average and the red showing average levels:


Overall reading score_____________500______________500________________494

Reading sub-scores:

Access and retrieve______________500______________492________________491
Integrate and interpret___________503______________495________________491
Reflect and evaluate_____________498______________512________________503
Continuous texts________________502______________500________________492
Non-continuous texts_____________496______________503________________506

As always, I do not really know how to interpret this, but it seems clear that 'reflection and evaluation', and 'reading of non-continuous texts' are Polish weak points, whilst they are strong points in the UK and USA. My suspicions seem to have some basis in research.

I don't know what variation in points is statistically significant, but a 50 point difference seems to equate to about a year's education (from a comment in the OECD papers). There is not really that much of a difference between the countries, therefore, which makes the UK rather better than I had expected. It also needs to be noted that the 'Statistically significantly above the OECD average' marking, as it is described in the papers, seems to be a spreadsheet calculation where 500.1 qualifies while 499.9 does not.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

English Signs from Around the World

My cousin Pauline regularly sends me jokes and other funny stuff. Since it can be very difficult for Polish translators in getting the nuances of English right, I particularly appreciate examples of minor translation errors altering the entire meaning.

Here are some:
  • In a Bangkok temple: It is forbidden to enter a woman, even a foreigner, if dressed as a man.
  • Cocktail lounge, Norway: Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.
  • Doctors office, Rome: Specialist in women and other diseases.
  • Dry cleaners, Bangkok: Drop your trousers here for the best results.
  • In a Nairobi restaurant: Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager.
  • In a City restaurant: Open seven days a week and weekends.
  • In a cemetery: Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.
  • Tokyo hotel's rules and regulations: Guests are requested not to smoke or do other disgusting behaviours in bed.
  • On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.
  • In a Tokyo bar: Special cocktails for the ladies with nuts.
  • Hotel, Yugoslavia: The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid.
  • Hotel, Japan: You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.
  • In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery: You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian and soviet composers, artists and writers are buried daily except Thursday.
  • Hotel, Zurich: Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.
  • Advertisement for donkey rides, Thailand: Would you like to ride on your own ass?
  • Airline ticket office, Copenhagen: We take your bags and send them in all directions.
  • A laundry in Rome: Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time.
OK, I suspect the last one was intentional, but I wonder how many people who translate into English here would understand what is wrong for all of these. The Moscow cemetery example particularly reminds me of translations of complex Polish sentences, which can become completely incomprehensible without radical reordering or splitting into two (or more).

It should go without saying, but just in case: I could not do half as well.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

I See Ghosts

My best way to check if it is snowing at night is to look out of the kitchen window at the glare of the street light. A week or so back, in the whirl and swirl of snow, I started to see strange shapes appearing in the distance, over the top of one of the houses. The more I looked, the more they became distinct, regular shapes: not just random patterns in the snow. They were there again last night, although this time in the eddying smoke and water vapour emanating from the chimneys.

There in the distance above the roof tops were tall towers, like some ancient castle silhouetted in the night, appearing and fading until the smoke and vapour disappeared as the people in the house want to bed.

This morning, before it was light, I got the camera out and took these pictures. The tall towers were there no more, but distorted patterns remained hanging above.

The camera moved in the picture above, but part of the castle apparition can be seen. You may feel that you have an explanation: it is just silhouette of the chimney below. Look again. The light source can be seen in the back and the angle would make it impossible for the chimney to be the source. There is no photographic trickery here, the house really has a distorted, shadowy image hanging around it.

I don't believe in ghosts. That is to say that I do not reject the possibility, indeed I like the idea, but I think the explanations based on sensory and recognition brain functions, human psychology, etc are more plausible. Indeed, I may have seen a ghost. We had two black dogs, Peter and Penny, who were constantly around the house. The last to die was Penny, on the left in the picture below. A few hours after her death, I was indoors and a black shadow passed behind me. I turned to look at her, but she wasn't there. I then remembered that she had died.

I was standing in direct sunlight and rationalised that it must just have been a short-lasting shadow. I thought about the way we creatures of habit completely misinterpret things around us, but that was it. It was only later that I realised that, should my general attitudes have been different, I would probably have been convinced that I had seen a ghost.

I am therefore quite comfortable with people's belief in ghosts and spirits, especially where the existence of life after death is as fundamental a part of people's understanding as it is here in Poland. I may get impatient about absolute, unquestionable proof being something like an 'inexplicable' loud noise in the home at the time of a death, ignoring the many unexplained loud noises we hear and immediately forget about; combined with the 'time of death' swinging between a pre-warning and a post-death visit, with the time of both the noise and death becoming increasingly vague as conversation continues. However, the truth is that my 'rational' explanations are, if anything, even more vague and uncertain. I am the one that has to understand why I reject a clear, simple, logical explanation, preferring a hugely complex set of human behavioural patterns that I do not even remotely understand myself.

My greater impatience is therefore targeted at those people who so completely reject even the possibility of the spirit world that they label believers as stupid, badly educated or primitive in some way. It is such people who are ignorant. They fail to understand that, to eliminate the possibility of there being ghosts, every single sighting will need to be examined to see if it can be explained by the physical and psychological principles we hold so dear. Even were it possible, the process would never end. All the believers have to do is prove one example. They have the intellectual advantage.