“The problems I’ve got. I got the bank manager coming after me with a fishhook and the coffee machine I invested in from Italy went kaput the first moment it came into contact with actual caffeine. But you know what? All these problems, I deserve them.”
– overheard in a cafe in Silesia.
Silesians eh? Those inhabitants of western Poland. Living among you, having friends who are Silesian, while also being related to this most atavistic of people, is to be exposed to the most bruising of traits: schizophrenia.
Silesians think they’re better, while simultaneously believing they don’t deserve better. Oh yes, yes. They work hard and do the jobs no-one else wants to do, gaining in the process a degree of superiority. Yet bizarrely and concurrently, they cultivate the impression the rest of Poland can’t stand them as they think that Silesians are German. But they’re not, and they kind of know this so they’re convinced the Germans are looking at them like they’re some sort of hairybacked, anal-retentive refugees. The effect of this is to destroy their confidence, which is why they do the jobs no-one likes…and such is the existential hamster-wheel all Silesians are running on.
All of this is quite debilitating. Many Silesians walk around, congealed in a space/time continuum of pain. If they licked yourselves, they’d taste bitter. The sense of life-traducing angst floats around the heads of Silesians like clouds of airborne pollution. And despite being as miserable as a witch giving birth to a cactus, most of them refuse to confide. To share. No. All their problems are squeezed up inside until they grow into a tumour or a yeast infection.
On the plus-side though, they love cleaning.
The other day I heard a close family relative of my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE, describe the toilet she cleaned as, ‘beautiful’ and then she advised another close family member to go and view it.
Beautiful? Beautiful? Do you know what’s beautiful? A river in autumn. A wolf pounding through the snow. A newborn suckling her mother. Even if Vishnu with her ten hands and a chariot of angels descended to clean any toilet, it would be no more beautiful than a frog choking on a beetle.
But Silesians are at one with the truthful simplicity of cleaning. It is the pounding, beating essence of their being. Floors, windows, toilets – this is what Silesians can trust. These objects won’t betray them or let you down. More than that, they are messengers, trumpeting to all how pure and hardworking they are. Those cossacks in Warsaw can have their blogs and their instagrams, and their smoking-room witticisms, because here in Silesia we have clean tiles. On the floor. On the wall. Clean. And we’ll keep cleaning them, so our homes doesn’t resemble that Starbucks where’t they’d need a bulldozer to remove the amount of filth. Or so I’m told. I’m not criticizing, just reporting what Marta Grucki told me on her deathbed.
Then there’s all that practicality. You give me a Silesian woman a choice between having the boiler fixed or a weekend away and she’s boiler-lady all the time. This is so totally at odds with my Irishness. I am sociable, hedonistic, lazy. And I love it. The Irish are always looking for someone to talk to. Our heads are up and we’re scanning the environment for some sort of contact. Silesians don’t do that. They keep their heads down, scanning the cracks in the pavement for portends of doom.
And yet Silesia is not such a bad place. It just takes time to realise that it’s not such a bad place. We’ve a lot in common – revolutions, uprisings, impermanent borders and a coercion of language. We Irish always feel we got the short end of the stick. I suppose we did, with the English breathing down our necks. But no matter how much we moan, we keep surviving. That’s the Irish. And it’s the Silesians too. We take the hits but we still keep getting up. Sometimes we have to move to a different country just so we can keep getting up, but speaking from experience, that’s half the adventure.