Poland

Poland, More Western Than You Think

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In America, they have a choice between a man with nylon hair and a strange woman who can’t tell the truth. In England, three men pulled the rug out from under the whole country and somehow got away with it. And in Poland, we are still waiting for someone who will make the state exist practically as well as theoretically. Three different countries, but as we will see, they all want the same thing.

1 America

In November this year, Americans will have to chose between two extremely unpopular candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The grand part of America’s voting franchise has narrowed its focus towards mounting one of these two people as a figurehead.

Unusually, the American primaries threw up an alternative; a proportion of the electorate were dissatisfied with the bi-party system, upon which the illusion of democracy camouflages a sinister political class (the Bushes, the Clintons) who serve either corporate interests or their own financial gain. This proportion translated into just over twelve million votes for Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist – the only declared socialist ever to be elected to the US Senate. His values would run in tandem to those of Sweden’s Olaf Palme, Chavez of Venezuela, Gorbachev, with Mitterand and Mandela other notables.

When asked about Trump’s success, Sanders responded, ”his supporters are working class and they’re angry because they’re working longer hours for lower wages, they’re angry because their jobs have left this country and gone to China, they’re angry because they can’t afford to send their kids to college so they can’t retire with dignity.” Real fears which Sanders agrees with, but he believes that Trump has converted them into anger against Mexicans and Muslims rather than facing the real issue the American people have to confront, ”the greed of corporate America”.

It must be noted that Trump wants more tax breaks for the wealthy and is opposed to an increase in the minimum wage. Yet the illusion of democracy is never more transparent when you break down the campaign values of Trump’s ‘rival’ Hillary Clinton. I’ll let Bernie Sanders take you through it;

”I want to break up the Wall Street banks, she doesn’t. I want to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour. She wants 12. I voted against the War in Iraq. She voted for it. I believe we should ban fracking. She does not. I believe we should have a tax on carbon and deal aggressively with climate change. That’s not her position.”

It is public knowledge that Hillary Clinton, a millionaire, is funded by Wall Street. Sanders has stood on picket lines with striking Verizon workers and has been unflinching in his support for the labor movement. Verizon, a communications company who own the Huffington Post paid Hillary Clinton $225,000 for making a single speech. They are vehemently opposed to unions but consider themselves a ”proud partner with the Clinton Foundation”.

Salon.com noted that while Sanders works with grassroots organisations like unions and stands with the workers themselves, the Clintons rub shoulders with big business.

But by virtue of three million more votes than Sanders, Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for the 2016 Presidential Election. Liberal Americans want jobs and money but they don’t want socialism.

2 The United Kingdom

So if the American public has chosen a competition between a billionaire protector of the 1% and a woman who is impressively funded by the same billionaires, who have the British public put their faith in?

For one of the most important decisions in their history, Brexit, 17.4 million turned to former newspaper columnists Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, two Conservatives whose habit was to use broad, quick-fix statements in both their journalism and politics. They were the middle-class face of Brexit, representing those who felt their communities were being eroded by immigration.

It is now clear that Gove and Johnson didn’t have a plan or proper solutions for the problems the UK would face post Brexit. The benefits they promised from Brexit were lies. Theirs is the politics of entertainment, not expertise, indeed Gove is on record as saying, ”This country is tired of experts!” Johnson was fired by The Times for lying to its readers. He was subsequently fired by the then leader of the Conservative party, Michael Howard for lying to him. All politicians lie, but never before has a nation had its fate decided by two men whose campaign was built on a set of blatant, incontrovertible falsehoods designed to further their respective careers.

And yet over half of the electorate sided with them.

In part, this is because of the ineffectual leadership of David Cameron. A lifelong Eurosceptic, he had no answer to the hardliners on Europe once the issue had become turbocharged by austerity and immigration. His language leading up to the referendum, talking of ”swarms of migrants” was suspiciously close to that of the Leave campaigners. It is questionable where his loyalties and moral compass lie. Examples of this can be seen in Cameron’s college days when he campaigned to have Nelson Mandela hanged as a terrorist and more recently when his strong links with News International have led the Conservative party to tailor its policies to assist Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

It’s hard to be a leader when you are being led by someone else.

The leader of the Labour Party is Jeremy Corbyn, a politician along the lines of Sanders in that he endeavours to put people before politics. Several right-wing news organisations and a significant Blairist membership of his own party blamed him for Brexit and are currently trying to oust him from his position. A well-intentioned man, who is anti-austerity, but in the UK they don’t want a man whose policies of equality are inclusive of refugees.

3 Poland

The triumvirate of right-wing agony is completed by Poland, a country minimally populated by minorities, but reacting to concepts of non-Polishness in a disproportionately negatively manner. It is a country which experienced a calamitous Law and Justice experiment from 2005-7 and whose patient trust of the centre-right Civic Platform was taken advantage of by this two-term government who manipulated Poles with a giant Ponzi scheme and a modern-day colony system draining Poland of its natural resources and exploiting a talented workforce. The liberal media failed to highlight the merits of any emerging socialist alternative and last year the electorate were given a choice between two failed political entities. Both perpetrate cronyism and the short-term policy of division and settling scores.

Unlike America and the UK, there isn’t even the slightest chance of a socialist Third Way.

In Poland, the media is unable to look outside the political identikits of Right/Centre Right. Perhaps it is a question of democracy? Currently there is a catastrophic pollution problem, a crumbling health system, a witch-hunt of doctors, a lack of investment in Polish technology and Research and Development. There has been no change in the redistribution of wealth. The government of Law and Justice is unable or unwilling to provide a solution to these problems. But what is truly shocking to this Irishman living here, is how there is no demand for it.

It would seem the Polish electorate can’t see beyond Right/Centre Right either. It is the world they know and they are happy to live in it. Soon there will be an abortion issue and Poland’s left wingers, Partia Razem, will find their broader message drowned out by the ‘choice’ that particular debate throws up.

Dispiriting and predictable, it has been said, that Trump’s America would be what Poland is now. The Poles don’t have a Sanders or a Corbyn and they don’t want one. And if a Mandela-figure appeared on the political horizon here, just like Cameron, you can easily imagine a campaign to have him hanged.

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If I Could Change Just One Thing About The Poles

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What is the most self-destructive Polish characteristic? Is it the perpetual re-imagining of yourselves as victims of cataclysmic history? It certainly doesn’t help. If you live too much in the past, the future dries up. But there’s worse. Your propensity to follow to the death any shiny-suited seat-sniffing politician who’ll whore you out to the highest bidder, for a potful of dollars or yen? An Irish friend visiting here remarked on there being an absence of sheep. I wouldn’t be so sure on that I told him, but as bad as your docile subservience is, the worst trait among certain Poles I have met is Fuck You Economics.

Fuck You Economics comes in many forms. It is most obviously evident during business interactions when one side chooses to make a once-off profit over the other. They con, they scam, they take any advantage they can find, even if it means the other party will never do business with them again.

I’ve been on the receiving end of Fuck You Economics a few times here. Years ago, a theatre manager in Poznan told me I could only do a show at his venue if I paid him two thousand zloty up front. I say ‘theatre manager’; the guy was so shifty you could have put a hat on him and called him a weasel. Most theatres divide the takings, the performer gets 70%, the venue gets 30%. It’s called A Split and it happens after the show when the money is all counted. It’s very fair and it puts the onus on the venue to properly market the touring show/performance. This theatre manager in Poznan convinced me that’s not how they do business in Poland. I believed him, he got his easy money and a few weeks later I got an empty theatre.
Fuck You Economics, spiraling through Poland’s DNA, dictates that having found a sucker, you squeeze one big egg out of him, grab it and run. I doubt any alternative crossed the theatre manager’s mind. Build up a relationship with a foreign performer and have him coming with his show five or six times over a few years? Charge him an honest rate and help him put on an entertaining show, so everyone comes out feeling golden? No. Fuck You Economics means one side gets easy money, the other is left with shit on their bib.

It’s happened a few times since, albeit in smaller ways. It’s so prevalent here that no matter how vigilant you are, you’re guaranteed to get pinched at least once a year.

Fuck You Economics has many faces, some less overt, less surreptitiously bludgeoning, like the smiley face of the antique shop owner I used to go to. Threw a lot of business his way, I was what you might call ‘a loyal customer’ and coming from Ireland where such small businesses regularly reward good clients with discounts I felt confident enough to ask for a discount. A deal. You might be familiar with this concept. It’s when both parties come away from the transaction feeling good. Their heels click the pavement and buy themselves an ice-cream.

I gave the smiley-faced owner an offer on some furniture – ‘I’ll pay full price for the two most expensive pieces, but can you knock a few zloty off the third piece?’

His smile slipped through the cracks appearing in his face. He said No. The way an executioner says No. ‘Aww come on,’ I said. ‘I could go to other antique shops, but I always come here to you…’ It didn’t matter. He closed his eyes in such an awful way, as if to say, ‘how could you Mr Irish? How could you ruin the trust we had with your petty haggling?’

There is no haggling in Poland. There are no deals. There are winners and losers, gods and monsters and everyone’s looking to get their retaliation in first.

In Ireland we have a saying; ‘nobody wins unless everybody wins’ and sometimes I really miss that.

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Why Do Things Take So Long In Poland?

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I’m writing this on my phone waiting to get a train ticket in Katowice. When I first got into the queue there were five people ahead of me. Now there are ten. My heart is pumping pure steaming anger out my sweat glands. How is the queue multiplying? Cell division? Or is it that the queuing system is such a fall-of-Hanoi, fucking free-for-all, that every unscrupulous cowboy queue-jumper can take advantage? I don’t believe in the death penalty, except for queue-jumpers. And for ticket sellers who force me to sweat popcorn pellets of anger out the crack of my ass because they take so long to punch a ticket and hand it out.

At least you can’t blame their charisma for slowing them down. Their people-skills are so creepy that I usually go to the automated ticket-machine. But the one in Katowice train station has gone all HAL 9000 on me – DAISY, DAISY GIVE ME YOUR ANSWER DOOOOOOO – and there’s a sign on it that they plan to fix it when the repairman comes back from Jupiter.

Nothing goes fast in Poland. Forget fast. At this stage I’ll settle for average speed. My standards have been lowered. I’ll even take below-average. After crawling around the multi-level hell that is your legal system, I know there is no ”fast” in this country. We won a court case here that lasted six-years. Six time-sucking years. What was our case about? Convoluted Family Law? A murder? A Constitutional challenge? No. A chimney. I took the legal action because it was such an open-and-shut case, I couldn’t see it going beyond six months. But no. Living in Poland automatically locks you into a Gravitational Time Dilation where everything takes 12 times longer.

It could be worse. Relations of ours in Warsaw spent 12 years going through a Restitution of Property rights case. 12 years a slave to Poland. They should make a film about it. Or what about the dismantling of the tramlines in Gliwice? For some obscure reason all tram services were stopped 7 years ago, but the local government hasn’t got around to removing the tracks and wiring. Kind of like a dentist taking out your tooth but leaving in the bit that hurts. Bravo, oh glorious General Secretary of Gliwice. No trams but we have roads that look like Keith Richards’ face.

But even cars and pollution, two of the General Secretary’s favourite things, have to wait years too. Decades actually. The idea for the construction of a motorway running across the centre of Gliwice originated in the 1960’s. Then Polish Gravitational Time Dilation kicked in, meaning construction didn’t start until 1979 and was finally completed in 2016. 37 years to bring much needed pollution into the centre of the city and give us the magnificent above-ground structure we have today, essentially a carpark with weeds growing out of it. 37 years. I heard of a man who went to work on that road, fell asleep for lunch and when he woke up all his friends were old or dead and his wife had long since run away with a pigeon-tamer. Poor bastard tried to commit suicide when he realised – nothing to do with his wife – he hated her and she always she stunk of pigeon. No, it was because he realized he was living in a city which still used 50 year old ideas. Luckily his chosen method of suicide was to sit on the tramline with his eyes closed.

Poland has a mental block when it comes to transport and construction. Didn’t the government decide to build an Underground system in Warsaw in 1950? They started. Then they stopped. And started again in 1983. Lunch breaks were longer back in Communist times. The first line was 23 kms long. They finished it in 2008. There’s a word for that; momentum. Then there’s the plane crash, sorry, THE PLANE CRASH and Kaczynski mourning his brother since 2010. When is that going to end? He’s dead. Get over it. People have real problems. Like getting a ticket so they can go home. Only I can’t. Because my train has gone. I phone my PRACTIAL SILESIAN WIFE asking if she’ll pick me up. Of course. But I need to wait a few hours. She’s busy.

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For Your Eyes Only

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This is what I believe in;

The power of alcohol to solve whatever is it that ails you.

The first five seconds of meeting a person will tell me everything about them.

And only twenty per cent of communication is verbal.

The rest is made up of a of a series of visual and paralinguistic cogs, springs and counterweights, intricate, silent pieces of message mechanism. Encoded in our facial muscles, our posture, is a pure truth. Take a man cheating on his wife; his excessive absence of blinking when detailing how his day went sends the unspoken message – I’m sleeping with the florist.

This brings me to the Poles and their curiously annoying habit of avoiding eye-contact. Curious, in that there’s no obvious philosophy behind it other than putting the recipient on edge for no better reason than if they’re not relaxed then why the hell should you be?

Am I referring here to my own direct experiences? No. Throwing me into the equation would excuse this socially demoralising habit as a means of deferring to foreigners or avoiding awkward language encounters. This is Poles interacting with other Poles, a national characteristic, a collective non-verbal communication methodology, as habitual as cheating in exams or applauding when an airplane lands. It’s a full-time practice, done between friends and family with such remarkable consistency, it’s a wonder they recognise each other at all.

I suppose all countries have their own unique customs governing interaction.There’s the Finnish habit of marking conversations with huge swathes of silence. The Finns don’t do small talk. They place an importance on listening and will regularly interrupt the flow of verbal interaction by shutting up and processing what’s just been said. This is strange, especially when you consider the Finns have the highest rate of coffee consumption in the world per person. What do they do with all that caffeine energy? It used to be for killing Russians, but now?

Stranger still is the habit in Columbia and the Philippines to point to something with your lips. They consider it rude to use the index finger, so they make a kissy-face and aim it at what they’re directing you towards. Nice.

Even nicer is the way Brazilians mark most conversations with hugs. When they meet, they embrace as if they’ve just been released from solitary confinement. When men are talking to other men, they maintain physical contact, going as far as to pull their shoulders if one of them gazes off in a different direction.

Compare that to the Poles who are constantly giving the impression there is something more interesting going on three centimeters to the right of whoever they’re talking to. It’s staggering how accepted it is – I’ve seen members of the same family arrange themselves side-by-side, intently discussing how much they hate doctors, both staring at an imaginary third person in front of them.

This shouldn’t be confused with the Japanese custom where it’s impolite to make eye-contact, as it turns out they only observe this practice during formal occasions, or when they’re making an apology.

This inability to look their neighbour in the eye is uniquely Polish. I know a few Ukrainian-Polish couples and it’s always the Lviv or Kiev natives who make a point of looking you directly in the face, while their shifty-eyed partners are forever finding something amazingly important happening in the sky.

It doesn’t have to be the sky. Sometimes it’s the hills. I was at a dinner in Warsaw with the former Minister for Health, and for the better part of the night he kept his eyes firmly glued to my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE’S chest.

Fascinating as this region is, her eyes are more interesting. This is where the real action takes place when anthropoids are exchanging messages. The eyes are the window to the soul? For me, they’re the soul’s voice. Look into them and you’ll hear a person’s needs, their hopes and desires. They eyes speak. They tell you who is naughty and who is nice and at some base level, I think the Poles know this. The eyes speak the truth and for the Poles the truth is something the rest of the world can’t know. It could be used against them. It’s private. Top secret.

For your eyes only.

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A Tale Of Two Cafés

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I was in the new shopping mall in Katowice last week. Went to Starbucks and decided to try their produce for the sole reason of being able to compare it with the locally-owned, hipster places I normally frequent.

The American mega-corporation has loads of flavours and sizes to chose from – ginormous-bucket latte, vanilla-fudge decaf and all at big gorilla-sized prices. Ten zloty, twelve zloty, sixteen zloty – that’s four euro to guys like me, or a weeks wages for a skilled Polish worker.

I went for their ‘classic’ option. Now there’s a description that’s pushing the boundaries. Classic? Oh, it was classic all right. The first sip landed in my gut like a poison harpoon and I made that face people make when they see a fat German tourist sunbathing.

The place was packed though, so what do I know. Starbucks patrons don’t seem to mind that there isn’t even a toilet on the premises. No toilet. Can you believe it? They sell you putrid coffee, but there’s no way they’re taking it back in any form. I predict great profits for Starbucks in Katowice. The Poles are a conservative nation. They love big foreign companies. They don’t like their own.

A few days later, I was in a small café and the female owner was telling me her business wasn’t going to survive the winter. Inner-city renovation and road works have been dragging on now for two years, killing her passing trade. The city authorities don’t have any time to be sympathetic to her plight. They’re too busy. It’s taken them over six-hundred days to fix the footpaths. That’s a hundred times longer than it took the Japanese to rebuild the Great Kanto highway after the earthquake in 2011.

Rather than give up, the café proprietress decided to fight. She planned to start producing food on-site. Sandwiches, cakes, something to tweak the profit margins and keep the dream alive. Poland loves a never-say-die-spirit, right? Wrong. Health and Sanitation, that beacon of entrepreneurial assistance, told her that making food on the premises was impossible, it couldn’t be done…and in accordance with the Food Preparation Act 1852, paragraph seventy-two, sub-section K, clause eighty five, it states that ‘any irregularity or minor deviance is an opportunity to be seized upon to stop a Pole achieving success…’

This is Poland. They don’t like their own.

Two days ago her café was robbed. An old trick – a girl was working there on her own and a customer alerted her to a mess in the toilet that she absolutely, positively had to clean up straight away because someone could hurt themselves if she didn’t…

The girl took the hook and when she came back from cleaning up the mess, the register was three hundred zloty lighter. Bad as this was, the thief was the lesser of the three evils besetting the café – unlike Local government and Health and Sanitation, thieves don’t purport to facilitate local business. They steal. There is an honesty to their intentions.

But isn’t it awful? Here you have this locally-owned café who, in accordance with Health and Sanitation requirements, are providing adequate provision of toilets on their premises only to have it used against them in a robbery. Lucky Starbucks eh? No danger of anyone pulling the toilet trick there. Their coffee is three times as expensive, and when you’re finished drinking it, hold on to the cup – you’ll need it.

This is Poland. They don’t like their own.

This is just one of the many stories unfolding in Silesia at the moment. There are other local businesses feeling the pinch. Some will close and no doubt their location will be taken over by a bank, or a mobile phone shop, you know, one of those institutions that really looks out for people.

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Raise Your Arm If You’re A Racist

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So Brexit has uncorked the Djinn of racism and we hear of a spike in racist attacks all over the UK. The BBC featured a news report on a neo-Nazi in Leeds who is relieved at being able to take his country back from the Poles. In Huntington, cards were pushed into the houses of Poles saying, NO MORE POLISH VERMIN, while abusive graffiti was sprayed on the Polish Cultural Center in London.

And I suppose it behooves me to say a few appropriate things about this, offer a few dull-as-ditchwater platitudes on the tremendous suffering Poles are facing in England right now, the eye of the hurricane and all that, and I may even call up my good buddy Bono so he can sing his famous line from the Band-Aid song; tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you.

But I won’t.

Because tonight, no thanks to anyone, it is me.

As an Irishman living in Poland, you learn that racism is a vest a lot of people here wear under their shirts, be they hipster plaid or industrious white collar.

The landscape is racist. Most of you are inured to it but I’ve counted three swastikas sprayed on buildings in my neighbourhood. White Power slogans when I go on cycles through the country. How the swastika became popular in Poland is beyond ridiculous. What next? A lung cancer patient becoming a spokesman for a cigarette company?

Children are racist. During a theatrical workshop in a private, international school in Katowice, I witnessed a blonde, blue-eyed twelve year old call his Indian classmate a monkey. And then the blonde Pole laughed so hard he resembled a pig. I’m sure Orwell would have been please at how Animal Farm it all was.

I’ve listened to neighbours on my street complain about a fabled Jewish man who ‘owned too many apartments’. It didn’t matter that this Jew had been dead in the ground for the last fifty years, that he had the temerity to own property was something they weren’t going to forget in a hurry.

Being Caucasian and having a saintly face such as I do is no guarantee you won’t be set upon. I was verbally harassed outside my house for singing in English – does this qualify as a racist attack – the two thugs were park boozers, who looked liked they had died and been dug up again. The only thing worse than these two walking piss-stains and their screaming fury was when I was harassed and threatened by a Warsaw film crew for mistakenly walking down a street they were filming on. No low-life, sunburnt drunks these, but four middle-class, trendy guys well-versed in the English language, with a full compliment of useful phrases, foremost among them being, ”go back to Ireland you fuck”.

They must have picked up such salty words in the Leni Riefenstahl School of Master Race Film.

Friends in Silesia tell me I shouldn’t count that as a racist attack. This is how certain people from Warsaw talk to everyone.

And racism is a casual thing here, part of Poland’s great menu, as normal and accepted as pollution and road traffic fatalities and what is interesting for an outsider, is how closely it links aspects of Poland’s society to that of Russia and the Dark Lord who rules there.

Can you feel it? Because I can, a gathering, murky energy. War in Ukraine. Europe and its union which preserved peace, coming apart. Coalitions forming. There is a generation here who don’t know what war is. They think it’s a Castle Wolfenstein commuter game. Hate is being fed in Poland by the new lords of misrule, mini-Putins, those who bought the country and its soul for a paltry 500 zloty. Hate against the imaginary threat of Jews and anyone with dark skin.

But the time will come when the hate rises, when its appetite increases, when it will call for a real enemy, those who aren’t Polish enough, those who don’t kneel before the cross or those who don’t raise their right arm to salute The Leader.

When that time comes, we will consider the Poles in England as the lucky ones.

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I Am Curious

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Today’s column title is not a reference to the 1967 Swedish new-wave movie where a woman dreams of cutting her lover’s penis off and then kisses it – no, it is rather a declaration; I’d like to know what the Silesians and Poles think of the Catholic Church.

Most of you are used to newspaper columns informing you of their opinion. I’ve been doing it for years, with sledgehammer-like delicacy, and today will be no exception: it’s my belief that the Catholic Church is as much use to society as a turd in a field, beneficial to a few bloated flies, yet detrimental and disgusting to its immediate environment.

But what about you, the 5% who read my Gazeta Wyborcza column? After all my time here, I should have a fix on your opinion regarding this wealthy organisation who have done a terrible job carrying out the teachings of Jesus. But I don’t. I know there are lots of atheists around – hell, I live with one of them, but my bet is Poles would rather confess to being chicken molesters than to speak of a faith in the absence of a god.

I have a firm belief in a benign higher power because it fits in with my worldview and makes me happy. Trust me, when your father has been imprisoned and your mother can’t walk, you have to believe in something. I tried believing in Rock and Roll until I found out how much money Bono had hidden down the back of his couch and while many Irish have turned against the once saint-like U2 frontman, few in Poland, in social situations at least, are willing to serve up tough questions on the Catholic Church.

I know, I know, who wants to ruin a family occasion like a birthday or a party to celebrate a promotion, by asking how a country can commit itself to a male-dominated, authoritarian institution which suppresses dissent and attempts to control what its members may even discuss? A question like that kind of pisses all over your comfortable, cosy, cheesecake buzz. But if it makes it any better, that statement of curiosity didn’t originate from me. It’s a direct quote from Father Peter McVerry, a social justice campaigner.

He’s the founder of a the Peter McVerry Trust, a homeless organisation, and if the Poles want to take a peep at what organised religion should really be like, then turn off the Radio Maria documentary about the man who made it his life’s mission to sniff every single seat that Pope John ever sat on, and throw this Jesuit priest’s name into the googlebox.

If you do, you’ll find out how he devoted the last thirty years to helping the destitute and indigent of Ballymun. Ballymun is a Dublin ghetto and when the city was the heroin capital of Europe in the 1980’s, Ballymun was its putrefying black heart. Not only does Peter McVerry work in the shelter he established, but he lives there in a small flat with four other priests. He counts his friends as the homeless people he works with. His phone is on 24hours. If you called in tomorrow, you’d get to meet him and he’d tell you that the church established by Jesus was to be a community of brothers and sisters, free of all domination and Jesus warned against replicating the relationships of power that existed in the wider society.

And if you told him you were Polish, he’d probably tell you that the thing that angered him the most during his thirty years in the trenches was related to Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979.

He was to stop off in our small church but was behind schedule and he passed us by on the way to meet the bishops and dignitaries in Dublin Castle. That really pissed me off.”

Father Peter McVerry, this man who questions the direction of the Catholic Church was recently made a Freeman of Dublin. Most of us in Ireland are in awe of him because he’s the real deal, a Christian in actions rather than words.

Are there people like this in Poland? I am genuinely curious about this. Do you think the Church here influences people to be good and help others?

Or do you think their time is up and through systematic appropriation we should flush their greedy asses down the drain to the sea?

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What’s So Funny?

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They say comedy is tragedy plus time. I’m not so sure. Tragedy was when my hair started to fall out and in the ten years since, the laughs (like my hair) have been thin on the ground. There’s nothing funny about having to apply so much factor 50 that the top of my head that looks like a loose-bowelled sparrow just nailed me. Nothing hilarious about getting caught in a winter hailstone shower, the frozen pellets bouncing off my crown like evil, alien popcorn.

Of course, what is funny, is when it happens to someone else. Tragedy is when I accidentally bite my tongue. Comedy is when one of my neighbours has their tongue cut in half by a threshing machine – even writing this sentence, I find myself chuckling like a demented Bond villain or Vladimir Putin while impaling gays out the back of the Kremlin.

Stupidity is always amazingly funny. Believe me, I know. Not only because I am a world champion idiot, who only last week sprayed kitchen-cleaner on my laptop keyboard, repeatedly, eagerly, like a man who has eaten too many dishwasher tablets and has suddenly forgotten about Cause and Effect.

My daughters are perpetually amused by my antics. No surprise then that they took to my favorite film, The Big Lebowski, with relative ease. And why not? At some level they recognise the stupidity of the film’s protagonist, Jeffery ”The Dude” Lebowski and his buddy Walter Sobchak. They recognise the Polish ancestry of this duo and watching The Dude shambling around in ever-decreasing circles, they are no doubt reminded of their father and my attempts to navigate the mysteries of Polish life such as; why do Polish shops never have enough change in the till, even if you only give them a twenty zloty note? And why in a nation where every citizen eats their own weight in bread daily, don’t they cover their sandwiches with a second slice?

Just like The Dude and his eternally befuddled colleagues, my Irish and English friends here (Brian, Spud, Nick, Matt, Ross) are trying to find answers. This is why we set up The Polish Podcast, a bi-monthly excursion into the absurdity of Polish life. Take one of our regular segments, Prawda czy Gowno Prawda? Where Matt Siegal describes an event which may or may not have happened and we have to guess if it’s true or false? Last month he told of going to a shooting range in Katowice where he noticed a man carrying a teddy bear with a giant red heart emblazoned on its chest. The man then attached the teddy to one of the targets and picked out an M16 assualt rifle – Prawda czy Gowno Prawda? Did this really happen?

You’ll be happy to know I picked the right answer. The essential decency of the Polish character is well-known to me. Equally well-known is how deranged the average Pole is, and I wasn’t surprised when Matt revealed the answer to be Prawda… The Podcast is full of such gems illuminating life in Central Europe’s sixth best country. Our caustic eye falls on all aspects of Polish life, rating local restaurants, bars and even public toilets with the Katowice railway station cubicles currently getting rave reviews from Brian Folan, The Poland Podcast’s resident toilet-guru.

We even plan to take our brand of Irish stand-up comedy to a live setting, with Brian and I embarking on a tour of Krakow, Katowice and Gliwice in honour of St. Patrick’s Day. Brian has never attempted stand-up in front of a Polish audience before and he’ll soon learn what it’s like to crack a joke about JP2 and have the audience collectively bare their teeth and snarl like some multi-headed creature straight out of Mordor. Wherever I perform, Wroclaw, Warsaw, Dublin – Poles won’t laugh about the Pope. They absolutely refuse to. What’s so funny about our Pope, they wonder?

Maybe not funny, but it’s very liberating saying something nobody in a particular society will say. Liberation. Not funny, but it makes you very happy.

Categories: Humorous, Poland | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

May The Force Be With You

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Sometimes there is doubt surrounding these columns, my father-in-law, will ask, “did that really happen?” Sometimes I’ll even ask this question myself. What you are about to read would be a good case in point;

My PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE was on a 24hour duty, leaving me with our five and four year old girls. We were coming out of the Market Square in Gliwice after a bit of shopping so I had the following on my person; a Star Wars Magazine, a bag of cranberries and a five-litre box of apple juice. Taking the shortest route home, we inadvertently turned onto a film-set.

Yep, a film-set. Before I knew it, a crew member (my guess is he was an assistant director) told me to get off the street as fast as I could. No problem, I told him. He walked with me down the street. A few seconds into the walk, his tone got panicky – he told me I wasn’t moving fast enough, the crew had a shot lined up and I needed to be gone. I was doing my best, but it wasn’t easy, not with my hands full and trying to make two tired children walk in straight line.

It wasn’t good enough for this guy, whom I later found out was called Robert. I’ve been around a few film sets and I know there is always someone putting pressure on the ADs and it’s their job to pass that pressure on. I understood where he was coming from and there was an option for me at this stage to put my head down, accept his low-level aggression and say nothing. But I couldn’t. You see, if there’s a whiff of coercion, or a lack of consideration, I don’t go quietly. I stopped and told Robert to relax, told him I’d be off the street in two minutes. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next –

Robert kinda, sorta, tried to pick me up. Or tackle me, I’m not sure. I’d like to think Robert is a good guy, and he doesn’t do this regularly, but there is a tendency among certain Polish men to go primitive at the slightest bit of stress. Irish film crews get just as anxious, but they’ll turn on the charm, or use hard logic to get what they want. Violence wouldn’t be the last option. It wouldn’t even be an option.

My daughters were holding on to my legs as he rammed himself into me. A few gasps went up from the film crew and assorted extras. There was more than a touch of Brokeback Mountain in the way one of his hands went between my legs and the other looped over my shoulder. But he couldn’t move me, largely due to the weight of the five litres of apple juice. Next thing I knew I was surrounded by four other film crew guys, coming on heavy with threats. These were no rough hooligans. They were middle-class, English-speaking guys and from the language they were using my children didn’t seem to exist. I don’t like fighting. I’m not good at it and with this in mind, I went all Gandhi on their asses; I sat down and had myself a peaceful protest.

So they said they were going to call the police. I told them this was a good idea. So I just sat there in the middle of this film set. Strange feeling having forty people glare at you, while the four film crew guys kept shouting in my face. And all because I didn’t jump fast enough when they shouted. Couldn’t they have given me thirty extra seconds to get off the street? It’s only a film for godsakes, my wife has been in ER rooms with less hysteria. I was verbally attacked by two drunks a year ago, but I have to say, this was worse.

And it begs the question, what kind of attitude is prevalent among a film crew, where a man who is going home with his daughters can be forcibly manhandled for…what? Not walking quick enough? I asked Robert to apologize. He wouldn’t apologize. The City cops arrived, took one look at the scene and walked away. Ten minutes later the film’s producer came over and asked me to leave. I said I would if Robert and the Gang of Four apologised.

She asked Robert to apologise and his reaction was insane – he ran five metres, threw off his jacket and started screaming at the ground. (If their film has half the drama of the ten minutes they wasted with me, then it’s going to be a hit). I took one look at this and realized Robert’s problems ran deeper than I initially thought. I told the producer, Gosia, that I would go, and I walked with my girls down the street. I tried to get it across to her how wrong their attitude was. I told her there was a way of dealing with the public who mistakenly walk through a public film set. Gosia looked at me and laughed before she walked away.

Categories: Poland, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE gets asked Out On A Date!

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Like all intelligent women who value their health, my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE went to the oncology unit here in Gliwice to have her breasts checked. Three hours in the waiting room, chatting away to the other worried and hopeful patients, worried and hopeful herself because no-one knows more than doctors what breed of lurking demons your body can propel against you.

She left with good news, and unlocking her bike by the entrance, she was approached by a man who she’d seen in the waiting room with his mother.

‘Hello,’ he said, his head bowed, slightly nervous on account of what he had to say next. ‘I was wondering if I could have your phone number…and maybe…eh…we could meet? For a coffee?’

My PSW smiled, thanked him for his interest but admitted she was married with kids.

‘This was remarkable,’ she told me later.

‘What’s so remarkable?’ I asked. ‘You’re an attractive woman, in the full bloom of life – don’t be so hard on yourself.’

But like most Polish women, my PSW can’t take a compliment, making a face as if she’d just ingested a tarantula cookie baked by Angelina Jolie.

‘What was remarkable is him asking me out after seeing me in the waiting room – for all he knows, I could be sick, yet he didn’t care – how many Polish men would do this?’

I told her I didn’t know how many Polish men would take a chance and ask out a potentially sick woman. I don’t have these conversations with my male friends here.

But it’s a damn good question. So let me set the scene: you meet a woman in hospital, she’s got a body like a Coke bottle, when she walks she jiggles like jelly on a plate, the top half of her at least, down below she’s got well-sprung thighs like a thrilling, adolescent Impala and every time she looks in your direction your pants snap about two-inches shorter.

You get talking to her and boy oh boy, the sequence of the words coming out her mouth tells you she’s funny and smart and the feeling in your groin dissipates, moves north until your heart is subsumed with an analgesic glow! So what do you do? Ask her out? Yes, by god! But hold on – time-out for a minute. Your emotions are still marching upwards, the warm, chocolate feeling in your chest as been replaced by a cold logic forming like icicles in your brain as you wonder, ‘what is she doing here in hospital? What’s wrong with her?’

You start to look at your dream girl afresh; perhaps you actually mistook her smile for a grimace? Could it be her alluring sallow skin is nothing but a peculiar tint of jaundice and oh my god – she’s just after scratching her nose – isn’t that the first sign of intestinal parasites? Jesus H. Christ! Do I really need to be dating a woman with parasites – if we share the same comb will they get passed on to me?

Would I be wrong in saying that most men would give up on asking her out, put their head down and continue on their way? Hands up, honestly, how many of you would take the chance? How many of you would say, ‘aw fuck it, I don’t care if her rare blood disorder turns her into a vegetable in six months time – I’ll wipe her ass and make her all the chicken soup she needs.’

No, I didn’t think so.

But the guy in the oncology waiting room didn’t mind and my wife admired this man who spoke with a strong Silesian accent. He was no Clooney, she said, a little rough around the edges, but deep down he reaffirmed her belief in the essential decency of Polish men.

Yep, there’s a good guy out there somewhere, either that or he was the one with the rare disease and wanted some sucker to look after him.

Categories: Family, Humorous, Poland | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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