Posts Tagged With: Japan

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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How To Laugh At An Atomic Bomb

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By the end of this column I will have you laughing at the holocaust of Hiroshima. Or I will have offended you. It’s your decision really. But did you know that aside from the two atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese, US strategic firebombing during the last seven months of the war, resulted in 500,000 dead civilians and the destruction of 30 – 80% of all their cities?

Intercepted cable communications from Japan tell us that Emperor Hirohito was trying to negotiate a surrender during July 1945, but no, the Americans had a new toy to test. One that would send a message to Uncle Joe Stalin and thus the atomic age was unleashed without warning on an already defeated country. Be in no doubt, Japan was an abattoir, the Dresden experience writ large on an entire country. And more; the extermination of almost a quarter of a million people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki a war crime ignored by the greater part of world society.

Can you imagine the self-pity, bitterness and injustice that the Japanese must feel? No? Neither can the Japanese. They don’t do self-pity. They don’t waste time blaming. They move forward. They rebuild. Why is it then, that Poland is in the state it is currently in? Yes, the Poles also suffered horrendously during WW2. And like the Japanese you are a talented people, with great natural resources, located geographically at the most advantageous point in Europe. So why in 2015, do parts of Warsaw look like they have been hit by a plutonium core nuclear bomb? Why does the city of Zabzre with a population of 190,000, look like the epicentre of the world’s largest zombie conflict? Why do certain media outlets and politicians regurgitate the events of Katyn, the Warsaw Uprising and Smolensk as a celebration of Poland’s perpetual victimhood? And why, as I write this, is there a grown man, outside my window pissing into a bin in the park where my children play?

Truth be told this man is no worse than those who concocted Poland’s indolent health system that promotes corruption, or those who refuse to do anything about six of Poland’s cities being the most polluted in Europe. Believe me, it’s true, I’m surrounded by four of them and there are days when you have to chew the air and spit it out just before you can breathe it again properly. 

Japan’s schoolteachers doubled as Civil Defence volunteers in light of the country’s reaction to the tsunami and Fukushima nuclear plant explosion. On March11, 2011 the Tokiwa Prefectural Road outside of Tokyo was an untraversable disaster zone. On March15, 2011 repair teams had rebuilt a six-lane highway. That’s four days. Compare it to the length of time it took to build the A1 motorway in Poland. Then again, the Japanese construction workers weren’t constructing the road with substandard underfill while selling the good stuff on the black market.

The Cheat Culture is everywhere in Poland and it travels from the top down. It’s a tragedy that it is devouring modern day Poland. Thank God we have the Japanese and Tsutomo Yamaguchi to make us laugh. A truly lucky man, Tsutomo was minding his own business when the Enola Gay dropped her payload on Hiroshima. As the city was coping with the carnage, he was one of the injured few put on a train to another city where he could receive better treatment. The destination of his train?

Nagasaki. Three days later, he survived the second attack and lived to the ripe old age of 93. But ask yourself, what is the truly amazing thing about that story? Think hard. What is it?

What’s really amazing is that Hiroshima was hit by an atomic bomb and the train system was still working. And on time too, I’ll bet.

Okay, did I make you laugh? Or smile? Did I?

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