Our Polish Life
Since the visit from our facilitator, adoption center official and psychologist, and PK’s court-appointed guardian, life has been fairly quiet. A relatively lazy day usually accompanied by an outing somewhere. Yesterday, walking home from a visit to Jasna Gora, the monastery that is home to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Becky and I were talking about how strange it is to only have the two of us to really share the day with. Except for Skyping with family and a random talk or two with our agency and facilitator, Becky is the only other English-speaking person in my world, and, I, hers. This makes conversation interesting. We can’t share what’s happened during the day because the other person is, at most, a room away and so we already know what’s gone on.
Today, we said that our next update should focus on sharing some of those things that we would share with each other if we were experiencing this adventure alone. Submitted for your enjoyment…aspects of our daily life in Poland.
Animal sounds: PK loves to look at books and her favorites are flap books. We remembered this from our last trip and brought two over with us: Dear Zoo and Where’s Spot? Multiple times a day, we go through the books. She lifts a flap, we name the animal, make the sound, and do the ASL sign for it. She’s picking it all up though she’s annoyed giraffe’s don’t have a sound and lions sound more like they say, “LOLZ!”
Bathing: Our flat has the amazing bathroom that I mentioned in a previous post. Bathing has been interesting though on a few fronts. Before we left on this trip, our social worker warned us that Polish kids tend to hate baths and when PK first started living with us, man, was that the truth. She’s gotten to where she loves them and has her hair washed like a trooper. God help you, though, if you can’t get the shivering little thing dried off and dressed fast enough. She will make sure that you know she is displeased. For the adults, the difficulty comes when we have somewhere to be in the morning. There is a shower head but no curtain so, unless you are either very skilled or very thin, water is going to get EVERYWHERE if you try to take a shower. On a day with nothing to do you can draw yourself a bath. I’ve learned to enjoy a bath again, even if the tub is a bit narrow. A morning where you have to get out of the house, however, doesn’t allow for this luxury. The method we have resorted to is drawing a shallow layer of water in the bottom of the tub so you don’t freeze to death, grabbing the shower head (it’s on a hose) and trying to wash yourself as thoroughly and quickly as possible. Becky is naturally better at this than I am. I am still scarred by a certain tub experience in the UK where I attempted this and everything except me got throughly wet. My family enjoys the show Everybody Loves Raymond and there is an episode that seems especially poignant during one of the Barone family trips to Italy. Ray finds himself in the same situation as I have and ends up getting help from a distant relative. I believe I may have paid money during my first Polish shower-bath experience to have the help he did. To see the clip, click here.
Crossing the Street: Poland takes their jaywalking laws seriously. Thankfully, it is clearly marked where you walk and when you walk. If the crosswalk light is red, you don’t cross (and people actually follow this). When the light is green, hoof it to the other side. Simple enough in theory. The trick is when you factor in traffic. Not every crosswalk has a traffic light attached to it. Big intersections, like the one to Jasna Gora, do and so you feel safe heading across the street. Smaller crosswalks often lack this curtesy. You’re still expected to walk when the light is green but that doesn’t mean a car won’t start pulling through the intersection as you start to cross. I’ve had a car stop about two inches from my kneecaps. Becky and I are pros now and can now step in front of a moving bus and not think it’s that big of a deal. Note to self: Revert to my old habits back in the States where cars sometimes don’t even stop for the stop sign in front of my museum.
Other Street Etiquette: The Poles are a warm and hospitable people, at least the ones that I have come across. However, they reserve their smiles for people they are actually interacting with. My Southern habit of smiling and nodding to everyone on the street is just not something that is done here. I can understand this. I’ll give you that the Polish method is actually more genuine. This is something that is harder for me to break than walking blindly into an intersection on faith. I’m the guy who walked down the streets of Brooklyn happily smiling at people who’s looks showed they knew I was either insane or a hayseed. I’ve dialed it back a bit here, though, to blend in a bit more. Still, I get strange looks for my slight, quirk of a smile and bob of the head.
TV: For our last bit this evening, I’ll focus on the one thing that still blows my and Becky’s minds. I like to think of us as a bit cosmopolitan. We’ve travelled. Becky’s lived overseas while she got her Master’s. Still, neither of us has lived in a non-English speaking country. We know that there is no good reason for Poles to watch TV in English. We speak so little Polish that the TV is on for background sound more than anything. There is the occasional movie in English. I’ve seen a good portion of Cloud Atlas now, as well as a very bad Nicholas Cage movie called Next. The thing that we have a very hard time wrapping our head around is something called lektor. When a foreign TV show or movie is shown in Poland, 9 times out of 10, instead of getting voice actors to dub the original language or showing subtitles there is a deep-voiced man saying all the lines in a monotone.
After doing some research, we’ve learned that it’s a holdover from the Communist Era and because it is what people are used to, it’s what they do. Besides, it’s cheaper than paying voice actors. When Friends first came to Poland, they first hired six voice actors but it was a flop. When the networks got rid of the voice actors and got a lektor in to do the show, ratings sky-rocketed. Children’s programs almost all feature voice actors. From what we were able to find, it’s a way to try to get future audiences to prefer voice actors because it is what they are used to. Time will tell what the voice of Polish programs will sound like in another 15 years. In the meantime, if you would like a glimpse at what lektor-ing is like click here for a bit of a familiar film we captured a few nights ago. You may need to turn your volume up.
I hope that this doesn’t sound like we are complaining about certain aspects of our life. Becky and I are thrilled to have this time alone with PK in her country of birth and get to know and experience some of the culture. It gives us stories and knowledge to share with her about her original home town and country and helps us open our eyes and remember that we are global citizens. One way is not better than the other; they are simply different. This is our life and the little quirks that make it interesting.