No Expats, Everyone's My Teacher, Buses and Poles Speaking English

I realized that for the first time I am living abroad without an expat community, which is pretty cool. Every other time, whether I was studying (Spain, France, Italy, Israel, Poland) or living my life (Spain and Israel) there were always expats around. This time in Poland I am flying solo and happy to be doing it. Thanks again to the Fellowship Committee at Wellesley College for awarding me the Mary Elvira Stevens Traveling Fellowship and providing me with this fabulous opportunity.

Being immersed in Polish society means more opportunities to practice my Polish. Everyone here is my Polish teacher, whether a close friend or someone in a shop. If I grit my teeth and plunge in with my less-than-perfect Polish I have the opportunity to learn something. Many are gracious, willing teachers. Some are not. Some get that I really want to speak in Polish, as hard as that is at times (And I really appreciate those that wait patiently while I look for the right words). Some don’t have the patience and switch to English.. Some don’t have the patience or the English. Yesterday I went to the PLAY store. PLAY is the company that I have my phone plan with. So I went into the store to ask some questions (why was I using so much cellular data, why did some texts go through while others did not, etc…). First the woman said she did not understand what the phone said because it was in English. Then I wanted to ask her a question about the SMSs and why only some went through. I know that the iPhone messages are blue and the others green and it was hard for me to explain in Polish without just saying, “the blue ones and the green ones.” She started rolling her eyes and practically mimicking me and said she did not understand. I said, “I don’t think Pani (formal form in Polish) wants to understand.” To my American ear it’s so funny that you can use this formal form to a young woman who is half your age and be complaining, but still be technically polite!

My real teacher, Magda, is great. Turns out she was my teacher 11 years ago when I was here and through happenstance we reconnected. She is a great teacher. I take the bus a half hour to her place. Two of the stops on the way to her place are Sympatyczna and Fantastyczna—nice, or likeable and fantastic! A lot of people got off at Fantastic tonight. I am proud of having mastered public transportation, as that is not my forté. I went to a kiosk buy the bus tickets and bought 20 at one fell swoop (this was before I learned there’s an app that allows you to buy the tickets online), and the woman at the store was incredulous: “You want 20?!” I guess no one had ever bought 20 tickets at once before, though I don’t know why. If you use paper tickets why would you want to have to buy them each time?

I am doing an Polish-English exchange with a woman at Brama Grodzka and also doing English conversation with a friend of mine. I am also paying attention to the kind of mistakes Poles make in English*. Here are some common ones:

  1. Pronouncing letters that should not be pronounced. Examples: AnsWer; BomBing; CasTle.

  2. Saying “we” when it should be “I” if the speaker did something with one other person. Let’s say Adam went to the movies with Dorota. Instead of saying, “I went to the movies with Dorota,” Adam will say, “We went to the movies with Dorota.” I imagine I make the opposite mistake in Polish!

  3. Overuse of the present progressive/using it where the simple present should be used, like when there is a habitual actual. Instead of, “Some people visit Auschwitz every year,” they say, “Some people are visiting Auschwitz every year.”

  4. Academical for Academic. (Not recognizing that Academic is both a noun and an adjective). And Economical for Economic.

    If you are still here you are a word nerd just like me!!! Yay us!

    *Please note that whatever mistakes they make, all my friends’ English is way better than my Polish, though I am working to close the gap!