Say what you will, but the Poles are taking over the world, and we’re going to achieve it by means of establishing a clever tacit rapport with East Asia (I say East Asia and not just China because this story also includes Taiwan – and whatever the CPR’s opinion on the subject, it well bloody IS a different country!)*. Slowly, subtly, unnoticeably, yet ever so staunchly, we infiltrate Asian cities and plant the seeds of Polish culture and economy in this faraway land. Below is a handful of examples.
1. You’re buying some Carlo Rossi (an American wine, let me remind you!) in a 7-11, you look at the label – and it’s in Polish! “Czerwone wino wytrawne z Kalifornii”.
2. You go to a posters shop to deck out your dingy room – and there’s an original poster of a 70’s movie about Picasso – made by Lodzka Wytwornia Filmowa.
3. You check in an empty hostel in an empty New Zealand town – and your Taiwanese roommate turns out not only to live one street away from you in Taipei, but also to know the same Polish people.
4. You want to know if you can buy a train ticket in the automatic ticket booth at the Shanghai railway station using your foreign passport, so you ask the white guy that’s standing right next to you. He looks at the passport with the Crowned Eagle in your hand and says in Polish: “Uhm, I think we might as well speak in our native tongue”.
5. You join a random table in a Hangzhou pub and it turns out that the person you’re talking to has never met any Polish people – except for one, who happens to be their flatmate.
6. You start goofing around with a German girl to the tune of “YMCA” – the next minute she’s dragging you to her table to meet her Polish classmate.
7. Most unexpectedly: you prowl your kitchen cupboards in a vain hope of finding something edible that doesn’t include soy or MSG, you open a forgotten drawer and you see this:
A yelp of joy, you grab the jar and hold it like the Holy Grail. Yes, thank you, French flatmate! Nutella! From Ferrero! The one thing the Italians have got right since the Renaissance! …But wait, have they? Your eyes rest on the label:
8. You go to celebrate a friend’s birthday and after a few hours realise that someone from the other end of the table is going “Cześć” (Hi!) at you. Your jaw drops and you’re trying to figure out what business does some Chinese guy have to speak your language, when the woman behind him sticks out her head and – bang!, it’s his Polish wife. Bonus point: in a few weeks they’re moving from the other side of the city not just to my hood, not just to my street – to my housing estate!
I mean… there can’t be more than 20 or 30 of us in this 8 million city (I know, they told me at the consulate) – and yet somehow we seem to be everywhere.
There goes my sense of uniqueness…
But that’s just the expat world and these tend to be small. What about the locals? They barely know there is such a place as Poland. If you chance upon someone informed, you’ll get 5 minutes of brow-knitting and then an uncertain: “…Is that where Chopin comes from?” More likely, however, is that the conversation will go along these lines:
C (Chinese): You from America?
P (Polish): No, from Poland.
C: … [awkward look]
P: You know, in Europe.
C: [visibly relaxing] Aaah! [another second] So which European country is Poland in?
P: … [crushed/exasperated]
CSF (C’s Smarter Friend): In the Polish country, you idiot!!!
And finally, to finish it off:
9. You sit in a classroom and a first-year student you’ve never seen comes over.
S: Sorry, could you tell me how to pronounce this word? I can’t seem to be able to find it.
Me: Aaah, right, that’s because it’s German and it’s a proper name.
S: Really? No wonder it looks so strange!
Me: Yes, German is a bit difficult. This is how you say it: [doing my best to remember the German rules of pronunciation].
S: Cool! So are you from Germany?
Me: No, from Poland.
S: [eyes suddenly shining] No way! In that case, could you also help me with this word? [shows me a sheet of paper]
Me: [jaw dropping, eyes popping out]
The sheet says “Krzywy Domek” – The Crooked House.
S: Yeah, I’m preparing a speech about it for my architecture class…
For your information: the Krzywy Domek, quaint as it is, is NOT a major landmark of Polish architecture. Mr Gaudi had nothing to do with it and it does not attract crowds of tourists (apart from those who pass it on their way from the hotel to the beach or from the beach to a bar, but that’s just because it’s located on the major promenade of a famous Polish seaside resort).
So WHAT the HECK is going ON here?!
Conspiracy. A Polish conspiracy, I tell you.
*Also by marrying off our womenfolk to the British. Have you noticed that wherever you go in the Western world, everyone has a friend who dates or used to date a Polish girl?