Thursday, June 25, 2015

Do You Know Mickey Mouse?

Gdynia Baltic Sea marina Sails

I am always astonished when I happen to hear such questions while being abroad. Meaning outside Poland. The first time I heard the question about Mickey Mouse when I was visiting Denmark in 1991. It surprised me but it also told me how little the ones who were asking knew about life in Poland.
When I was working as a teacher, my students were part of a pen-pal project: we exchanged letters with schools in other countries. It was all very interesting and, in a way, it helped the kids learn about life and cultures in other parts of the world. The students enjoyed it a lot too. However, they could not understand why their American pals were asking them whether they had television sets at their homes. They were saying 'Miss, why they are asking us such a weird question?'. It was totally incomprehensible to them why should anybody ask about such an obvious and basic thing as television. I told them 'They seem to know very little about life here so simply answer the question and tell the truth - whether you have a TV set at home and how many do you have.' Most of them had more than one.
Texas Hill Country

Not long ago, while in Texas, I was asked by an American lady, a few years older than myself,  how old I was when I had seen an American cartoon for the first time. I cannot remember - it was ages ago. At the time when I was growing up, American (and other foreign) movies were available on Polish TV and at the cinema. From Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy to more modern TV series, films and also current cinema productions. When VHS recorders appeared, mostly everybody who I knew then had one. And I used to visit a local rental video place a few times a week.
Anyway, while talking to the lady, a funny thing - when I said that my favorite cartoon character was Droopy, she did not know who he was.

Some time later, the same person asked me whether I knew Cinderella. Such questions make me want to answer: 'Is it one of your friends?' But I never say it because, most probably, the person who is asking would take my reply seriously and, possibly, would not get I am joking. Besides, I do not mean to be rude. Well, Cinderella is not an American thing only. Actually, the girl and the story has European roots and obviously is well known in Europe.

Gdansk Old Twon

Of course, in the past life in Poland was different and, in many ways, more difficult than in western  Europe or in the USA. Everyday items were not easy to obtain as shops had limited offers. I remember that eg. oranges and tangerines were available twice a year: at Easter and at Christmas. It was another reason to look forward to the holidays when I was a kid.
At my teenage years some foreign goods were available at special stores:

1. A kind of pawn shops which sold brand new things only instead of old and used ones. The items were brought to the country by those who were allowed to travel abroad, mostly due to the jobs they were doing. In my region it was sailors who were delivering the majority of such items.
On the shelves, you could find anything and everything - limited and accidental offer and rather high prices too.

2. Since in local music stores rarely they had something I would find interesting, I often visited small shops in which I could get all kind of music cassettes - newest and older bands. The prices were good so I used to spend almost all my pocket money on those tapes. And had quite a collection. Yes, we did have cassette players and tape recorders :).

Music Cassettes & Computing

Talking about music. The (Polish) radio was also my source of foreign music - the entire records were presented in some programs. From the first to the last track. Without any breaks or commercials in the middle or between them. All sorts of musicians and kinds of modern and older pop and rock music. Although I did not see most of them live, I knew their songs and could record them too. Later, when I started to work and was making my own money, I could also go for a live concert by a favorite (foreign) band.

Some of my old records

While talking to the Poles who left the country about thirty years ago, I have noticed that quite a lot  of them tend to see Poland as it was at the time when they left it. As if all the changes which occurred later, and which I experienced myself never happened. Well, Poland is not the same country as it was 20 or 30+ years ago but they did not have a chance to live through it. That is why (without any offense) I call such persons 'caught in time' - some of them seemed to be quite surprised when I told them I had used to order things at online stores when I lived in Poland. Guess, in the future, I may be 'caught in time' too.

Sopot Poland

Another thing which I find interesting from a language point of view. Some guys (both men and women) who left Poland before the global development of technology, including computers and cell phones, might not to be aware of certain Polish terms connected with it. Or maybe they simply find using English words  more obvious and that is a reason why, while speaking Polish, they use English equivalents only. For example, text/text message is called in Polish 'sms' (sms=short message)/ instead of saying 'text me', the typical Polish way would be 'send me an sms'.

Also, the header of an email which is commonly used in Poland in an informal message is different than the ones used in an English version. I used both forms in practice before I moved to the USA, got used to the popular Polish way, though. But it is never included (not known?) in the messages written in Polish, which I get from my Polish-American friends. The reason I mention it is just to give an example of how a language, influenced by current life matters, develops and changes.


Some time after my arrival in Texas, my husband introduced me to Panna Maria - the first Polish settlement in the State. I had not known about it before so I was very happy we could go there. Panna Maria appeared to be quite a small place. We visited the local store where we met an elderly lady, a descendant of the first settlers. She also showed us the local museum. It was great talking to her. Finally, I did not have to use English to communicate! However, the language (Polish) we were both speaking was a bit different and we had slight difficulties with understanding each other. Anyway, I was really pleased with the visit and I am very  proud and grateful my husband took me there.

Panna Maria, Texas official website

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