Up until two years ago I had no idea that so many polish people were in Ireland. I think I was in living on the moon. There's polish shops, polish newspapers, polish restaurants, polish signs in the banks, polish adds in the streets. An estimated 300.000 polish people are currently living and working across the country.
And I had no clue! Typical.
But anyway, when this book came out, it looked too funny not to give it a try. And it was, funny. Without being disrespectful or snobbish. No, this guy really loved Poland, so much that he stayed there for five years!
Tom Galvin went to Poland in the mid '90s to teach English in a State School for a year, and he ended up staying for four more, and marrying a polish woman in the meantime. So, it's less of a "travel" writing book, and more of a "stay-and-mingle-with-the-locals" kind of book. Which is essentially what I did. I meant to come to Ireland for a year, and I'm still here after four...
What I liked most about this book was its readability. I didn't expect a non-fiction book, about someone living abroad for few years, to be gripping. But it mostly was. It was a very quick and enjoyable read, which I would definitely recommend, even if you don't plan to travel to Poland anytime soon.
Some of the funniest parts were at the beginning, during his acclimatization stage, where he describes his struggling attempts to:
- buy food
- enjoy a cooked polish meal in a restaurant.
- hide empty bottles of beer in his coat.
- avoid the canteen meals.
One of my favourite part was his description of the butchers in his town: Butcher Nice, Butcher Nasty, Butcher Nervy and Butcher Nephritis. All women and all scary, except for Butcher Nice, of course. Here are my highlights:
Butcher Nasty is to animals what Satan in to God-fearing Christians. Mean and tight and with a stare that would stop a cuckoo emerging from its clock, she cuts cold meats using cheese-wire and a ruler.
Butcher Nervy is a schizophrenic. Although she works alone, I distinctly heard her talking to her 'assistant' one day when I asked for a pound of sausages...The type of character that would have floated around the mind of Hitchcock...
Butcher Nephritis's shop looks and smell like a leper's graveyard. But Butcher Nephritis is really a kind old soul, a typical country butcher, and perhaps only for this have the tools of her trade not been confiscated and herself locked away in a walk-in freezer for a minimum sentence of ten years.
I also laughed out loud when I read about his first night out in a proper restaurant:
The second course is "tatar", a serious disappointment, having starved all day for it. Tatar, I'm told proudly, is a typical 'delicacy', consisting of raw, minced beef mashed with raw onion and crowned with the yoke of a raw egg. It strikes the fear of God in me. I later learned that God was right to have struck his fear in me, as I'm told of a man who got a tapeworm from the stuff.
But the best part must be the "customised" buses. I don't know if they still exist,but I wish I could go to Poland just to experience a ride on them:D
Unlike most public transport systems, in which a driver might travel different routes and on different buses, Polish drivers usually have the one bus for the duration of their careers. They tend to customise it according to their tastes, with stickers, pendants, crosses, picture of Jesus and the Pope, and of course, their own stereo and music collection. In the majority of cases, the music is a brand known as "Disco Polo", a poorly produced imitation of nineties continental disco with a hint of Polish folk thrown in. The result is unsettling.
Now, except for the customised buses, I'm not sure I would want to spend such a long time in east Poland as Tom Galvin did (you see, now I even know that the west of Poland is reacher than the east!). I understand now why so people left as soon as they could. It didn't sound like a place that offered a future for young people,especially in the rural areas. But I really wish one day to go as a tourist, at least now I have a slight idea of what to expect!