Fire, fire! Oh don’t worry it’s only the Babcia downstairs!

It was Saturday evening a few weeks ago and I had been out frequenting my favourite bar in Krakow. After several alcoholic beverages and extensive conversations with fellow expats, friends and the bar staff I decided to call it a night at a very healthy 12am (ish).

I made my way across the Rynek and headed for ul. Szewska before getting to my apartment. On the way across the Rynek I could hear some emergency services sirens in the direction I was heading, but didn’t take much notice as having grown up in London, they are not such a rarity to me. They are quite common place in Krakow too, to be honest, so no one really pays much attention to them. However, as I slowly stumbled closer to my street, I could see the distinctive sight of the blue flashing lights of the emergency services. Again, to begin with, little alarm or worry really came over me as I remember thinking it was probably a British stag group getting themselves arrested for some drunken antics in crazy cartoon costumes. However, as I got to my buidling I noticed that it was in fact the “Straz” (Fire Brigade), and they were in fact outside my building!

Ok, so did I leave the oven on? Errr, no as it’s barely been turned on since I moved in due to my lack of motivation to cook and desire to not kill myself through food poisoning! How about the electric radiator? No, couldn’t be. It had been very warm the previous few days, so I’d deliberately turned off all the heating. Maybe it was the iron? Yes, I’m a man and I know how to iron! Check me out! However, I knew I’d left that on a couple of times, being distracted by the hurry to get to work or for a drink.

Outside the building was my neighbour from across the hall, who I’d previously only really said “Dzien dobry” to, so now was the time to see how far my Polish would stretch and find out when I could inspect the devistation of my burnt apartment.

“Dzien dobry” I say.

“Hello” she says, “you speak English don’t you?”.

Well that’s just great, I can’t even get past a basic hello without being spotted as a foreigner! Bugger! So much for practicing my Polish! “Yes, I do. So what’s going on? Is it my apartment?”

“Oh no, don’t worry it’s not yours it’s the one below us. There is an elderly woman living there and we smelt and saw smoke coming from her apartment so we called the Straz. But she won’t open the door for them. She’s refusing to let anyone in to check or to put the fire out! She reckons it the Communists coming for her or something?!”

“Oh dear! That’s not good. When do you think we’ll be able to go back in then?”

“Well, we’re waiting for her husband to arrive so that he can open the door and let them in. We’ve been waiting about 15 minutes for him, and apparently he was at least 30 minutes away. Hopefully shouldn’t be too long though.”

Then a few minutes later the husband arrives and around 20 fire officers and police officers file through behind him into the building to inspect the damage of what the woman has done to her apartment. Apparently, she’d decided to cook some toast and had forgotten about it. For some reason, the sight and smell of the smoke didn’t seem to concern her and she was more worried about making sure that the large group of men outside her door didn’t get in!

The whole saga of getting things sorted lastest a good couple of hours as she continued to shout and scream at the various people trying to help her. Eventually the fire engines drove off at about 2 or 3am, by which time I was suitably sobre from the evenings drinking session and felt rather sick from the distinctive smell of burnt toast lingering in the air.

Quite an interesting situation and left me very cautious of turning everything off before I leave my apartment and often find myself going back in 3 times after I’ve left to double and triple check that I have in fact turned them off.



May 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm 1 comment

The wonders of the printed press!

The all new and improved Krakow Post logo!

This week saw the launch of my company’s new monthly newspaper, Krakow Post. A monthly English newspaper for Krakow. It was once a weekly newspaper run by another group, but it failed to take off for them. We decided we’d give it a shot and somehow managed to put together a new design with articles, photos, adverts etc in two weeks. Quite a feat in our eyes! The design is fresh, and the content is written by native English journalists and it’s fair to say that it’s pretty damn good, although I am of course biased.

We printed on Thursday afternoon, and I was fortunate enough to go with our MD and Graphic Designer to watch the first copies roll off the press. It was quite something seeing this machine, the size of more than 2 double-decker buses, on full throttle churning out at least 20 copies a second! It took at least 8 men to work the monster, with each of them taking their particular responsibility very seriously (even the old guy who just put a piece of packaging paper on top of finished bundles!). The precision and detail they worked out was amazing, and the sense of achievement and pride when we saw our finished publication in front of us was immense! I do wonder though where the phrase “hot off the press” comes from as when the papers came of this particular press they were definitely not hot, but in fact rather damp from the ink!

So we loaded up the Range Rover with as many bundles we could manage and hit the streets of Krakow with bags of newspapers, delivering allocations to every bar, pub, club, restaurant, hotel, hostel, cafe and any other place where humans frequent. The response from people was fantastic. Offer a free English publication and people love it! If they were English they were glad to find something about local news in their own language and if they were foreign or Polish they were delighted to find something that they could use to test their English!

It struck me today though, that the concept of a free newspaper is still a novelty to many people. Spending several hours walking the streets handing the newspaper to anyone and everyone I walked passed many were surprised that it was for free. English speaking tourists were surprised when I spoke to them in English and then offered them a free English publication in the depths of Eastern Europe.  The Poles were equally surprised but as soon as they knew it was free, it didn’t matter that it was in English. It sometimes amazes me how people will take anything if it is for free, even if they won’t use it or in this case be able to understand it.

So after today’s experiences, in the crowds that had gathered in Krakow for the 3rd May Constitution celebrations, I’m certain that we have a success on our hands, but am I going to be the only one walking round the main square handing them out on weekends? I hope not!

May 3, 2008 at 10:51 pm 1 comment

The battle with the Polish language – Part I

When you’ve been here for over 3 months you start to feel the need to improve your Polish at a faster rate than learning just one word every other day! Especially when they are words that are not particularly useful, such as”umova” (contract) or “faktury” (invoice) – wonderful phrases from the world of work but hardly the sort of vocabulary you need to have a conversation with a friend in a bar or restaurant!

When I first came to Krakow, I was told that I would have a slight advantage over other native English-speakers due to the fact that I used to speak Polish quite well, at least until the age of 5. This means that my pronunciation is actually quite good and I can sound Polish, but just not know what I’m saying as my vocab and grammar are non-exsistent! This is due to the fact that as a child, Polish was not spoken at home (my mother was able to speak it but my father is Irish so didn’t understand a word!) and I was never sent to the obligatory Saturday school my skills deminished. Although I was told this would be an advantage, there are occasions when it can cause a few problems. For instance, whilst visiting Krakow last year, I was walking down Grodzka street and was stopped by an elderly Polish gentleman. With a map in his hand I made an educated guess that he wanted directions. Being the kind-hearted guy that I am, I of course wanted to help, but don’t know my left from my right (in Polish), so he probably would have ended up in outer Mongolia if he’d listened to me. Therefore, I opted to apologise and say “I’m sorry sir, but I don’t speak Polish.” Simple enough right? Well, not when you say it in Polish with an accent that makes you sound like a native Pole, because you then end up with a very bemused elderly gentleman in front of you saying “Yes you do! You just did!” (of course again in Polish!). Being able to understand that much of what he was saying, I quickly replied again with the same sentence, in Polish, sounding like a local! Not a good idea it turned out! This poor guy was so convinced that I was Polish based on my grasp of this one sentence, he quickly started swearing and shouting expletives at me accompanied by the usual hand gestures which are known in all languages! He walked off, extremely angry thinking that he thought he had been the butt of some foolish young person’s joke, and leaving me with a large group of passers-by wondering what it was that I said to him to get such a reaction from him!

Moral of the story… when I don’t know the answer in Polish, simply reply in the strongest possible London accent and say in English… “sorry mate, but I don’t know that lingo!”

April 29, 2008 at 4:58 pm 1 comment

Hello cyber-world!

Ok, so having been inspired by a great blogger and friend, I’ve decided to give this a go myself! The aim? No idea! I’ll probably just make it up as I go along, but I’m sure I’ll include all the highs, lows and everything in between that I exprience in my new life in the great country that is Poland! Hopefully, I’ll be organised and disciplined enough to update it relatively regularly, but I make no promises!

April 20, 2008 at 10:49 pm Leave a comment

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