There is the North Pole and the South Pole. All the other Poles are in London!

Posts tagged ‘cross-culture’

Don’t panic – I’m from Poland….

There is the North Pole, the South Pole… and all the other Poles are in London!

Two years ago, while on my Erasmus exchange at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University (the mothership!) I met a Black British boy, the first Londoner I knew, whom I tried hard to impress. The theme was “The White Party” (I kid you not), and he looked especially delicious in his white shirt and mischievous grey hat. So I told him the above joke – and he didn’t laugh. It told me something that I chose to ignore.

Fast forward a year and a half – in June 2012 I left Poland with the intention of moving Elsewhere, on semi-permanent basis, because I did not like it much there – or rather, I did not much like Polish people. In the light of this, coming to London might not have been an especially bright idea. Yet London was to me this epitome of international society, where – I fancied – me being Polish would be something of no consequence. It would not matter at all. Nowadays I consider myself well-rid of the delusion.

Don’t get me wrong, I love London. I do. Coming here a year ago was a good decision – it was a year of new experiences and learning. I performed in industry showcases, I wrote and showed off a monologue “Immaculate conception”, blissfully unaware – and uncaring! – of the play of a similar title (to be sure, my monologue does not feature Lucifer and does feature mutated GMO sperm, so I can still consider myself original). I fell in love, shacked up, fell out of love, wrote and performed a monologue about it, fell back in love (sort of) and in general broadened my horizons. What I did not do is: I did not sort out my relationship with my home country. I did not become a citizen of the world – instead, I’m more Polish than ever.

In Poland, London is jokingly called “The London District”, in addition to the sixteen which are situated within the actual borders of the country. Despite avoiding Polish events, not hanging out with Polish people overly much and (never!) dating Polish men (I’m allergic, I break out in a rash), I found myself perceived by my nationality. Vodka, kielbasa and pierogi seemed to dictate my life, mocking me from the windows of Polish delicatessen. I had an accent, an odd surname I grew accustomed to spelling (British readers, how would you pronounce “Suszek”?) and a number of eerily similar conversations.

– So you’re Polish? My word, there is so many of you! Ahahahahaha!
– Do you know, you can actually write! And you’re Polish!
– It is very cold in there, is it not? You brought bad weather to London! Hahaha!
– Where are you from, Warsaw or Cracow?

Tired of explaining Polish seasons (most of the time we have nicer weather than London, which vacillates between “cloudy”, “drizzle” and “fully-fledged rain” – my first summer in the UK was a surreal one-day experience), Polish geography (extending beyond Warsaw and Cracow) and the curious phenomenon of being a writer despite writing in a second language (because that has never happened in the history of literature), I grew bitter, exasperated, slightly weary of the British habit of withholding emotion and couching it in something castrated into politeness (it’s catching, too). The high point came when I was working as a promotional staff member of a photography studio that offered costumes. Clad in a Victorian dress, armed in a hand-held fan of leaflets, I was approached by a gentleman inquiring:

– Are you meant to be a courtly lady?

Slightly baffled, I replied in affirmative, referencing my very obvious costume. At that, he exclaimed:

– But you can’t be a courtly lady. You’re Polish. They should have gotten a real courtly lady.

I consider this a nadir of my denial, which – fear not – is now over. Now, in true AA fashion, I raise my hand. Hi! My name is Rita, and I am Polish. Don’t judge me on it…. much.