Interviewed in Polityka (Oct 3rd), Jacek Strzemieczny of the Civic Education Centre in Warsaw speaks in favour of sending your children to public, socially mixed schools. They prepare you better for life than “prestigious” schools where middle class children interact only with other middle class children. Asked how primary school principals detect the “good” pupils (or rather, winnow out the “bad” ones), he says it’s enough to call a meeting of future pupils’ parents and see if they even bother to come, or ask the children if they have had any contact with English.

 

I’ve commented before on the slavish devotion to the all-conquering English language of Poles – or rather, of some Poles. Some quarters are considerably more skeptical than the – ahem – elite (not that I count Strzemieczny among the slavish). It’s possible even to get the impression that, say, a Michał Witkowski could actually – unthinkably – be mocking devotees of English when he spells out English words phonetically in Margot. “Heloł” and “in czardż,” the loathsome media people say, while Waldemar Mandarynka’s trademark drink is Bacardi “brizzer” and in one place he refers to “Dragi, baraki, ful plazma na bekstejdżu!” It’s all much less reverent than what we meet a few lines down the page. Wrocław (repeatedly referred to by the show biz phoneys in the toe-curling diminutive “Wrocek”) is called “The Meeting Place”; its most prestigious (inevitably) property development is “Sky Tower.” These pretentiously idiotic names are not given phonetically: they’re the genuine products of complex-ridden PR gurus in Polish marketing departments.

 

Marta Dzido, in her Małż (Bivalve (zool.), mussel, clam; or, more likely given the book’s subject matter, short for “małżonek” (spouse)), also betrays less than 110% devotion to the Master Language, frequently defiling it with merely Polish spelling: “de namber ju ar trajink tu ricz…”, “Sajko bicz”, “Majteczki mejd in czajna”. Somehow much more effective than irony quotes, the phonetic spellings suggest a certain disillusionment with the promise of success held out by English boosters. Dzido is hardly a new Sinclair Lewis or John Steinbeck but there is something refreshing about the bucket of cold water she dumps on careerism in thrusting modern Poland. Her narrator is lucky enough to be asked by a newspaper to send 30 (!) ideas for articles to the editor. After a week she tries to get in touch with him:

 

Unfortunately he’s very busy, he has a very important meeting. He has an important board meeting. He’s in a meeting.* He just went out a minute ago. He’s on the phone. The boss can’t talk right now. He’s got a very important visitor. The boss is on a business trip. Unfortunately he can’t take your call. He’s in a meeting. He’s giving an interview. He’s riding his secretary behind closed doors in his office. He’s taking a dump on your thirty ideas.

 

There’s no need to know English. Just know someone.

* Polish seems to have more words for meeting than English does that I can think of off hand.

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