I’ve just spent a few weeks in Eastern Europe, and it sure was a learning experience. I’ve discovered over the years that people are people most everywhere you go, with the same needs and desires as anyone else. It’s the traditions and history that make the difference. If there is one thing that will turn off people to an American, it is showing up with the idea that “this is the way we do it in America,” as though that answers all questions. A better way is to consider yourself a guest in their house and act accordingly. Works most every time. A few words of the local language help, too. I’m sorta handicapped there, as Polish is judged one of the hardest languages in the world; I can attest to that. They seem to have a shortage of vowels in Poland. They have words with 15 letters and only two or three vowels. How in the heck would you pronounce that? I’m thinking of drilling a well to produce vowels; they obviously have a drought.
I was sitting in the dining room of the hotel one morning, eating breakfast.
Since I was the only one in the dining room, I figured nobody would mind if I
found the buttons, and tried to watch something on the big screen TV. I dialed
around a while, and came up with a John Wayne movie. That’s better; I can deal
with that. You haven’t watched John Wayne properly until you’ve watched him
dubbed into Polish. Somehow that just takes the macho image to another level. I
laughed so hard, the chef came out of the kitchen to see if I was
Fortunately, a large number of the Poles speak English, having had it in
school. They generally read and write English very well, but do not have a lot
of practice with spoken English. If you think about it, written and spoken
English are two very different animals. We commonly use slang and abbreviations
that don’t translate well to written languages, and are not taught in school.
One example of this: I went down to the bar one night to have a nightcap before
bed. As usually happens, several of the staff would come in and ask me
questions, or get me telling a story so they could hear English spoken. As you
probably have guessed by now, it doesn’t take much to get me into story mode.
After a while, one of the staff asked my about something they didn’t learn in
English class. He said, “Can you teach us to swear in English?” I tried to
explain that I didn’t do much of that myself, but I had heard my brother,
Willard, do it – and the lesson began. They took notes and practiced
pronunciation. I’m glad there were no ladies around. I may be the only English
tutor in Poland who will get your mouth washed out with soap if you pass the
class. Oh, well, just trying to further international
There is one big difference between most of the Eastern European cultures and
the United States. When the Allies won WWII, the soldiers came home with the
attitude that they could do almost anything if they put their minds and backs
into it. During the ’50s and ’60s, we built the largest, strongest and most
successful economy in the world. Then something happened. The parents of the
Baby Boom Generation worked off their tails, trying to make a better life for
their children. And it worked, too. Too well. Now, in America, many people just
sit in front of the TV, all fat and happy, playing games and waiting for the
government to give them something, with no thought as to where that something
comes from, or who had to work to produce it.
The attitude in Eastern Europe is totally different. It has been just a few
years since the area escaped the boot heel of the Soviet Union. They know what
life under communism is like. That is something we should learn here. If we
don’t learn it from history, we’re going to learn it the hard way, and I can
tell you, it’s no fun.
Several people there told me that in the old days, before freedom, there
usually was at least one member of the family whose full-time job it was to
stand in line. There were lines for food, clothes, consumer goods, anything.
There was a 2-year waiting list to buy a ratty Russian car. These cars were
worn out junk before they were delivered, but everybody had a right to one. (GM
or Chrysler anyone?) People who truly understand and value economic freedom
aren’t afraid to work 12 hours or 14 hours a day to make a better life, and
don’t expect anyone to bail them out if they make a mistake – a very refreshing
It was plenty cold for a Southern boy. We went for 10 days, and the temperature
never got above 0. My idiot brother, Willard, had never seen cold like that, so
it was new experience for him. “Hey, watch this, I can make icicles!”
Willard found out about ice fishing, and thought that looked like a pretty good
idea, except for the trolling. He bought all the gear, and went out on the ice.
He started chopping a hole in the ice to fish. A huge voice came from the sky,
“There’s no fish under the ice,” it said. Willard looked around, and moved down
the ice and started chopping a new hole. Once again a voice came from the sky
and said, “There’s no fish under the ice!” That spooked Willard pretty badly
and he looked up and said, “Is that you, Lord?” The voice came back and said,
“No, I’m the manager of the skating rink.” So much for Willard’s ice
The World According to Wayne: Trip to Poland
April 1, 2010