No Polish, Please

European Film Awards
European Film Awards

The European Film Academy Awards certainly don’t aspire to be anything like the Oscars. And they certainly aren’t. Once again, I had the pleasure of taking part in the event, this time in the Rhineland city of Bochum in the industrial settings of the Jahrhunderthalle. Although this post is not about my adventures swanking about with European film’s nobs and toffs, it does nicely set the scene for something which not only irked me but downright riled me.

Beautiful Düsseldorf
Beautiful Düsseldorf

I arrived in Germany on Friday afternoon and left Düsseldorf’s shiny new airport by a science-fiction-like shuttle service which looks something like a cross between an amusement park ride and a whizzing Star Trek space pod. Düsseldorf is a modern city slap bang in the centre of the sprawling Ruhr metropolis. The shuttle took me to the station and from there I caught the train to Bochum.

Multicultural Germany
Multicultural Germany

One of the many things that always strikes me about Germany is its ethnic mix, the cultural crucible that is so apparent in all of its urban centres. Waiting for the train I heard Turkish, Greek, a Slav language (perhaps Serbian?) and Arabic, to name but a few. As much as I strained my ears, however, not once did I hear Polish, although I could have sworn that many of the Rhineland denizens looked decidedly Pole-like.

No Poland
No Poland

I got to the the hotel. I smiled at the young blonde at the desk, the letters on her name tag shouted back at me: “Walczak”. “Are you Polish?” I enquired. “Half-Polish,” she said. She spoke a little Polish, had even been to Poland and Warsaw but conceded that Poland just wasn’t her cup of tea. It seemed a strange answer as it sounded more like an excuse.

Cleaning Away Language
Cleaning Away Language

A little later that day I heard the hotel cleaning ladies happily chirping away in Polish as I left my room for a wander. They were thrilled to hear me speak Polish and just as excited to talk to me about my adventures with the European Film Academy. We took the lift together down to the reception but no sooner did they spot reception than they reverted to a thickly-accented German. “Odd,” I thought.

Unwanted Gastarbeiter
Unwanted Gastarbeiter

This pattern kept repeating itself with Polish names and Polish people seemingly everywhere, yet every time they used Polish it seemed limited, stunted or somehow ‘not right’. The only real explanation seems to be the German attitude to the use of Polish. To my mind, Germany’s approach to the native tongues of ‘Gastarbeiter’, especially Polish ones, is nigh on fascist, with no real sense of European solidarity, something which the Germans, allegedly, pride themselves on.

Looking From Afar
Looking From Afar

This fact seemed all the more ironic when I stood, wine glass in hand (looking extremely suave in my dinner jacket), watching Europe’s top filmmakers, producers and actors, most of them German (due to the location of the event), clap, cheer and ‘bravo’ Andrzej Wajda, Krystyna Janda, Maciej Stuhr and Marcel Lozinski during the film awards ceremony. Is pluralism really only an elitist idea or is it an elistist cover-up?


23 thoughts on “No Polish, Please

  1. Two explanations (mind you this is a guess as I have not been in Germany for years), pluralism is just a slogan, the Germans still think they are the master race especially when it comes to the Poles. The Poles sadly let them think like that with our ingrained inferiority complex. One feeds the other.

  2. Your average German probably does look down on Poles, just as a lot of Poles look down on just about anyone who isn’t Polish.

    However, I don’t see the problem here. Poles living in Germany make an effort to speak German? Why not?

    In the UK they have had to translate road signs and other public information into ranging from Polish to Urdu.

    Settling into a new country is a 2-way street: Tolerance and understanding from the hosts, an effort from the immigrant to learn the language and principal customs.

    1. You probably should qualify the looking down comment to those that come from the East and South of Poland. We believe that Europe end on the Eastern Polish border. Germans think its on their Eastern border, the French the same.

      One can assimilate while still keeping ones national identity. Nothing wrong with speaking Polish in Germany. And nothing wrong with speaking German. But attitudes matter. And the Germans do not have the best attitudes towards their Eastern neighbours.

  3. The problem is the attitude of certain countries to immigrants. You can’t/shouldn’t force people to assimilate. They should ‘choice’ to assimilate. Our role as natives is to help (not pressure) them in this process.

  4. This reminds me of a story from a couple of years ago– the cheap and cheerless German supermarket chain Lidl were reprimanded for spying on their staff using private detectives.

    The spooks reported on workers’ habits and friends outside work, thier tatoos and even how often they went to the toilet. In one report, Lidl were warned that 2 workers were speaking Polish ‘in earshot of customers’. So you probably are right when it comes to the cleaning ladies suddenly switching to German when they got out the lift.

    As for the others you mention in the piece, there could be various reasons why they are reluctant to speak Polish. Perhaps they are Germans of Polish descent or they have lived in Germany so long that they feel more comfortable speaking German. It sounds strange but I once lived in Spain for a year with virtually no contact with English and it took me a couple of days to get used to speaking it again when I got back to the UK. Multiply that by 20 or 30….

  5. 🙂 I would say it is not about nationality, but people and the way they were brought up by their parents,…or simply lack of knowledge and being dumb. Not long time ago I was joking about being Santa Claus helper to ‘my British mate’. In reply I got something kind of: ‘ I did not know that Santa is exploiting cheap labour’. Joke or simply bad sense of humour…??? I will never know; surely it drove me extremely mad(+my bad temper looolll) so my reply was: ‘ Yes he does employe British team indeed to clean his loo. Fat guy takes a lot of detox and then has diarrhoea; so he need special British team to clean the ‘stinky’ problem’ ( who went more nationalistic here btw- another matter lol 😉 ). The I cannot and I do not want to judge all Brits on the basis of one stupid jerk. I adore my Brits friends and I’m really happy to have them in my life. Lav ya guys.
    PS. I’m faithful fan of Mr Prof Uzar loolll- brilliant articule as usual 😉

  6. if it is the case, can we add also young frustrated British people? They all think ‘Eastern Europeans’ take their jobs and that we caused credit crunch; while it is not our fault we are just better qualified. In turn they offense us very often by claiming all w can do is ‘making a coffee’ while very often we have better job positions and better salaries than they have.

    piece of conversation between two young Brits:

    -Nothing but red!

    -English breakfast!

    -Gingerbread latte is pretty all-redlicious

    -When they gave it to you, did you go “ye-yeeeaaaaahhh”

    -No I swore at them for being slow eastern europeans…sorry…customer service workers. I’ve got a train to catch dammit. Then I tucked my copy of the Times under my arm and hoisted my red bag over my shoulder. ‘Ahright guys?’


  7. Hmmm ? I’m puzzled… used to switch to English in a meeting (including coffe-machine meeting) just because one person couldn’t understand French; felt it was just being polite… here in the shops, I (try to) translate in my (very approximate) Polish what my son says in French to salespersons so that they don’t feel excluded or, worse, mocked at … language switching to be understood, as far as its possible, seems a mere courtesy matter. Speaking the usual local language in a public area/exchange is not forced assimilation…
    Still, for any despising behavior, my opinion is merciless ! … Even when it comes from Czarny Kot… I would precise that Frenchs usually think that Europe ends at France’s western border, named Atlantic ocean, because they all study basic geography; often they have never been abroad, but they truly understand it exists, just because in any tiny-little-ridiculously small town, somebody came and settled from another European (or not) country. Example, in the 1970′ in a 130 inhabitants town, were 2 families from Poland, a woman from Slovakia married to a French guy, the school teacher being married to a Czech; the children went to bigger towns for work and the elderly died, the school teacher moved to a better position; nowadays, in this village are living English, Dutch and Romanian families and there’s only 100 people left.
    I don’t think they are minorities in this place, they’re migrants, just as I’m here in Poland : trying to get along with the people living in the place it happens that I live in now isn’t an identity denial, it’s an adaptation… and a two-way wealth transfer.
    Still, it’s true that due to jealousy, envy (…)lots of racist behaviors remains. The key is education to communication and tolerance.

    1. This is all very complicated and I’ve got lost in my own post. Yes, racism exists and I suppose I wouldn’t want to name a particular race for being overly anti-Polish (although I did so in my post) but there are always two sides to every story (as Phil Collins might say).
      Anti-Polish feeling in England is not like that in Germany. It’s a generalisation, I know, but many of the Poles in England are a disgrace, and the English government can’t be accused of not helping its immigrant populations. This is not true of the situation in Germany where the Poles are more assimilated, and the government does little to help the Polish population.

  8. I have a five year experience in living in US as an student. Mr. Uzar is entirely correct saying that Poles abroad should assimilate – I would add unless they are someone special, someone to look up to and someone able to contribute to the society.
    Let’s be honest. Emigrants are not the blossom of Polish youth. They left Poland for many bizzare reasons although they will always have an excuse suiting them.
    So it is as simple as this and has nothing to do with pluralism in my opinion.

  9. Polish should make efforts to learn the language of the country they live in, but no one should ever forbid them to speak Polish. Freedom is one of the most important things to Polish people, they will never allow anybody to take it away.

  10. The Polish wanted capitalism so much in 1987, remember Maggie Thacther in a “nikita” fur hat and full mink (probably with just knickers on underneath!)being treated like a superstar by the public in November 1987 on alje Jeruszkiego….we’ll now you’ve got it so why not take that wretched tart there back with you too….
    Are Vietnamese, Belorussians and Kazakhs welcome in Poland like in the 1980’s?

    1. Yes we wanted free market reforms because communism was killing us and economicly Poland would fall either way. But do we have it now? Do you think Polish would emigrate in millions if they would have that real free market, freedom, low taxes and wealthy they dreamed about? No. And they even lost what they had(hiperinflation, denomination of currency). They don’t have it and they emigrate to the countries where they can find it! Poland after 1989 went wrong way letting foreighners take over our economy and markets before our companies could grow and be strong enough to compete on free market we also left east markets for West. Our capitalism is still in big part socialistic/overregulated, our law is bad, administration is bigger every year because of EU stupid laws too, taxes are very high and national debt growing dramaticly. It is not an image of paradice Polish very fed before communism end or joing EU and this is not the Europe we wanted to join.

      This is the only reason why Polish still have complex of WEST which left us in WWII and left us under communistic occupation, complex of being worse than Germans who started war, half-destroyed our nation, humiliated us and in the end loosing they actually won it becoming richest country in Europe now, complex of being worse than Russians who with their Evil Empire (strengthened by help of WEST) occupated and sovietised us. If you don’t have great TODAY (we hadn’t no real new start as after WW I – “new” Poland was created on base of imposed treachery agreement between postcommunistic elites and new elites they chosen, between bleached executioners and traitors of “revolution” – more less the same scenario had place in all “colonies” of falling CCCP creating new postcommunistic elites and as planned new post communistic order) and don’t see greater FUTURE you live with PAST. That’s obvious. And since there is not much hope for changes here (Polish nation is dying and polish economy is going to next too) it won’t change quickly too.

      Howcome Polish could be happy to have immigration of extremely different culture and mentality like Arabic, Muslim(Chechens) or even Asians like Vietnamese. More natural for country is to open itself for a similar imigration – in polish case open for slavic imigration from Ukraine, Belarus.
      Since Poland is a crippled country which even can’t help come back Polish from other countries like that Khazakhstan than how could it deal with integration of much more distant nationalities?
      Polish slowly loose what was most precious – the national tolerance and hospitality in blood which we could be proud of in times of multicultural Polish Kingdom, ! Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and II Polish Republic (Rzeczpospolita). Polish Immigration will help us regain it while natives in Poland will still stay who they are living in polish homogenic monoculture. But Is it bad to stay Polish and keep own identity? It has some benefits for the nation too.
      I have other question. Are Russians more welcome in Poland anno 2012 than in 1980’s or especially 1989? 😉

  11. The reason why Poles don’t speak Polish abroad is because they think that if they speak the local language they will fit in. Many of us want to be accepted by the locals and often they succeed with it. Unfortunately also often after putting a lot of effort in learning the language and culture of other countries eventually we learn that we’re inferior because we’re Polish. There are many racist people in Europe but it’s a different type of racism that the racism existing in Poland – we’ve never been colonialists, nazis and never were killing people on racist basis, therefore the whole idea of racism is sometimes quite vague for some of us. In Poland you won’t be treated different because you’re black, gay, transsexual or whatever. There are some people who are generally rude to everybody, not only minorities – and those despite being equally rude towards the rest of the society are being called racists. There are no such ideas like “you’re worse because you’re different”. I think this way of thinking is almost non-existent in Poland. Unfortunately I’m afraid that racism in some other countries of Europe means something different – considering other people, like for example Poles, as the ones who are really worse than natives.
    I think that this is the general feeling which many Poles have abroad, that they’re sometimes despised and disliked because they’re Poles (actually it’s an often disputed issue in Poland). And that’s probably the main reason why those who went abroad to stay there or to live for a longer time usually try very hard to fit in and hope to be accepted by something they do not fully understand.

    1. “The reason why Poles don’t speak Polish abroad is because they think that if they speak the local language they will fit in.”
      That is a rather bizarre thing to say.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s