Monday, January 9, 2012

Pięć Dwa Dębiec immitates life (or vice versa?)

I was recently listening to some polish hip-hop and was reminded of this incident I had on a subway in Berlin.  I was riding with a female friend who was studying there on a semester abroad and had learned a fair amount of German.  She is very blond and was dressing like the locals (sort of) so she could easily be mistaken for a German. 

A small group gets on together and they're chatting away.  I only remember two of them: a man and a woman.  The man was talking to the group and I remember the woman was there because he was talking about her and acting very condescending about her.  He reached across to brush her chin a couple of times to emphasize something.  She was obviously uncomfortable with the exchange but it didn't seem to bother him.  They were all Poles, though the man had apparently emigrated to Germany a while back and maybe he was showing the group around.  I don't really know.  After a while he started talking trash about Germans and that's where we come in. 

Neither of us had said a word, we were just looking around.  My friend must have made the mistake of acknowledging them (smiling or something like that) and the man assumed we were German.  He started in talking trash about us, in Polish of course.  Polish insults are very colorful, but I can't remember his words (we were wearing glasses, something about four-eyes and smiling like idiots, etc...).  My friend had no clue what the man said but I was offended.  I didn't really want to get into a confrontation with the guy so it took me a moment to come up with something to say. 

After a leisurely delay he was still going on about us and we were going to get off soon so I leaned over to him and said "Prosze pana, przynajmniej jeden z nas jest Polakiem."/"excuse me sir, but at least one of us is a Pole").  I tried to keep as much of an informative and relaxed tone as possible.  The color drained out of his face and he started apologizing a mile a minute.  After a while the train stopped at our station and my friend and I got off.  On our way out the man was still apologizing profusely and I was enjoying myself immensely. 

I left Poland quite young and ignorant of the culture so it was only recently that I realized that calling someone a German "Niemiec" is a fairly crude insult.  I can see that calling a Pole a German on the subway without knowing who they were would be an occasion for embarrassment and maybe a little fear.  The incident still makes me smile.

Figure 1: Nie jestem Niemcem

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