Why did I become Crazy Polish Guy? I’ll try to answer that.
I’m not sure what my earliest memory of something Polish is. Actually, take that back, it had to have been my mom. She came from Poland and had me, so I’m guessing she is my very first experience with Polska.
I learned Polish as I was learning English, which meant I didn’t learn either language very well as a kid. When you hear half Polish, half English phrases like “Jest pora na sleeping,” you don’t quite develop normal language skills. Over time, English naturally took over and Polish stagnated, but even today I still make silly “Poglish” mistakes. For example, my mom would always call lettuce “salad” or a faucet a “sink.” I picked up on that and still sometimes make those mistakes. I did it at work once, embarrassing myself when I called a faucet a sink.
My first trip to Poland was in 1994 when I was three years old. Too bad I was too young to remember anything substantial because it would have been interesting to see Poland just a few years after the fall of communism. I do remember faint images, though.
I vaguely remember a relative carrying me on his shoulders through the streets of Warsaw. Likewise, I remember we stayed at my mom’s friend’s house in the capital and had to climb out the window in the middle of the night for some reason—maybe a fire alarm? Maybe a rush to get free pączki down the street? I don’t remember.
Fast forward a few years to 1997—my second trip to Poland. I was now in kindergarten, and I remember a little bit more. This is the first time I had to consciously suffer the 4.5 hour voyage from the airport in Warsaw to my family’s home in southern Poland. It took ages! I’ve written about how bad Polish roads are sometimes, but this was 1997, making them even worse.
At that time, Poland was still a relatively poor eastern European country. Its economic growth and entrance into the European Union would come several years later. I remember these images of simplicity and, in some cases, poverty. In particular, I remember an elderly woman in a babushka selling apples in a wooded area somewhere outside Warsaw. She was a stereotypical eastern European lady. As a kid, she reminded me of the witch from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, although I now know she was just a poor old soul trying to make a living in those confusing economic times. I think we ended up buying a few of her apples.
Even though I remember more from this trip than my first one, I was still of the age where I didn’t care about much other than finding some Polish equivalent of Coco Puffs cereal in a Polish grocery store for my daily breakfast. I drove my relatives crazy until we found Nesquick brand cereal with the brown rabbit on the box.
Yes, my days of appreciating all that Poland and Polish culture had to offer were still years away, but the building blocks were there.
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