I’m in Poland now

I’m in Poland now; have been here since late August. While in Finland, I was kind of mum about what university I was in, exactly; this was mostly just paranoia.

Now, since this city has several universities in which mathematics is done, and I think several other institutions of the same sort, not all of them lodges of the Society of Unaussprechliche Geheimnis Eulers, I think I’m willing to say I’m in Warsaw.

Because, uh, if I didn’t say that, blogging about my daily life here would be kind of difficult IGNORE THE HUGE LANDMARK AT THE BACK OF THIS PHOTO.

(What I’m thinking of when I say “huge landmark” is the Palace of Culture and Science, which is both huge, a landmark, and a huge landmark. Seriously, when you see it over the trees from the park next to it, you think “Oh, that’s just some clock tower”, and then you wonder how that clocktower starts twenty stories up.)

Warsaw is so far a nice place and the Polish people are nice and friendly. If they have been anything else, then I have not noticed because I don’t speak Polish. I’m not yet sure if I’m going to change this; I obviously know the polite nothings, dzien dobry and all that.

I’ll be here for a year at least. More if I feel like it and can find funding, or it they start finding the bodies of those hitchhikers back in Finland.

*

I’ve been repeatedly advised that the tap water is not good for drinking. Locals boil it; I’m not quite that casual yet, and buy these huge 5-liter canisters of ordinary water from the closest shop. And when you lug 5-liter canisters around for a few weeks, you will find the closest shop. It’s a stone’s throw from the front door of my apartment building — heck, it would be a stone’s drop away if I lived in a different corner. (But dropping stones would not be polite. Not even if there were banknotes tied to them; what would they do, try to lob the canister up at me?)

Now. Since Polish tapwater is dubious, they have a huge market for bottled water. Or, at least, a huge market compared to that of Finland, where undrinkable tap water is a national news headline. (Not kidding; a while ago there was a problem with the pipes of a town, and it was in the evening news for as long as it lasted — “are for the third day advised to boil the water before using”, said in tones of incredulity and concern.)

This means Poland has available the greatest thing ever: water with flavor.

Not regular normal water (woda) which is boring and even when bottle-pure tastes kind of like shit because I’m used to tastes; and not carbonated (gazowana) water, which tastes like boiling shit. Just normal water, with a hint of apple, or peach, or some berry added to it.

That’s seriously the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted, at least partly because of the psychological factors. It is presumably healthy, or at least health-neutral, and also tastes good — what is this wizardry?

However: there are bottles side-by-side on the shelves which are identical except for one word in tiny font somewhere on the label. Some say “gazowana“. Others say “niegazowana“. In Polish, “nie” means “no”, and “gazowana” means “the boiling anal fluids of Lucifer Satan”.

I’ve been burned several times.

Once, I bought a sixpack of two-liter bottles of some football-branded water, lugged them home, got out the cooking pot, opened the first bottle—

Fizz! Bubble!

That day I also learned that you can cook pasta with carbonated water. It looks really disturbing, but the end result is edible.

*

Shopping is not really that difficult, because it’s not that different. You don’t read the packaging all that much anyway, do you? Just don’t be fussy, and don’t buy the flour with the pictures of clean clothes on it.

(Though there are times I have been very happy for insisting on a Polish mobile plan with Internet access. Google Translate is, after the flavored water, the best thing I know of right now.)

(Though I’ve heard the smoothest way to get over language problems is to get a local girlfriend or boyfriend. This is great, but I haven’t found that shelf yet.)

*

I’ve been stuffing myself with fat Polish sausage for—

And we have entered the zone of the double entendre.

No really, the butcher’s desks at the local shops are nicely varied. My mouth’s made of cardboard and sandpaper so I can’t say anything smart about the quality or the variety, but it’s nice to go to the desk, drool at the dozens of choices, point, and say “Four!”

Better still, when the price then is four zlotys or something — one euro, or a little over a dollar. I’ve been joking for weeks now that in Finland and in Polish, the prices are the same — but in Finland they’re euros and in Poland zlotys!

In case that “joke” needs more explanation, it suggests everything is four times cheaper in Poland. This is not entirely untrue.

For example: A 1 l bottle of Coca-Cola costs 3.83 zl; I don’t remember the Finnish price, because you do not put a price on the black water of life, but I would be surprised if it wasn’t around 4 euros.

Oh, and bottles? Plastic bottles, formerly of lemonade and water, piling up in profusions? There’s no bottle return system; they all go in the trash. This is causing problems because I have by now a lifetime habit of collecting empty bottles in the same place, in the hopes of getting a small amount of money by clunking them then into the returns machine, found at the doorside of every grocery store everywhere.

So now I have this forest of bottles, that I occasionally and sullenly glance at, and then harvest a few to fill the trash bag, feeling as if I’m doing something wrong.

Maybe if I found a big shipping container and a Baltic cargo ship… do you suppose the Finnish returns machines would accept these bottles — is there a special barcode or something?

*

More to come, soon.

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