Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Trip to Albert

One of the larger Polish supermarket chains, Albert is known for it's uncommon variety, it's bad produce, and it's infamously bad customer service. Claire, one of our friends from work, has been repeatedly refused tea, tuna and bread upon checking out. The shop lady would scan and reject, scan and reject, matter-of-factly saying something uncomprehendable and shaking her head no. We never could figure out why Claire can't buy these basic items when we've been able to buy them with no problems at the same location. It's just another Polish mystery.

Today we stopped into Albert (bottom floor of the local mall) before work to grab some cherry tomatoes, olive oil, soymilk, and wine. We had to make it to school for an 11am teachers meeting, so we were in a bit of a rush. Got to the checkout line. Five people ahead of us. After 3 minutes we were right at the helm, about to lay our goods on the small counterspace, when the man finishing his purchase immediately in front of us busted his bag of flour. The lady scuffled off to get him a new one, but when she got back we realized she also needed to give him a tax refund (he was a chef in one of the food court restaurants in the mall) or something very paper-worky. Clicking away on her adding machine or whatever it was down the counter towards the vodka sector, she came back 5 minutes later with a long roll of paper for him. Finished, good we can check out. But an old lady in her burgundy beret and matching burgundy wool coat steps up to the counter from the opposite direction, butting in front of us. Ugh, a return! She had three packages of store brand twarog cheese. She had been gipped, ripped off, and she wanted her money back. Another 10 minutes later (not kidding), she gets what she came for. One zloty and 32 cents (that's about 40 American cents, folks) refund. Our shop lady scoots off again to get the man in front of us, who was still waiting at the vodka end of the long counter well after he had received his tax paper, some cigarettes. What addiction will do! Finally, our shop lady, ready to serve her patient customers who had been waiting now for over 15 minutes to check their 4 items out, now presents herself at her register, and not looking up, not raising her eyes, grabs and swipes each item with the utmost boredom iminating from her being, points to the digital total and says "32 zloty." By this time everything was funny. The long wait, the old lady cut-in-line, the cigarettes, but the lack of acknowledgement devoid of the common and expected apology.

It was so perfect, so Poland. Communism died over 18 years ago, but the mentality still remains--even in the most capitalist of places. At least we were able to buy the things we wanted, we checked out and were in the clear--there was no tea-tuna-bread mystery this trip.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Hebrew, Haircuts, & Optometry

I have an exciting first few days of the week laying ahead of me...

Tomorrow morning I have a Hebrew lesson with my amazing new friend Noa. She's been coming over to our apartment at 10am twice a week for the last few weeks. Sadly, she and Jethro--her boyfriend and our other new amazing friend--are leaving Wroclaw for somewhere less "ghost-towny" in the next few weeks. Such is fate. You meet some of the kindest, funniest, most interesting people and you click, and then something happens and they're gone. But we're so glad we met them and have gotten to hang out, watch bad Monty Python, eat vegan food from Berlin, and go hiking. And of course, there's the lessons. It's really given me something to focus on other than work. Since starting lessons every Monday and Wednesday, I have something to look forward to, I feel challenged, and it takes my mind off of teaching for an hour.

I also thought, in my Friday stupor, that I would schedule a hair appointment for 10am Monday, not realizing of course that I had my lesson. My hair has been getting long, especially the region above my eyes (not eyebrows), and I'm beginning to feel like one of those dogs whose hair-genes allow them to survive harsh Winters. Really I just want a bang trim. So I went to the mall (Pasaz Grundwaldzki) and the one hair salon they had, Wella, was booked through the weekend. Not sure how reputable this one is. That's the problem with living in a foreign country: You're not sure if you'll get a Supercuts Choppery or an Aveda salon. The logo was okay, the stylists were young, as were the clientèle, and they had a translator on hand to deal with the influx of English-speaking tourists ready for a new doo (mind you, this is suspicious as we live a good 30 minutes from the tourist center and there are only 3 or 4 native English speakers in our area, so far as we know). But the big neon lights flashing UWAGA (caution) was the 50 zloty price tag. The dollar is about 2.60 to the zloty and this is Supercuts Choppery cheap (sorry to repeatedly knock the Supercuts--I've had traumatic experiences and Bhadri has had sideburns above the ear from them. Never a good thing. Especially at different angles in relation to the lobe). The really good salons charge over 100zl, so it does make me wonder. Although I am never one to turn down a good deal, there's a chance I'll arrive home with a nice and trendy Euro-mullet or severe bangs that were cut by careful trimming with a soup bowl held over my face. Either way, I still double booked and won't be getting my hair cut for a few days. Maybe it's fate's way of guiding me away from bad-haircut-ville and in the direction of linguisticity (this word copy write Bethanie Verduzco 2008).

Also exciting in my life: I'm getting glasses. I really don't have bad eyesight, and the English speaking optometrist told me I didn't have to get glasses. But it is nice to be able to see clearly at longer distances and in low light. At 200zl for the exam, lenses and frames, glasses here are a steal. Of course, if you play it right you can buy a pair of frames for all of 1 zloty, and that can knock the price down a bit. Yes, I found the coolest (read: dorkiest) pair of frames ever. A merge between 1950s and 80s, these light brown with purple iridescence plastic beauties were shunned to the promocja rack. One zloty. That's less than 40 cents American. Poles obviously prefer the hard-lined rectangle look, with thick colored or thin wiry frames, sometimes with the lenses poking out at minute angles. Sounds weird. It is weird. But not as weird as it sounds. They do not prefer shrunken Buddy Holly frames with a purple tinge. Please do not imagine a 3rd grade Bethanie with her forest-green-graze-the-lower-cheek massivities. These are substantially cooler. And I won't be sporting the frizzy perm or the buck teeth to boot. Although I probably will be sporting the unkempt dog and the pasty white skin look. Out with the old, in with the new.

A trip to Torun

Well, it's been a while since the last blog. Beth and I had a couple of weeks off to travel during winter break and we took a small trip to Warsaw and Torun, a city we had never visited before. Nice little German built town. It was pretty cold though. So we walked plenty in the morning and made sure to head to the pub in the mid afternoon to warm up. On our second day there we decided to go to the ginger bread factory. It wasn't much of a factory -- no conveyor belts or loud gushing and whishing machinery, but we did have some fun. We wanted to make some ginger bread. The minimum group that could make it was 5 people. but since it was just the two of us they put us with a class of 3o six-year-olds! It was so much fun. We mixed the ingredients, rolled out our dough and finally put them in the oven to bake. We got a couple of nice souvenirs from the day and some good laughs. You should have seen the little kids -- they were so impressed at the way I crushed the cloves! We tried to talk to a couple of them, but not much could be understood on either end. One did count to ten for us, a surprisingly common experience for us here in Poland. Anyway, check out the picture. Our "guide" doesn't look too happy to be posing with us.