1. Many people have what American children might diagnose as a "staring problem." I began noticing this in the Munich airport and then last night, we enjoyed a fabulous Christmas Eve dinner at our hotel.
Two women dining alone watched us, all dolled up and smiling, arrive to be seated and just stared. So I stared back. Undeterred and pausing with forks midair, they seemed neither disgusted or impressed. They looked at us like a painting in a museum. An hour later, as I returned from the ladies room, I was met with the same thing from those two. So naturally, I stopped in the middle of the restaurant, extended my arms and posed.
Later, as we played games by the fire in the dark and cozy underground library/bar, who should be sitting on the other couch but the starers. After a few minutes of eavesdropping on their conversation, my mother said, "Oh, they're French. That's the problem."
2. We stereotype all Europeans. I very specifically remember being taught these prejudices in Disneyland as a child. We were constantly cut in line and every time it happened, my mother would say, "Germans." Thus, Germans are pushy cutters. The French stare (so do the Germans.) And the tall American family everyone's looking at does very rude, kind of Russian voices every time they put on their big coats. "We go in snow again for Poh-lahnd."
3. All of the food here is gigantic and hearty. And wonderful. It's all snowy and WWII-y outside, and then you all kind of barrel into a street cart or cafe or a fancy, modern restaurant and suddenly it's the best, most complex soup you've ever had in your life and perfectly fried and cheezy perogies. And Polish people are very friendly and funny. Even at dinner, which was pretty la-ti-da for San Francisco much less my stereotype of Poland, my father signed the bill and kind of nervously noted there was no place for a tip. He delicately called over the server, a big, good-looking bald guy who said, "Oh, Misteir Spahwuut. This is Poh-lahnd. We do not do!" And then he enthusiastically patted my dad on the back.
4. We are tipping anyway. It's Christmas and we like everyone so much.
5. But there really is a lot of marinated carp. As Alex pointed out at dinner last night, it wouldn't be so bad if "carp" wasn't such an ugly name. Maybe it's something different in Polish, something lovely and enticing. I'll never know as...6. Polish is impossible to pronounce. My mother is constantly asking, "Now, how do you say thank you? How do we say Merry Christmas?" And every time, a smiling, jovial hotel clerk or gay sitting next to her on the plane will respond with a series ofcomplex consonants we don't dare even attempt to repeat.
7. Brock was desperate to know what's on TV. There were lots of weird, low-budget 1970's Polish cartoons on yesterday morning, and something called France 24, which is a panel discussion show in English. Of 35 channels in our hotel room, only 2 are in English. So we watched the Polish news a lot, and all it consisted of was reporting on Christmas activities around Poland. I watched about 15 minutes of a Gary Busey movie in Polish. And the television is connected to speakers in the bathroom, which was weird when I had the German news on and listened to German being belted over the loudspeaker while brushing my teeth.
8. Everyone does indeed wear fur!
9. Krakow is very beautiful. And me, with my general interest in morbid and depressing history has a lot to take in. Krakow was invaded by the Nazis on September 1st, 1939, and as my brother and I walked around today, we kept saying, "This all looks right out of a World War II movie." Which makes sense. This is where Schindler's List took place. We're about 90 minutes from Auschwitz, where we'll go tomorrow. And I think today I'm going to go look around the Jewish Ghetto.
Which I very much want to make sure I see, even on Christmas, because you can feel the weight of history in this city.
10. Which brings me to my gratitude that my parents have always valued travel and made it a priority for us to see the world together as much as we can. Part of me is missing my friends and my independence and finding it odd that my 27-year old brother an I are sitting on our twin hotel beds eating pillow mints and watching Polish cartoons at 6am. But then I look out the window and see snow covering the ancient alleys of Krakow in this country that has a very specific vibe. The vibe of Poland, by the way, is hard to describe. It's cheerful and warm, with a constant undertone of their sad, hard, difficult history. It's like a whole country keeps getting knocked down, keeps dusting themselves off, keeps trying again and now, they're making it and everyone's like, "Hey! I think this might be working out."
But it's hard to feel that vibe and get any sense of the Polish experience without coming to Poland. Which is where somehow I find myself, this Christmas morning...