So I am living with my girlfriends parents in the Polish countryside. This year is wild.
You might ask, "How does this relate to languages?"
- No one except my girlfriend speaks ANY English.
- I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend's siblings and parents. I genuinely get along with them, I've suspected ever since my first girlfriend that the whole stereotype about inlaws is overexxagerated. I had inlaws who were absolutely reckless, clinically, insane, one who was according to all sources a legend in terms of his skill in the army and a complete and utter sociopath. Never had a problem. Not once. Am I lucky? Probably.
Saturday we went to a party with a bunch of Poles. The sense of humor is so different. What would be understood as sarcasm is taken here literally, it's not words, grammar, listening, or speaking that are making integration so difficult, it really is the culture. Yesterday I spoke to my friend from Italy on the phone for literally 3 hours. I hadn't talked to her in a few months. I can joke, I can use funny idioms, cultural references, etc. I can do that also in Spanish to a certain extant, since Spanish is spoken by so many cultures I don't want to make any grand assumptions.
Here's the fun part: In Polish, I technically should be able to do the same but less "gracefully," but that's not the way it is.
My cousin is literally the only other anglophone I know who speaks Polish to a high level in real life. My girlfriend says she sounds like a Native Speaker, she uses Polish professionally in Ireland, and she started learning when she was 17. Her husband hardly speaks English, and her social circle is comprised mostly of Poles living in Ireland. It's an absurdly unlikely coincidence.
She messaged me about something random and I made a cursory comment about Polish humor and how integration is not as easy as learning to talk the way they talk. My cousin, who is generally rather reserved and says very little, sent me like a short novel worth of messages.
This is in no way meant to disparage Poland, I quite like it here in fact. I always have. I am speaking really fluently (now that doesn't mean I am the next Miczkiewicz, to put it mildly, lol). Sure, I make mistakes, but not big ones. I always look mistakes up and I tell people to correct me all the time and they very often do. I can say what I want to say. However, these things have become something like a small inconvenience I've grown so accustomed to I that I hardly notice it.
I think I need to spend more time watching "comedies" with Polish men and like an alien trying to pass as a human, figure out what is funny, what's sad, and what's good. How much of this can be laid at the feet of the events of the 20th century is a question that I really want to know the answer to. There tropes that appear in recent fiction that are foreign to me. The naive man who flails through life as a result of his own ignorance and naivete. This seems to make people laugh. It is funny, but not super funny.
For the first time in my life, I understand why literature and English classes back in High School were important. We share a cultural narrative that is so normal to us we aren't even aware. I cringe when I hear the average left-leaning North American white girl declare with a smug demeanor that "We have no culture." That's not even possible. I'm still in Europe, and I'm seeing these things. Imagine those who really integrate into truly foreign cultures with almost no ties to western Europe? I wonder how they view those who claim such nonsense.
There's a big difference between "not being a cultural chauvinist" and sticking your head in the sand.
Linguistically, I'm really disinterested in the language itself. I don't really have any strong opinions or feelings towards me using Polish. I'm just speaking to people. At this point, I really have become so used to speaking different languages that it's hard to care all that much. I do love a good conversation with a quick-witted anglophone though. On the rare occasion this occurs, I am reminded that English is my native language.
I am continuing to improve my Polish, but I am actually using my language skills to ask seemingly stupid questions simply to hear what the answers here are. I love listening to PiS supporters rant on the radio about things that to a western audience would maybe be confused for a comedy sketch. I love talking to the left-wingers here, and hearing their "radical" ideas that even in America would be considered moderate by most. I haven't mastered Polish, but I've broken through a glass ceiling of sorts and upon doing so saw yet another that is never spoken of. I'm very interested though. Languages have been something I've grown so familiar with that I take for granted. A culture which at first glance seems so similar, yet actually different in ways that do indeed matter, is another matter altogether. The fact that I can't even find any good information about it online makes it even more special.
We've grown so accustomed to having so much knowledge at the touch of a smartphone that when you find a question that is not already answered, that you are now capable of grappling with due to your unique situation, you feel a sort of curiosity and hunger for understanding that hardly exists in the modern-day.
The fact that Polish and "Anglo" culture is 95% the same or more, makes the things that are different seem trivial. Yet they are relevant to anyone who wishes to truly attempt to integrate into such a society.
If this reads like the uni bomber's manifesto, let me know. This is all very abstract. If anyone wishes to challenge anything I wrote, please do so. I really don't care if my assumptions are right, I am genuinely curious and would rather be wrong and learn than feel sure and risk ignorance.