I had started preparing for Poland well in advance, with the free online Polish language course from Duolingo. I moved steadily through the levels, and after a couple of months was prepared with the basics:
Are you a cat? Jesteś kotem?
I do not wear a shirt. Nie noszę koszulki.
His elephant is big. Jego słoń jest duży.
Your dog is eating cheese! Twój pies je ser!
Listening and clicking is one thing but production is quite a different challenge, as I discovered when Polish colleagues tried to help me pronounce the words on a sign in the Wielkopolski National Park. “Jezsioro skrzynka” (lake treasure box) is not as easy as it looks.
The test of my communicative ability came yesterday in Poznan, when we needed to buy train tickets to Warsaw. Everyone else at the station seemed to be avoiding the machines, so we thought it wisest to follow suit. We joined one of the queues. Twenty minutes later we were in front of the ticket seller. Deep breath. We exchanged greetings, “Dzien dobry”. Then my request, “Warszawa… Tuesday?” She looked puzzled. I fumbled with my phone, which had chosen this time to lose connection. Firmly, she gestured to the other, longer, queue on the right. “Intercity”. We decided to come back later.
When we got back the queue was even longer. But this time I had prepared with notes: “Warsaw (Warszawa), Tuesday (wtorek), 12.00 noon (południe) – 1.00.”
Surely that would work? The second ticket seller took one look at my list, and gestured to the window on the left. This window was closed. Fifteen more minutes of waiting.
Fresh from her break, the third ticket seller was rather cheery. I had added “departure (wyjazd)” to my list, to be absolutely clear. Five minutes later we had seats 45 and 46 in Carriage 272. “Window”, she assured us, pleased to help tourists. “Dziękuję,” I thanked her. I had one more question – What about our bags? She did not know this one. Luggage? Suitcases? She shook her head, so this time I resorted to my best drawing.
“Tak!” Yes, they will be OK. Fingers crossed for tomorrow.