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« I'm a Professional Sound Man, Don't Try This at Home | Main | Emeril Made Us Do It. »

A Short List of Mildly Annoying Moments When Living in a Foreign Country (Poland)

Can I vent? Can I vent about small, insignificant, mildly annoying stuff, that nonetheless IS mildly annoying? Like my shower just now. And my last several showers actually. It's my own fault, because every time I get in the shower, wash my hair, and then reach for the conditioner I start to curse, because once again I have forgotten to, at some point since my last shower when I'm not inside the shower and dripping wet, look up online exactly what is in the bottle that I bought thinking it was conditioner. It could be conditioner I guess, although it certaintly doesn't act like it. It could be shampoo, which means I'm shampooing my hair, rinsing, and then applying more shampoo and letting it sit while I bathe. It could be hand lotion, although it didn't seem to absorb into my hands when I tried it. When I tried moisturizing my hands in the shower. My wet hands. Hmmm.. Wait here...

OK - I just went to Wikipedia and typed Balsam, which is the only word on the bottle I can read. Here's what Wiki says:

Balsam is a term used for various pleasantly scented plant products. These are oily or gummy oleoresins, usually containing benzoic acid or cinnamic acid, obtained from the exudates of various trees and shrubs and used as a base for some botanical medicines

Huh... gummy, shrubby exudates.  It describes my hair pretty well at the moment.

Here's another Mildly Annoying example: I need a robe. Well, I would like a robe. When you have two suitcases for a year's worth of clothing, "need" tends to get redefined. Still, when I get out of the bath wringing the water from my straw-like hair I would like a robe to put on. Where to buy a robe? Why -  Galeria Krakovska of course! The massive mall just a tram ride away. So I go to the mall, and it is, in fact, MASSIVE. Three stories, and it's, like, a double-wide mall, with two aisles on each floor. It dwarfs Krakow's Central Train Station right next door. Already I'm overwhelmed. And I have no idea where to go. Who sells robes? I start to call Bob and get him to look up robe in Polish. Then I realize that "Robe Store" is not likely to be all that helpful to me either. If I were in Los Angeles I'd know the lay of the land. Fredricks Of Hollywood? They have robes, but not for me. L.L.Beane? They have robes, but again... The Gap. Macy's. Victoria's Secret. Even Nordstrom with a sale. The world is my oyster at the Westside Pavillon! Target! My kingdom for a Target!

But, as it is, I'm in a Polish mall with a slew stores, and miles of aisles. I can't read anything, and I have no idea which is Poland's Forever 21, and which is Garnet Hill. I'm defeated. I am robe-less. It's Mildly Annoying.

Here's another: At the local market where I go Every Day, and sometimes twice a day, because Owen drinks a LOT of milk, there is a lady who yells at me. She yells at me when I'm weighing my vegetables if I take too long and she has to cut in. She yells at me when I don't weigh my vegetables before I get to her check-out counter. She yells at me when I don't know the name of the sausage I want. It's gotten to the point where I brace myself before I go in, waiting to see what I'll do wrong this time. We had the most fascinating conversation the other day concerning a slab of bacon-like meat: I point to the meat. It is sitting among 30 other pieces of meat that also look slightly, but not entirely, like bacon. Glaring at me, she takes it out of the case. She says a lot of things in Polish that I do not understand. I smile and make slicing motions with my hand. She says Noooooo! and holds hold up fingers, about two inches apart, asking if this is how much I want. I nod yes, and make slicing motions with my hands again. She says NOOOOOO!, and turns to the woman next to her to tell her, evidently, how stupid I am. I hold up both palms up in defeat, and she hacks off a two-inch slab.  By this time I'm feeling a bit mischievous. I ask why she can't slice it using the universal "Why?" shoulder shrug. Is the meat too hard, I wonder? She pulls out a hunk of meat that obviously IS bacon, and says lots of words to me very fast, then lots of words to her friend, who just stands there shaking her head at me. My angry lady lets me know that she can slice the bacon. Do I want the bacon sliced? I shake my head no - I don't want the bacon, just the meat she's already cut for me. At this point she throws up her hands and walks away.

Now --  all of this is of course my own fault for not knowing very much Polish, and by very much I mean any at all. But the truth of the matter is that I'll be in several countries in the next year, and as much as I regret it, and as much as it makes me feel like an Ugly American, I simply won't know the language in most of them, including Scotland. The best I can do is learn a few words to get by, smile a lot, and depend on the kindness of strangers, and there is so much kindness, among so very many strangers. Just not in my market.


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Reader Comments (20)

Oh, Brenna. This little slice of your present reality really gives a better feel for your daily experiences than ten stories about visiting tourist attractions. Thanks for sharing your frustrations. And be sure to let us all know when you find a robe.

Aug 13, 2009 at 7:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterBL

Your post today is endearing and beautifully honest. Yes, you see the bigger picture and you're happy with your decision to travel this year and open yourself and your family up to all the wonderful possibilities and encounters, but clearly there are moments and people that challenge. I enjoy reading every bit of it all. Clearly this market woman does not see how hard you are trying and how cute you are. Perhaps it's your hair. Or the shrubby exudate she's noticed on your hands. BTW google translate, as I'm sure you know says Polish for "hair conditioner" is "odżywka do włosów." Holy cats that's... just so foreign. Miss you,

Aug 13, 2009 at 8:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Slocum Family

gurl i sooooooo know what ya mean. after a while you laugh more than you are annoyed. but you will always get a bit annoyed. welcome to the glamorus life of living abroad! i love you

Aug 13, 2009 at 7:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterreece

Okay Brenna, I have a solution but you'll have to get to France to get it...I bought some wonderful conditioner when I was there and brought it home with me...the name is "Klorane"/ "Baume" apres-shampooing nutritif et is NOT cheap but totally worth it...ironically my friend in Geneva asked me to buy conditioner for her here because it is so expensive on the continent so I bought a big bottle of Tresseme (sp) and stupidly did not bring along some for me...anyway, thanks for sharing your reality...I will have to say I never experienced a harsh word while we were in France...admittedly we were in small villages only but all the people we encountered were so peaceful, quiet, wondrous, & gracious, it really felt like a dream...if you go to Provence, vendors travel daily to different villages and the experience of going to these markets is magical...neither my traveling companion nor I spoke French, we did try to speak a little but it was immediately apparent we weren't fluent and people were kind nonetheless and went out of their way to embrace us literally & figuratively... here's to a better day for you tomorrow...

Aug 13, 2009 at 8:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterKim Peacock

When Glen was new to this country and his mother had to pack him lunches for school, she made him bacon sandwiches. Apparently she was also challenged by the meat in her new hometown market. She didn't know that most people cook the bacon before eating it. Glen unknowingly ate his stretchy raw bacon sandwiches and wondered about the future. :)

I love your stories.

Aug 13, 2009 at 9:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterMary Veenstra

I have nothing profound to say, except that I'm sorry for your suffering, but what fantastic fodder for the blog!

Aug 13, 2009 at 9:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterTamara

I feel your pain and frustration, but I also laugh at the blog. How interesting it is to be somewhere and no one understands what you're trying to tell them. And we just take the small stuff for granted don't we?! Good luck with the other countries you visit. Germany is wonderful, friendly friendly people!!!

Aug 13, 2009 at 9:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterPamela Sinn Hargan

Maybe her yelling is a warning to not eat strange Polish meat? Which makes me wonder about Polish Sausage. Is it just called "sausage" there?

That is one funny story. Seriously deeply satisfyingly funny. Thanks for sharing. You're going to get SO good at this international thing. I just KNOW it. Haters, be warned!


Aug 13, 2009 at 9:46 PM | Unregistered Commenternoho1960

Brilliant, thank you! Though I'm sure it didn't feel that way as you were going through it.

Aug 13, 2009 at 10:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterRupert

No matter how much you brace yourself, calm your nerves, rationalize, you eventually just reach a point where you are saturated. Thank you for sharing the petty as well as the magical, that we may all grow thereby.

When I travelled with a group to China for 6 weeks (only!), some brought along a jar of peanut butter and when life got just a little too foreign they served themselves up a spoonful of home. Wishing you your own personal brand of peanut butter (and a robe!).

Aloha, Nicole.

Aug 13, 2009 at 10:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterNicole

By the way, I'm getting that "Balsam" is a "salve" and that "cztery" is number 4. The rest supposedly doesn't exist in a polish dictionary...?

Aug 13, 2009 at 10:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterNicole

Whew, no matter how much we love the country and the people culture shock is a real thing. I know how you feel, I used to get majorly tense going to buy groceries. You're doing GREAT!
An idea for the robe, do they have some sort of "department store" there? I'm guessing they'll have their own version of the department store, and they'll have a robe. . . good luck! Love reading your adventures. Give my love to your fam!!

Aug 14, 2009 at 1:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

Ok, maybe we should rethink about shopping in Germany.........however Klaus tells me it will be easy because most people speek English. SOOO here is the deal , I can bring you a robe, a nice soft Georgia ,USA robe or we can find you one in Germany. At least now I know what to get you for your birthday!!!! Love to you all.

Aug 14, 2009 at 10:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterMOM

MOM! DON'T BRING A ROBE! I can't fit a "nice soft Georgia robe" in my luggage. Just bring you, and you will be my birthday present.

Aug 14, 2009 at 11:51 AM | Registered CommenterBob & Brenna Redpath

I think "shlafrog" is robe in German, but it has been adopted by many eastern Euopean countries because maybe they did not know of these " robes" before. Anyway that is what they are called in Serbia. I sympatize. Ever onward!!!!

Aug 14, 2009 at 8:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterDora

So I'm reading along. Sorta feeling your pain, sorta laughing and shamefully glad you're having Mildly Annoying experiences so we Vicarious Livers Through Your Adventures (livers = not a Polish meat product) can laugh at the slices of life you capture so crisply. Then I read your mom's post and think, "But then will her mom take it away when she leaves? Because where would she store such a luxury for the next leg?" Knowing, of course, that my own mom would also be far more concerned with the comfort of her dear cherub, as is yours, than the trivial matter of overstuffed luggage. I got to your "MOM, DON'T..." and spit water through my nose as I mentally heard my own voice begging my own mom not to bring me fluffy robes.

Which sort of makes this about me, but it isn't meant to, at all. My point is that you're just such a good writer that I'm transported into your shoes, experiencing your frustration as your market woman yells at you and you wistfully long for a robe to wear with your strawlike hair. I'm with BL - give us more of these ordinary life slivers.

Aug 15, 2009 at 7:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterMelody

Brenna, not only do you continue to wow me with your eloquent, witty writing, I love how you inspire eloquent, witty comments from your many fans. (This is not one of those eloquent, witty comments, however...) Like the many others before me, I love reading your delightful posts - and the comments. And please tell Bob that who cares that he had that little audio mishap on the salt-mines piece - he's still my favorite videographer! The Budapest Baths video was a kick! I want more!

Aug 16, 2009 at 7:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterIris

WRETCHED WOMAN, but Bacon is worth enduring almost anything. I Must agree with the the Slocum Family that she clearly did not realize how fabulous you are and much you cared about trying to get her the information she wanted, but THE BACON ... PLEASE SLICE THE BACON!!! OH, this made me laugh, although I know you weren't amused. I have spent the evening catching up on your adventures, starting with Jesus' favorite color and working my way back over the past few hours. I am just so very happy that you guys are doing this, and LOVE that you are getting to live life while you do it. That really is what makes the difference it seems. You are living your lives in a whole new way, a whole new fabric of life surrounding you. New scenery, new languages, new cultures, new foods, new things to get annoyed about, NEW EVERYTHING - How FUN!!! Good for you guys for living life to the fullest! I am loving it for you and wishing you strength, patience, love, and LOTS OF LAUGHTER to take you the hard times.

I do have to say - Mom IS planning on bringing a BIG fluffy robe, which she insisted you were excited about. I don't know if I have EVER seen you write in all capitols before! I'll re-convene with her to find an alternate plan. I will contact you off-line to chat @ it.

I will be checking in - hopefully more frequently. Love you All, and SO PROUD of you all!

Sep 9, 2009 at 8:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

I know how hard it is to find the things you want in a foreign country. I had to ask several people in what I thought was the closest thing to a drug store that I had found for "vitamins." I looked up the translation and saw that it was spelled the same but no one could understand my terrible accent. It was an "ah-ha" moment for everyone when they discovered that I wanted "vee-ta-mins." :)
The eating part was the hardest thing for me. I tried to speak the local languages, well mostly out of necessity, but a lot got lost in translation. I ended up eating a lot of food that I mistakenly ordered. Sometimes when it would arrive I would stare at it trying to figure out if if was what I had asked for and then try to decide what it was that I was eating.
But, now, onto the hair conditoner...
I'm fond of the drugstore cheapo hot oil treatments as a great once a week conditioner but this may be hard to find.
I have tried some other remedies.
You can make your own hot oil treatment with olive oil. Just apply to wet hair and wrap your head with a towel for 20-30 min and then shampoo out.
In college I used to use mashed banana mixed with a little oil. (Apply same as previous instructions.)
I had a friend in High School that always used to steal her father's beer to rinse her hair. I always considered it a waste of beer but she did have really pretty hair.
I also found this article with some more ideas.

Oh, btw, I think the market lady probably yells at everyone. I think it could be her thing. I'm even going to go as far as say that she probably found your visits to be the highlight of her day.

Feb 3, 2010 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterJessica

Oh, and about that vitamin story....
They gave me a rolled up tube of wafers, only about 20. I ate one and it exploded and fizzed up in my mouth. Scary!
I figured that it was probably supposed to be dropped into a glass of water before consuming. I couldn't read the directions. I don't even really know if I was taking vitamins, it could have been some kind of version of Alka-Seltzer. I was never sure.

Feb 3, 2010 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterJessica

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