Friday, August 12, 2005

What's for dinner?

When I first moved to Poland, I didn't speak any Polish. At all. I also didn't have a car. These two facts, combined, put me in an uncomfortable situation, because my family expected me to feed them, and shopping was problematic.

Without a car, I could not go to a large grocery store and stock up on food, even if such a store had existed. (It didn't.) It wasn't really necessary, since there were a plethora of stores selling comestibles all around the neighborhood. I could walk to a store that sold bread, another that sold meat, another offering fruit and vegetables, and still another that offered miscellaneous groceries such as flour, noodles, and a lot of things I really wasn't sure about.

The problem was...I didn't speak Polish. You just couldn't walk into one of these little stores, pick up a shopping basket, and select your items. If only it could have been that simple! These shops had all the merchandise behind a counter. You waited your turn in line, and told the shopkeeper what you wanted. At least, that's what you did if you spoke Polish. If you were me, you pointed helplessly and hoped that the sales clerk was good-natured enough to work with you.

I gradually acquired the vocabulary of food, but the system of weights and numbers was tricky. They use the word "kilo" for "kilogram," and I knew that. A kilogram is 2.2 pounds. That was the only amount I knew how to ask for. So, I had to ask for a kilo of sugar...a kilo of flour...a kilo of onions...a kilo of potatoes...a kilo of mushrooms (oh please!)...a kilo of lunch meat...a kilo of chicken. Are you adding this up? It didn't take long for me to have 20 pounds of groceries to carry home, and that's not even counting the liters of MILK I had to buy every day.

There was just no physical way for me to carry a week's worth of groceries for five people, so I had to shop every day--even before my formal language lessons began. It was one of the greatest days of my life, I think, when I finally learned to ask for a HALF kilo of anything I wanted.

But that was a long time ago

Now I can walk into any shop, and ask for any quantity (measured in decagrams) that I may need. And most of the time, I don't even have to.

Because great big western-style grocery stores have opened all over Krakow, I go shopping once a week, with the car, and put all my own groceries into a cart. Shopping is a lot easier and less time-consuming than it was when I first went to Poland.

I don't miss the "old days," either. But if I did, I could still shop in the little shops. They are still there. As long as Poland has a large pedestrian population who do not drive or own cars, the little shops will continue to thrive. And I have to admit, it really is convenient to send one of the kids next door if you suddenly realize you need ketchup, or sugar, or cinnamon.

Smacznego! (That's Polish for "bon appetit.")


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