Meathead's Wife (observations from an American living in Poland)
by Stephanie Olsen
August 29, 2000
"Die, Momma, die!!!" When I heard those shocking words and realized they came from the general vicinity of the playpen, I grew quite still. Once ascertaining the death threat was uttered directly by my 18 month old daughter, I knew - finally and irrevocably - that I was truly an alien in Poland...
Over a year before, I had flabbergasted friends and family by announcing the long-debated decision made by my Polish husband and me - we were moving to Poland with our two babies (one just 12 weeks old!) and six cats. Having your business on one continent and your house on another was just too much of a commute, and we decided to make a financial killing in my husband's mother country and stay together as a family. So what if I didn't speak a word of Polish? I was a stay-at-home mom anyway! Where was I going? Who did I have to talk to?
Oh dear! The first indication that all was not quite as I was used to back in the States was the nearly unbelievable and hair-straightening three hour drive from the Warsaw Airport to my in-laws. We were on a two-lane road all the way, beautifully lined with enormous old-growth trees (lovely to look at but oh so deadly if you try to bounce off one at 85 mph). Apparently no one else was interested in tree-gazing, seemingly more intent on beating death as they careened past us on both sides, tires screaming on paved shoulders when (frequently) avoiding unlit and unperturbed plodding horse-drawn wagons and chatting pedestrians. Roaring transport trucks give no mercy in their hot-pink cabs, and you haven't lived until you've witnessed a game of "chicken" between an eighteen-wheeler and a tiny stripped-down tin can of a Fiat.
If you're able to focus on the blur of landscape flashing past your car window, you'll notice that Poland is a land of fences. Some obviously built in emulation of the pyramids - with enormous squares of rock reaching great heights, protecting the dwelling and its inhabitants from all manner of threat. Some of the barriers have certainly seen better days being not much more than a collection of weathered pickets, leaning on each other for support, but every property you pass, no matter the size or how tiny or mean the house might be, is (more or less) firmly ensconced by a gated fence.
It seems that property definition goes one step beyond the obvious in Poland in that if you leave your bicycle, for instance, unsecured but anywhere within the boundaries of your fence (Egyptian or otherwise), then ownership of that piece of personal property is undisputed and respected. If, however, you lean your bike on the outside of your fence, it may well be gone the next time you look and, by god if you don't deserve that fate!
Look for Part Two: "Do YOU Cut Your Grass with an Instrument of Death?"
Copyright 2000 Stephanie Olsen. All rights reserved.