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Down with the outcasts on a Polish train


As one spoiled by constant exposure to Poles who speak English better than some natives, I was initially amazed by the fact that Grzegorz knew only 2 words: ‘tomorrow’ and ‘left’ (apparently he always has to tell taxi drivers to go left in London) – a bizarre combination but he was none the less proud for that. Przemek was also very limited, with vocabulary extended to ‘of course’ and ‘no’. As we were drinking, I did teach them ‘water’ but must concede that it was swiftly forgotten.

Just as the bottle was nearing its end and I was hoping there wouldn’t be a second (mercifully, there never was), a third musketeer arrived- Jêdrusz- who was much less drunk and equally more pleased to hear about my Englishness, especially when the news that I was an English teacher came out again. He was very keen for his daughter to improve her English and proceeded to call her at regular intervals over the time we were together and demanded we speak to each other in English so she could practice. He was actually a really nice guy, showed me loads of pictures of his children- my new friend Aneta included naturally- and even sent me his favourite one of said daughter so I could see who I’d been talking to.

As the vodka, and then beer, was going down, the 3 of them became increasingly difficult to understand. Grzegorz in particular was an almost impossible conversation partner and Przemek was mostly asleep after we polished off the vodka (he and Grzegorz did by far the bulk of the work) so I spent a lot of time talking to Jêdrusz, who found it impossible to contain his immense amusement at the state the other two had got themselves into. He also explained to me that people from Œl¹sk are not real Poles, that they speak a different language and are basically Germans. He even jokingly told Grzegorz not to talk about Poles as ‘we’ or ‘us’ but, as Grzegorz himself was not one, as ‘you’.

I had been starting to get a little uneasy in their company by the time we reached Jastrowie, so when it looked as if Grzegorz might be kicked of the train there, I was full of guilty hopes of freedom. Exactly what went on between him and the conductor I’m not sure about but, around an hour earlier, Grzegorz had given him his ID as he didn’t have a ticket. Here in Jastrowie, the conductor came back with forms for Grzegorz and Przemek to sign. As he was about to continue along the train, Grzegorz started shouting and swearing about his ID, which he claimed had not been returned After a few minutes of this and a second conductor stepping in to assist, the ID was eventually found- in Grzegorz’s pocket- and the train rolled on.

The whole time I’d had in my head the plan to use the stop at Poznan, where, as expected, most passengers got off, to give these guys the slip and breathe some fresh air (no smoking signs held no fear for them). Unfortunately, they’d had the same idea so off we trooped to find a compartment together. The disappointment on the faces of the old couple in the compartment we chose was almost amusing. Almost, but I preferred to keep quiet and let them concentrate their passive-aggressive disapproval on Grzegorz, the smelliest of the four of us.

Another enforced phone call to Aneta put paid to that- civilised old couples with cute Dachshunds as company are apparently not as impressed by Englishmen and the English language as drunkards are- and we sat in uncomfortable silence until another lady bravely joined us and took the seat next to Grzegorz. A mistake she was soon to regret. He seemed to think it might be a brilliant idea to put his arm around her in one of his short spells of wakefulness. To be fair to all concerned, the incident was swiftly forgotten and, with the dog acting as a focus for everyone’s affection, we all got on much better until Jêdrusz, the old couple and the other lady got off in Wroc³aw.

By then it was past dark and Grzegorz and Przemek (travelling all the way to Katowice with me- what luck I have!) have since been sound asleep, along with the students who joined us. Seemingly the adventures have come to an end for today.


Almost half way through my 2 hour pit stop in Katowice and all is surprisingly quiet so far. Grzegorz and Przemek were either unimpressed with my return to the books once we got to the compartment or simply too drunk/tired/both to remember me as, when we arrived and got off the train there wasn’t so much as a word of parting said between us. As the usual custom here between those sharing a compartment on a train is to say hello to everyone when you get on the train and enter the compartment and then goodbye when you are leaving them, my money is on the first option.

Being afflicted with an inability to sleep anywhere unless provided with a decent, horizontal, preferably comfortable and bed-like, surface to lie on, including in any form of vehicle I’ll be awake for the last leg of the journey too and am half hoping for a couple more drunks on board as entertainment. Hopefully it wasn’t going to be the man sat next to me here in the station with the smelly breakfast of smoked fish and bread.

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