Tuesday, February 19, 2008

False Friends

This evening, my boss gave me a ride home from school. He is a great man. He speaks the Queen's English and has one of those enormous Slavic heads I'd read about before but didn't believe existed until I saw his in its entirety. His past is a series of conflicts: conflicts with Russians, Germans, Czechs, Americans, conflicts with Polish radio executives, conflicts with technology. I suspect he had some prominent role in ridding Poland of the Soviets and installing the late Pope as Master of the Universe.

"And of course, szukać is the Polish verb for to search," he said as a gaggle of attractive Polish women bustled into the teachers' lounge. He lowered his voice, then stopped talking altogether. He bid everyone goodnight. I bowed, momentarily forgetting which continent I was on. The boss and I stepped outside, where it was, as it has been, as it shall remain: fucking cold.

"Sorry," he said, "I didn't want to give you a Czech lesson in front of all those young ladies. Where were we?"
"Szukać," I said.
"Yes, szukać," he said. "In Czech, szukać means to fuck!"
He was gesticulating into the wind like a drunken peasant from an old Russian novel.
"So, these poor Czechs, they come to Poland, they go to the grocery store, and the nice girl behind the vegetable counter says, 'Please wait one moment, I must go fuck the cucumbers!'"
I laughed.
"Would you like to go shopping?" he asked, indicating the big-ass hipermarket across the street. I didn't say no, so we crossed the street.

I figured I would be doing the shopping while the boss tagged along to recommend spiced goat cheeses and Ukrainian lagers and carrots. But he grabbed a cart and started loading it with kielbasa. So it was I who was tagging along.

"The Czechs are the greatest civilization the world has ever known," he said.
I shrugged.
"I say that because they have given to humanity two things for which we will forever remain in their debt." He found the goat cheese he was looking for and dropped two, no three, no four blocks into the cart. Then he turned to me and held up two huge Slavic fingers. "(1) Pilsner, from the city of Plzen, and (2) bramboráky, a savory snack to go with your pilsner."
The shopping cart was piled high with meats and cheeses and now we were coasting inexorably towards the beer aisle.
"Other cultures have contributed to the great body of human knowledge in the fields of science, art, philosophy," he grunted dismissively, "but all such things pale in comparison to this." He swept his arm across the wall of brown bottles before us. I opened my mouth to say something irrelevant, but just then he started shouting in Polish. It wasn't until he turned around that I saw the Bluetooth in his ear. In the meantime, I browsed.

"Original Budweiser. Czech imported lager, beer from Budweis," I murmured, taking a bottle down from the shelf. "No shit."
I squinted at the red label, the Masonic American beer conspiracy shattering all around me. Then, after he had duly owned whoever was on the other end of his ear, the boss started stocking the cart with long, dark bottles of Czech beer.

I waited on the other side for my boss to check out. Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I elbowed a passing Pole square in the face.

"Sorry," I shouted. "Er. Przepraszam. Er. Shit."

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