Will everyone please stop being incontinent!

It has been a moderately frustrating week at work with assorted things not quite going the right way at the right time. Mostly trivial stuff but annoying, especially when they seem to be grouping together and forming a gang of annoyance that squats under my desk and occasionally bites my kneecaps.

Every cloud has a silver lining though and when I got this email today I was chuckling for the rest of the afternoon.

My apologies for the incontinence Ian.

Dear all, Please fallow to correct instructions:

This from an IT guy who was responding to a request I made to our IT boys in Warsaw to grant some of my people access to a folder on a network drive that is in the UK. He sent a mail granting them access to a different folder, I pointed out the error and the above was his reply, followed by the correct instructions.

A Polish guy but, according to his email signature, a Polish guy in Birmingham, UK, our currently favourite location for relocating jobs to. Brummies being known to occasionally have a sense of humour I expect one of the natives has given him the phrase “apologies for the incontinence” as being the right thing to use when you make a mistake.

In case anyone is reading this and not understanding:

Incompetence: noun – inability to do something successfully; ineptitude.

Incontinence: noun – inability of the body to control the evacuative functions of urination or defecation.

Tomorrow, do I point out why he might not wish to use that again or let him carry on?

PS: I’m ignoring all the other problems contained within those very few words but feel free not to take my lead.


The formal You

Snippets from an email:

I hope that You are doing well too.

Thank You for coming back to me…..I very much appreciate that You managed to allocate……await further news from You during first half of November.

I love the Polish tendency to capitalize the word “You”. Kind of a struggle for them because protocol means they cannot drop into the familiar ty, English equivalent you, but also are unable to use Mr / Mrs, the Polish version Pan / Pani because that’s looks even sillier. They therefore end up using the informal word you but capitalizing like Mr Mrs.

Damn these Americans and their screwed up English!

Notice how I couldn’t avoid two Americanisms in my title complaining about Americanisms! ;-)

This is the root of the problem, some Americanisms are darn fine ones but others just drive me completely bonkers crazy. Take the word “guess” for example. The way I use it it is a fine complement to the English version of “suppose”. I can say “I suppose you will be holidaying in Tuscany again this year?” meaning I don’t know for sure but there has been at least an element of deduction or calculation involved (say because the person has been to Tuscany the last five years in a row). I can also say “I guess not.” when I’m asked whether Obama will win the next election, giving the impression that whilst I still have an opinion, I really am guessing. Damn is a good, more widely known, alternative to sod in a similar way that screwed up works well instead of buggered up and there are many more Americanisms that I am happy to embrace and use. Should be said I’ve worked with Americans for a lot of my career so am more tolerant than others.

Where it goes horribly wrong is with phrases like “reach out” or the current favourite, “space”. I was listening to a podcast, I think Harvard Business Review, and the lady being interviewed was using space so often it was genuinely hard to follow what she was saying. I forget the details but she would say something like “We were testing atheletes who were operating in the basketball space.” instead of saying “We were testing basketball players.” and as the interview went on it was clear that the word space, in its new role, had almost unlimited applications. I might have let this go as a one-off nutty professor moment but it has been cropping up with annoying regularity so it would be great to head this one off at the pass!

The other example, “reach out” has been around for a while now and because of that has started to cross borders. What was purely an Amercian thing has now invaded the UK and shows no signs of stopping, hence the need to raise emerging dangers such as space at an early stage in the hope they don’t cross the Atlantic. Essentially, reach out is used to signify an attempt to communicate with someone but without being specific as to what method will be used. “I will reach out to him next week.” or “He reached out to me to discuss the situation in the Eurozone space.”. Saints preserve us!

Good literature

After my post a while back complaining about Brandenburg I thought it was time to make a more positive comment about the literature I’ve been exposed to recently, so here it is.

Having read the Wikipedia article, I now know that Chuck Palahniuk is an American “transgressional fiction” novelist. Transgressive fiction is defined as:

…..a genre of literature that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual and/or illicit ways. Because they are rebelling against the basic norms of society, protagonists of transgressional fiction may seem mentally ill, anti-social, or nihilistic. The genre deals extensively with taboo subject matters such as drugs, sex, violence, incest, pedophilia, and crime.

That all sounds a little stronger than it really is although I wouldn’t recommend his books to any nuns or people of a sensitive disposition.

Chuck’s first book, Fight Club in 1996, is undoubtedly the best known thanks to the excellent 1999 film starring Brad, Edward and Helena. I’ve seen the film but not read the book, nor did I know he was the author of Fight Club until I investigated after having read Survivor, Rant and Diary. I’ve enjoyed them all so far, perhaps Diary is the weakest although “weakest” here still means 10 times better than Brandenburg or any of the 1,000 titles by James Patterson the library seems fixated on. The library has Choke by Palahniuk that has also been turned into a film, so I’ll try that one next.

I got from Palahniuk a similar sense of uneasiness as I got when I first read The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks. Something that is very well written, uses a wider vocabulary than most books do and has clearly burst forth from a mind blessed with a vivid, if slightly weird, imagination. Good story line, well developed characters, strong narrative and a few twists. I think the danger for Palahniuk is that of being stuck in a successful formula because although the stories vary considerably there are similarities in the way they are written and because these are distinctive they could become monotonous.

Another author (and poet) I’ve tried recently with her book Oryx & Crake (2003) is Margaret Atwood. She is one of the most honoured authors of fiction in recent history both internationally and more so in her native Canada. She’s been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times and won it once, so it’s strange that I’ve not bothered trying her out until now but there it is.

Reading about Atwood and in particular Oryx & Crake introduced me to anther new literary term, that of “dystopian”. Oryx & Crake is a dystopian science fiction novel, other examples would be Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451. Dystopian can be explained as:

……an often futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Dystopian literature has underlying cautionary tones, warning society that if we continue to live how we do, this will be the consequence. A dystopia is, thus, regarded as a sort of negative utopia and is often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government. Dystopias usually feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions and constant states of warfare or violence. Dystopias often explore the concept of technology going “too far” and how humans individually and en masse use technology. A dystopian society is also often characterized by mass poverty for most of its inhabitants and a large military-like police force.

This too is a slightly edgy novel, disturbing at times in the same way as Palahniuk and also one that I enjoyed very much with one exception, the ending. To be fair, it’s not the kind of novel that’s easy to find a suitable end for as you will realise if you read it but nevertheless, this ending seemed somewhat rushed and not as satisfying as the rest of the novel. I’d recommend it though and will certainly try another Atwood.

Last on my list is Alexander McCall Smith, an altogether different kettle of fish. I came to McCall Smith via Portuguese Irregular Verbs, which recounts the adventures of Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, a highly comedic German academic and then moved on to books from other series.

McCall Smith is definitely the stuff you might recommend to nuns, easy going and not likely to offend anyone, a veritable Victoria Sponge Cake of an author. There are lots of well drawn characters, interesting if somewhat shallow storylines and a great deal of very British humour, slightly P G Wodehouse in a way. Be careful though as A McC S writes an immense amount of books and most are woven into series with some plots spanning many books so I’d recommend starting at the beginning and working your way through from there. I’ve found the three von Igelfeld books to be the best followed by the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency but there are plenty of others to try as well. I’d recommend using McCall Smith’s books as a peaceful yet amusing interlude between more challenging books.

So there are three authors for you to try out, if you haven’t already. Let me know if you have different views to those I express above.

Cowboys and Clowns!

What a multi-purpose headline that is! Seems a pity to waste it on just a small observation about how Poland treats foreign words.

This was prompted by seeing a sign I saw on the side of a stretched Cadillac parked on Emilii Plater today, it said KLOWNI, that being the plural of KLOWN (clown in English). Being deliberately provocative I announced to my colleagues “Aha! Klovni in a Cadillac!”. “No no nie!”, they said, “Not klovni but klowni”. “Not klovni?”, I mused, “So what’s wrong with cowboys then?”. This drew blank faces so I explained “Well a cowboy is a kovboy (kowboj) so why do clowns get to be klown?”. Nobody knew the answer.

I love this totally random approach to the incorporation of foreign words into the language. You’re average textbook will give you lists like;

Words borrowed from French
– agrafka (agrafe, staple)
– bilet (billet, ticket)
– butelka (bouteille, bottle)
– ekran (ecran, screen)
– biuro (bureau, office)
– meble (meuble, furniture)
– kanapa (canapé, sofa)
– rekin (requin, shark)
– krawat (cravate, tie)
– konfitury (confiture, jam)
– plaza (plage, beach)
– zonkil (jonquille, daffodil)
– walizka (valise, suitcase)
– portfel (portefeuille, wallet)
– fotel (fauteuil, armchair)
– koszmar (cauchemar, nightmare)
– fabryka (fabrique, factory)
– broszka (broche, brooch)
– serwetka (serviette, towel)
– adwokat (avocat, lawyer)
– kolia (collier, necklace)
– makijaz (maquillage, makeup)

Words borrowed from French by the English and the Poles
– alergia (allergie, allergy)
– kabel (cable, cable)
– banan (banane, banana)
– garaz (garage, garage)
– rezerwacja (reservation, reservation)
– uniwersytet (universite, university)
– wakacje (vacances, vacation)
– recepcja (reception, reception)
– tulipan (tulipe, tulip)
– character (caractere, character)
– seler (celeri, celery )
– kreatywny (creatif, creative )
– dentysta (dentiste, dentist )
– lampa (lampe, lamp)

and words borrowed from German;
– handel (Handel, commerce)
– kelner (Kellner, waiter)
– malarz (Maler, painter)
– stal (Stahl, steel)
– metal (Metalle, metal)
– punkt (Punkt, point)
– kac (Katze, hangover)

However, none of these lists ever include the interesting ones such as; kowboj & klown, adidasy (why not nijky or pumy?), dżinsy (pronounced like ‘jeansy’). Then there’s my all time fave annoyance – kola (cola), which does not mean cola at all but means Coca-cola (Coke) because if you ask for kola and they don’t have Coke they’ll ask if Pepsi is okay!

Then there are the cute ones that don’t originate from English at all but sound like they could do. My favourite here is ‘relaksy’, which my wife assures me were all the rage in communist days! I’ve even got a picture;

I’m sure there are even better examples but in the meantime, if in doubt, add a Y to the end of the foreign word, e.g laptopy, komputery, palmtopy!

I think I’ll just stick with “Nie wiem”

I don’t know about you but I’m getting pretty tired of people asking me directions and then ignoring what I say. Twice today I’ve had people on Ul. Złota asking me directions. First was a middle aged lady looking for the Holiday Inn, which was literally 50m away across the street. Because it didn’t have a flashing neon sign 100m high, she sort of wandered off in that general direction but was still looking around as if she didn’t believe me.

Just now was a young lad looking for ING Bank at number 44. He didn’t seem to know whether he was looking for a branch or an office but I pointed him in the direction of the nearest ING place which is also 50m away across the street. He just wandered off in the other direction.

Few weeks ago was a gaggle of 50’s ladies with travel luggage desperate to flash the plastic in the shopping centre. The ugliest and most aggressive of them came over and asked where the shopping centre was as if talking to a bell-boy. I told her it was the second entrance down the street. She ignored me and dragged her gaggle, luggage in tow, through the small revolving door to the office floors where they all gathered to be told what I had already told them. They promptly squeezed themselves out again and waddled off down the street. It’s at times like that I wish my ability to shout witty quips in Polish język was better than it is.

I know my accent and words might give me away as being foreign but I do understand the questions and I do give the right answers, so why just ignore me? From now on they’re all going to get a sour-faced “nie wiem”, just like they’d get from 90% of other people on the street.