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Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Enough of this!

Dear Ana Paula and everyone else,

OK, I think that’s enough daft jokes about cheese and fudge. If we continue with this, then new readers will either think we’re all bats, or they’ll think that I’m actually sick and in hospital. (New readers, please note: I'm not sick, and I'm not in hospital; my last two blogs were a joke!). Ana from Poland suggested that we should make a new rule: no more writing about food. I’ll try to follow this rule, Ana, but it might be difficult today. Ana Paula has asked me to write about my experiences in Poland, and my most memorable experience in Poland involved food.

Ten years ago, I was a newly-qualified English language teacher, and I needed a job. I looked through the newspaper and found two advertisements for suitable jobs; one was in Greece, and the other was in Poland. “Well,” I thought to myself, “I’ve been to Greece before, on holiday, and I know I like it there, but I’ve never been to Poland. I know absolutely nothing about Poland. I don’t know what the weather’s like, I don’t know what they eat, I don’t know what the people are like. In fact, I’ve never even met a Polish person in my life. What the heck, I’ll go to Poland!”

So I applied for the job, had a telephone interview, and two weeks later I was in a small town in central Poland called Wlaclawek. (By the way, I’d like to apologise to Polish readers – I know I haven’t written that name exactly right, but my computer can’t do the Polish letter ‘L’ properly!)

In fact, I had an excellent time in Poland. Wlaclawek is quite a small town, and very few people spoke English, so I had to learn the Polish language quite quickly. This wasn’t easy, as Polish grammar is horribly difficult, but I felt very proud when I said my first grammatically-correct Polish sentence.

The people there were amazingly friendly and hospitable, and I made some very good friends there, but I soon learned that there were some major cultural differences between Britain and Poland. Soon after I arrived, I had started going out with a Polish girl, Anna, and one day she asked me if I’d like to come to her parents’ house for dinner. I accepted, of course. I could only speak a few words of Polish, and her parents couldn’t speak any English at all, so there wasn’t much conversation. I arrived, they sat me down at the table, gave me a gigantic plate of food, and said one word, “jec!”. I already knew this word – it means “eat!”. It was the middle of the afternoon, not a normal meal-time. Anna and her parents weren’t eating, and I wasn’t really hungry. However, I thought it would be rude to refuse, so I ate the food. As soon as I had finished, Anna’s mother brought me another gigantic plate of food. So I ate the second plate of food. And the third, and the fourth, and the fifth… I’m serious, I ate continuously from about three o’clock in the afternoon until about ten o’clock at night. Anna’s mother kept bringing me more and more and more food, and I felt more and more sick, and my stomach became more and more painful, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I had to keep eating and eating and eating and eating and eating…

I didn’t eat for three days after that. Later, Anna and I talked about hospitality in our countries, and I finally understood my mistake. In Britain, if your host cooks some food for you, you should normally eat it. To refuse would be impolite. However, Anna explained to me that the rules in Poland are different. In Poland, or at least in that area of Poland, the host’s job is to force the guest to eat as much food as possible. The guest’s job is to refuse point-blank to eat anything at all. So, the conversation should go like this:


POLISH GUEST: No thank you.

POLISH HOST: Go on, have something to eat!

POLISH GUEST: No, really, I’m not hungry. I just had lunch.

POLISH HOST: Eat! Eat! Eat!

POLISH GUEST: No! I absolutely refuse to eat anything at all!

POLISH HOST: Eat this food, or I’ll punch you in the face…

And so on and so on. I’m exaggerating, of course, but I realized that British and Polish ideas about politeness and hospitality are very different. After I’d realized this, I had a very good time in Poland and I didn’t have to over-eat again.

Right, let’s move on to a very serious subject: prepositions. The answers to the questions in my last blog were as follows:

1. Ana Paula was waiting anxiously for a message from her dear teacher.

2. Her finger was glued to her computer screen.

3. Soon she fell into a catatonic state.

4. We hope she recovers from this catatonic state very soon.

These were nasty questions - well done to Angelica from Codoba, whose answers were bang on the money!

Leila, your guess about the film quotation was half-right; it wasn’t from ‘The Godfather’, but it was from another film by the same director, ‘Apocalypse Now’. Two people answered this correctly: Andrea from Austria and Inok from Earth. If any readers are not from Earth, please let me know!

Oh dear. I planned to ask you some more nasty questions today, Ana Paula, but I’ve run out of time. I’ll ask you some REALLY nasty ones on Friday, I promise!

All the best,



Daft is an adjective meaning ‘silly’.

Bats looks like a plural noun, but in this case it isn’t. It’s another informal British adjective, meaning ‘crazy’.

Be careful with the word actually. In many European languages it means ‘at the moment’ or ‘right now’, but not in English. In English it means ‘really’ or ‘in fact’.

If something is easy to remember, or if it ‘sticks in your memory’, then it is memorable.

The adjective suitable means ‘good in this situation’.

’What the heck’ doesn’t really mean anything. We sometimes use this informal phrase when we decide to do something that’s a little crazy, or not completely sensible.

If you welcome strangers or new people into your home (or your workplace, etc) then you are a hospitable person. The noun hospitality refers to relationships between guests and hosts.

If you’re having a romantic relationship with someone, but you’re not married to them, we say you are going out with them. Americans would use the word ‘dating’.

Gigantic means very very big.

To refuse is to say, “no, I will NOT do this!”

To refuse point-blank means to refuse absolutely.

The adverb continuously means ‘without stopping’.

If you keep doing something, this means that you do this thing again and again and again.

If I come and visit you at your house, you are my host, and I am your guest.

To over-eat is to eat too much – it’s a negative word.


Hi Alex and everyone! Your adventure in Poland were very, very funny. I was laughing so loudly that I woke up my daughter sleeping in another room. I can clearly imagine this situation, when a host is trying to stuff you with as much food as possible believing that they fulfill their hospitality. That is very common indeed. And one more thing, making you busy with food they avoided disconcerting silence. They were very happy that you came so hungry :):)

ohhh, I thought this day will never come! I did well with prepositions! I'm so happy! honestly, that is as difficult as win the lottery for me. Alex, I wonder what the host was thinking while serving you more and more food and you eating everything she put in front of you. Was it funny for her? or did she became disappointed? What an experience! thank you for share it with us. You're preventing someone else getting sick in case to have to be in a similar situation. take care

Hi Alex, thank you for your hilarious and wit story. That is a good cultural lesson about politeness and hosptality. In Britain, when offered some food, the guest has no other choice than to eat and eat and eat ... while, in Poland, the guest should refuse point-blank to eat anything at all (of course, if they are not emty). In fact, I have gotten hooked on reading your blogs, Anna Paula's and Mr Stephen Keeler's. Honestly, you laughed me out of my problem. I do not know how to say it perfectly in English. It might be said like this "a dose of laughter is worth ten doses of tonic". I say you are a superb doctor for all of us. Thanks again. By the way, how is " your Anna" from Poland? (Ignore my question if it is stupid). Best wishes,

Hello,Alex.First thank you for your daft jokes,actually,i am really involved in it by your inventiveness.I am totally agreed with Ana's proposal that no more reading about food,which i think it has gone too far for the last couple days.Hurray,No Cheese and Fudge.By the way,If you come to China,you will feel the same hospitality of our people as the polish.In order to prevent such over-eating tragedy,it is my duty to acknowledge you the custom,but do remember it is impolite to refuse point-blank.So the conversation should go like this: Chinese Host:Eat. Chinese Guest:No, thank you. Chinese Host:Go on,have something to eat. Chinese Guest:No, really,i am not hungry,i just had lunch. Chinese Host:Eat!Eat!Eat! Chinese Guest:No!I absolutely refuse to eat anything at all. Chinese Host:Eat this food.Just feel at home... Chinese Guest has to eat under the watchness of the Host. Well,that's it.Hope you like this adaptation.

Hi Alex, your description of Polish hospitality is really perfect and I would like to say ‘well done to Alex’, but fortunately it’s history now. Also, I’m sorry to say that you seem unable to feel that nobleness of intentions and fineness of manners of both sides: host and guest. The first one is doing everything to prove his/her generosity while the invited person is trying to show up that he/she wouldn’t like to bother the host. And this is really not a game – just a ceremonial. Anyway, thank you very much for the ‘Polish entry’ –it was really very nice of you. It’s always interesting to see things from a different perspective. Best,

Hey Alex. I think I have the similar experience with you. When I first went to my boyfriend’s home, his parents gave me a huge bowl of meals. After I eating a little, his mother will fill it up. My stomach got a little hurt and I thought it would be impolite if I didn’t eat up. But now, things changed. If I’m not hungry, I will tell her so and don’t eat too much. Chinese people are very hospitality, if you pay a visit to a Chinese family, the host will also let you eat many things. So don’t feel guilty to refuse. Follow your stomach. :) Jill.

Oh my god! Your adventure was really amusing. In Spain, if the guest refuse to eat, he/she is a rude and a bad-mannered person. I suppose that as you are an english teacher, you have known people from all over the world. I love learning about the customs of other cultures.¿Do you have any special country or culture that, you don't know, but you would like to learn?I have one and this is Japanese culture. I find them very disciplined and well-organised people. Bye for now

Hi,Alex It's been gorgeous day in my town and I love this kind of weather so much.How is the weather like where you are? You story remainds me of my family's hilarious experience.It was first time for me to go back to Korea to see my family with my soul mate. My curious animals(I mean my family)watched my husband every movement all the time. One day my big brother booked a restaurant which serves sort of English and American food for my husband.No-one can speak any Enlish at all except throwing to my husband lots of awkward smile and they do not know what to order so nearly all of my family ordered same food what my spouse did.Even though the food were served nobody started eating.I asked my brother whether something was wrong.My big brother said my family is waiting for my husband eating first so they can use right spons,porks or knives.He continued to say that he heard using right cutlery is very important in England.I interpreted for my consusing hubby.Can you guess what he answered? "use what you want!" I am same like you. I have no idear which is which for.. because i've never been to a posh restaurant in my life!" poor my family!! But our family were so delighted to add another animal to us.Take care!hyoshil

Hi Alex, I'm very glad to hear about the Polish culture. the best way to experience other cultures is living there for some time. on one hand while I was reading your writing, on the other hand , I was considering my culture. insistence sounds bothersome, but if we approach through empathy , we can easily understand them. fortunately, still there are such communities that have hospitable people. in fact, I'm very interested in other cultures. in terms of many respects. Turkey is famous for its hospitality. The Turkish people love to host guests and want their guests to eat what they dish up. it sounds good. but to a certain extent, but in comparasion to other cultures, there is no culture in the earth as much insistent as the Turkish culture. they say like this sentences; for the love of the GOD, please eat, if you don't have some more dish , I'll be offended....(maybe they do) no way. you can't get rid off easily. in addition to insistence in eating, people , here in Turkey, exaggerate it so much that, if they have no money to host their guests, they borrow money from friends... can you imagine this?.. That is to say, they don't eat themself (if they have no money), but they dish up their guests ( even it should involve in borrowing. these are beutiful things of course,but to a certain extent. That’s the humanly. unfortunately, the hospitality is increasingly decreasing and disappearing in my country and throughout the world. because of poverty and other many things... have a nice day sevinç

I come from Poland. I have never realised that our country is so funny for foreigners . All that you wrote is absolutely true :)

Hi, Alex it´s so funny your adventure with food,jajajaja. by the way I also read and learn from "questions about english" in this site and for my surprise there´s an answer by "Alex Gooch" I don´t know if it´s you, but if I´m right! Let me tell you that you have an incredible voice. It has to be because you are an incredible handsome man, don´t you? jajaja. best wishes!!!Bye. ;)

Hello Alex:: You story was very funny indeed. When reading I couldn't stop laughing. But I want to explain something. It's not exactly true that 'the guest’s job is to refuse point-blank to eat anything at all.' The hospitality in Poland requires that the plate of the guest wasn't empty. So, when you had eaten what you'd had on your plate, your hosts, as they wanted to be hospitable to you, put some more food on your plate. My suggestion for everyone who will visit Poland is as follaws: if you don't want to eat too much and you don't want to be rude, the best way is to eat very slowly: it's up to you how much will you eat after all. It's kind to say that the food is very tasty but unfortunately you are full up. It's very important to keep a proper conversation but in the case in question, I guess, it wasn't possible. But I think you could have shown pictures of your town, your family, the place you work and so on. To sum up I think that it wasn't the problem of eating but it was the problem of communication. Despite everything, I'm sure they were very happy to entertain you.

Hi Alex! Firstly I want to say that I really enjoy reading your blog. I don't have difficulties to understand what's written. But this time I found sentence which is mystery to me. You have written "Soon after I arrived I had started going out with a Polish girl. For me usage " I had " imply that it happened before you arrived. Like in sentance " when I arrived at the party, Tom had already gone home" If you think this could be interesting subject to talk about that's great, if not forget it. have a nice day!

Hi Alex.This first thank you for your story funny in poland,however ưhen I read complete your story in Poland.I felt to admire you when you go to Poland where you don't know about culture, people, language. This story is a exciting and I want to ask you a question " What do you think if you are invited to go to vietnam ?".I think you'll discovery a lot of enjoyable feeling about people, culture and food... Thank to you for exciting adventure

Alex, the month of April has been a good month after all. Why I had some doubts about it? Well, I have been worried about your “you know what issue” and I am so glad to read about your miraculous recovery. All is well at end. Just in case you are not with us in May, I wish you well and remember to take care of your eating in the future.

You are doing a great job. I read for almost two hours and finished them all. Thank you very much !I am olivia who is from China.I went to U.K last year for my summer course.I like England very much. I wish I could go there again. Welcome to China!

Thank you for the wonderful Blog!

When I was reading your blog I wondered why your girlfriend hadn't told you about the difference between your cultures... ^o^

Cześć Alex:) I've just read your blog for the first time and something tells me it won't be the last. As for the Polish hospitality, it's already a universally acknowledged fact. However, even I, an accustomed native, felt really embarrassed about the over-kindness of my hosts. Some of them were actually so busy in the kitchen preparing sophisticated dishes just for me, that they didn't take part in the meal at all. But it's only a way of making a good impression on visitors and showing cordiality. Especially when one is a foreigner. And I agree with what Ana wrote. The best way to avoid digestion problems is to refuse in the most polite and kind manner. It definitely won't be regarded as offensive. Best wishes! Na razie!

what do you think are the main cultural differences experienced whilst learning English in the UK?

Thanks for such an etertaining read! I was looking for polish customs as have met a fantastic polish woman in the uk, and experienced a similar situation on christmas day this year, I dont think I have ever been looked after so well.

Thanks for all your contributions. This blog has now closed and can no longer accept new comments.

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