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July 20, 2011 | Polish

English Class at the Greenpoint Library

I visit an English conversation class, even after it is pointed out that I already speak English.

I went back to Brooklyn earlier this week, to visit an English class for adults at the Greenpoint branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. On the way, I stopped at the Polsko-Amerykanska Apteka, where a woman behind the counter was speaking on the phone in Polish.

I Bought Gum Here, in Polish

I Bought Gum Here, in Polish

I put a pack of the gum on the counter.

Czy pani ma wody? I asked quietly, trying not to interrupt her phone conversation. (Do you have water?)

Nie, she told me. (No.)

I felt very cool indeed to toss out a quick Polish sentence and be understood, all without interrupting the flow of her New York-paced day. I hope my sentence was grammatical. I think it was, but I find there are so many surprising ways to be tripped up in Polish that I am not at the point where I am confident about the grammaticality of even basic phrases.

Dziękuję, I said (thank you), and left with my gum.

For Cosmetics and Natural Remedies

For Cosmetics and Natural Remedies

I passed Ziółko on the way there. At least I think that’s what the sign said. As I have mentioned previously, funky fonts in other languages are often hard to decipher if all you’re used to is conventional typeface in grammar books. With some assistance from Google Translate, I have decided that at this shop they sell, in addition to cosmetics, natural remedies.

I enjoyed my class at the library. There were about seven people there besides me and the instructor, who clarified the differences between simple past (e.g., “I walked”) and present perfect (e.g., “I have walked”) in English. 

Present perfect does not exist in Polish, so such subtleties are hard to explain. There was some headshaking. 

There was also some confusion over why one would say, “I went to Central Park” and not “I went to the Central Park.” There are no articles in Polish (i.e., no equivalents for “a,” “an,” and “the”). Explanations of articles in English as a Second Language books can go on forever. What native English speakers do instinctively with articles is very difficult to learn, and I sympathize with English learners who are native speakers of a non-articled language.

I really liked the group of students. When I first arrived, and they heard why I was there, one man told me I was wasting my time. “We speak simple English here,” he said.

I told him I understood the situation completely and that it was not a waste of my time. Proving my point, two minutes later I had, from another student in the group, the name of a Polish school that she thought would be worth visiting. She was a friendly and talkative woman who was there with her considerably less talkative but also friendly husband.

Class was 90 minutes. Afterwards I wandered around on Manhattan Avenue a little, making my way into Sikorski Meat Market. 

Sikorski Meat Market

Sikorski Meat Market

Meat Products for Sale

Meat Products for Sale

Bacon and More

Bacon and More

They Had Piles of These Corn Puffs for Sale

They Had Piles of These Corn Puffs for Sale

At the Polish shops I have gone into in Greenpoint, employees have consistently addressed me in Polish. (At Sikorski, too!) This has surprised me.

Typically, throughout this project, people in stores where I am quite possibly the only natively English-speaking customer have tended to address me automatically in English. I do not look, say, Indian or Korean, but even when ethnically I am a possible match, they have still tended to opt for English first. Not in Greenpoint, though. Perhaps it is my partial Eastern European heritage.

I am enjoying the challenge of being addressed in Polish, though I confess, understanding a quick utterance across a store counter is not something I am good at at the moment.

Anyway, back to Sikorski: I am no vegetarian (sorry to the committed vegetarians; I could possibly be budged on this point), but I find such displays of meat kind of impressive. Where I buy my meat, there is considerable dilution from nearby vegetables and fruits. Meat isn’t so conspicuously the point of the food stores I frequent. 

Second Polish Furniture Store I've Seen in Greenpoint

Second Polish Furniture Store I’ve Seen in Greenpoint

I Love This View up Manhattan Avenue

I Love This View up Manhattan Avenue

On Manhattan Avenue, right near the Nassau stop, I saw a furniture company. 

Seen on a Wall: I Think This Is an Announcement of a Bus Trip to Belmont Lake

Seen on a Wall: I Think This Is an Announcement of a Bus Trip to Belmont Lake

That struck me because it was the second Polish furniture company I have seen so far on Manhattan Avenue.

I also saw a posting that, while more familiar to me than it would have been a month ago, was still full of words that needed translating.

Now that I am sitting at home with Google to help me (please don’t think I regard Google as a reliable translator; mostly I use it as a supplementary tool), I have confirmed to a reasonable degree of certainty that this is a posting about a bus trip to Belmont Lake, which I have never been to. And that the trip sponsor is Liga Morska, which I think, now that I have googled it, is a longtime Polish social organization.

It is hard to imagine an equivalent posting in my Upper West Side neighborhood. It felt very…neighborhoody. And community-like.

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