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July 17, 2011 | Polish

Latte and Libraries in Greenpoint

My head swimming in grammatical cases, I flee to Greenpoint.

I have to admit, Polish is kind of kicking my butt. I am asea in nominative, accusative, genitive, and dative adjective and noun forms, and there are still three grammatical cases left to study.

If I’m being honest (that’s how Simon Cowell always puts it), I would have to say, I have been feeling a bit defeated. My grammar studies usually translate more directly into actual speaking skills, but this time, I have stalled. Things go in my eyeballs and fall out my ears or the back of my head or something.

I decided I needed to get my nose out of my grammar books and get myself back to Greenpoint for more practice. So off I went to Brooklyn. 

A Beautiful Day in Greenpoint

A Beautiful Day in Greenpoint

Cafe Riviera, on Manhattan Avenue

Cafe Riviera, on Manhattan Avenue

My main destination was Cafe Riviera, which I had read about online. It has Polish employees and Polish desserts and Polish customers.

I went in and promptly heard a lot of Polish from both the patrons and the people behind the counter. I ordered a latte, sat down, and began studying.

Yep, I brought with me the grammar I was supposedly trying to escape. Some addictions are not worth fighting.

My usual approach, if I want to interact with people in a particular language, is to ask someone sitting near me for help with something.

This is not a ruse, by the way. I really do need help. 

Cafe Riviera, Where I Really Liked My Latte

Cafe Riviera, Where I Really Liked My Latte

I asked the woman next to me in Polish, “Do you speak Polish?” Tak, she said. (That means yes.)

Pointing to a word in my grammar book, I then asked her in Polish, “What does this word mean?” She told me. Frankly, I couldn’t understand her. But I didn’t really care, because the question got a cute little Polish conversation going.

I got to tell her, in Polish, that I had been studying the language for six weeks, and that I found it hard. She nodded in agreement and started listing the more challenging consonant combinations. She was curious about why I was doing it (meaning Polish). I have found that curiosity a lot among Polish speakers, who apparently do not encounter that many Americans trying to learn their language.

It is not the consonants that are doing me in. I don’t find them that bad, and I keep getting more and more used to them. It really is the grammar.

It is things like the fact that even proper nouns like “Polish” or “Martha,” which have only one version apiece in English, change form constantly depending on how they are used in sentences. Proper nouns!!! Those seemed inviolable to me before this project.

It is things like, if you take the negative of a sentence, the case of the direct object changes. Say, like, “I see the boy,” versus “I don’t see the boy.” The boy is (I think) in accusative case in the former, and genitive in the latter. In non-grammatical terms, that means the form of “boy” changes.

As I try to talk, Polish creates in me a kind of linguistic hypervigilance, a grammatical self-consciousness, that translates into a need for numerous naps and extra caffeine.

A Trilingual Pharmacy: English, Polish, Spanish

A Trilingual Pharmacy: English, Polish, Spanish

Polish and Spanish on Its Doors

Polish and Spanish on Its Doors

After leaving Riviera, I was relieved to discover in walking around that more of the Polish signs were understandable to me than the last time I was here.

I’m not sure, but I think the sign above right from the pharmacy translates along the lines of, “Buy your medications cheap. Generics only $6!” Being able to get the gist of a sign that only a month earlier would have been impenetrable is an unbelievable thrill. It gives me the same rush as great literature!

I also liked that it was right above an Hablamos Español sign.

A Greenpoint Grocery Store

A Greenpoint Grocery Store

A Polish Diner

A Polish Diner

Residential Block, Greenpoint

Residential Block, Greenpoint

Greenpoint Branch, Brooklyn Public Library

Greenpoint Branch, Brooklyn Public Library

I ultimately made my way to Greenpoint’s public library. There I spoke at some length to librarian Izabela J. Barry, who is originally from Poland and who has been at the library for nine years.

Lots of Polish Books There!

Lots of Polish Books There!

She has worked to increase the Polish-language section, which I can report was substantial.

Izabela told me that in Brooklyn, demand for Polish reading materials is significant. Only English, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian (not sure of the order) exceed Polish in terms of book needs.

I am going to return to the library next week for a conversation class there. It is English conversation, but attendees are often native speakers of Polish.

I do enjoy bartering language skills; it’s a cool kind of currency.

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