Post Eagle Newspaper

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Mar 4, 2024

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The Joys of Being Polish!

Do any of these people, places and things ring a bell?

By Robert Strybel
Polish/Polonian Affairs Writer

What sets PolAms apart from Americans of Irish, Italian, German, Hispanic, Jewish, African, Arab or Oriental ancestry? Naturally, the answers will differ from person to person and place to place, but if you are of Polish descent, some of the following situations or characteristics may ring a bell. For instance:

** You trace your stateside family roots to such places as Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, New Britain’s Little Poland, Detroit’s Hamtramck or Chene Street area, Chicago’s Polish Triangle, Pittsburgh’s Polish Hill, Philadelphia’s Port Richmond, Baltimore’s Fell’s Point, Milwaukee’s Polish South Side, Cleveland’s Warszawa neighborhood or the Polish section of many New England mill towns. I lived two years in the Polish South End of Bay City, Michigan, just off Kościuszko Avenue, where I taught  college, high school and adult education classes in Polish.

** Babcia or Busia is the way you call or used to call your granny, and gramps was always Dziadzia or Dziadek. And you may also have aunts and uncles known in the family as Ciocia Bernice or Ciocia Broncia, Wujek Stan or Wujek Staś, at times Ciocia Bernice and Uncle Staś.

** Someone in your family or maybe you yourself once attended a parish and/or parochial school named after St. Stanislaus, St. Casimir, St. Hedwig, St. Adalbert, St. Hyacinth or Our Lady of Częstochowa.

** You are familiar with Krakus Ham, Wyborowa or Sobieski vodka and maybe even Żywiec,  Okocim, Lech or Tyskie beer.

** You remember relatives who used to tuck blessed Palm Sunday palms behind a holy picture prominently displayed in their home.

**You bristled when hearing the name Lech Wałęsa Anglo-mangled into something like Letch Wollessa and knew from the very start it was pronounced Lekh Vawensa.

** You also know how to correctly pronounce Tadeusz Kościuszko, Karol Wojtyła, Zbigniew Brzeziński and Częstochowa.

** Before Christmas and Easter and some other occasions as well you drive to the Polish neighborhood to stock up on the traditional Old world goodies which may be hard to come by in antiseptic suburbia.

**  You have heard of people with last names like Krzyszczykowski addressed by the drill sergeant or construction-site boss with “Hey, alphabet, get your butt over here”, and by more polite individuals as “Mr K.”

** Christmas Eve supper starts with the breaking and sharing of a white wafer known as opłatek, after which everybody hugs and kisses.

** Your Polish fluency is limited but you know such words as “Dzień dobry” and “dziękuję”, the names of a few foods like pierogi, gołąbki, kiełbasa, kapusta and pączki plus a few swear words including those starting with a “d”, “g”, “k”and “ch”.

** You may actually know who Pułaski, Kościuszko and Piłsudski were and what their claim to fame was all about.

** Dziadek would say “psia krew” when he hit his thumb with a hammer. Since it meant nothing more than “dog’s blood”, you couldn’t figure out why babcia was upset and told him: “Quit swearing in front of the kids!”

** As a kid, you may have collected baseball or football cards, but your Babcia saved the prayer cards passed out at the funerals of loved ones and neighbors.

** You are happy whenever Poland wins an Olympic or World Championship medal or a Pole is nominated for some prestigious award.

** Even after you moved away from the old Polish neighborhood, you attended weddings and funerals at one of those magnificent “Polish Cathedrals”, as those ornate Baroque and Neo-Gothic- style Polonian churches are popularly known.

** You know that Poland lies on the Baltic Sea and that its capital is Warsaw and can name at least two of the countries it shares borders with.

**  After arriving in America, some of your immigrant ancestors worked in a coal mine, steel mill, auto plant or other factory, slaughter house or textile mill.

** You prefer a plate of pierogi, kiełbasa, naleśniki or gołąbki to a Big Mac, Tex-Mex or sushi anytime.

** If asked about Poland’s national anthem, you have no trouble mentioning “Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła.”

** Your US-born parents referred to recent arrivals from Poland as DPs, even though they were not displaced persons or refugees.

** In your immediate circle of family and friends both “Happy Birthday” and “Sto Lat” are sung at birthday parties.

** You keep your Christmas tree up until January 6th, even though your non-Polish neighbors may have dumped theirs or stashed their fake, bottle-brush one away in the basement or attic the day after Christmas.

** You set people straight if you hear them claiming that Frederick Chopin and Madam Curie were French, Joseph Conrad was English or Copernicus was German.

** Na zdrowie! (Here’s to your health) is what you say when a drinking toast is in order.

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