Seldom Said

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Confusion rains

Rained in

I didn't manage to see any more of Łódź yesterday, principally because it started to bucket down at some point in the afternoon and showed no signs of letting off. Hence I decided to have dinner at my hotel.


Things started promisingly: they had an English menu, which even included some vegetarian dishes. I asked about the soups and whether or not they were suitable for a veggie and the lady serving me recommended the cauliflower. I'm finding it surprisingly easy to identify some of the Polish words for food and my colleague Rafal explained why yesterday. It seems that, at some point in its history, Poland had an Italian queen, who insisted on bringing in all of the foods that she knew from home. Naturally, the Poles, having no names for these foods, based their words on the Italian. Hence I could readily guess at the nature of zupa pomidorona (tomato soup). Feeling cocky, I ordered pancakes with marinated mushrooms and a cucumber salad. I also ordered a local beer and sat there feeling cheerful, watching the downpour through the window.

The soup, when it arrived looked and tasted good - until I found the lumps of meat floating around in it. This didn't do much for my appetite, but I didn't want to kick up a fuss so I just put the offending articles on the side of my plate and forced myself to eat a little more. You tend to get used to this sort of thing as a veggie abroad. No comment from the chef/waitress.

Then the main course arrived: sweet pancakes, smothered in fruit and chocolate sauce and cream, with side dishes of mushrooms and cucumber. I held my head in my hands and tried to concentrate on the funny side, but my host merely commented that she thought my order had been a little strange. Couldn't she have said something, I thought? Or perhaps even apologised for the confusion? Evidently not.

After a certain amount of additional confusion about the concept of savoury versus sweet, she acknowledged that the potato pancakes (also on the menu) were 'salt' and promptly went to make some. I ate these with the (disappointing) mushrooms and salad and then made a brave attempt on the huge pile of sweet pancakes. Ah, well. At least the beer was good.

I retired to my room, feeling rather fed up. Łódź has been all about contrasts for me so far: contrasts between the old and the new, the shiny and the decrepit in the city itself, but also contrasts between my extremely friendly colleagues and pretty much all of the rest of the people that I have encountered, who have been reserved at best. Perhaps it's just because I don't speak Polish; it certainly makes me feel incredibly awkward. Or perhaps it's just a cultural thing. I just hope that other visitors to the city find a warmer welcome than I have.

I also found it a little disconcerting that I had to go and ask for more toilet paper this morning: my room doesn't seem to have been serviced at all since I arrived on Sunday. Perhaps this is evidence of more confusion, or perhaps that's the norm in a 2-star hotel in Poland. On the plus side, my unhelpful host from last night at the hotel did prepare me a resolutely veggie breakfast, so I have to acknowledge that she, at least, is making a bit of an effort.

Thankfully, the sun is shining again today.


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