It is 08:06 as I depart Kraków and heads towards northwestern Szczecin, around six hours away.
With finals around the corner, a couple scattered hours of studying are completed amidst staring out the bus window at a pale sky underlain with green and brown patchwork. Beyond the fields there are hillside castles and churches that stick out from the middle of towns and small cities. Passing through Wrocław, I am reminded of one of my flat mates who had visited a week or two earlier.
We were exiting route 98 and from afar, this beautiful gothic church (St. Henry church on Ul. Gliniana) caught my eye. I rushed (disrupting my peace) as most tourists would to get a decent photo. At the time, I was upset with the image––an unfavorable angle, reflections covering a fifth of the church, electric wires running through the towers––but I appreciate it now as a memory of a peaceful time even as the bus rushed through the city.
By midafternoon, Szczecin welcomed me with the faint smell of fish from the city seaport.
Although I spent the first day gallivanting around trying not to get lost, the next day, I would have an encounter at Pasztecik that would leave me with a deep connection to this city. By the 2nd, I had been to two other dine-in franchises in the city (Ziemnaki i Spolka and Alternatywnie) and each had very kind servers who could speak English or, if they could not, tried to communicate with me and my broken Polish.
Pasztecik’s cashier was different. I entered and greeted her cheerfully “Dzien dobry.” After viewing the menu, I asked, “Czy pani mowisz po angielsku?” To which she sourly answered “Nie” and looked away from me as if I would not get service. I hesitated for a second because this was my first time being rejected in this manner. I disliked asking if a person spoke English especially upfront, but it was a way to know who I was talking to language-wise and for them to know my capabilities.
Not discouraged, I read through the menu as well as I could and then spoke, “Okay, czy mogę mieć grzybek? Poproszę, jeden.” It was good enough for her. When picking up my croquette at the kitchen window the chief asked me if I had ordered one or two, and I did not understand. I should have said that I did not understand, but I figured it was a fifty-fifty question so I answered “Tak” (yes). She checked with the cashier and confirmed that I had only ordered one. I apologized then went to the center table with my SOS Grzybowy (mushroom croquette). It was the best fast food I have ever had: very rich from the butter, very crunchy from the fryer, and very savory from the mushrooms (possibly had some kapusta (cabbage). The food was not the best part of this encounter though.
When I was about to leave I glanced back at the both cashier and chef by the kitchen window who had been watching me eat, and gave them a “Dziekuję, do widzenia!” To which the priorly stubborn cashier replied, “Goodbye” in English and smiled delightfully at me.
Although the air outside was brisk, I was warmed by her farewell. It is a wonderful lesson: our languages may be split and confusing to comprehend perfectly, but that gives us more the reason to keep communicating as best as we are able to at the time. Be brave in the unknown, be kind in the uncivil, be optimistic in the unpropitious.