So I have been in Warsaw for over a month now. That being said, I have developed a pretty good sense of “grocery store Polish”, which is basically the equivalent of learning just enough Polish to interact with the old grocery store cashiers that speak no English whatsoever. However, that will only get you so far in other places around the city. The following tale is my most memorable food experience I have had abroad that ends with me NOT getting food. You’ll live if you already know the ending.
Here’s the scene. I had just gotten back into town after an amazing five-day trip to Berlin and Krakow with some friends from Eastern. They just finished a huge backpacking trip across Europe so they weren’t in one country for very long. In Krakow, we had pierogis for every meal. That’s not hyperbole. EVERY MEAL. When I got back to Warsaw, I needed food but wanted anything except pierogis. I head over to this milk bar (which sounds very Clockwork Orange but is just a cafeteria-like restaurant). I sit at a table and stare at a menu all in Polish for about fifteen minutes, using my phone and the Google Translate photo feature to translate so much of this menu. I can read the pierogi section but my body wouldn’t allow it. I translate almost all of this menu and decide on this omelette dish. Walking up to the counter with the pride and confidence of Michael Phelps at a middle school swim meet, I hit the cashier with a well-rehearsed “Dzień dobry” and follow it with a “Can I have the omelette”. The cashier goes blank and points to a chalk menu behind her, saying nothing. Detective Matt deciphers this to be the lunch menu, which means no omelette. Panic. I can’t read anything and my mouth refuses to say the word “pierogi”. Clearly flustered and no longer confident, I say “Can you just give me something cheap with meat?” Again, the cashier looks confused. “Cheap? No.” Then she opens a tray full of potatoes and the final nail in the coffin was her just saying “Potato.” I’m stunned (some would say flabbergasted but I don’t live in the 40s). At that point, I had to take the L and leave.
It’s funny now, but in the moment it was very cringy. Suffice it to say, I’ve learned to ask for more recommendations and things have gone much better.