Okay , so Ada and I have been travelling around Poland . A couple of friends came over at the same time that we came to travel with us for a couple of weeks . We all just last night returned to Szczecin by train from Krakow . It was a nine -hour journey . Yeah , Poland is a big country .
Szczecin is Ada’a home city . It’s relatively close to Berlin and there seem to be loads of tourists from Germany coming here . Mostly old fogies ( I know ! I know ! Look who’s talking . ) , they come on buses that stop at the castle. Some of the adventurous travelers wander down to the old town for a beer and a meal . The buses stop at a spot overlooking the river for a short lecture . Everyone huddles around the tour guide .
Ada jokes that they’re being told ,” This was all ours once ” , and it all was . World War Two ended that . The Germans were moved out and Poles from the east were moved in . The border changed . There are photos of that man Adolph strutting along these same steps that overlook the river , surrounded by a pack of his uniformed thugs . I saw a “Hitlerplatz” drawn on an old Szczezin map . It’s not Hitlerplatz no more . Times change .
Anyway , I am constantly on the alert for the English language over here . It’s still rare to hear any English on the street in Szczecin . The young people now , though , study English in school ( instead of Russian ) , so a new generation has at least a basic command of the lingo . English is , I guess , the lingua-franca of recent time . Well , sorry Frenchies , it’s the lingo-Anglo , maybe . It’s the new Latin . But I digress .
Anyway , if I hear an English speaker in the city I courageously approach and engage . A few Brits show up from time to time . Last year I ran into two Manchester couples drinking beer at a sidewalk cafe . We talked a little Irish , English , Americano over a couple of Polish beers . They said they’d be back again this year , so I’ll keep an eye out for them in July . I’ll check the sidewalk beer places , keep a sharp watch .
Ada thinks , I guess , that it’s silly for me to begin conversations just ’cause I heard the native tongue . Sometimes , I’ll admit , I was fooled by Swedes . Swedes seem to speak American and look American — younger Swedes , anyway . I’m not easily tricked , but Swedes have done it . There are American accents , or tones of voice . American faces are more relaxed than European faces . And , my advice is to always check the shoes . Ada will say some guy is probably American . Not with those shoes , I say . I’m a pretty accurate judge of American or not. The exception is those Swedes .
I’ve never met an American in Szczecin , except for a few friends who have come to visit . Ada said the place is crawling with them — or something to that effect — but , well , in that case they must be good hiders . I did hear one probable American pass by last year , passing by too quickly for conversation . And then there was the preacher woman wearing a heavy-metal T-shirt and speaking with a thick southern accent. She placed herself at the fountain near the river . ” I’ve been in thirteen cities in the last fourteen days !” she shouted . ” I don’t even know where I am ! ” Not a tactful start to her revival preaching . I heard a group of young girls nearby say quietly , in polite mockery : ” Szczecin “. I avoided her . Didn’t want salvation that particular day .
Well , as it happens , more English speakers come to Warsaw , especially in the summer . Nevertheless , I heard American spoken at the Old Town by a small group of people and I , fearlessly , approached . Actually , Ada had been the one to hear the language first , and she wanted to know if I would go on over . Of course !
I made one of my generic intro statements : ” I hear American voices ” , and received blank stares for my trouble . Okay , a weird old bird like me approaches out of nowhere . Could be anybody . Best to be on guard . I get that .
” I’m from California ,” I said , trying to be informational , to relieve any anxiety . Spoke it in a conversational tone . Too late though ; the whole encounter had already begun to go south .
” I’m sorry , ” a woman said . The others stared . She stared . She said the two words sarcastically , hard , as if it were not the joke the words might have been meant to be . I made a gesture of beginning to walk away . My joke . Blank stares . I knew that I should have actually walked away right at that moment . It was only going to get worse . Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose . Hard stare from the ” I’m sorry ” gal . She must have been the leader of the bunch .
” We’re on a pilgrimage , ” she said . ” Following the steps of Pope John Paul . ”
” Oh , ” I said . ” That’s nice , ” I said . For pilgrims they were a cold unfriendly bunch , I thought . But , then again , I don’t know anything about pilgrims . Maybe pilgrims are all an unfriendly bunch . Wouldn’t seem like they would be . Should have some warmth , be welcoming to strangers , I would think . I’m thinking of some of those Canterbury Tales . Weren’t they pilgrims ? They all had tales to tell — seemed an interesting bunch . I know . I know : irrelevant !
But now I was caught in this awkward stare-down with the pilgrim master .. I was the uninvited intruder . I should have told her , I thought later , that I only came over to say hello , not to be insulted about my home state , and walked righteously away . Give them that to consider on their pope pilgrimage . This woman was probably an ex-nun , I thought later , with her cold didactic tone . I mean the worst stereotype of a nun . I wouldn’t be surprised . Who knows !
I went back to Ada and our two ( California ) friends . Ada was having trouble restraining her laughter . ” He always thinks he has to talk to Americans , ” she told our friends . ” Maybe you’ll learn your lesson , ” she told me . Ex- nun , I thought . Just my luck .