Did You Hear the One About the Dumb Polack

CN: Ableist Slur, Xenophobia,

Did you hear the one about the dumb Polack?

  • He thought his wife was trying to kill him because he found Polish Remover.
  • He tried to ask out a Lesbian by asking where in Lesbos she was from.
  • When a plane crashed into a cemetery, he recovered over 4000 bodies.
  • He locked his keys in the car and had to use a coat hanger to get his family out.
  • He crashed his helicopter when he got too cold and turned off the fan.

I’ve been hearing them as long as I can remember. It seems whenever someone finds out I’m Polish I get to hear a new one, or another variation of an old one.

Why don’t they make Ice in Poland? They lost the recipe.

If it’s not jokes about cognitive disability, it’s jokes about alcoholism. When I was staying in France on exchange, my host family couldn’t help themselves but to mention the famous French expression “drunk as a Polack” as soon as they found out my heritage. My father comforted me by telling me that it originated from Napoleonic times, when Polish foot soldiers would drink before battle to take away inhibitions. It made them terrifying in battle he said.

When I started school, I proudly introduced myself as Ania. The kids teased me, turning my name into an Onion. In shame I started going by Anna. If I really cared about you and trusted you, I gave you my real name. I told you that you could call me Ania. Few ever did. Not until I stopped introducing myself as Anna. Ania was just too hard to say, too hard to remember, too strange to feel comfortable. So for years I hid myself as Anna. Four letters and yet so difficult for people to say. Same with my last name. Bula. Pronounced Boolah. More often people call me Beulah. One memorable trip to the hospital had them calling me Bola, which certainly made for some very tense patients and a couple startled nurses.

I send out two resumes sometimes. I notice which name they call me when I speak to them.

My parent’s names are even harder for English eyes and tongues to comprehend.

They came to Canada in 1986. I was born just 9 months later, and thanks to Canada being one of the few countries that grants citizenship to those born on its soil, I became a citizen. This makes some people hate me. My birth meant my parents got to stay here.

They called my mother Sausage Queen. Pierogi Princess. She is ashamed of her accent. How many times has she worried that it made her sound unintelligent. Too… Polish.

In grade 5, I told my class with pride about my heritage. I am Polish I said. The teacher looked at me with disapproval when I did. Suddenly, my grades started dropping no matter that I was working twice as hard as usual. I stopped being called on for fun tasks and assignments no matter how much I volunteered. I started being put in groups with the other outcasts in the classroom; the black children, the brown children, the other foreigners. At the age of 10 I called it racism. I know better now. It was Xenophobia, a close cousin, a little more privileged then some. Not as bad as if my skin were darker. If I was more… identifiable.

Family Guy lists me among the not real whites. Maybe that’s why I always had such a hard time feeling like one of them. Though I recognize my privilege now, I still feel too ethnic to really belong.

At school, the kids would mock my food. The liverwurst was declared gross. Who would put that on a sandwich? Topped with tomato and pickle, it was one of my favourite things, but the kids at school would screw up their faces and make disgusted noises as I ate. I had to pay a classmate to try Miseria (a cucumber, and yoghurt dish). People ask me if I taste like cabbage, they complain of the smell of sauerkraut at Christmas.

They ask me why I would bother being proud of being Polish? My country didn’t even exist for over 200 years. They don’t know that my great-grandfather risked his life to spread word of the Silesian Polish identity. They don’t know that many of our heroes were stolen from us. Credited with the countries they lived in rather than the countries their hearts belonged to.

Chopin, whose music is filled with call-backs to Polish Folk music. Who poured his longing for his homeland into his compositions.  Whose heart is literally buried in Poland at his request.

Maria Skłodowska, who so loved her country that she named one of the two elements she discovered after it. She thought it would be the more useful element, so she named it Polonium, hoping to put her motherland on the map. Recognized finally for the worth it produces. Instead, Radium gave birth to Radio, Radiation, X-Rays.

Did you know Copernicus was Polish? Mikołaj Kopernik.

Joseph Conrad – Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski. Mandelbrot. Catherine the Great.

In Europe, xenophobic ideas around Poles are common. In Scandinavia and the World, there are jokes and references to Polish thieves. When I ran into some German students while working in a Tie store, they jokingly told the management to look out for me: Polish people are thieves they said. In many places, the stereotype of the illegal, the hired hand, the labourer, the same stereotype represented by “Mexicans” in the United States, is represented by Polish people. Hard workers, but not someone you want your daughter marrying. Don’t believe me? Watch Under the Tuscan Sun.

When my Uncle was escaping being drafted into the army by the communists, he came to England. He worked, illegally, in a Fish and Chip restaurant. He was arrested in a raid, and almost sent back where he would have faced either mandatory service or prison. A last minute intervention had him sent to Canada instead.

It’s not the same thing as racism. It’s less deadly. It’s easier to avoid if you just pretend you’re not who you are. There are less consequences. But xenophobia can hurt. It does isolate. It does lead to hatred and to fear.

Did you hear the one about the Dumb Polack?

An entire country was so afraid of him, they voted to shoot themselves in the foot just to keep him out.

 

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Did You Hear the One About the Dumb Polack
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13 thoughts on “Did You Hear the One About the Dumb Polack

  1. 1

    1.

    Catherine the Great

    Oh yeah. Totally. That’s why she cut up Poland to pieces – because of her endless love for her lost homeland.
    I find it particularly funny that while talking about stolen heroes you write her as Polish when she has never identified Polish (she was Prussian), didn’t write in Polish (her mother tongue was German and she was mostly speaking French) and was a Lutheran who converted to Russian Orthodox.
    Polish through and through, that one.

    2.
    National/ethnic pride is only one step removed from nationalism/tribalism.
    Or to put it less sarcastically: How would you look at someone claiming to be a proud American? What about Alabama pride?
    You seem keen on Polish dead people, but what about living ones? Are you proud of Jaroslaw Kaczynski? Because I can assure you that he and his brother and their party are much more representative of Poland and Poles than Maria Skľodowska and Copernicus.

    1. 1.1

      Considering that the claims being made here regarding pride in Polish heritage are literally the exact same ideas that underlie every flavor of queer pride, I look forward to your explanation of how not seeing one’s membership in a group or bearing of signifiers thereof as cause for shame (what “pride” means here) is a horrible crime against humanity’s collective destiny there also.

    2. 1.2

      “National/ethnic pride is only one step removed from nationalism/tribalism.”

      Go yell that in the middle of a St Paddy’s Day parade, asswipe. Cultural pride is not nationalism; and cultural pride by disprivileged ethnic groups isn’t oppressive.

      “You seem keen on Polish dead people, but what about living ones? Are you proud of Jaroslaw Kaczynski? Because I can assure you that he and his brother and their party are much more representative of Poland and Poles than Maria Skľodowska and Copernicus.”

      *or*, we can instead be proud of people like my dad, who are currently fighting PiS, who are out on the streets daily and who get threats for doing so. Because nations/cultures are not monoliths.

    3. 1.3

      Alyssa

      Considering that the claims being made here regarding pride in Polish heritage are literally the exact same ideas that underlie every flavor of queer pride

      I always thought that queer pride was about being proud of who you are and of how you stand up to discrimination against yourself and your friends in a homophobic and transphobic world. I don’t remember many queer pride events trotting out Caesar because of his bisexuality.
      In other words, queer pride is a pride in achievements by you or immediately related to you and that you’ve earned by your very existence.

      Take Copernicus for example. Ania is calling him a hero, but if he was alive today he’d probably would have wanted her dead for her atheism if nothing else.

      Or better yet look at the first paragraph of Jadehawk‘s comment. It shows all the difference between a gay pride parade and an ethnic one.

      Jadehawk

      Go yell that in the middle of a St Paddy’s Day parade, asswipe.

      Why? What would happen? You think I might get physically hurt by the peace-loving participants? Way to prove my point and retain the moral high-ground all in one sentence. Very effective.

      Cultural pride is not nationalism

      I’ve never said it was.

      cultural pride by disprivileged ethnic groups isn’t oppressive.

      And yet I should watch my tongue during St Paddy’s Day parades. Go figure.

      Because nations/cultures are not monoliths.

      And yet you have no problem grouping all the people in a nation into a single word. How about this, the next time a US politician talks about Southern pride you won’t automatically think about slavery and instead consider good Southern cuisine.

      *or*, we can instead be proud of people like my dad, who are currently fighting PiS, who are out on the streets daily and who get threats for doing so.

      You could and should, but most Poles wouldn’t. Because most Poles support PiS, which has an absolute majority and a death-grip on Polish politics. And I can assure you, they’re just as proud at being Polish as Ania and their pride is just as authentic.

      1. AlexanderZ, you’re beginning to bore me.

        I do not have to think my countrymen flawless to recognize what is worthy among the things they have done, built, or maintained.
        I do not have to think my countrymen beneath contempt to criticize their many, many failings, and if you’d had the prescience to read this blog with more than petty sniping in mind, you’d have recalled how much energy I put into criticizing them.

        I do not have to think my countrymen flawless to recognize what we share.
        I do not have to think my countrymen above reproach to experience sadness when they are harmed.

        I do not have to think my countrymen beacons of illustrious humanity to recognize that my place among them isn’t a shameful marker for which I should be denigrated.
        I do not have to think my countrymen perfect to imagine that they don’t deserve entire societies declaring and treating them as lesser for being my countrymen.
        I do not have to think my countrymen worthy of fascist loyalty to recognize the achievement of they, and I, still being here and still being who we are after colonial efforts to erase us up to and including forced sterilization by the US government.

        Else, I’d have to think you utterly contemptible slime unworthy of any further presence here for leaving this xenophobic, ignorant, privileged effluvia all over my comment thread, and you’re not worth that kind of energy expenditure.

        Weigh your next words carefully, and do not bore me again.

      2. Why? What would happen? You think I might get physically hurt by the peace-loving participants?

        nothing would happen, you confused little shit; that’s projection on your part. but thanks kindly for proving that you are indeed only selectively yelling that, only where it contributes to cultural disenfranchisement of minority cultures.

        I’ve never said it was.

        liar. your entire ascription of ania’s expression of cultural pride to nationalism was you saying that.

        And yet I should watch my tongue during St Paddy’s Day parades.

        that is literally the opposite of what i said.

        You could and should, but most Poles wouldn’t.

        irrelevant to the point at hand

        And yet you have no problem grouping all the people in a nation into a single word.

        i am not, as a matter of fact, using “polish” to describe people in a particular nation. that would be inaccurate. “polish” is a ethnocultural descriptor that doesn’t depend on location or citizenship. you are the one conflating nation with culture, not me or ania.

        And I can assure you, they’re just as proud at being Polish as Ania and their pride is just as authentic.

        and there you are again, conflating cultural pride with nationalism. right after you denied doing so. you’re quite bad at this whole arguing thing.

  2. 2

    Poland has been invaded, torn apart, manipulated, and been under the authority of outside governments most of its history. And there is still a Poland. It is one of the countries that would absolutely terrify me if I were the wannabe world conquering type. Because no matter what you do to it, there is still a Poland.

    Also I’m sorry that people are assholes.

  3. 3

    Growing up on the northwest side of Chicago I heard more than my share of Polish jokes as a kid. But it was also a place to learn about Polish culture. After all, the city celebrates Casimir Pulaski Day each year.

    All of the stores in the neighborhood had Polish speaking clerks. The best Greek restaurant in the neighborhood had the “Please Wait for Hostess” sign in Polish first, English second, and Spanish third.

    I was fairly old before I knew about Fat Tuesday. It was always called Pączki Day instead.

    I loved growing up in a diverse city. America always has had a love/hate relationship with its immigrants. I hope we don’t use the same bullet on our foot next November.

    My condolences on the election results…

  4. 4

    An entire country was so afraid of him, they voted to shoot themselves in the foot just to keep him out.

    I don’t know if you were alluding to it or if you were aware, but anti-Polish bigotry by UK extremists is out in the open.

    Regarding insults used openly and without thinking of the effects, NASCAR is guilty of doing it on TV to describe a victory lap driven the opposite way around a track.

    To end on a positive (à la Marie Curie), Polish Notation (PN) and Reverse Polish Notation (RPN) are heavily used in mathematics and especially in computer science to add clarity and remove ambiguity from mathematical formulae. It runs counter to how we’re taught math in school, but once you learn it, it really makes sense.

  5. 5

    Don’t forget Witold Urbanowicz and the 303rd RAF Free Polish squadron who saved the UK’s tush in the Battle of Britain. In a particularly insane case the British National Party used a Spitfire on one of their anti-Polish posters only to discover that it was one of the 303rd’s.

    Jerzy Rozycki, Henryk Zygalski and Marian Rejewski who made the key breakthroughs in decoding Enigma. Polish cryptographers (Biuro Szyfrów) were, by 1938, reading some 75% of intercepted German Radio transmissions enciphered using the Enigma machine, before the Germans added wheels. These breakthroughs were smuggled under utmost secrecy to Bletchley Park giving the Allies an immense head start for Ultra.

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