Travel notesIssue 09 | May 2010

Getting Away With It

by Margaret Foley

Warsaw, Poland, 1991

I leapt onto the back of the tram as it left Plac Bankowy, my coat almost catching in the closing doors. I fished in my pocket for a ticket. Not finding one, I attempted to buy a ticket from the woman standing next to me.

Czy ma pani bilet?

Niestety, nie ma, she shrugged.

I checked my watch. Just enough time to make it to the consulting firm where I taught English.

I began to think about the day’s lesson. Basia, a consultant, was hoping to be sent to the States for training and wanted to learn more everyday phrases. At the last lesson, she and the rest of the students were intrigued by the many uses of the verb, to get.

W moim słowniku, istnieją trzy strony wyjaśnień! Basia exclaimed. I was surprised to hear that, but when I returned to my apartment I checked my own dictionary. Sure enough, there were almost three pages of ways to use to get.

I started to concoct a list—get sick, get busted, get high, get laid, get sold a bill of goods, get married, get invited, get off easy, get a loan. I didn’t know all these phrases in colloquial Polish, but I knew I could explain them.

As I thought of sayings, I watched the familiar sights of one of Warsaw’s main streets. On the left, the gray Dom Handlowy department stores (get a deal). On the right, the grayer Palace of Culture around which people from the former Eastern bloc sold clothes, television parts, and a random assortment of food (get ripped off). Unexpectedly, I saw some Gypsies start a fire in a trashcan to warm the dull February afternoon (get out of the way).

The ticket inspector boarded (got on) at the busy roundabout where Marszałkowska and Aleje Jerozolimskie intersect. He punched his ticket in the red validation machine at the front of the car and studied the unique pattern of holes it made. Some riders carefully preserved the tickets from their regular routes. As they stepped on, they would note the black identification number at the back of the car and then check their wallets for a previously punched ticket, hoping to cheat the inspector.

He began checking tickets. Bilet, bilet.  His arm moved from passenger to passenger with the precision of a metronome. He casually glanced up the car. I grimaced when I saw his face (get nervous). Three months earlier this same inspector caught me without a ticket. After brandishing his notebook, he had, oddly enough, introduced himself.

Nazywam się Tomasz, he said as he took off his dark blue cap. He added that he found my red hair and fair skin exotic for Poland (get a life). I pretended not to understand the compliment, the invitation to coffee, or the threat of a hefty fine, which, as a foreigner I would be required to pay immediately. I acted confused and in English told him I didn’t understand Polish. I jumped off the tram without paying as it came to a stop, leaving him shaking his pen at me (get blown off).

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About the author

Margaret Foley tries to pack light when she travels, but she always ends up bringing one too many pairs of shoes. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is an editor at Oregon Home Magazine. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The Christian Science Monitor, Ilya’s Honey, and Opium Magazine. She would like to go back to India someday, but doesn’t feel the need to repeat a train trip she took in 1991 from Warsaw to Moscow in February in an unheated train compartment.

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Two Poems by David Havird
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The Lounge Lizard by Ed Shacklee
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Koinonia Farms by Alina Stefanescu
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