In Poland, as in most European countries, there are different ways to address people depending on how well you know them. The formal way is “Pan” for a man and “Pani” for a lady, which is actually an indirect form of address, while people you are more intimate with are addressed as ‘ty’. Getting this right is a fundamental part of etiquette and great importance is attached to the transition from the formal to informal address when you have got to know someone well enough to regard them as a friend. In Poland you seal this by drinking vodka together in a ceremony known as bruderszaft. In nearly a quarter of a century of visiting the country I have actually only done this once and that was not with a Pole.
Pani Jonka is a Bulgarian and long standing friend of my wife’s family who has lived in Krakow for nearly half a century. Until retirement a few years ago she taught German at the Jagiellonian University. It was one summer’s evening in her flat some fifteen years ago that she suggested to my wife and me that we should move to ‘ty’ and we sealed this in the time honoured way. So Pani Jonka became Jonka, as a result of which I can say that I can count a Bulgarian among my friends. This, I suspect, is more than most people at the Daily Mail can say, or indeed the assorted xenophobic Conservative Constituency Association chairmen. who wrote to the Prime Minister last week. Reading the recent scare stories I had some difficultly reconciling the depictions of hordes of scroungers and benefit tourists alleged to be heading our way with the cultured and thoughtful Bulgarian lady I know. Jonka has worked all her life and includes among her former students people who have become prominent in public life. There can be no doubt that she has contributed much more to Poland than she has taken out.
I can say the same about the Bulgarians I know in Birmingham, a young married couple who run a cleaning and ironing business whose services we sometimes use. They are honest, enterprising and hard-working. As they have a young child they must be considered as one of the “hardworking families” that the Conservatives claim to be wanting to help.
The Bulgarians (and Rumanians, about whom I will write in a future post) who do come, will benefit our country and I can only welcome them.