Greenpoint Speaks Polish
From Nowy Dziennik
September 20-21, 2003

By Marcin Poznan

When asking for directions in Greenpoint, there is an 80 percent chance that we will receive an answer in Polish. We can use Polish freely in nearly all of Greenpoint, since people of Polish descent own most businesses there.

Even if a salesperson is not a Pole, communication should not be difficult. With some gesticulation and Pidgin English, I managed to buy a phone card at the corner of Manhattan Avenue and India Street.

The same can be said of fruit stands. After I paid for an apple, a salesperson with Asian features said to me: Dziekuje (thank you, in Polish). We can recognize Polish stores by the familiar Polish names; such as Danuta Store, Mazur Meat Market, Podlasie, Staropolski Deli, Blask, Kiszka or simply Kosmetyki, Apteka or Komis. In stores with American signboards, we often find stickers saying ‘Mowimy po polsku’ (we speak Polish) displayed in the window. Even if there is no such sign, we can freely risk initiating conversation in our native tongue.

We can run many errands in Greenpoint using Polish. Even though the only bank that displays ‘Mowimy po polsku’ is Morgan Chase Manhattan Bank, it doesn’t mean that in other banks - Citibank, Apple Bank or Greenpoint Bank - we won’t be understood. Poles work in each of these places.

We can be sure of service in Polish in all the branches of Polish Credit Union - not to mention the indigenous Pekao, the most famous bank in Poland. And since we are talking about money, we can use Polish in every place that features the logo: Western Union. After all, they advertise themselves emphasizing ‘Mowimy po polsku.’

It’s logical that we don’t use English when inquiring about the price of some trip in a Polish travel agency. Just like we won’t order flaki, pierogi or borsch in English while in a Polish restaurant.

We hear Polish when in a dental office. Although there is no Polish last name among the names listed on the signboard at Greenpoint Community Health Center, it does not mean that the clinic is inaccessible to Poles. Registration forms and announcements posted on the wall are all translated into our language.

We can ask for help in Polish when strolling through the aisles of stores like C-Town and Associated. We will hear our native tongue spoken at cash registers and over the intercom. And even if a worker stacking bread doesn’t understand us, we should not be abashed. He can go find someone who speaks Polish. Such situations take place wherever Poles work together with people of other ethnic backgrounds.

The majority of beauty salons are owned by Poles as well. Hence the signs: ‘meskie stzyzenie na krotko is bez mycia kosztowac bedzie 10 dolarow’ (men’s haircut - $10).

And who else is going to help us preserve that antique watch if not a Polish clock master? Even in a Laundromat we can use Polish when asking for help with a washing machine, or when asking about which colors not to mix.

If we want to do some reading, we should visit Polish bookstores or the local library. And if we want some pharmaceutical advice we should head to a Polish pharmacy, where we can also buy Polish cosmetics.

English is not necessary when we want to send a parcel, buy a house or get legal advice. We can even use Polish when inquiring about English classes offered in a local English school.

For stores selling Polish magazines, the rule is that the owner or the salesperson speaks Polish. But we usually don’t even need to say a single word when buying a Polish newspaper.

I have yet to meet Polish MTA workers, bus drivers or police officers. Although I was able to buy a weekly metro card using Pidgin English at an MTA booth, it was not as easy as buying a phone card. I was also unsuccessful when ordering food in McDonald’s. Perhaps there were no Poles on shift that day. I did not have any problems, however, when buying a sandwich at Subway. Generally speaking, in fast food restaurants it’s not difficult to be understood when the menus are right in front of us.

Having lived here for a while, I feel that one should attempt to get a driver’s license. There is nothing easier than using the service of the many driving schools whose instructors will teach us in Polish how to drive on American roads. And since we are talking about cars, let me add that I did not even have to ask an attendant at the McGuiness Boulevard gas station for gas. He approached me an said in Polish, “premium or regular?”

But the Polish neighborhood would not be Polish if not for an active party life. There are several Polish bars and night clubs in Greenpoint. In all of them we can speak Polish, listen to Polish music, and, most importantly, we can drink some Polish beer.

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Translated from Polish by Joanna Sufin

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