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Let me explain a joke to you. Actually, a whole set of jokes, a facebook page worth of jokes. Explained jokes are rarely funny, especially ft takes additional background info to get them. But we’re talking about jokes in Polish. If you feel confident and you can handle it on your own feel free to jump to The Punchline.

Polish culture is steeped in language

Drenched, or even pickled. This is because for few dozen decades language was holding the nation together, in lieu of a state and assorted institutions. At least this is the theory which you are being fed from primary school onward, and it’s not without merit.

The national psyche, then, is extra difficult to penetrate for non-Polish speakers. Polish is difficult too, even for the Polish. One notable example is our current president, who botched the grammar so spectacularly in his early speeches, it earned him his own page on meme generator.

Polish local democracy is like the kiwi bird

kiwi bird walkingIt has a beak. It looks, arguably, like a bird and scientific taxonomy considers it to be one. Still, it cannot fly; it doesn’t even have wings. In the evolutionary race it nervously marches forward, trying to place itself close to the penguin, and avoid the fate of the dodo (evolutionary biologists look away).

This novel exercise called democracy – that Poles once tried in 18th century but it then got sidelined by external curriculum – is painful, as is every new physical activity. If you haven’t moved much since PE lessons in high-school, you might puke first time you try to jog for half an hour. Such is life.

It is particularly difficult for the local administration bozos, who are readily embracing the idea of being democratically elected, but struggle with its practical implications. You just do what’s best for you and you brother-in-law, ya? Sadly sometimes, especially in a large city such as Warsaw, some of your constituents read books by professor Barber and expect this shit to fly in their backyard.

In Warsaw, the mayor is called a president, and currently we host Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, of the same party as the above mentioned president of the country, in the chair. If she read Barber, it doesn’t seem like she understood much. Warsaw is currently in the process of constructing ginormous roads to fix its congestion problems. Like it’s the 90s and research hasn’t proven that more wide roads inevitably fill up with more cars, cutting a city in to slices, like a smog-covered pizza. It does help for few years though, and few years is what you need to win the next election.

Speech is a harsh misthess

The lady in question has a speech impediment – a rather popular one as far as speech impediments go – she doesn’t pronounce the letter r. Instead she expels a sound closer to r with some r mixed in. In Polish r is abundant, so the impediment is quite easily noticed. It’s one of these things, like ginger hair, that are likely to make your life miserable in school, because children are cruel psychopaths, but later in life might actually score you some sexy points.

When the mayor is being mocked, usually her speech impediment comes into play, probably because adults are cruel psychopaths, only they underwent the process of socialisation and learned to cover up. Also it would be somewhat weird to pretend it’s not there, after all it’s just a part of one’s physical make up, that makes a person more easily identifiable.

The Punchline

What is usually the actual subject of jokes is the president’s relentless self-promotion – parading for public service, since it’s public-funded. Her photo might welcome you to an outdoors gym, which was financed by the city (aka tax payers). She might write a foreword (plus a picture) to a brochure about the retirement system; not exactly a local matter, but the local government ought to keep you an informed citizen.

Another (un)popular one is the general direction of city’s development under her reign – increasing space for cars, revitalisation of old streets through more concrete and less greenery, terrible aesthetic choices, and lack of urban planning. This does not sit well with the part of constituency, which listens to 99 percent invisible.

Other issues involve: antiquated top-down governance, hiring friends and admirers who aren’t necessarily qualified for their positions, finalising major public works to coincide with elections (you know the elections are coming, because the second line of underground is to open “any day now” – late after the first promised date in 2013, and the second one on Sept 30th this year), commercialisation of public spaces, stifling small enterprises with permits and bureaucracy, and so on. We waxed about it before.

All of the above and more are brilliantly illustrated by the anonymous (she’s a graphic designer, that’s all we know), hero-author of Convehsations with Hanna, which in Polish would be “rozmówki z Hanną”, except in this case we can’t pronounce the r. The page started less than a month ago and is currently just about to sport 9500 facebook tokens of appreciation.

Let’s try some of them on for size:

Convehsations with Hanna: we are all creating...
We are all creating Warsaw (this is the campaign slogan for Hanna in this elections, appropriately creating with h substituted for r creates the above line)
Convehsations with Hanna: bedhonka
Biedronka is the Polish word for ladybug, as well as a name of the chain of discount stores which have been popping up around town like Starbucks in London – on every corner.
Convehsations with Hannah: dreaming of tubes
The spider-shaped entries to the new, 2nd line of Warsaw’s underground, come in different colours. All of them.
What’s that, a bike lane? Aphril Fools! (In Polish prima aprilis)
Convehsations with Hanna: Pahty Monsteh!
Editor’s favourite, the Pahty Monsteh. This one was geo-tagged at the downtown bar studio, which is placed in the palace of culture (pictured).

The cover photo of this article also comes from the page, a mock-up of a neon on one of Warsaw’s bridges, which in real life says “miło Cię widzieć” (it’s nice to see you). Here it says “well done me” or more directly “bravo me”, which in Polish would be brawo ja – by now I hope you can solve the “h” mystery yourselves.

The neon, by the way, was created as an effect of a controversial contest run by the Warsaw’s neon museum, but that is a whole different story…

EDIT: As of January 2017, Ms Gronkiewicz-Waltz is still the president of Warsaw. After reelection, she had hired the designer of above posters as a member of her PR team.

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