We came to Poland a week ago in order to sort out my mother in law’s funeral – she died nine days ago quite suddenly but peacefully in her sleep – originally we were just coming to visit her, but sadly she beat us to it.
But this post isn’t going to be about her, I’ll do that another day. Today I want to write about some of the experiences we have had this week. We weren’t looking forward to all the administration, the paperwork, the phone calls, the arrangements, the visits. In a word all the haranguing that usually accompanies such necessities.
My memories of Polish officialdom are generally horrendous. Unsmiling unpleasant clerks, grim offices, usually painted a bilious green, rude and officious workers, supercilious administrators. You get the picture.
Yet here this week it was all very different. First we had to go to the care home to collect mother in law’s things. The staff were so lovely about her that it made me cry. No one said she was easy, but they loved her.
Then we had to collect the death certificate. Jacek went to the office, I waited in the corridor. I thought I was in for the duration, but a lovely woman stepped out from her office and regaled me with stories about the town and her family etc etc. I didn’t want to leave!
Armed with the certificate we could then do everything else. The funeral parlour official was efficient yet warm – you felt everything would be all right. Transferring all the flat services to my husband’s name was a pleasure. Especially the electricity board. The beautiful young man in the other side of the computer was a delight to look at, as well as being very quick. The gas board lady today was a little terse when my husband explained what needed to be done, but it was fun watching her succumb to his charms and slowly unfreeze enough to smile.
Banking here is very strange. All very comfortable with seating and nice lighting – but one branch was not authorised to move money between accounts or to pay money out!!! So we returned to the original branch, only to be told that they couldn’t do an electronic transfer between accounts; they have to physically move the money. Pay out from one. Pay it in. They charge quite a bit for this privilege. In the end, however, they didn’t make us handle the cash. But we still had to pay as if we had! But all explained with the most delightful smile.
We had to go to the post office. To buy a stamp. I was very nervous about this because the last time I went to a Polish post office was in 1971. The conversation went like this:
How much is a stamp to England?
I don’t understand – how much does it cost?
The price hasn’t changed. It’s as always.
Yes, but, how much do I pay?
Same as always.
I’m sorry. I don’t live here. I don’t speak Polish very well. I don’t understand.
Oh. But you speak Polish. How was I supposed to know ?
At which point I burst into tears.
Post office lady finally took pity on me and sold me some stamps, and even told me the price.
That was a traumatic experience, however. I remember people staring and sniggering and I didn’t want to ever repeat it
So when we needed a stamp yesterday I was triggered and tense.
We walked in. Instead of a dark and dreary grey room we were in for a sensual feast. Bright colours everywhere. People smiling. Sweets, toys, towels and handbags randomly on sale. Books and cards and flags and football shirts. Chaos. In a good way though.
We got to a counter. My husband asked for a stamp and the price thereof. The lady explained. And smiled. We smiled back. We bought some stamps. We posted our letter. Success!
We’ve kept the Warsaw taxi service going as we’ve had to go the length and breadth of Warsaw to sort things out. Tomorrow it’s the notary’s office and then that’s it until we come back for the actual funeral.
People have been very kind – though it’s very different from England. Here no one acknowledges your loss, even though they know that’s why you’ve come to their office. They just ask for identification or insurance number. But I soon got used to that aspect, as everything else went very seamlessly.
It’s taken 50 years for me to realise that things have really changed. How slow are you?