“A Man Lost in Krakow”

I was struck by John Marshall’s “An Immigrant’s Thoughts on Returning to Krakow” which appeared in The Krakow Post two weeks ago. Mr. Marshall is a staff writer for The Krakow Post and Mr. Marshall, as my advanced English students so aptly stated, is a lost man. His article is full of contradictions and hardly persuasive. What he has to say is hard to follow, and lacks a cohesive and coherent flow. He also makes too many assumptions which a bit of research on his part could have eliminated.

Did he decide to leave his error “na koncu” intact to illustrate he doesn’t know much Polish? Of course my students caught this error right away and thought it was funny that it had not been corrected. I’m surprised that an individual who has decided to make Krakow his home has still has not progressed to the level of Podstawowy (breakthough level) and admits that his knowledge of Polish is basic at best. I have lived in Krakow for a year, and although I wish my Polish were better, I am fairly certain it is better than Mr. Marshall’s.

Although Mr. Marshall’s time in Krakow is longer than mine (his 2 years versus my one), it doesn’t preclude me from asking him why it is that he feels a “blissful ignorance” on the bus because he can’t understand Polish and yet when he gets home, he “fires up some BBC comedy.” Why doesn’t he want to remain in this blissful ignorance? I think it is most likely because there is nothing blissful about ignorance. I get the impression that Mr. Marshall is able to wax poetic about Krakow just as long as he can escape it on some level. He in response to “An Immigrant’s Thoughts on Returning to Krakow” by expat columnist John Marshall…
sounds like the Western snob he is when he states that he is, “largely able to cherry pick from Krakow and Poland only experiences and realities I wish to.” Immigrants don’t get to “cherry pick.”

That luxury is reserved for rich people and that is exactly what Mr. Marshall is although he spends quite a bit of time defining himself as other. First he writes that he is an immigrant arguing that expatriate doesn’t suit him because he is not here in Krakow temporarily. Then he goes on to correct himself and states that he is first and foremost an expatriate, then an immigrant and finally he is an asylum seeker. Mr. Marshall, if he ultimately decides to stay here, is simply an Englishman permanently living in Krakow. It’s not as dramatic and lofty as Mr. Marshall might like, but it’s a whole lot more accurate.

Further on in his article, Mr. Marshall feels the need to misquote Shakespeare which is an insult to both his talent and artistry. Arguably one of the greatest writers of all times, his work has stood the test of time in terms of its brilliance, wit and humor. It’s a literary faux pas on Mr. Marshall’s part to rewrite William Shakespeare’s poetry to suit his needs. After Mr. Marshall rewords Shakespeare, he doesn’t even use it effectively to make his point. This famous quote comes from Macbeth and Ross is the messenger who says “Alas, poor country! Almost afraid to know itself.”

Ross is referring to Scotland and not England. The comparison between present day England (as Mr. Marshall substitutes) is not even close to the horror and heinous acts that Macbeth has orchestrated in his unrelenting and crazed obsession to be King. When Mr. Marshall talks about money and that he wants lots of it and here in Poland, it is a surprise. With one mln Poles or more working abroad to make more money, one would hardly think of Poland as a country where one could make lots of money (unless you are a rich foreigner).

Most of my Polish friends make very little, can’t afford a very big apartment and usually have to share with a friend. I tutor a young girl and this family of four probably lives in about 40 square meters! Mr. Marshall also asserts he wants to be like other immigrants who don’t have to work very hard. What a notion. I’m from New York where there are millions of immigrants and they work really hard. The Poles in New York usually gravitate to construction work or cleaning apartments and are at their jobs long hours with little pay. I don’t believe that most people would consider immigrants as a group of people who don’t have to work very hard ? quite the opposite. Finally I want to let Mr. Marshall in on a little secret.

He is not off the radar, and he is not a little out of focus. Every time he says something, he becomes visible and everyone knows he is from an English speaking country. He possesses a different attitude about life, hasn’t experienced communism or oppression and can, at any moment, return to England. He doesn’t really get to decide whether he wants to be visible, invisible, out of focus, different, on or off the radar. He is a foreigner and will always be one. It doesn’t matter if he thinks of himself as a resident, has a tax number or starts his own business. He is simply an Englishman who has decided to live in Krakow.

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