An unexpected meeting in Gdańsk

Muzeum Stutthof w Sztutowie - Gdańsk

Lilian from Gdańsk

Two floors below me lives an old lady. When I come home, there is no way for me to avoid the door to her flat, I must pass it on the way to my flat. The first time I met her was during the first days of my voluntary service in September. I saw her standing on the stairs somewhere between my apartment and hers, moving very slowly as most old ladies do. When I came closer, she turned around and started talking to me.

You must know that I came to Poland without any knowledge of the Polish language which happens to be a rather big problem in Polish conversations. Still, I understood that she was complaining about something, so I tried it with a sad face and a little bit of nodding and after a while she let me go, looking very friendly and happy about the empathy I seemed to show.

The next time I met her on the stairs, she asked me a question after a while, which appeared to be a problem. As mentioned above, I did not speak any Polish at the time. I had no choice but to give up the new, pretended Polish version of myself and to admit: "Przepraszam, nie mówię po polsku!" (=I’m sorry, I don’t speak Polish). She looked at me for a second and then continued to talk.

From that time on, we have been seeing each other on the stairs quite regularly and every time I have to remind her at some point that I do not speak Polish, and every time she just continues to talk. For a couple weeks I even heard her door unlock sometimes when I was passing her flat, she must have seen me through the little peephole in her door and waited for me, so that some days I did not have a choice but to pass her flat running when I did not have a lot of time.

A couple days ago, we met on the stairs again and for the first time, she asked me where I’m from and what my name is. I told her and in return I asked for her name. Now I know that the old lady who lives two floors below is called Pani Maria, that she is 90 years old and has a son who lives in the old town. I do not know whether she will remember my name, but it doesn’t matter. The strange, old lady has become Pani Maria, and the strange country I moved to in September has become Poland, my new home where I can now greet neighbors by name. I mean really, how cool is that?