I have lived in Warsaw, the capital of Poland, for a great deal of my life, and I can say honestly that I have regulated myself to the habits of the native Varsovians to such an extent that nothing surprises me anymore. Well, almost nothing. There’s still the crazy way people drive, with little or no regard for pedestrians. The way groups of men – three dozen strong in some cases – do the ritual round of hand shakes, which can take a few minutes to achieve. Why it’s okay to go first before a woman out of a bus but never from a lift. There are these and more, but none of them is as mysterious to me as the perilous speed of elderly Polish women racing for a seat on a bus or tram.
I first came across this when I arrived in Poland some fifteen years ago. I had never seen such behaviour before and found it amazing and a bit odd: here was an old lady – say in her late seventies, slow in gait and beret-wearing, who most of the time never moved above the speed of a heavily-sedated snail – acting like Speedy Gonzalez and The Hulk. On more than a few occasions I have been the victim of such ladies, knocked out of the way like a pin on a bowling alley. There was no ‘excuse me’ or ‘sorry’ to follow, just the nasty stare or grunt or – if I was really lucky, nothing at all.
So, if you are ever in Warsaw – or any where in Poland for that matter – and are taking public transportation, be warned: look to your left, and to your right, in front of you and behind you, because you never know who could be lurking or getting on the bus or tram in search of that coveted prize: an empty seat.