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Translating Christmas

Celebrating Christmas and other festivals in a foreign country is easy with the help of a premium electronic translator.

I’m someone who loves to talk. There’s nothing better than sitting round the dinner table and enjoying a bit of banter.

So when my boyfriend Stefan invited me to spend Christmas with his family in Poland, I was really excited and a little apprehensive. I know Poles love to celebrate Christmas in a traditional way, but how would I be able to communicate with his mum and dad, not to mention his uncles, aunts and grandparents … and what about all his cousins?

But I said to myself, I’ll be just fine with an English-Polish dictionary, and I’m sure they speak a bit of English. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Cooking in a foreign language …

I arrived knee-deep in snow on December 23rd in the beautiful winter wonderful of Bieszczady in the southeast corner of Poland. Preparations were well underway for Wigilia – a Christmas Eve dinner consisting of 12 courses, including barszcz (beetroot soup), karp zatorski (carp) and pierogi (half-circular Polish dumplings). The smell of baked piernik (gingerbread) wafted in from the kitchen and I was welcomed into the house with a mug of kompot made from stewed plums.

Stefan’s babcia (grandmother), Jadwiga, was busily preparing the pierogi and squealed in delight when she saw me, grabbing me by the hand and leading me into the kitchen to help her. She pushed Stefan out of the room and started chatting away to me excitedly, giving me strict instructions on how to knead the dough, prepare the filling and then stuff the pastry parcels.

I couldn’t understand a word. Although I’d picked up a bit of Polish in the year Stefan and I had been together, ordering a coffee is one thing, but cooking in a foreign language is something else! I felt really frustrated and a little bit embarrassed that I couldn’t communicate. My cheeks were on fire, and my cheek muscles were tired from grinning nervously.

… is easy and fun …

After 15 minutes of hearing me struggle with my pigeon Polish, Stefan pulled me aside and took me into the living room.

“I was going to give you this tomorrow,” he said, handing me a wrapped present from under the tree. “But I think it might come in handy now. Open it.”

I ripped off the paper. Inside was a stylish electronic device – a two-way translator not much bigger than my mobile phone that translates real-life conversations. Stefan said that it was simple and quick to use, and to prove it, switched it on and spoke into the device.

“Wesołych Świąt,” he said, and then pressed a button. “Happy Christmas,” the device repeated in a male native-speaker like voice. I smiled, took the translator and marched triumphantly back in the kitchen, closing the door behind me.

… with an electronic translator!

For the next three hours, Jadwiga and I couldn’t stop laughing as we used my new electronic translator to share recipes, stories and even the odd rude joke. It was a wonder we made any pierogi at all! But we did, and when we finally emerged from the kitchen, we’d made mushroom and cabbage pierogis, as well as tiny ones stuffed with porcini and fried onion, known as uszka, or “little ears” – all ready for Wigilia.

For the rest of the festive period, almost every member of Stefan’s extended family wanted to try out the translator. Not only was it brilliant to be able to communicate and understand what everyone was saying, but the translator actually helped me to actively learn Polish!

At the Wigilia meal, Jadwiga challenged me to say something in Polish in front of the whole family.

“Bardzo lubie polski jedzenie,” I said – something I’d learnt from my electronic translator.

“I love Polish food!” they all replied!

Sarah Richards