Monday, 21 September 2009

The Devil's Fruits and Vodka Absurdity



The biggest story in Poland is the missile shield, or lack thereof, but it has been written, talked and blogged to death so here are 2 other topics which entered my head at some point or another recently.

1) Fruit machines: They have sprung up like mushrooms after rain in the last 6-9 months. First they were restricted to gaming parlours and pubs. Then they appeared in petrol stations. Now they are taking over any available space-- empty shops converted into dismal 2-machine casinos, 12 year old boys and depressed housewives relentlessly feeding them in supermarket foyers....
I don't gamble. Not for any religious or moral reason, just because it has always struck me as a very pointless, dull and expensive past-time. I have no problems with fruit machines in pubs and gaming parlours but that is where they should stay.
Of course, people will argue that i'm advocating a 'nanny state' approach and that the restrictions on fruit machines should be lifted in the name of 'choice', 'fun' and the divine right to make money by whatever means. If people are stupid enough to develop an addiction to these machines then that's their problem, right? Someone selling crack outside a school could use the same logic.
It looks like their here to stay, so now everytime I go to the supermarket and see a group of underage boys with glazed expressions crowded round the one-armed bandit i'll be reminded what a cheap and crass world this can be sometimes.

2) Vodka to Poland?: There is an expression in English which makes reference to my hometown: "To take coal to Newcastle." The Poles say something similar about taking wood to the forest. It is used to describe some pointless, illogical activity.
Some time in the past, they actually did start taking coal to Newcastle (some of it from Poland) and what was a byword for absurdity became normal.
This came to mind recently when I went to buy vodka for my wedding. I know a lot of Poles who buy Bols or Maximus but I always try to respect my adopted country by buying the far more patriotic Sobieski brand. I intended to do the same but unfortunately buying vodka for 40-odd people is expensive. The 2 cheapest (drinkable) brands were Smirnoff and Bols. Reluctantly, I ended up buying 50% Sobieski and 50% Smirnoff/Bols.
There is no love lost between Russia and Poland but they would both grudgingly accept that they both know about vodka. But Bols is Dutch. Dutch vodka at a Polish wedding!! If that is not taking coals to Newcastle, what is?
The Communist era threw up plenty of examples of absurdity (basketball nets on grass?!?) but people buying Dutch vodka for Polish weddings in order to save money shows that modern capitalism is all too capable of producing its own mind-boggling examples.

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