My husband and I were living in Poland long enough to KNOW that Polish Babcias made AMAZING food.
They are, after all, round for a reason—and it usually meant that they were the cooks of the kitchen with lots of love put into their food.
And so when our downstairs neighbor in our flat came upstairs to tell us something, we went with it.
This is how our conversation went…
Answer the door.
“Dzien dobry, Pani!” (And good day, Ma’am)
And then she proceeded to tell us that next week was a national holiday in Poland and she was making “special” bread.
“Would you like to purchase this bread,” she asked.
Would we? It was a good question—because she was selling this “special” bread for 50pln (roughly at this time $12.50-quite expensive bread).
But she went on, “It’s very traditional. It’s wonderful bread. You’ll love it. I’m making it from scratch. Would we…???”
And we thought, “Heck! Why not! Let’s celebrate this national holiday that we know nothing about (Poland has 1 million national holidays)…and EAT BREAD!”
“Yes! We want to purchase this special bread.”
The catch—we had to give her the 50pln that day since she was poor and needed the money to buy the ingredients.
No. We are not stupid-but sometimes we are not smart. She was poor. And it was very true—she probably did not have any spare money to purchase extra food. I believe that 100%. She was a neighbor (literally, living 1 flight down the stairs). We saw her all the time.
Our list of “why nots” went on until we convinced ourselves to pay upfront for this supposedly heavenly and traditional bread.
She told us that Wtorek (Tuesday) o 17:00 (5pm) we would have this mouth-watering delectable.
And Tuesday came. You should have seen Rich and I as o 17:00 got closer and closer.
“Can you smell it?”
“I smell our bread!”
“It smells fantastic!”
“I can’t wait!”
And we sat and waited—staring at our door like a bunch of loonies.
And 5pm came and went. And 6pm. And 7pm…
You get the idea?
We convinced ourselves. Maybe she said Czwartek? Yes. That was it! Thursday not Tuesday.
And so we gave her grace until Thursday also came and went.
Now we were mad.
You see—we were already serving the homeless 5 days a week, approximately 80-100 meals each and every day. So we had absolutely NO problem with helping someone in need.
But to be conned.
To be tricked.
To be lied to.
Well, that lady did not know Rich. That lady did not know Brooke. But, let me tell you, she was about to get to know us both.
We did it. We marched down those stairs, one flight, and “PUK-PUK-PUK-PUK!” We knocked on that door!
She answered—very innocently.
“Excuse me, Ma’am,” we said in our choppy Polish. “We gave you 50pln, and you have not given us bread.”
There. We said it. We were firm.
But she had that “Babcia” look to her and said, “Oh, my! Yes. I am going to bring you your bread tomorrow.”
Of course, at this point, we are very skeptical. But one more day would not hurt. And so we laid the rules—
“Okay. Jutro o 17:00. Nasz chleb.” (Tomorrow, 5pm, our bread.)
And she nodded her head in agreement and she closed the door and we went upstairs.
Of course “tomorrow” came and went with no bread. And so Richard marched down those stairs again and “Bang. Bang. Bang!” on the door he knocked.
“Yes,” she innocently asked again.
“You did not bring us our bread! We do not smell bread baking. So we want our money back.”
“Oh my! I can’t give you your money back—I don’t have it,” she exclaimed.
And so Richard literally said, “We gave you money. You did not give us bread. This is not okay.”
She looked at him with a blank expression as if to say, “And what are you going to do about it?”
Just then, her son walked by. Richard looked at him standing in the hallway with a package of cigarettes (isn’t it amazing how people can always find money for cigarettes and alcohol?) and said, “YOU! How much money do you have on you?”
He looked surprised to be dragged into this Foreigner versus Babcia battle and said, “Me?”
Rich said, “Yes, you.”
And he pulled out all of his money in his pocket. About 10pln. And so my husband took it out of his hands and said, “Okay. I’ll take it!”
Stunned they stared. And so my husband continued, “We will be back Wednesday to collect 5pln. And we will return each Wednesday until we get all of our 50pln back.” And then he marched upstairs.
Sure enough, the following Wednesday, my husband marched down those stairs and knocked on the door and returned with the 5pln for the week.
And he did this every Wednesday until the entire 50pln was returned, 5pln at a time.
We help the poor. We do it every day in Poland. Gladly.
But…to be conned. Ah, she may have thought she was sly and we were gullible foreigners. We were. What she didn’t think, however, was that she may possibly be conning the wrong people-we don’t stay gullible forever.
In the future, we fell for no more cons-no matter how innocent the con-people looked-and we always, always, always went to the bakery to buy our own bread 😉