All Things Polish in Cape Town
You’d think that a country like South Africa is quite far away from Poland and therefore there’d be almost no Polish people here. This isn’t true and surprisingly there’s a Polish diaspora of a reasonable size in Cape Town and a much bigger one in Johannesburg. In today’s post I’ll tell you a bit about Polish people living here and other Polish things you can find in Cape Town.
I have no idea about the actual statistics for Cape Town in terms of Polish people living here. In my years here I have personally encountered around a hundred Polish people. Most are female and the story often goes: they left Poland for U.K./Ireland, they met an SA man there, the soetie* misses home and they moved to Cape Town together. Apart from Poles Poles, there are also people who are children and grandchildren of immigrants. Their Polish is usually surprisingly good, especially in case of the first generation.
I’ve met a lot of nice Polish girls but I haven’t met my Polish bff yet. Our Polish connections are initially full of excitement as we speak the same language and then sometimes it turns out there’s not much more we have in common. The language incentive is very strong in a country like South Africa, where it’s not every day that you can speak your mother tongue. Still, I have some friends and acquaintances whose way of thinking and being is similar to mine and whose company I really enjoy. I also really liked having Polish coworkers in an international office and being able to gossip out loud with no one understanding us.
I guess my biggest problem with relating to Polish people here is the Catholic religion. The Polish community is very much connected to the church. I really don’t mind other people going but it’d be nice if the Polish events weren’t so strongly connected to what’s happening in the church. The afternoon tea or coffee is always happening before or after the mass, close to the church. The Polish library is also located just next to the church and only opens on Sundays (the mass day). Even if the person who helps with the library would like to have it more separated and let people benefit from the Polish culture without necessarily using church services, as much as it’s possible, it doesn’t seem to be encouraged. Polish people I’ve met here, however, are mostly non-aggressive with their religious views. Once or twice someone told me that they’ll see me in church, assuming that I must be a believer and one time a lady was outraged I lived with my husband before marriage. Even though she got married at the ripe age of almost 40 she didn’t live with her husband before getting married because her family (note: not her) was very religious. Whatever floats your boat, my dear. I very much enjoyed the perks of sexual liberation in my life.
From the more formal point of view, there’s a Polish school for kids. There’s no embassy in Cape Town but the Consul comes to visit every two-three months to assist with formalities. I got my new passport via this service but my husband unfortunately had to fly to Pretoria to get his Schengen visa when we were visiting Poland. There’s also a semi-formal Facebook group for Polish women (mostly because Polish men don’t seem to be a thing here).
Apart from Polish people one may also encounter Polish food in Cape Town. There are occasional food events organized by the Polish Association (of course, on the church premises). There’s no Polish restaurant unfortunately but one may still get by. There are ladies making and selling pierogi (=a kind of dumplings) and if you’re more patient you can easily make pierogi yourself from local ingredients. Spar sells amazing crunchy gherkins with the Polish flag on the jar that taste like home. You can buy Polish herring too. Some Polish sweets are also available at Checkers. Once I saw prunes in chocolate but it’s the chocolate products by Wawel that are regularly present on the shelves. If anyone reading it craves an apple pie (=szarlotka), I know someone who’s half-Polish and makes amazing apple pies. In local liquor stores you’ll find vodka Wyborowa for around 100 rand and Żubrówka a pricier Żubrówka for 300 rand. Otherwise the Poles here have to rely on packages from Poland, friends visiting the motherland or their own visits to Poland or England to stock up on supplies.
It’s quite nice to have an opportunity to speak Polish from time to time and I really get excited if I manage to eat some Polish food. At the same time, I’m interested in integration more than organizing my little Poland here so I’m quite happy that there are not as many Polish people here as in England or Ireland.
*a soetie is a slang term for a South African man living in England. It’s referring to an Aftikaans word for salt and what’s allegedly salty is his penis from standing with his one leg in South Africa and another in U.K and having salty water in between.