Is Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City” a man? Does Ugly Betty speak like a middle-aged, slightly bored and cynical man? Yes. And yes. If you are in Poland, that is. Let me explain.
I’ve been asked a few times – and heard people talk about – the fact that Polish TV airs foreign shows and films with two audio tracks simultaneously. And yes, it’s true. Polish TV hardly ever dubs anything. Whether it’s “Friends” or “Reservoir Dogs” or “Fawlty Towers”, you will almost always have a guy reading the script OVER the original version, which is still audible in the background. It’s a strange phenomenon, or a habit, I suppose, but one which very difficult to change.
Polish TV stations have tried – and failed – to introduce ‘proper’ dubbing or subtitling. Public TV once showed films in two versions on the same day – with a lector in prime time and in its original version (for the linguists among us) late at night.
The habit of having one lector reading the entire dialogue in a monotonous, indifferent or nonchalant voice comes from the Communist era and – like many other habits – is very hard to eradicate. Just like the British public cannot stand when the BBC tinkers with its weather maps, the Poles won’t accept Rachel, Phoebe and Monica from “Friends” with Polish, female voices; because you must realise that almost ALL shows have a male lector, apart from animal and nature documentaries which are voiced by a female lector.
This is supposed to be the biggest production to hit Polish TV in ages. Or possibly ever. “Londyńczycy” (Londoners) is a new soap which debuts on TVP1 (Polish equivalent of BBC1) tonight. It has been heavily promoted all over the country with massive billboards and – judging by how many UK papers have picked up on the story – by an equally huge PR campaign.
So, what is “Londyńczycy”? To be honest, until yesterday I didn’t know much about it, but if The Daily Telegraph is to be believed, it
is the first Polish programme to look at the post-accession wave of immigration, which has seen many of Poland’s young people relocate to Britain.
Alarm bells. Alarm bells. Is it all about builders and waitresses then?
Two of the main characters are Darek, a 30-year-old Polish builder who lives in Ealing, west London, and Mariola, 25, who has come to the country to become famous and to marry a rich English gentleman.The gritty storylines will tackle subjects like racism and exploitation, and the series has already been compared to a ‘Polish Eastenders’.
Visually, Londoners recalls a smart, urban show like Queer as Folk. Most Poles will admit that until now, most of their indigenous TV drama has been pretty tawdry-looking stuff churned out for very little money. But with a budget of 13.5m zloty (£3m), Londoners has been able to up the ante, filming its interior shots in Poland, where studio space is still very cheap, and splurging on flashy exteriors shot on location in London. There are scenes at Wembley stadium, on the London Eye, at the South Bank Centre and at other less postcard-familiar spots around the capital including Victoria bus station, a Polish deli and a Western Union money transfer outlet.
Can’t remember a Western Union money transfer outlet from Queer as Folk, but never mind. I’ll look out for clips of it on YouTube to see what it’s all about myself. I don’t think it will aim to show the whole picture about the Polish migrants in the UK, just like EastEnders does not necessarily represent all Londoners. After all Polish dentists and GPs are nowhere near as interesting as Polish baddies, who, according to the series producer, Andrzej Szajna
are screwing over other Poles, which is so often the case in real life.
Sometimes I watch TV and think – what is the point of this? Take tonight’s Channel 4 Cutting Edge (yeah, cutting edge my ass) documentary, Bobski the Builder.
Two extensions, two builders. One is British – slow, annoyingly reassuring, methodical, traditional, takes 6 moths to finish the job – the other is Polish – cocky, cheeky, with a thick accent, less experienced, cheaper, finishes the job in just over 40 days. One takes it easy, does everything by the book, the other is more slapdash, get his boys from a poor corner of Poland and makes them work 7 days a week. Blah, blah, blah. In the end, both screw up, both prove useless.
Precisely what the point of this documentary was, I unfortunately failed to notice. Needless to say, it was a fairly stereotype-ridden affair: a young Polish couple makes the UK their home to improve their standard of living (‘We’re not here for the benefits’); poor south-eastern corner of Poland is the best place to find cheap labour (and a horse cart); Poles travel with tins of spam in their luggage; semi-folksy music of no particular provenance is the best choice for the shots of wintery, muddy Polish country roads.
This shambolic documentary didn’t tell the viewing public anything valuable. Nothing at all. Apart from reinforcing the Daily Mail sort of stereotypes of an Eastern European migrant.
Still, it managed to challange the notion that the British sense of humour is unrivalled. When Jarek was pitching for a job, he told one elderly lady: “I’m also a hairdresser. I can do your hair”. Priceless.