Outside the shining National Stadium, a final coat of green paint was being applied to the rails of the tram station. A light drizzle was falling, and a crew of bored-looking security guards stood ready at the entrance, anticipating a crowd that was still days away.
Downtown, outside the Soviet-gothic edifice that is Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science, the Fan Fest was also getting a final touchup. One side of the Center was being draped in the purple, red and white bunting of the tournament; the other side was testing the audio stacks by blasting Phil Collins.
There was a slow but steady trickle of fans from the railway station into the grounds, part of which are being used as a campsite area. Already, some enterprising Irish fans had set up to busk, and were collecting zlotys (the Polish currency) for the night’s food.
It’s impossible to escape the European Championship in Warsaw, even if some of the residents are trying their darndest to stay away. Every liquor store you pass has a large display featuring the grinning mascots Slavek and Slavko, twins that bear an unfortunate resemblance to Vanilla Ice. Every candy bar has the vaguely floral EURO2012 logo, every can of soda screams for a player and the cup of coffee next to my keyboard has more logos on it than caffeine in it.
It’s not accurate to say that Poland is ambivalent about the Euros, rather that they would prefer not to get their hopes up in case things come apart. There is a bit of the glass half empty mentality here: when I mentioned to one of our hosts how impressed I was with the seamless transport, I was told that another subway line should have been built but was instead incomplete.
A number of the emails I’ve received since starting this blog have expressed surprise that I don’t think Poland is, in the words of one correspondent, “a Third World Country.” (I don’t, and it’s not.)
Now, there has been a bit of sourness over the past two days about the makeup of the Polish national team. A former national team goalkeeper, Jan Tomaszewski, intemperately said he would not support the current team because it contains some players from Germany and France.
One of those players, Bordeaux’s Ludovic Obraniak, was caught up in a storm after a French magazine quoted him as saying he didn’t feel a part of the team. Tuesday, Obraniak was asked by a local journalist if he could sing the Polish national anthem. He responded to the gotcha in halting Polish (no small feat, considering Polish is a language with seventeen different versions of the number two), an effort that seemed to calm some of the furore.
Perhaps some of this angst comes from national pride – the US national team has had similar flaps, after all – but some of it comes from uncertainty. The Poles are currently the lowest-ranked team in the Euros per FIFA, and there is deep worry that they will trip over the first hurdle.
I doubt they will. Poland has already shown itself to be a warm and welcoming host, and the team is better than some think. And that Euro bunting? It isn’t coming down any time soon.
4: The number of “harmful” chemicals found in nine tested Euro2012 replica shirts according to a report from BEUC, the European Consumers’ Organization.
4: Zlotys to the dollar at current exchange rates, but that doesn’t tell the whole story:
10: The price of a pair of new Keds, in dollars, on Warsaw’s main shopping drag.
1: The price of a dozen eggs in Warsaw, in dollars.
4: The rank, in difficulty, of learning the Polish language for a native English speaker, on a proficiency scale of 1-5 with five being the highest. Only the Asian languages (MSA, Chinese) are harder.