Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Of sausage and drains

I had a real fright this morning. Opening the mailbox I found an awiso from the post office, addressed to both my wife and myself, that there is letter awaiting collection. Why the fright? Usually letters addressed to both of us come from one source - the tax office. Well do I remember those Days of Fear in September 2005 when I received a summons from the tax office. What was the problem? The suspense was unbearable. It is entirely possible to unwittingly commit a heinous tax offence in Poland either because you've misunderstood something (przychód -'revenue', 'income'; and dochód - 'income', for instance) or because of a variance between your tax adviser's interpretation of the richly opaque tax law and that of the local urząd skarbowy. (As it happened, the issue here was that I'd accidentally written down our total income in box 115 rather than box 114 of our annual PIT-37B tax return form.)

At the post office, I took my ticket for the queue and waited, amusing myself as two elderly ladies traded insults (one had got her ticket from another elderly lady and thus found herself ahead of her interlocutor in the queue). Chamka! they yelled at each other. Fifty minutes and five ticket numbers later, it was my turn to collect our post. It was....not from the tax office!

It was from the Department of Architecture and Building for Ursynów District, Warsaw City Hall. Telling us... telling us... Well, here's a literal and direct translation of said missive.


Of the institution of proceedings

On the basis of:

Article 61 para. 4, art. 10 para. 1 and art. 36 of the Law of the day of 14 June 1960 year, of the Code of Administrative Proceedings (unified text in the Journal of Laws no. 98 from 2000 year, position 1071, with amendments); art. 50, art. 53 of the Law of the day of 27 March 2003 year about planning and town planning (Journal of Laws no. 80 from 2003 year position 717 with later amendments).

[Still with me, readers? Now, take a deep breath and try reading the following sentence without pausing for another breath.]

[I] i n f o r m [you],

that on the motion of the Urban Enterprise of Waterpullings and Canalisation of the Capital Town Warsaw Joint Stock Company filed on the day 14.09.2010 year with an amendment dated 05.10.2010 year, administrative proceedings were instituted in the matter of determining the localisation of the investment in the public cause for the investment depending on the construction of a sewerage canal Dn 0,2m, along with the accompanying technical infrastructure on ul. Trombity on the stretch from ul. Karczunkowska up to the property on ul. Trombity 20 and in the pedestrian-driving traffic route (up to the properties on ul. Trombity 18) foreseen for the realisation in the District of Ursynów in the Capital Town of Warsaw on the following plots...
[there follows a list of plot-, rather than house-, numbers]

This classic example of Polish bureaucratic gobbledygook gives me cause to thank the Plain English Campaign that this kind of stuff does not appear in the UK and pray for a Plain Polish Campaign along the same lines. There is a need here for Gricean Maxims (1. Be truthful - well this probably is; 2. Provide as much information as necessary, but no more - this is overload. Is anyone going to refer to all those old laws? 3. Be relevant - see above and get to the point. 4. Be clear - this fails totally. A total of 116 words in this single sentence including 17 subordinate clauses.)

What does this mean? In a word, drains! After eight years living here, there's finally the distinct probability that at some undefined point in the future, we will no longer need to use a septic tank which needs emptying every two weeks. Jeziorki edges ever closer to civilised norms.

The dwellers of the southern end of ul. Trombity now have seven days to make their comments on the plans, which are publicly available for inspection at the Architecture and Building Department, room 306, Al. KEN 61, from Monday to Thursday, between 12 and 3pm. In other words, we have 12 working hours in the middle of the working day to make our comments. Well, at least the blockers can't block.

The prospect of being finally connected to the city's sewerage network reminds me of a stanza from John Betjeman's In Westminster Abbey:
Think of what our Nation stands for,
Books from Boots and country lanes,
Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
Democracy and proper drains.

I am also mindful of the impending local elections. The clear calculation that voters will be more likely to support the incumbent if progress is occurring around them. The cynical part of me thinks 'electoral sausage'. The rational part of me is delighted that we seem to be closer to civilisation. All I need now is a letter informing me that ul. Karczunkowska will be getting a pavement soon.


Kolin said...

Fantastic. Congratulations on the upcoming plumbing. How long will it take? I shouldn't ask . . .

The link to Gricean maxims is perfect - I have a friend who drives us all crazy with his longwindedness, and I have determined from reading this page that he routinely violates at least 2 of Grice's maxims. Fun stuff. I'd tell him about it but I'd never hear the end of it.

Pacze Moj said...

Jeez! I'm used to legal writing and that still makes my eyes go numb. (In Canada, there's been a movement afoot for some time to make legal documents clearer and easier to understand).

But however it's written and assuming it's not electoral sausage, it's good news. Much better than the taxman.


Sigismundo said...

I wonder if you sent them a polite letter, stating that you can't understand what they have written and if they would kindly explain it in SIMPLE POLISH, would they reply?

The Campaign for Simple Polish is long overdue, unfortunately it's most needed by those who think it is isn't necessary.

student SGH said...


The essence of Polish legal twaddle.

I agree this is not easy to understand (I usually read such writings twice or three times), but English readers might be much more confused given that you translated it word-for-word, in the manner most (poor) translators do. If I hadn't made out Polish words behind the translation I surely wouldn't have understood what that piece of sh*t was about.

Pavement along ul. Karczunkowska - finally. I also demand a pavement to the border of Warsaw in Mysiadło...

Anonymous said...

Michael's translation is just fine. Legalese to legalese...

Pan Steeva said...

I would go further than student SGH. When I have made similar points in the past, the Polish people I have spoken to have had no problem understanding it, and hinted that perhaps English educational standards aren't quite up to those in Poland. I was once asked to check the English that a friend had written and suggested that a single paragraph covering four pages, with sentences of up to half a page in length would be difficult to understand. He was quite surprised and could only ask "why?". Taking such an attitude in mind, I just reread your translation and found it made complete sense. On first reading it had been absolute nonsense.

Neighbour said...


Have a look on the sewage design, maybe show to someone with engineering experience.

Agree with neighbours, that you ALL have ONE sewer connection designed and installed in one turn, this will be cheaper.

Talk to someone on Buszycka, people will guide to a proper person who organised sewer and connection works there. I don't want to go with details over the net, you probably know how to find me.

Thie whole area has been drained in 20-ties of last century utilising so called "agricultural drainage". These are 80 or 100mm ceramic pipes, laid down approx 140-160cm under ground level. The drainage is old but still works. So watch carefully, if it's continuity is maintained during ground works, when the sewer in Trombity is installed.
A few years ago, when rain water sewer was installed in my street, the agri-drainage has been cut and immediately ground water poured to my basement. It took me 2 or 3 weeks of pumping and calling Wydział Ochrony Środowiska in Ursynów to convince them that they have to excavate again and find broken pipes. It was found exactly where I have pointed to dig.

When they start excavations, take photos of the trenches, if you find remnants of ceramic piping, call Mr. Poniewierski in Gmina Ursynów Wydział Ochrony Środowiska and he will bring experienced workers who know how to re-connect the architectural drainage.

If you don't do it, you may wake up one morning having 20-30 centimeters of rain water on your lawn.

And the letter you mention above is quite important, with it's full wording. It gives you an opportunity to find proper clauses of Ustawa and raise your voice when required. Without all these paragraphs, clauses etc. you would have to google for hours to find appropriate Ustawy and Rozporządzenia.

BTW - did you know that there os a master plan in proceedings, called "Miejscowy Plan Zagospodarowania Przestrzennego Zachodniego Pasma Pyrskiego w Rejonie Ulicy Sarabandy"? Your house lies within the boundaires. Go to Gmina and find out what urzędnicy and sąsiedzi plan in your sorroundings.

Best regards,


Michael Dembinski said...

Hey Neighbour! Thank you SO much! I shall take some time off work next week to pop into the Urząd Dzielnicy Ursynów to take a peek at the plans.

Thanks for the heads-up, much appreciated!

Jacek Koba said...

I got a similarly worded missive from the local council when I applied for permission to have a spruce tree cut down in my garden. Permission to cut down the tree stalled when it turned out that I was not able to obtain consent from my dad, deceased of 6 years. When that roadblock was cleared and the permission finally came through, it was couched as an order, with a deadline and sanctions for failure to comply included. I didn't mention in the application that I had stolen the sapling of that tree some 30 years ago from a state-owned forest when on an outing from school doing community work.