Rock Me, Amadeus

Rock Me, Amadeus! Falco, singer and legend in his native Austria. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Rock Me, Amadeus! Falco, singer and legend in his native Austria. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

ROCK ME, AMADEUS:

MOTIVATED PEOPLE

Working as an English teacher, especially in a business environment, can be hard at times. I did it — working primarily in corporations and small businesses — for more than fifteen years in Poland.

Polish people, in my opinion, have a very enquiring mind. One of the results of this is because they love learning languages, particularly English. Most of the time, however, the motivation behind this is financial — speaking the language can give them an advantage on the very competitive Polish job market which is crammed full of highly-educated, hardworking people who are just asking for a chance. Unfortunately, the job sector is still known — at least comparing it to the US and British markets — for its low wages. Not much has changed since I first arrived in Warsaw in 1998. Standing out from the crowd is a must to a career- minded individual who wants to get on in life.


Many Polish people have business English to improve their job prospects. Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Many Polish people have business English to improve their job prospects. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

REBELS WITH A CAUSE

During Communism, learning English had other motives, the main one being it was a sign of rebellion, subversion, going against the government which supported the Soviet Union in whatever it did. Children back then learned Russian, in the main, and saw it as a repressive tool against their own traditions and pride. Learning Shakespeare’s tongue was a statement against it.


Solidarity, Solidarnosc in Polish, the social and political movement against Communism in Poland in the 1980s.

Solidarity, Solidarnosc in Polish, the social and political movement against Communism in Poland in the 1980s.

FROM THE BALTIC TO THE BLACK SEA

I know people in Poland — most of whom are high-ranking, well-respected businessmen or entrepreneurs — who jump-started their careers after the fall of Communism in 1989. A free market opened for the first time in Poland’s history: before that, there were forty-five years of socialism. From 1918 to 1939, during Poland’s Second Republic- also known as the Interbellum — the country was technically a free economic entity but a high level of government interference in business exacerbated by the internal strife caused in part by the ethnic minorities hampered development even then. Going further back, prior to the First World War, and Poland did not even exist as a nation: the late 18th century and Partitions had seen to that when three countries: Russia, Prussia and Austria held control of land that had always been Polish ethnically as well as linguistically. Earlier still, in the times when Poland was a powerful force and stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea, the economies of Europe weren’t as developed as the Industrial Revolution had yet to begin. So, 1989 marked an important juncture in Poland’s history, especially regarding commerce.


A long, long time ago, in a Europe far, far away, Poland existed (along with Lithuania) as a country whose territory stretched from the Baltic to the Black Seas.

A long, long time ago, in a Europe far, far away, Poland existed (along with Lithuania) as a country whose territory stretched from the Baltic to the Black Seas.

EIZELHAFT

Knowing foreign languages during those early years was a guarantee of a good job. Companies were springing up all the time, foreign investment rife, and the managing directors of these fledgling companies needed people to communicate with partners in other countries. One student who I used to teach, a high-level employee at Gazeta Wyborcza — a broadsheet newspaper whose editor-in-chief, Adam Michnik, a former dissident —  told me once on our second or third lesson:

“James, you know how it was back when I started as a young man?”

“No,” I told him. We’d been reading a business article from Time magazine.

“Listen,” he said, “I left university, I didn’t finish, didn’t graduate — if that had been a few years before, I’d have ended up sweeping the streets for a living… But it was 1989, 1990, I spoke English, German, a little French, too… Do you know how lucky I was?”

“Lucky how?” I asked him, though I sort of knew anyway.

“Languages were the key back then: if you spoke a few, you had a good job, guaranteed. There was no need for school. I’d say seventy-percent of guys like myself who started out after the fall of Communism who knew languages are doing well right now.”

“So, do you think you were just lucky?”

“In some ways, yes. I studied philosophy and theology at degree level. Interesting subjects but not much use for in a job. What set me apart? I knew English… Thank God for the Commodore 64.”


The Commodore 64, a badass computer in the early 1980s. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Commodore 64, a badass computer in the early 1980s. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

My grandfather had bought me a second-hand Amstrad PC when I was a kid — I knew about the Commodore but had never owned one.

“What about the Commodore?” I asked.

“Without that, I’d never have learned English. My father, who worked for the trade department of the government, went on a delegation to the United States, brought one back for me with some games. The instructions and loading manuals were all in English. I soon took out my dictionary and started learning the words.”

“And did you have instructions in German, too?”

He laughed:

“That was Falco’s fault.”

“Falco, the Brazilian footballer?” I said.

“No, the singer. You know Rock Me Amadeus?”

“Yes, I love that song.”


The cover to Falco’s 1982 hit single ‘Der Kommissar’. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The cover to Falco’s 1982 hit single ‘Der Kommissar’. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

“Well, it was his album Einzelhaft. I started learning German because I loved that album and wanted to understand what he was singing about.”

“Well that’s honourable,” I commented. “And what about Edith Piaf, where does she come into the story?” I don’t think he understood my joke, because he wasn’t smiling.

“I don’t understand?” he said.

“Was Edith Piaf your inspiration in learning French?”

“No, nothing — I only speak it a little.”

“And what does Einzelhaft mean?” I asked, though I knew I’d pronounced it totally wrong.

“To be alone, to be in solitary confinement, something like that anyway.”

“Sad title, isn’t it?”

“I’m not surprised, Falco was mad. He’s dead now, did you know that?”