My first post-college job was teaching English at a Polish university during the last days of Soviet communism. When I entered the classroom on the first day, the students stood at attention with a mix of ceremonial deference, existential boredom, and mild derision. (I responded with an awkward, swivel-handed ersatz royal wave.)
It didn’t take me long to realize that the standing-up thing was a trapping of respect, vs. real respect — not unlike the stiff, obligatory applause given at sclerotic Soviet apparatchiks’ public speeches. Scratch the veneer of forced patriotism and you’ll get some serious stick-it-to-the-man subversiveness. In that classroom, I was inadvertently the man — the central authority that a population of dissidents was hardwired to mistrust. And the students cheated like there was no tomorrow. Nie wolno oszukiwac — no cheating — was one of the first Polish phrases I learned.
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