An essential phrase?

What might be the first phrase you learn when you go to live in a foreign country and don’t speak the language? Hello? Yes? No? Thank you? For my husband, who came to live in Poland in 1995 it was „nie ma” (there isn’t any). As random as it may seem, it makes sense when you imagine a young Brit trying to order food in various restaurants and eateries by pointing to unpronouncable items on the menu and hearing the waitresses repeat „nie ma” with the same impatient look in each time and pointing to „bigos” or „pierogi” as one thing they are able serve.

That’s why it was particularly funny to see our daughter learn to say „nie ma” as one of her first phrases in Polish, too. It came at 14 months and followed „pa pa” (bye bye), but then we both say it to her and to each other so it counts as English, and „kuku” (coo coo, peekaboo), which we also say ourselves, and she probably thinks it’s both Polish and English.

„Nie ma” is definitely a phrase she picked up at nursery, and I believe one that’s used quite frequently. Hopefully not to deny the children anything that they should have, but I can see it being used in play when the teacher hides an toy or some other object and asks „where is it?” or during meal times when a child has finished what they’re eating, meaning „all gone”.

This is also probably why BiBi uses the phrase not only to signify that something is finished, no longer there, or not there at all, such as pointing to an empty cup, saying there are not cats outside etc. She also says „nie ma” when she means „I have finished”, normally during meal times when she wants to say that she’s had enough.

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