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Tom and Ania went as usual to Maria's for supper. 'Wlodek has never in his life sent me a Valentine card,' she laughed.
'You can buy them even in little towns like Przemysl nowadays,' he said. 'I'm sorry, but it's one of those little examples of westernisation that really irritate me. There are so many wonderful ideas to do with courtship in the folk poetry of the Slavic peoples, but all of the old customs have almost disappeared. And to fill the gap we have to borrow this new 'tradition' from the United States!'
'At least you Central Europeans still believe in giving flowers as a sign of affection,' said Ania. 'I don't know anyone in England who would bring his girlfriend roses as often as you bring one home for Maria!'
The conversation moved on to other aspects of contemporary family life. Maria explained that she paid weekly visits to her Aunt Malgorzata, who was not really an aunt but a very distant cousin of her grandmother. Malgorzata was slightly handicapped and, though this had not been an impediment to marriage, her husband had died many years before and she had no children. She lived alone and her health was deteriorating. Ania expressed surprise: 'There must be other members of the family much closer to her than you are. They ought to take her in. I thought all Polish families still acknowledged this responsibility, unlike modern Britain, where such people will be bundled off into institutions.'
'It's more complicated than that,' said Maria. 'We have such institutions too, but we just cannot afford to provide the level of services that you take for granted in the west. We are in a painful intermediate position in which the family is doing less than it did in the past, but the state is not yet able to fill the gap.'
'Wait a minute,' said Tom. 'It doesn't follow that the richer countries necessarily have weaker families. A high proportion of the population in the USA has no basic health care insurance and they remain fully dependent on their families when they get old and sick.'
On the way home they again noticed the young Chinese boys, sitting silently in front of them in the tram. Again Tom thought about starting a conversation but again he held back.
Figure 39: Polish Valentines; text (i) reads 'to my Valentine'; text (ii) reads 'do you want to eat supper with me?'
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