Polish Lessons (6) – Doing a Rejtan

This is a roundabout way to introduce Rejtan and a bit of Polish parenting culture.

Nobody is named Rejtan these days, at least I haven’t met any, neither in person nor current news, in the last 10 years. The name is made famous by a historical Polish painting. Rejtan is the chap sprawled on the floor. What’s he doing on the floor? More about that shortly. Other names made famous by renown paintings, namely (pun intended) Mona Lisa, don’t get many newborns christened after them. Not expecting to encounter one in person, I was surprised to meet a Rejtan in idiomatic usage in a parenting blog for ADHD.org.pl (in Polish only). The contributor wrote that her husband should have lain like Rejtan to save guard her pork cutlet dinner. The original Rejtan was trying to prevent the ratification of the First Partition of Poland (when parts of the country were legally ceded to powerful neighbours) by using his body to block the entry to the room where the treaty would be signed. I suppose it’s the Slavic enactment of “over my dead body”. Once you know the Rejtan story, the phrase “being a Rejtan” is more evocative than the lifeless corpse version.

The post, in good humour, is about the hardship of being a working mum. To distinguish my thoughts from my translation and paraphrasing of the blogger’s words, I will italicize the latter.

It’s even harder to be a working mum in Poland due to the “Matka Polska” imperative. Historically, mothers, in the absence of the fathers who had gone off to fight wars or partake in insurgencies, were left alone to man the household. These mothers were expected to put their own needs on the back burner and prioritise the needs of family and country. Contemporary mums talking about taking care of the inner woman would feel the frowns of society. 

The blogger had to rush off to a meeting. Upon returning home, she found that her husband had given her portion of dinner (the minced cutlet) to their youngest son who already had his share. The partner cheered her up saying that she could have a sandwich. Though she wasn’t keen on minced cutlet, she threw a fit. And rightfully so. Her husband should have pulled a Rejtan on that cutlet. She reckoned that all these neglecting the mother in favour of the offsprings would teach the wrong values to the children in the end.

Rejtan failed to prevent the First Partition of Poland. I have no inkling of what became of him. He probably became an insurgent, leaving his wife to single-handedly raise the brood.

Related posts: Polish Possible.
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About kitfchung

Experienced food and travel journalist based in Warsaw, Poland.
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