The Pope is no Longer Polish

by Marinka on March 16, 2013

There are expressions that have never made sense to me.

For example, when someone says “it’s all downhill from here!” is that supposed to be good news or bad? Because as a reluctant skier, I happen to think that going downhill is pretty good, especially if you snow plow the whole way down and there’s not very far to go. Uphill, on the other hand, is bad because you are on a ski lift that GOES UP IN THE AIR and you’re just dangling there like some kind of pre-dead dangling thing.  So uphill is bad. But downhill is good.

Except some people I’ve spoken to, think that going downhill from here means something bad. Like “it’s almost all over.” I don’t understand why language has to be so confusing and why people don’t just say what they mean.

There are other examples, of course, but the one that has bothered me the longest is the one I encountered as a young Jewess, having just immigrated from the Soviet Union to America.

You have to understand that the former Soviet Union was so atheist that I had no concept that there was such a thing as religion. Of course I was only a child, and possibly a dim-witted one at that.  When my parents told me that we left the Soviet Union because we were Jewish, I didn’t know what they were talking about and when we lived a few blocks outside of Vatican City, en route to America, I did not understand why the entire Earth population had gathered to hear the Pope deliver the Easter blessing one Sunday.  I knew about Jesus, of course, I’d been dragged to enough museums (thanks, Renaissance!) to get the feel of the main characters. But I didn’t realize that people actually believed that stuff in the modern day. As a child, Jesus and Mary and Boticelli’s Venus were part of the same mythology.

So it was a shock when I arrived in New York and my parents enrolled me in the Yeshiva, filled to the gills with people who for serious believed in God.

And then there was an expression.

I don’t remember how I came about to first hear it- I must have asked a ridiculous question, an answer to which was “duh, you moron” but instead of taking that approach, my teacher, my Hebrew school teacher responded, “is the Pope Polish?”

I remember the lighthearted laughter in the class, I wasn’t being mocked, after all, and invoking the Pope in an Yeshiva signaled that my question transcended doctrine, but I also remember the panic.

Because how the fuck was I supposed to know if the Pope was Polish or not? We had not studied anything about the Pope, I was up to my eyeballs in Abraham and Isaak and trying to sort through that mess and keep them all straight and now suddenly the Pope is getting thrown into the mix.

“The Pope speaks many languages,” I told my teacher and the class. It was true, too. When we waited outside St. Peter’s Basilica that Easter Sunday, we heard him proclaim “Christ has arisen” in language after language, including Russian.  I remembered being super-excited to hear it in Russian because that’s when my parents finally relented and said we could leave and get gelato, and maybe a chocolate egg with a tiny toy inside.

My teacher (who was a sadist in many ways although I may be confusing sadism and assholism) relented and the class moved on.  And of course later I understood that “is the Pope Polish” was just a way of saying “yes, of course!” But I never stopped thinking it an odd expression.

Although I kind of hope that the “Is the Pope Argentinian?” catches on now.

One year ago ...

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Awesome dude March 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm

The Eskimos have about 300 expressions to qualify snow.

Jews have about the same number of expression to say that somebody is stupid.

I just wonder if this guy knows how to tango.


March 16, 2013 at 1:48 pm

You know what’s weird? The teacher had it wrong. I’m thinking that maybe English wasn’t her first language, either. The original expression is “Is the Pope Catholic?” I have NEVER heard the other version. The opposite expression, by the way, is “Does a chicken have lips?”


Roshni March 20, 2013 at 1:16 am

That’s the expression I know too!! Yup, the teacher was into Confusionism, for sure!! 😛


March 16, 2013 at 2:06 pm

My son was just mentioning those chocolate eggs w/ the plastic toy in the middle last night! Ha ha… he read article about how those chocolate eggs w/ toy inside were deemed by the FDA , in the early 70’s, unsafe because they believed American children were at too great a risk of swallowing the toy inside. (My son’s translation: American kids were too dumb to know NOT to eat the toys.) Supposedly, fines for possessing these eggs… $2500! In the meantime, children all over the world consumed millions every year.


b a seagull
March 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Assaholic teachers can cause much misery. Pooh on her. (as my lovely, succinct, Russian Grandmother would have said) Also, I prefer alive to pre dead. Glass half full type of gal.


March 16, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Such an excellent question by Awesome Dude 🙂 Let’s see if “Can the Pope tango?” catches on. As a non-practicing Jew who’s only been to temple (and church) a handful of times, I too have only heard the “Is the Pope Catholic?” version.


deborah l quinn
March 17, 2013 at 8:30 am

what does it mean that in my house the question “is the pope catholic” was usually followed by “does a bear shit in the woods.” Thus equating wildlife, the papacy, religion, and–well–pooh.

I’m betting the pope DOES tango. What the hell else are all those cardinals doing in the “conclave” (surely that’s Latin for “dancehall?”) and they’re wearing RED shoes? Oh hell yeah, there’s tangoing.


March 17, 2013 at 8:57 am

I’m going to try out, “Can the Pope Tango?” On my inlaws today!


Alexandra March 17, 2013 at 9:53 am

I am enthralled with anything you write about your childhood.

Thank you.


anymommy March 17, 2013 at 1:11 pm

I just bought my kids those chocolate eggs with little toys inside as a “mommy went to Europe and you didn’t” present. Europeans have cool chocolate. I also adore your stories of childhood.


dusty earth mother March 17, 2013 at 5:58 pm

I got stuck on “pre-dead dangling thing” and just couldn’t mentally progress.


March 17, 2013 at 7:39 pm

As suburbancorrespondent noted, you teacher was wrong. Which makes the story even more funny, no? Here’s what urban dictionary has to say about the expression:


Marinka March 18, 2013 at 7:55 am

I can’t believe I’m being forced to defend that asshole teacher, but “is the Pope Polish? definitely is an expression.


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes March 19, 2013 at 9:07 am

Here we say “Is the Pope Catholic?”
But what do we Belgians know.
The egg with the toy in it wouldn’t have been a Kinder Surprise now would it…?


joeinvegas March 19, 2013 at 11:28 am

Darn, now the only picture in my head is the pope, in his big hat, cape and red shoes doing the tango with a red dressed cardinal. Thanks for that image.


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