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.