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The Intelligent Transatlantic Flying Hen

March 2009

By: Denise Dresner

Rooster & Kittens

Some years ago my parents were living in Vienna and looking after my cat. When they went away on holiday they got a cat sitter to stay in their apartment. In spite of my mother's instructions, the sitter didn't keep the litter box clean and the cats peed all over the Persian rugs in the apartment, which belonged to the landlord, and leaving the pervasive smell of cat urine. My mother decided to ask the Polish woman who cleaned the flat for her advice. My mother spoke to Eva in Russian and Eva spoke to her in Polish, and they understood each other quite well. My mother explained the situation with the koshka (the Russian word for cat), the smell, and the need to get the rugs cleaned.

Eva seemed very surprised by this choice of pet. She asked: "Did you keep her here in the apartment?"

My mother: "Of course. Many people in Vienna keep cats in the house."

Eva (more suprised): "Really? I never heard of that!"

Mother (puzzled): "But of course! They are such nice pets. And vey intelligent too. For instance, mine even knows how to open the front door of the apartment she jumps on the nearby chest and reaches over and manages to press down on the door handle! So we have to be careful to keep the door locked."

Eva's eyes widened further.

Mother: "And it can be very affectionate too it often comes and sits on my lap."

Eva: "It sits on your lap?"

Mother: "Sure they love being petted."

Eva: (with a look of total amazement): "Petted? And so what happened to it?"

Mother: "My daughter came and took it on the train to Frankfurt and from there put it on the plane for New York."

Eva (by now her eyes were popping out in amazement): "She sent it by plane to New York?"

Mother: "Yes she's very attached to her and wants to keep her."

Eva: "Well, I once had one too when we lived in Poland, but we kept it out on the balcony."

Now it was my mother's turn to be surprised. "What, also in the winter? In the cold?" she asked.

Eva: "Yes, it had a little box to live in."

Mother: "So, what happened to it?"

Eva: "Well, one day my father just wrung its neck."

Mother (aghast): "What are you talking about?" She was horrified, all the more since she knew the woman's father who worked at the same office and was a very nice guy. At that point she realized that there must be some misunderstanding.

It turned out that when my mother had said koshka the woman had understood kokoshka, which is the colloquial word for hen in Polish. So, whose astonishment was the greater, I wonder my mother's, imagining a poor cat living in a box on a balcony and having its neck wrung, or the Polish woman's, trying to picture a hen deftly operating a door handle and being sent across the Atlantic?

Copyright: Denise Dresner - March, 2009

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