It was a fine spring day when my roommate presented me with a t-shirt he had found at the Village Thrift Store. This was at college in the cornfields of Ohio, and trips to this particular thrift store were highly enjoyable events, as there was always some amount of treasure to be discovered there. Although I had come away with many choice items from the Village Thrift, this grey t-shirt, slightly worn around the collar, was the best single article that ever made its way into my hands.
This was a t-shirt that, in several ways, changed my life. For in big, blue, semi-sticky plastic letters, the kind used for kids’ t-ball jerseys in the 80s, was emblazoned: YOU BET YOUR DUPA I’M POLISH.
Hello, my name is Adam Dupaski, and you bet your Dupa I’m Polish.
I didn’t know exactly what this statement meant, but the gist was clear enough, and big bouts of laughter followed as I slipped the t-shirt on for the first time. As far as I was concerned, what with my last name and my Polish roots, this shirt was meant for me, and I sported it proudly from then on.
Or at least for a few weeks until I saw my parents and asked my dad what exactly Dupa meant. He gave me a solid chuckle, “It means nice ass!” I wasn’t sure how to react to the whole concept, but the Dupa t-shirt did strike a chord of pride in my family’s heritage. While growing up I was as conscious of the Polishness of my father’s side of the family, with their work ethic, mustaches, and blessed food on Easter, as I was of the Hungarian roots on my mother’s side in which my grandfather had been born in Budapest, ate tongue sandwhiches, and spoke with a thick accent. Cleveland, Ohio held the single largest Hungarian population in the United States at one point, after all. And there were a lot of Polish families too, for that matter, who spread out into the farmland surrounding the city. While my mother grew up in the Hungarian neighborhoods of Cleveland, my father was raised on a farm out past the airport, where he had his own run-ins with boys making fun of the Dupa on the playgrounds.
SHOW YOU CARE – WITH A THRIFT STORE T-SHIRT
You bet your Dupa I’m Polish, on a t-shirt. This was something I could show off. It was funny, sure, and even funnier once I told you the story behind it. It was also a declaration of Polishness and my personal attachment to that familial heritage. And a purely American concept – what better way to express something than by blowing it up on a t-shirt! I even showed it to my grandma, which elicited quite a few warm laughs, in the way only grandmas do.
This t-shirt marks the point when the Dupa began to exert its influence over my life. Not that I gained weight and my derriere blew up in size, no, I’m speaking of a more social sense. For a few years later, I moved to Poland to begin teaching English and in Poland, with a name like Dupaski, come issues.
Amongst the many consonant clusters that make up the art of cussing in the Polish language, dupa features prominently, but it doesn’t always mean “nice ass”. Contact your local Pole to find out what dupek, dupczyć or do dupy means – but tread carefully, these aren’t words to toy with. Only dupa zbita is fairly harmless, meaning “bummer”. And Dupa is in fact slang for a good looking woman, but while there is no shortage of attractive women in Poland, calling one a dupa is an activity usually reserved for buraks (rednecks or, literally, “beetroots”).
ADVICE FOLLOWS THE DUPA EVERYWHERE
Problems with the Dupa began upon my move to Dębica, a town of 50,000 in the east of Poland. Not much was happening there besides the operations of one of Poland’s foremost tire-making outfits, Dębica Tires. This factory was owned by the industry giant Goodyear, based not far from my hometown in Ohio, and Dębica as a whole, with the smell of burning rubber in its air, would not necessarily have been out of place in the “rust belt” of my home state.
I came here to start my career as an English teacher. I was to teach teenagers, and was rather nervous about getting up in the classroom with such a lack of experience. It didn’t help that a few hours before my first ever class, my director of studies took me into her office and told me that maybe I would perhaps wish to consider not providing my students with the entirety of my name. I saw pretty quickly what she was getting at.
Do you know what dupa means? I told her I had a clue. But it’s pronounced differently, your name, isn’t it? Maybe, and she proceeded to go through several pronunciations of Dupaski and dupa, trying to draw up differences while I sat there slightly bewildered. I left her office not a little bit offended, but appreciated her concern. Perhaps I should have heeded her advice when I introduced myself, Dupa and all, to each of my classes that first day of teaching and received a chorus of snickers and teenage shock.
A year or so later here in Kraków, a student asked what my surname was. By that point I had learned it best to omit that provocative piece of information from first-day introductions, so with a slight wince I began the spiel I had developed for such situations: Well, it’s a rather interesting name, and it is Polish…Dupaski, my last name is DUPAski.
A few smiles here and there, nothing major, but one student lost it. Completely. She was crying she was laughing so hard, her face red as a beetroot. I was knocked on my rear-end by her guffaws. Dupa zbita!
Something had to be done to elevate the Dupa back to its rightful position, so a week later I gave a lesson based around Tactfulness. As the lesson progressed and we discussed when Tact may and may not be necessary, I noted the click of recognition in the culprit’s face, the temperature ascending, and all of a sudden her face bursting red. But this wasn’t the red of a beetroot, this was a phosphorescent pink, a severe blush, and she jolted, “Alright, alright, I understand, I’m sorry!” Chalk one up for the Dupa.
REALLY, IS IT JUST ME, OR IS IT MY DUPA?
I have experienced many shades of response to the Dupa here in Poland, from polite indifference to uncontrollable howls. Tiny smirks, barely noticeable except to my trained eye, have been fairly common. As have whispers between friends, covert mouth-to-ear conversations about the Dupa.
Could this be some kind of rear-end paranoia, though? Have I developed namesake-neuroses? Who knows how many schools have decided not to hire me here in Kraków, because of the Dupa! Or how my residence card application has been slowed down in the labyriths of Polish bureaucracy, all because of the Dupa!
And where did the Dupa come from? This was what really started to bother me. Did some cantankerous Polish landowner in 1657 inflict this name on one of my peasant ancestors because he broke a shovel in the fields that day? “Hear ye hear ye, from hereon thou shalt be known as Dupaski, the Ass of Asses”?
I needed to know the story of the Dupa, so I contacted my grandma for all the information she had. Apparently the Dupa found its way into our family with my great-grandfather, Stanisław, whose original surname was Rosół. In Polish, rosół means chicken soup – why couldn’t that name have stuck? Everybody loves chicken soup.
But Stanisław Rosół’s father died, and some guy nobody has any clue about, this Dupakowski (the name was shortened to the slightly more manageable Dupaski by my grandparents at some point), swept down from the midlands of Poland to marry Stanisław’s mother and adopt him. Who was this Dupakowski, and how did he wind up with that name? Was he a criminal type, a vagabond? Did he have several families throughout Poland, on to which he passed this surefire legacy of harrasment via his surname? But the story was simpler.
YOU SHALL SEE THE LIGHT, AND IT IS DOPA, NOT DUPA
One evening, my girlfriend and I were examining a copy of the 1908 marriage licence for my great-grandparents Stanisław and Kazimiera when we noticed a peculiarity that lifted us right off our dupas. “Look at the name, that looks like an o, not a u,” my girlfriend said to me, rather puzzled. And sure enough, upon closer inspection, the name appeared to be Dopakowski, not Dupakowski. Ahh, the slightest difference makes the world, and I started pacing the room excitedly, trying to piece together the whole narrative of the Dupa. But was this a handwriting fluke, or the actual truth of my last name?
We confirmed that my family’s original surname was in fact Dopakowski soon thereafter by following a few leads to the church in Sosnowiec, a town in Silesia, where my great-grandparents were married. We were able to go through the church archives and, despite that everything was written in Russian (at that time Poland didn’t exist as a state, due to the partition, and Sosnowiec fell into Russian hands), it was clear that the name recorded was Stanisław Dopakowski, not Dupakowski. No Dupa in sight until Stanisław immigrated to the United States and somebody altered my family’s history with his or her callous disregard for that most important of vowels in our surname.
Investigating these church archives was an incredible experience for me, and I began contacting my family with exclamations, “There was never any Dupa, it was Dopa!” “DOPA NOT DUPA” became my battle cry, and if such facilities were readily available in Poland, I would’ve had that printed on a t-shirt.
What is the future of the Dupa? I have gotten the go-ahead from my family that, if I was to make more of a life here in Poland and felt the need to, I could change the Dupa to something more fortuitous. As of now, I’m not sure what I’ll do. The Dupa is a part of me – I dare say it’s a part of us all. So I wonder, where would I stand without the Dupa?