My dad loves a bargain. So when sitting in a Krakow cafe, I wasn’t surprised when he told me he wouldn’t be exploring the city with me — instead, he was getting his teeth whitened on the cheap.
It was autumn 2006 and I was about to start a year studying in Poland. I arrived a few days before the course started, accompanied by my dad, for what I believed was a combination of sightseeing and fatherly support. Instead, his visit was cover for cut price cosmetic dentistry.
There was also the time we got locked out of a budget apartment in Jersey City that resembled a crack den, with passports and clothes still inside. It was the middle of the night, and we couldn’t get a hold of the owners. So he broke the door down. It wasn’t that impressive — the rotten frame collapsed at the slightest pressure from his shoulder. What was impressive was his lifetime ban from AirBnb.
Then there was the incident at a French caravan park on my 13th birthday, when the lining of his cheap short shorts — a trustworthy companion for longer than I’d been alive — finally gave way. He didn’t notice, but all my new friends did.
He simply can’t help himself when there’s a deal on the table. To him, a reduced price sticker on an out-of-date haddock isn’t a warning, but an invitation. I once saw him brag to an uncomfortable friend about discounted hemorrhoid cream — not because he needed it, but “just in case”.
Some of this stinginess had clearly worn off and influenced my decision to study in Krakow, although my inability to master any language other than English was the main driver. My university told me they had links with over 30 institutions across Europe, but my monolingualism shrunk the collection to just three that taught in English: Belgium — too close; Sweden — too expensive; Poland — cheap beer. That was the winner.
It was only at the end of my dad’s trip, in that cafe, he finally confessed he was planning to have his teeth whitened. The current shade seemed fine to me — the sort of off-white your mother-in-law might paint a guest room.
He went on to explain the complexities of Polish dentistry, which seemed to be twofold: cost and a lack of regulation that would make a Thatcherite wince. They were really going to give his teeth a good going over.
I met him later that day, after the procedure, as the drugs started to wear off and his mouth was in agony. It’s what happens when someone medically pressure washes your teeth.
Unsure what over the counter drugs might help, he instead opted for a trusty bottle of whiskey, which he nursed until he passed out. That was after the mandatory comment on how cheap the booze was.
The next day, with his mouth and head throbbing, he walked me to my new accommodation. And as we said our goodbyes, I tried to get a look at his teeth. They didn’t look much different, but I wasn’t going to tell him that.
A few years later, I asked him if anyone had ever commented on his new, sparkling Polish teeth. He considered the question for a minute, before realising the time and effort he put into this deal was more than he bargained for. No one noticed — not even my mum.