Why Did Every Rich Person on TV in the 2000s Have a Polish Maid?

Rising up, I hardly ever heard Polish outdoors of my instant household. However in my teenage years, to my delight, I heard the language spoken by Tony Soprano’s maid, Lilliana—and once more by one other pissed off and plucky maid named Dorota, who shouted in Polish at Gossip Lady’s stylish debutantes. I shortly realized that if a present was centered on the quotidian lives of wealthy individuals within the tristate space, odds had been that an Japanese European maid would present up ultimately. Even Intercourse and the Metropolis centered an episode on Miranda’s pious housekeeper, Magda, changing her vibrator with a relic of the Virgin Mary. Although the development peaked within the aughts, it continues at the moment on exhibits like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the place a Polish maid named Zelda may be discovered mashing potatoes in a pastel pink costume.

What’s it about Japanese European girls holding feather dusters and silver lunch trays, alternately rolling their eyes and passing alongside hard-won knowledge? How did this explicit kind of immigrant change into a trope readily discovered within the background of our favourite tv exhibits? On the event of Gossip Lady’s upcoming HBO Max reboot, and forward of the identical platform’s Intercourse and the Metropolis revival, I made a decision to search out out.

“There are such a lot of hardworking immigrants on this nation, and naturally they wish to see individuals like themselves—not simply massive Hollywood stars. I feel lots of people relate to this hardworking immigrant couple who’re struggling,” Katalin Pota, who performed Lilliana, tells me over the cellphone. She’s referring to her character and Lilliana’s husband, Stasiu (performed by Albert Makhtsier). A memorable scene from partway by The Sopranos finds the 2 of them in a curious place: sitting in a park collectively and learning for the American citizenship check as FBI brokers look on with curiosity, hoping to achieve insights into the misdeeds of Tony Soprano—the personification of an American dream turned to rot.

Pota, who’s initially from Hungary, understands the tenacity it takes to dwell in a brand new place—not to mention clear up after individuals just like the Sopranos. Ever the trendy girl, Lilliana rightfully holds contempt for her boss. She begrudges Tony in a manner that makes you surprise, greater than as soon as, if the sequence may finish along with her taking revenge on the Soprano household. To at the present time her portrayal is widely known by the present’s followers: “I nonetheless get letters from individuals,” she says. “They ship me footage and stills from the present and ask me to autograph them and ship them again. Folks would cease me within the grocery store for my autograph. So it seems prefer it’s nonetheless extremely popular.”

A lot of Lilliana’s enduring enchantment lies in her immigrant persistence, a high quality Gossip Lady’s Zuzanna Szadkowski additionally embodied. Funnily sufficient, Szadkowski too had a tenure as a Polish maid on The Sopranos earlier than transferring on to play the now iconic function of Dorota. “I wore fairly precisely the identical outfit later as Dorota,” says Szadkowski over the cellphone with an audible smile. “I performed different offshoots [too]—a Ukrainian nanny, different kinds of Japanese European individuals who work for wealthy individuals in New York on TV.” Szadkowski has benefited from this unlikely model continuity: “My title on paper is so Polish; you see all of the z’s. So when individuals see me coming, they’ve an expectation of Japanese European characters. I’m fluent in Polish, so that you type of find yourself auditioning for these roles time and again.”

Dorota, although, wouldn’t be relegated to the sidelines. Misplaced as she was in a world of outsized sun shades, Chanel coats, and teenage transgression, she turned a central participant in Gossip Lady’s moneyed universe. Why? “The followers actually gravitated in direction of Blair, and since Dorota was like a cheerleader ethical middle who actually watched out for Blair, it is smart that they took to Dorota. They noticed themselves represented in her,” Szadkowski guesses. “Coming from a special class, completely different age, completely different place: She’s this Japanese Bloc mentality that could be a grounding pressure. It’s an enormous distinction. It really works comedically in that world too.”

She’s proper. Dorota turned a patron saint of Previous World knowledge and pragmatism over the course of the present. She additionally delivered a few of Gossip Lady’s finest one-liners, compliments of Szadkowski’s genius deadpan expression and offbeat timing. (Take, as an example, what Dorota declares after Blair finds herself unexpectedly with youngster: “I need to say, finest a part of being pregnant is understanding who father is.”) Her Chilly Warfare–inflected witticisms spawned a whole lot of appreciative Reddit posts, fan cams, and tweets galvanizing her as an unlikely hero of the present.

Szadkowski sees one thing deeply Polish in Dorota’s quips. “There’s a type of Slavic humorousness—dry and darker—that I feel is enjoyable to put in writing for,” she says. “It’s enjoyable for actors to embody that. So it is smart that you’ve the occasional Polish maid.”

Matilda Szydagis, who performs the loyal Zelda—the Weissman household’s Polish maid on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—agrees. “I feel the present’s sensible writing has introduced out her daring, trustworthy, unfiltered Japanese European perspective,” she tells me. “It’s refreshing, particularly in a basic American setting round 1960, when it wasn’t socially acceptable to be trustworthy about emotions.” Like Szadkowski and Pota, Szydagis additionally got here by her half actually: “I used to be born and raised in Marquette Park on the South Facet of Chicago to Polish immigrants. My first language was Polish. After I’m rehearsing Zelda’s strains, I feel to myself, How would my mother say this?”

It’s becoming that every one three actors have deep, private connections to the characters they’ve performed. As College of Warsaw professor Anna Sosnowska-Jordanovska explains, these maids are reflections of a historic phenomenon with in depth roots “In New York Metropolis, home cleansing turned a major ethnic area of interest for Polish, usually undocumented, feminine immigrants,” she says. “This sensibility someway linked New York Metropolis upper-class households with Polish and Japanese European housekeepers”—and in flip, TV writers hoping to current a heightened model of actuality created characters based mostly on these housekeepers.



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