Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Nicholas A. Rey
REY: Yes, as a small child. All of my schooling was always in English in American schools. That is why I speak it without accent. It is interesting. My contemporaries, and I wouldn't call them any more than contemporaries, because they accomplished far more in life than I ever will, Zbig Brzezinski who left, and the other one is Shalikashvili, Poles who are roughly in my age group. They both left Poland when they were older. Zbig was probably about 15, and I think Shali was around 10. I was one and a half. Both of them have accents. I think there is some sort of a rule that says, Kissinger, too, if you learn a language after eight or nine, you are going to have an accent. I was lucky in the sense that I had learned Polish in the very beginning. We always spoke Polish at home. So while I was a child growing up with my parents, I spoke a lot of Polish every day and every way. Then when I went off to college and led my own life, I would talk to them on the phone in Polish on Sundays.
Q: Let me ask you a question about Polish. I served at one point in Italy, and so many Italo-Americans come back and they come back with their families and they speak Italian, and not really speaking Italian. They are speaking Calibrese, Neapolitan or something like that. Is there a Polish...
REY: Changes in language in various parts of Poland between different Poles? Slight accent differences but nothing that you would...
Q: Nothing that you would identify someone coming from that place obeing almost incomprehensible to somebody else.
REY: No. I was always accused when I was ambassador, of speaking somewhat rusty but very classic Polish. I learned my Polish a generation before everybody else who was talking it in Poland today. I did not speak modern Polish, but I spoke perfectly understandably. I had gotten very rusty, because I spoke fluent baby Polish. That is the Polish I learned. Now I had got to be ambassador, I had to learn all those long words.
Q: Let's talk a little bit school in the Bronx. How did you find that? This was elementary school?
REY: Well, it was elementary school. I guess I spent a year or two. Well, I started life going to school in Pennsylvania. I went to a one room schoolhouse in outside of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, at first. In 1944 I guess I did that. I remember it distinctly because I remember coming home from school to learn that Roosevelt had died. That is my first sort of political memory.
Q: That would have been 1945.