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Poland: The Things That Make Foreigners Lift a Brow


Admin 32 | 1,529   Administrator
2 Feb 2006 /  #1
In case you wonder, if Poles are just like the rest of us, they are not. - Nothing sinister about that, really. They are just different - like any other foreigners. Most of this strange stuff is not very noticeable if they live abroad. After all everyone needs to adjust to the people they live with, but at home in their homeland - of course, they do things their way.

As a first time visitor to Poland you should be prepared for a cultural shock, although, a minor one - after all Poland is not Burundi or New Guinea, but still. The first thing you will notice is that the Poles like to talk. They talk all the time: to family, friends, standing in the queue, in the street, on a bus - to the people they know - and to the people they don't know. The Poles enjoy talking, sharing their views and experiences, often unconcerned whether you want or don't want to listen. If you travel by train, with people that you need to spend a few hours with, you should not be surprised if you will have to listen to someone's life story - or tell them yours.

No wonder that another favorite Polish pastime is telling jokes. During the communist years, it used to be the way of dealing with the system - if you can't change it, laugh at it - but nowadays the jokes, although, they are seldom political any more, still are a way of dealing with the, often harsh, reality. Compared to other nations, jokes are a serious business to the vast majority of Poles.

Another strange thing, more concrete this time. Did you know that Poles like to shake hands? They shake hands all the time, when they meet, when they say good-bye. A handshake tells you a lot about the person, thus, you better practice to be perceived as the person you are. Not to hard, not too soft, don't hold it for too long, your handshake is you and an important part of giving the right impression. (This is a common thing that Poles abroad continue, the practice of handshaking often making their foreign counterparts uncomfortable.)

Kissing ladies' hands, especially the older ones, as a sign of respect, is still a common, although a bit outdated, practice in Poland. (Not all that long ago the children used to kiss their parents and grandparents hands, but this does not happen anymore. The way we treat our parents has obviously changed quite a bit in the last century).

Another strange thing is that, mostly at night, but even during daytime, you can see drunken people in the street. This is very uncommon in the West, but the Poles do drink a lot outside their homes and often ride a bus or a tram or simply walk home - singing, talking (often to themselves or others), swearing, sometimes abusing or even attacking strangers. This is the famous Polish vodka talking. Unfortunately, nowadays, many drunks have an easy access to a vehicle and choose instead to drive into the night. No wonder that Poland has triple the rate of the drink driving accidents compared to the West.

Beware of when the drinking takes place: it is a common practice to get drunk once you receive your pay at the end of the month. People also drink on the weekends, on their name's days (Poles do not celebrate birthdays), but any reason will do. Many do not even need a reason, thus, it is a common practice, especially among unemployed (or people after work) to hang out outside shops selling beer, and - often for hours - drink beer straight from the can or bottle. The beer is as good as in any pub, and the price is much more acceptable.

Another common pastime for young people, mostly young men, many of them unemployed, is to hang out in the streets. Many are not aggressive, but some are. They can also be abusive, so better watch out. Thus, it is advisable to avoid walking in the night, especially in the areas like parks or dark streets. During the communist years, the Police had been very observant for this kind of behavior, but the new regime is not very proactive in this respect.

You might also be surprised by the stuff Poles eat. The tripes (intestines of a cow) cut in long pieces, cooked with spices are one of the Polish specialties. It might not be your piece of cake, so better check out the offerings.

Like any nation, Poles do have their quirks, but surprisingly, you will get used to them much quicker than you thought possible. And hey, avoid those dark parks and alleys.

------

Contributed by Steve
Guest  
3 Feb 2006 /  #2
(Poles do not celebrate birthdays)

I think they now celebrate birthdays (at least abroad). But you're right - in Poland Name Days is more popular as far as celebrating is concerned.
magdalena  
3 Feb 2006 /  #3
Polish people are also very fashion oriented, women wear skirts and designer shoes to do simple tasks as go to the grocery store, it is seldom that polish women leave the house without looking thier best
Guest  
3 Feb 2006 /  #4
.... but I feel women SHOULD wear skirts, not pants like men do! If a woman wears pants you sometimes don't know it's he or she :). And the fact they like to look their best? Nothing against that...
Guest  
5 Feb 2006 /  #5
Guest
can you tell me a little more about name days,my friend ,her name is joanna .how do find out what her name day is because i would like to give hera gift.also why do polish people not celebrate birthdays?.:)
Marcin2  
5 Feb 2006 /  #6
Joanna's name days are on the following days:

02.04, 05.12, 05.24, 08.21, 12.09, 12.12

Depending on your friend's birthday, she celebrates name day on the first date after her birthday. So if she was born on May 5, her name day will be on May 12; similarly when she was born on December 10, she will celebrate name day on December 12, etc.

why do polish people not celebrate birthdays?.

Polish people celebrate name days - to have fun! It's less "formal" than birthday, but the idea is the same - to meet with friends and/or family and have a good time. It's also a good excuse to celebrate at work when one of the worker has name day. Generally, Poles DO celebrate birthdays -- but I guess name days are more "popular". Also, I think Polish girls don't like to be reminded of their age..:}
Marzena 2 | 122  
7 Feb 2006 /  #7
This is the first time I hear that Polish people don't celebrate birthdays - I have always celebrated mine, as well as everybody I ever knew! Name days - is probably a less known occasion for a foreigner, which was not extremely strongly celebrated in my family and circles either, nevertheless most adults did celebrate them.

Can someone tell me in which part of Poland people don't celebrate birthdays? Definitely not in the central one.
marcinek  
7 Feb 2006 /  #8
I think what was meant that Polish people do celebrate birthdays but not as much as they celebrate name days. Name day is sort of Polish thing and even it's ok to celebrate it along with people you don't even know well. Birthday is more personal holiday in my opinon.
Marzena 2 | 122  
8 Feb 2006 /  #9
Ok, that makes it much more specific and true. Namedays are more of a social event, with friends from work or neighbors that you're befriended with. Family also comes, as Polish people are looking for reasons for celebrations :).

I haven't seen the younger generation celebrating namedays though, birthdays are much more popular there - as far as my experience goes :), and especially if it's your 18th birthday - you wouldn't want to miss a big party on that day :) :) :).
RaTt  
21 Apr 2006 /  #10
Omigod I've just celebrated a birthday for my polish roommate who happens to be named Joanna too... I didn't know about the name days... >_____<
pio  
13 Jun 2006 /  #11
U are telling me nothing new mate. Your description of Polish people sounds to me a lot like the description of Argentinians, Chileans or Peruvians, apart from the fact that we are not agressive when we drink.Instead we get tired dancing!
bossie 1 | 123  
9 Jul 2006 /  #12
About drinking in public - for some years already it is forbidden to consume alcohol in or around shops that sell it. Unemploued don't have money to drink all the time, unless the drinks they buy are really dodgy.

About drinking straight from the bottle - don't Brits do the same? Don't Americans? Don't Dutch, Germans, Spanish? No point criticising there.

What the article describes seems to be based on experience or description of low class people - blue collar employees, long term unemployed ect. If the author bothered to ask someone from a city with proper education what they do in their free time, the picture would be completely different.

The same refers to talking - people of high esteem will not chat you up just because you're there.

The stuff Poles eat? I lived in Poland for years and I've never eaten that. It's a matter of choice, just like with liver, Christmas pudding (stored for months outside fridge) or haggis.

Kissing hands? Only among olds, or perhaps in the deep province. In my life I only saw it happen a few times and it was always someone old, both kissed and kissing.

Dark parks and alleys? Please, that's elementary, wherever you go, including UK.
opts 10 | 260  
30 Jul 2006 /  #13
Admin

I like tripe. I remember when I was a kid, living in Poland, my father use to take to a restaurant for tripe, “flaczki” in Polish. Prepared correctly, tripe is delicious. Prepared incorrectly, tripe smell like cow manure.

You will find tripe on the menu in Mexican restaurants. Mexicans call tripe "monudo". I live in Arizona, large Mexican population, and menudo is offered in many Mexican restaurants. I am sure, that other ethnic groups eat tripe also.

Marzena
Marzena, people in Poland do not celebrate birthdays. It is a foreign idea.
rafik 18 | 589  
30 Jul 2006 /  #14
Marzena
Marzena, people in Poland do not celebrate birthdays. It is a foreign idea.

strange cos i only celebrate my birthday not namesday:) :)
opts 10 | 260  
30 Jul 2006 /  #15
strange cos i only celebrate my birthday not namesday

Rafik, congratulations. :)

I know that birthday celebration is not a Polish custom/tradition.
rafik 18 | 589  
30 Jul 2006 /  #16
ok. you may be right .i have never heard of it.
which country did it come frome?
let me guess-germany?geburstag:)
bossie 1 | 123  
2 Aug 2006 /  #17
I celebrate my birthdays, and so do all my family and friends.

It may be a matter of regional customs. Many Poles are used to thinking of the country as one, whole, forgetting that regions differ more than we normally remember. One of the proofs is the fact that there are differences in calling things (ziemniaki, kartofle and pyry are all the same vegetable), the recipes are slightly different, and also other customs vary - take the dispute between beetroot soup and mushroom soup for the Christmas Eve dinner.
polish_man  
4 Aug 2006 /  #18
Hello,
Polish people celebrate their birthdays as well as namesdays. Celebrating birthday is more popular in Silesia (one from polish regions on the south part of country).

Whereas if you are talking about drinking... :) - it's true that Poles drink a lot. In recent years it's not only vodka and cheap wine but more and more beer.

Greetings from Poland!
iwona 12 | 542  
22 Sep 2006 /  #19
Another strange thing is that, mostly at night, but even during daytime, you can see drunken people in the street. This is very uncommon in the West, but the Poles do drink a lot outside their homes and often ride a bus or a tram or simply walk home - singing, talking (often to themselves or others), swearing, sometimes abusing or even attacking strangers. This is the famous Polish vodka talking.

not really, maybe 20 years ago not now.

When I was in USA few years ago , completely drunk woman was sitting next to me. - "in the west" as you say.
wentka  
28 Sep 2006 /  #20
So far everything Admin has mentioned happens here in Boston, Massachusetts, USA ("the west"). That is everything except eating tripe. So, I guess I won't be shocked by anything if I visit Poland....I'll fit right in! :)
Wroclaw 44 | 5,387  
28 Sep 2006 /  #21
I don't know how anyone from Poland can say that they don't celebrate birthdays. I defy anyone to tell me that they did not celebrate their 18th birthday.

The only time it didn't happen was during Advent. And that was only in strict catholic families. And that was years ago.

Much of what the original article says is true of most places I've visited. In fact, for me, the only typically Polish activity is 'kissing on the hand', which we hardly see these days.

More familiar is the 'nod of the head' to a neighbour or friend. This is something I see on a daily basis. Very occasionally you might meet a young woman who will 'bend a knee'.
FISZ 24 | 2,116  
28 Sep 2006 /  #22
So, I guess I won't be shocked by anything if I visit Poland....I'll fit right in!

Or not.... Boston is nothing like Poland. You have to realize that this is another country. Not even our PL districts are the same as it is there. Yes, some of these facts are true with anywhere you visit, but I wouldn't go as far as to compare.

As far as birthdays in PL go, my girlfriend and her family celebrate their birthdays even the grandparents, But the 18th seems to be the most popular :)
OP Admin 32 | 1,529   Administrator
28 Sep 2006 /  #23
Please note the article was written by "Steve" and isn't necessarily in 100% accordance with the PolishForums.com authors' views :).
iwona 12 | 542  
29 Sep 2006 /  #24
I think that our culture is changing in sone aspects ( I suppose it is the same with other nations) buit I have ipression that some articles and opinions about Poland are a little "out-dated".
Kowalski 7 | 621  
29 Sep 2006 /  #25
Poland: The things that would make foreigner lift a brow.
1. Porn magazine covers would be right into your eyes when buying your bus ticket in a newspapper stand. Your TV channel where you had enjoyed nature programms would changed into porn advertisment after 11 PM, you'd hear girls moaning for your calls and showing more then you had ever seen in your TV.

2. Dog shit, smell of dog shit, dog owners pretending not to see their dogs making a poo right onto the sidewalk, every squere yard in town full of dog shit. Poo here, poo there, poo everywhere and nobody would even dare to complain to dog owners, who's main argument for not cleaning would be that they paid their dog tax. More: they would let their dogs poo right in front of places where they live themselves!

3. Speeding and reckless driving would go on unprosecuted. Parking permited everywhere. Lots of confusing road signs.
4. Customre service people busy talking would have no time to help you. Administration wouldn't solve problem but would avoid making any decision; just not to be responsible for mistake. There IS sombody above your clerk who would make desision . Administrative desision is seldom final.

5. Lots of girls would wear clothes and use make up only prostitutes would in USA
iwona 12 | 542  
29 Sep 2006 /  #26
unforunately lots true in it.

Parking permited everywhere. Lots of confusing road signs. - yes, Why is it so bad? I must say that England signs, directions are so clear so often even "little monkey" wouldn;t get lost.

In Poland it is nightmare. And why????? it is not so expensive it is just negligence. My friend took me on 1 day trip from krakow to Zywiec and what..... ok there seem to be more, and more rounabouts but no signs. She drives towards roundabout and asks?... where to go? no directions anywhere. You can always try all exits and go around,around.....

That is true about dog shit- So in Poland owners are not obliged to clean it? no law? I remember when I was in USa there was very strict about it there.

5. Lots of girls would wear clothes and use make up only prostitutes would in USA
It is not so bad, it is changing for better....

. Customre service people busy talking would have no time to help you. Administration wouldn't solve problem but would avoid making any decision; just not to be responsible for mistake. There IS sombody above your clerk who would make desision . Administrative desision is seldom final.

I am afraid it is everythere the same.
maybe it is strange but I met more incompetent clerks in England than in Poland.
krysia 23 | 3,057  
29 Sep 2006 /  #27
5. Lots of girls would wear clothes and use make up only prostitutes would in USA

I think they do use a little bit too much in Poland. There used to be a fad like that in America about 40 years ago, but now the use of make-up is so minimal, you look good but you cannot tell you're wearing it. that's the trick.
Ly  
30 Sep 2006 /  #28
one more confusing thing:
the toilet signs. If you see a circle,that means it's a toilet for women, if triangle - for men.
Kowalski 7 | 621  
30 Sep 2006 /  #29
the toilet signs. If you see a circle,that means it's a toilet for women, if triangle - for men.

Why do you find it confusing?

BTW, in US I have seen LADIES and MEN, as if men using toilets were not gentelmen OR toilets were not for women (just!) Sexism!!!

now the use of make-up is so minimal, you look good but you cannot tell you're wearing it.

I wish this fad would reach Poland... many girls here MAKE themselves ugly and I've seen pretty girls nobody pays attention to because (probably!) they weren't dressed UP and made UP.....but I myself have been spoiled by "nature" and "natural" fad.
Ly_  
30 Sep 2006 /  #30
Why do you find it confusing?

It's not ME who finds it confusing since I'm from Poland, but foreigners. I guess we're the only country that use such symbols.

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