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The Polish Way to Ask Questions


polishmeknob 5 | 155
12 Jun 2011 #1
While Poles are often exceedingly polite, they have a peculiar (and often infuriating) way of asking questions. Basically, in my experience, they rarely ask direct questions. Instead of saying, "Do you need help?", they will most likely say, "You do not need help, right?" (They are being polite implying that I am not helpless.) Or, they will say something like, "Tell me about the girl/boy that you don't have." Instead of saying, "Why are you single?" It's all done with good intentions, but it's rather annoying.

Does anyone else have these types of experiences?!
rybnik 18 | 1,462
12 Jun 2011 #2
Does anyone else have these types of experiences?!

This you find not pleasing? lol
Seanus 15 | 19,706
12 Jun 2011 #3
It's called tact ;) ;) I'd rather they said, 'have you run out of shaving blades?' rather than 'why are you a scruffy sod?'.
urszula 1 | 253
12 Jun 2011 #4
No, not those kind of questipons. But what annoys me, is when I meet Poles in Chicago their first question is "what part of Poland are you from", "how did you get to America" or "how long have you been in America"?

It really annoys me because I'm not from Poland and because to them those are the most important questions they wanna know.
Maaarysia
12 Jun 2011 #5
"Tell me about the girl/boy that you don't have."

That's weird question... How can someone ask about a girl/boy that someone doesn't have?

It really annoys me because I'm not from Poland and because to them those are the most important questions they wanna know.

So there must be some reason why they take you for a Pole... The question is what is it? Is it maybe your name after your German great great grandmother?
rybnik 18 | 1,462
12 Jun 2011 #6
It really annoys me because I'm not from Poland and because to them those are the most important questions they wanna know.

those are reasonable questions :)
OP polishmeknob 5 | 155
12 Jun 2011 #7
That's weird question... How can someone ask about a girl/boy that someone doesn't have?

It's implying that you would/should/had a girl/boyfriend, but right now do not.
Like I said, it may be polite, but it's kind of irritating sometimes when you have to think for a second to find out what they may be asking.
Maaarysia
12 Jun 2011 #8
It's implying that you would/should/had a girl/boyfriend, but right now do not.

It doesn't translate into Polish at all... that makes it strange. Do really Poles ask this particular question?
OP polishmeknob 5 | 155
12 Jun 2011 #9
Do really Poles ask this particular question?

Yes.
Maaarysia
12 Jun 2011 #10
Well, that's weird.

Ok. As for the general idea, yes, it's true that Poles prefer not to ask blunt question especially when they feel that a question can hurt someone's feelings. Also they prefer not to ask for favours too much, but rather just present their problem and count in heart that someone offers them help.
boletus 30 | 1,366
12 Jun 2011 #11
what part of Poland are you from"

This is true, I am aware of this strange habit. I think it is specific to Polish American/Canadian immigrants, who still virtually live in their little villages, where they or their parents came from. It does not annoy me, but it makes me laugh. So when I answer: I was born in X, and then my parents worked in Y, Z and W; and then I studied at P and found my first work there - they are shocked and baffled. So they ask the next question: but surely, you are from somewhere, aren't you? All they want is a nice, warm feeling of belonging to the same group or being of a better group, or whatever.

In the old 1967 comedy "Sami swoi" (Our Folks),
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_swoi
about two families of sworn enemies but who could not live without each other, in the initial scene of the film Pawlak jumps out of resettlement freight wagon at the sight of a cow of his rival Kargul and exclaims: - "why to look for a strange enemy, when we have our own here!"
Maaarysia
12 Jun 2011 #12
I think it is specific to Polish American/Canadian immigrants,

No it's not. It's specific for all nations.
People in Poland ask me even of what part of my city I come from. Have you heard the term małe ojczyzny?

So when I answer: I was born in X, and then my parents worked in Y, Z and W; and then I studied at P and found my first work there - they are shocked and baffled.

You should say the place where you've lived for the last time or the place you grew up in or genereally a palce which you feel you're more connected with.
Antek_Stalich 5 | 997
12 Jun 2011 #13
My wife shot me down with that question yesterday:
-- So, is your friend white the other way? (Czy on jest "biały inaczej"?)
Then we were rolling of laughter for quite a while.
She wanted to ask if he was a Negro, but in the politically correct way, for fun. This is how you avoid asking direct questions! :-D

My daughter as a little kid asked "Are you talking about this hairless mister, Dad?"

Question to all non-Polish people here: Do your compatriots ask this question while at your home:
-- May I use the toilet?

Normally I answer the guest must not use the toilet and I will defend the door to the toilet with my body!
emha - | 92
12 Jun 2011 #14
This is true, I am aware of this strange habit.

Why is it a strange habit for you ?
Maaarysia
12 Jun 2011 #15
white the other way

It calls euphemism

Why is it a strange habit for you ?

Because he wants to be a cosmopolitan ;)

-- May I use the toilet?

This question should be read:
1. where is the toilet
2. is it enough clean to not make you blush ;)
Seanus 15 | 19,706
12 Jun 2011 #16
A cosmopolitan what, Maaarysia? Time for that article thread again, methinks ;) Cosmopolitan is an adjective.

A lack of directness may not be good in clubs.
Des Essientes 7 | 1,291
12 Jun 2011 #17
Cosmopolitan is an adjective.

Not when it refers to a girlie martini.
Antek_Stalich 5 | 997
12 Jun 2011 #18
This question should be read:

The question is the cardinal example for the Polish inability to ask direct questions. I read about it many years ago ;-) The direct question would be: "Where can I find the toilet"; and you do not expect guests excrete in the staircase of your house after you have invited them ;)
Maaarysia
12 Jun 2011 #19
A cosmopolitan what, Maaarysia? Time for that article thread again, methinks ;) Cosmopolitan is an adjective.

In Polish we have word kosmopolita - a citizen of the world. As -an is an ending indicating citizens/inhabitants of some towns, cities e.g. Varsavian that's why I thought that cosmopolitan is a noun.
boletus 30 | 1,366
12 Jun 2011 #20
People in Poland ask me even of what part of my city I come from. Have you heard the term małe ojczyzny?

Well, this is not that simple. Have you ever heard a term "uprooted"? :-) A lot of Poles have been uprooted after the WWII and became "ptoki" (birds), as opposed to "krzoki"(bush) - as they say in Silesia.

There is one more thing Maaarysia: Province of Ontario, where I live, is three times the size of Poland. If you live up north, your nearest neighbour may live dozens of miles away and yet the first Pole you meet needs to immediately know the name of your home village in Poland. With all due respect - this is all about distance and perspective, or lack of it. :-)
Des Essientes 7 | 1,291
12 Jun 2011 #21
In Polish we have word kosmopolita - a citizen of the world. As -an is an ending indicating citizens/inhabitants of some towns, cities e.g. Varsavian that's why I thought that cosmopolitan is a noun.

I think you may be right about it being a noun in English too for a citizen of the world, or cosmos. In English the word Neopolitan can be a noun meaning a citizen of Naples as well as an adjective meaning of Naples.
Maaarysia
12 Jun 2011 #22
The question is the cardinal example for the Polish inability to ask direct questions. I read about it many years ago ;-) The direct question would be: "Where can I find the toilet"; and you do not expect guests excrete in the staircase of your house after you have invited them ;)

Ok but in some cases people want to express that they want excuse themselves for a minute to go to toilet. It would be strange if someone in your house would say: przepraszam, ale muszę na chwilę pójść do toalety (excuse me, I must go to the toilet), because it sounds like someone feels as if it was his house not yours. It's just bold not to ask for permission. Normally guests don't say bluntly I'll take a knife (*then dig in all your drawers to look for it) but can I take a knife (and they expect you to show them were the knives are or to fetch them one).
Antek_Stalich 5 | 997
12 Jun 2011 #23
Maarysiu, I explicitly asked non-Poles for the answer and for similar situation in their home country, on purpose.

If I asked you whether you turn the light off on exiting a room, you would say "Yes, I do".
A Norwegian would answer: "No, I don't".

OK?
Maaarysia
12 Jun 2011 #24
A Norwegian would answer: "No, I don't".

I hope they have those saving energy bulps...
Antek_Stalich 5 | 997
12 Jun 2011 #25
It does not matter. Norwegian homes need heating for 9 months per year and all heating is electric. Therefore, it does not matter if the house is warmed by a heater or by bulbs or by PC. A Norwegian also likes a lot of light to compensate lack of sunshine.

Remaining on topic, Polish indirect questions are the cultural thing and the question about the toilet may be quite different outside Poland. I'm just interested.

Many years ago, I read an article in the Warsaw Voice. The author there asked exactly why Poles cannot simply say "I need a lift, can you help me with that?" and mentioned the toilet question.
Des Essientes 7 | 1,291
12 Jun 2011 #26
In Polish we have word kosmopolita - a citizen of the world.

The equivalent noun in English is not cosmopolitan, but rather cosmopolite.
mafketis 23 | 8,455
12 Jun 2011 #27
More what I call a theoretical word than a real word, that is it can still be found in dictionaries but a native speaker can comfortably go their whole life without ever using it.

Words in -an are unpredictable and the only way to learn if they're nouns or adjectives (or both) is trial and error. That's the kind of irregular and unpredictable derivation that makes high level fluency so elusive.
OP polishmeknob 5 | 155
13 Jun 2011 #28
I just wrote up a small little thing about it. I'll study it even further.
Monia
13 Jun 2011 #29
This is true, I am aware of this strange habit.

Don`t you think they are simply curious ( meeting someone who is Polish in Toronto and not asking such questions would sound weird to me ) . That is a very simple way to start a conversation without any specific context

My brother with his family doesn`t live in a polish village community , so why are you stereotyping ? There are a lot of successful people of Polish descent who are not closed in their polish hermetic communities . Even if it was a case , what is wrong with that idea if they feel better , let them decide .
boletus 30 | 1,366
13 Jun 2011 #30
why are you stereotyping

Oh, come on Monia, I am not stereotyping, I just find it funny, when somebody asks it at the opening of the first conversation. And I always explain it to them jokingly, why such question seems humorous to me.

I've tried to explain it a bit more in my second post here. I will just expand a bit upon it: Imagine Canadian long distances, people (yes, the same people who ask that question) driving 200-400 km just to reach their cottage or a chosen fishing spot, and yet "what part of Poland are you from" still seems important. The same people that had crossed the Atlantic to get here. "I am from Poland" - shouldn't it be enough for both of us to feel comfy?

No, not everyone ask such questions, of course. None of my close friends would ever do it, because most of used to moved a lot, when still back in Poland. I really feel that such info is immaterial, because it does not tell you anything about me. Really, ask me about my hobbies, outdoor adventures - I am all yours. :-)


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