Being new in any environment is always a struggle, especially for us introverts who are terrified of making a faux pas (not just me I hope!) What do I wish I had known when I moved to Poland? Ah if only someone had handed me a manual… or a blog… Anyway, part of the fun is discovering the little idiosyncrasies yourself but sometimes it’s good to have a road map to guide you a bit. Here’s what I’d like any newbie to know about Poles:
1. Poles don’t smile at people on the street. Unless you’re crazed or interested in them. I had to train myself not to do that when I first moved here. This makes people appear sad but they’re really not. People are very warm when you know them personally. In fact when I think about it, why do we smile at everyone? So that strangers think we’re nice people? Kinda weird.
2. Poles claim they don’t talk about money, but then talk about it all the time. When you buy something, move to a new flat, go on vacation – the first question is always about how much it cost. Don’t kid yourselves. For instance, when I bought my house, people asked me constantly how much it was. No biggie for me but don’t claim money is a taboo subject.
3. Poles take their long weekends and holidays very seriously. If you don’t have plans for the upcoming long weekend, it’s such a shame. If you go one vacation for only one week, everyone asks why so short. A normal vacation time in the summer is 2-3 weeks. Shorter than that and it’s just not a vacation.
4. Poles just can’t help but kombinować. This doesn’t translate well in English. When you check the definition in the dictionary, kombinować translates to many things: to be up to no good, to cheat, to con, but in my opinion it’s much softer than that in truth. It’s more like “figure out a solution to a difficult problem”. Since there are a lot of complications in Poland, they have a lot of practice.
5. Poles complain a lot. At first, this makes them seem pessimistic and sad. But mostly this is their way of greeting people and bonding. We talk about good things, they talk about bad things. These often include prices, politics, the weather – that kind of stuff. Get used to it.
6. Poles are more direct than native English speakers. There’s no need to add please to the end of the every single request. Our requests are like “I was wondering if you could possibly maybe for just a moment help with something really quick, please?” And I think Poles find that exhausting.
7. Poles don’t ask everyone “how are you?” And even they don’t like the question much. I mean not in the way that we want it to be answered. “Fine” with a cheesy smile just isn’t the Polish way. Try it and see how uncomfortable they look. They’d prefer to answer sincerely and that’s cool too but you can’t do that with a salesperson, for example. So just don’t ask. Trust me. Also, in Poland, it’s kind of bad taste to brag about yourself the way we might when we’re asked this question.
8. Poles like westerners. There aren’t a lot of foreigners in Poland and sometimes that causes people to be intolerant. However, if you’re from the west, you can rest assured that you’ll be welcomed in Poland. And then be asked 853475 times why you came here and why you would ever choose to live here (read: wtf is wrong with you?!)
9. Poles tend to exaggerate negatively, whereas English speakers tend to exaggerate positively. We might say something was “amazing”, “incredible”, “the best thing ever”. And Poles might say “masakra”, “tragedia”, “tak źle”.
10. Poles aren’t extremely neighborly. When I first moved into my current flat with my husband, I wanted to say hello and talk to the neighbors telling them who we were and that kind of thing. You know, neighbor stuff. And my husband said “nigdy w zyciu” and “oh, why don’t you just make them a cherry pie too?” So, yeah, don’t even think about it. A little distrust of your neighbors is healthy in Poland because somehow they know everything about you even though you’ve never told them.
So I covered what I think is relevant but perhaps you have a comment of your own? Be sure to share for all to enjoy in the comments!