For Foreigners

5 ways to facilitate your assimilation into Polish culture

You either assimilate or you don’t. It’s a choice you make. I’ve seen and heard of many cases here in Poland where someone just refuses to learn the language or adapt to the traditions here. What a shame, you know? If you’re here, you might as well live. Otherwise, what’s the point really? I’m a firm believer that if you’ve made a decision to live in a place, you’ve gotta go all in. If not, you can never truly experience the culture for what it really is.

It takes work to assimilate and I’ll probably be working on it for the rest of my life. These tips are what helped me adapt to the point I’m at now:

1. Start Polish lessons. Now. Stat. Teraz! Do this as soon as possible and you won’t regret it. I cannot stress this enough. Most of my problems with living in Poland were and are connected with not being able to communicate. Regardless of the fact that many people speak English in Poland, that doesn’t mean they want to speak English in all contexts. Try going to a party and you’ll realize how necessary it really is. “We’re in Poland so we should be speaking Polish” is something I once heard at a party and I’ll never forget it how embarrassing it was.

2. Find foreign friends. Your foreign friends will understand your problems like no one else. Your friends at home and your Polish friends, even your partner will never understand you like they will. You’ll be closer because of it and you’ll have some respite when you can speak normally for a couple hours to someone who communicates not only in your language but in the same manner as you. But…

3. Spend time with people who don’t speak English. This is difficult at first but you’ve just gotta jump into the deep end. Having family members who don’t speak English was the main incentive for me to learn and if I didn’t have them, I’d still be saying “przepraszam, ale nie mowię zbyt dobrze po polsku” to every person I interacted with. Polish friends are also good to have because they’ll invite you to Christmas dinner when you have no one else to spend it with (had that problem once!). It’s a great way to learn Polish quickly and it will help you understand the culture even better. You’ll get more insight into what people are really like and how they speak to each other and interact generally.

4. If you don’t have a Polish partner already, get one. I’m going to go ahead and assume the reason you live in Poland is because you are in love with some Pole or you’re a student. However, I know some people who live here for other reasons like for studies or because they have roots in Poland – and a couple crazies who moved here just because. In those cases, having a Polish partner is very helpful in your assimilation process. Without it, you won’t get to experience the nuances of everyday life in Poland. However, sometimes this can go the opposite way and you could rely too much on your partner. Be wary of this because you can’t expect your partner to do everything for you. That will only hinder you. So…

5. Try to do things by yourself. Go to shops and ask for things. Go to farmer’s markets. It seems scary when you don’t speak well but when you can do things for yourself – go to the bank, do things at city hall, talk to people without your partner right next to you – you feel free. You’ll feel like a fool the first 500 times but who cares whether you said everything right? You managed yourself like any other normal human being. That freedom is thing you strive for most of all when you live abroad. Reach it and live!

What I’m working on now: Recently I’ve been trying to accept the things about Poland I don’t like. It’s things like shitty customer service (but now I can’t stand overly chipper American customer service, go figure). Or taxes or public healthcare, whatever. These are things I can’t change (no really I can’t because I can’t vote) so I just have to accept them how they are. But true to my Polish adaptation – I can complain about them all I want.

What else can we do to better assimilate? Any personal experiences?

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  • Reply Adrianna 31 August 2016 at 20:44

    So how good is your level of Polish language now? I guess our language is quite hard to learn, even if you don’t want to master it and just want to be able to communicate – all these strange sounds, grammar that is odd for non-slavic people, the fact, that we don’t speak really clearly…

  • Reply Leah Morawiec 31 August 2016 at 20:52

    Adrianna – I’d say like A2 in terms of grammar but I know a lot of words and I’m quite comfortable speaking because I have a lot of practice. So quite different than Poles who know English extremely well grammatically but need help with confidence and speaking. But yeah I feel pretty comfortable nowadays but grammar is such a mindfuck (sorry but it is) that I’m constantly stuck cause I wanna say the right thing and just can’t! Also, yes some people are terribly difficult to understand!

    • Reply Piotr 1 September 2016 at 01:08

      If your level of Polish is enough to talk with other people I can only bow down to you. Our language belongs to one of the hardest in the world so I really admire foreigners who try learning it. However, not everybody does it because Polish grammar and vocabulary seem to be too difficult for some people. You aren`t only one really. If it consoles you I will say something to you. Even Slavic people have a big trouble with our sounds, genders, causes, declinations . Not to mention about bunch of exeptions. By the way, a person who told you “We’re in Poland so we should be speaking Polish” didn`t sound too nice to me. He/She had good intensions perhaps, but still… Some understanding hasn`t hurt anybody yet. If somebody doesn`t speak foreign language it hasn`t to be realated to laziness! What about English? Poles know this speech for sure but not always and not everywhere. For example, some of my colleagues before our matura exam din`t know basic words like piłkarz or przerażony. And we had been learning in advanced group. You are totally right about our grammatic knowledge and lack of confidence in speaking. Everything is connected with a way of teaching. The majority of English teachers in Poland are completely obsessed about grammar unfortunately. I had been interactig with Shakespeare`s mother tongue for about ten years. The beginning was definitely the best. Almost everyday I was learning a new world and sentence with phonetic writing until I went to secondary school. Learnig grammar rules, terms by heart without any context really bored me almost to death! The middle school wasn`t better at all. Conversations, speaking, listening? Forget about it! We trained these abilities really rarely. Furthermore, when we were speaking our teachers were focusing on mistakes made by us. This was so irritatig and discouraging! To sum up, unless you go to language school you won`t be able to get know English fluently. But they are pretty expensive. I think that isn`t quite normal situation, is it? You can learn a language yourself obviously but it`s really a hard work and it takes much time. Attending an average public insitusion won`t be enough probably. If I din`t read English websites, I wouldn`t remember too many words. Therefore, I wuldn`t manage to understand your excellent blog nor write any posts.

      • Reply Leah Morawiec 5 September 2016 at 19:47

        Thanks for the compliment, Piotr 🙂 Well your English is fantastic. I think Poles have a completely different problem than me… they know English quite well but they can’t speak. I have the opposite, I can speak but my grammar and knowledge of verb forms suck :/ I guess everyone has different problems!

  • Reply Darjusz 31 August 2016 at 21:28

    Well, again, I wasn’t disappointed, as usual, Leah. You’ve covered pretty much everything, all great stuff. I’d only add, that for me moving out implies that you HAVE to assimilate with the society and culture of the place that you’re moving in. One may think I may be exaggerating, but no, for me that’s a point of honor (another value that some people forgot). Assimilating basically means that you follow the common rules, and those rules weren’t created just because. People are living by that rules and if you don’t apply them to your lifestyle you’ll always be treated as a alien/foreigner and society won’t be willing to interact with you in a way you’ve wanted. You also cannot force anyone to follow your rules, I guess that’s the main problem that world have with radical Muslims and ISIS… Without assimilation and following the “host” rules the society won’t be healthy.

    Final though I came up with – don’t hesitate to ask people and don’t be embarrassed with it. How are you supposed to know how to behave in a place that’s completely new to you…? Just be polite, unpretentious and simply have the urge to get to know your local society better. Go from that and you’ll get there. Sooner than you think!

  • Reply Luiza 2 September 2016 at 13:48

    Wish you all the best with your assimilation – with this attitude I’m sure all Poles will love you right away! 🙂

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 5 September 2016 at 19:49

      You’re sweet. I do my best but it could always be better 🙂

  • Reply Eric 4 September 2016 at 11:24

    I was in Poland two years ago, but for business trip, u can get really great cars there with chauffeur on !

  • Reply Piotr Czapliński 15 September 2016 at 09:30

    “We’re in Poland so we should be speaking Polish” shouldn’t be embarrassing to you, rather to the one that have said it. It’s the way people cover their lack of language skills. You are a foreigner, you do not have to know Polish. It is not very hospitable, one should conform to guests needs. If someone doesn’t know your language that is too bad, you won’t have a conversation then, but to say those words is, in my opinion, just rude and a little xenophobic.

    • Reply Angelika 28 October 2016 at 18:46

      I heard that sentence in USA at leat 50 times what worst sometimes when I was trying to speak english but i missed some words. It’s really embarrassing.

  • Reply Dominic 28 September 2016 at 12:29

    Before going to Warsaw, I tried to find some information about this city, so I visited A brilliant website.

  • Reply Kin 12 October 2016 at 13:24

    Speaking of farmer’s markets… An American friend tried to buy fresh eggs from a middle-aged lady once, she nearly smacked him when he asked her for “jajniki” (ovaries) : ))) Still cracks me up!

  • Reply Kasia 12 October 2016 at 22:51

    Hi Leah,
    your blog is interesting to me, because we’re on the “opposite” page. I’m Polish living in the US, I moved to California for my boyfriend who’s American. Addaptation to the culture is not easy. Sometimes, my boyfriend’s behaviour seems to be ridiculous to me and vice versa. It helped him to understand me a lil bit more by made him to learn about recent history. I know it’s very cliche, but polish people are fixated on history. I would recommend you to visit Immigration Museum in Gdynia if you get a chance. Also maybe some documentary movies about Poland during comunism and time when Poland converted into capitalism. I think people in Poland would really appreciate if you know the basic facts about history and it’ll make you understand our behaviour which I’m sure make you think “WTF?”.

    • Reply Angelika 28 October 2016 at 18:48

      same with me! I’m Polish living in US!:) Good luck because sometimes it’s really hard :*

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