Cultural Musings, For Foreigners

Do you really live in Poland if you’ve never… Foreigner edition

All us immigrants have a lot of the same impressions/experiences after living in Poland for a certain amount of time, so I’m sure we can all agree that when you have to show your ID for something and you whip out a karta pobytu, it’s hilarious to see people’s confused expression as they try and figure out what in the world it is. This article is full of those little special moments when you’re not sure whether to jump on the next plane home or just go with it. That’s life in Poland sometimes.

Learned to say dzień dobry so well that people think you’re Polish and talk to you normally, causing you to immediate regret it. 

Alternatively, after living in Poland for a decade, get really annoyed when someone tells you how good your “dzień dobry” is as if it’s the only thing you can say. 

Gone to Urząd Wojewódzki at 7 am to get a ticket and they were already all gone. Or whatever variation of getting a ticket there is now. Calling and no one picks up. Going online and there’s no tickets available till next year.

Been told by x number of people that they can’t speak English very well, who then proceed to speak English perfectly. 

Pretended to take a shot of vodka with everyone else but really just put it your mouth without drinking and no one even noticed (me).

or, oppositely,

Tried to keep up with the pace of other people’s vodka drinking and realized that was a big effing mistake (never me).

Stopped smiling at people on the street because nobody else does and you don’t want to look crazy. 

Felt really awkward during the opłatek sharing on Christmas Eve when you have no clue what to say (“zdrowych i wesołych” I finally learned after x years of awkwardness).

Been asked a million times why you want to live in Poland when you could live in your hometown like you’re some kind of weirdo.

Felt like a total loser at a party as the only foreigner at a party where everyone is speaking Polish and you don’t understand anything.

Had to listen to the 173748 person tell you there was nothing in the shops during communism as if you had no idea.

Taken the last piece of something on the table because, damnit, why not? 

Realized the most important phrases in your life are “Nie mowię po polsku”, “poproszę jedno piwo” and “kto jest ostatni?”

Stopped saying “fuck” in your own language and just started using “kurwa” because it better expresses your emotions. 

Enjoyed the puzzled look on people’s faces while you’re speaking Polish and they can’t figure out where you’re from.

Struggled to understand what the heck the people at the targ (local farmer’s market) were saying. And also avoided getting your foot run over by the  Babcias with wheeliebags.

Wondered how the hell you were going to survive a Polish wedding when you don’t drink vodka, can’t stand disco polo, and don’t know how to dance in pairs.

Sung “sto lat” perfectly at a birthday party but then stood there looking around smiling stupidly while everyone sings that second one… whatever it is.

Eaten until you burst at a milk bar for a grand total of 10 zl. 

Felt intense stress before going anywhere because you know you’ll have to speak Polish, probably won’t understand most of what occurs, and then have to explain why.

Have you had any experiences in Poland that seem typical and that the rest of us may enjoy? If so, be sure to comment down below!

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  • Reply Kasia 21 August 2020 at 10:28

    Hi Leah! I usually don’t comment much but I laughed a lot while reading this and decided to let you know 😉 As a Polish person who lived in States for a few months and heard a few funny things and questions as well, I really enjoyed your thoughts! Also, as a person born after 1989, I was also told multiple times that there was nothing in the shops during communism, so you’re not alone ;).

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 21 August 2020 at 10:31

      Hey Kasia! Thanks for commenting 🙂 and reading of course! I know for everyone born after the end of communism and have actually lived here their whole lives, you’ve heard those stories much, much more than I have. However, I think when someone hears you’re not from Poland, they assume you don’t know about the history – and actually they’re often correct – but certain things you hear over and over!

  • Reply O. 26 November 2020 at 20:28


    I think that yours experiences and feelings about living in Poland are wastly different than what my sister in law experienced. She is from Belarus. So no cultural shock, as it is a similar country. But the most important. Since her begginings in Poland, noone could tell that she is not a Pole, because her mastery of our language. She has a great talent to learning languages and she had already known Polish before she met my brother. Also one other important thing. Her name: Natalia – is the same in Polish and in Russian, so even thanks to her name that was easier for her to pass as a Pole.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 26 November 2020 at 20:36

      Hi there – For sure it’s a different experience when you come from a place with a similar culture. That’s fantastic for her that she’s managed so well. Language is so important for assimilation.

  • Reply Ryan 16 April 2021 at 17:14

    Hey Leah,

    Newbie to Poland here… Moved from the U.K to Poznań back in October 2020. Came across your blog when researching about how long it takes to get a Karta Pobytu (Really helpful information btw, thanks!).

    Had to leave a comment on this blog post… every single point was relatable, especially the opłatek one and the one about that feeling before going out when you know you’re going to have to communicate in Polish at some point! Glad I’m not the only one to experience that.

    Anyway, thanks for making me smile today!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 19 April 2021 at 16:19

      Glad you enjoyed it, Ryan 🙂 Thanks for commenting and letting me know. Take care! L

  • Reply Maeva 8 June 2021 at 14:33

    OH my god! So ON POINT!
    Except for the experience of a Polish wedding which I still didn’t have, I recognized myself very much ahah. And the one that I was really not excepting and had me crack up is about taking the last piece of something on the table !! OMG I was raised with so much beating around the bush and over-politeness obligations over how will the last piece be distributed and the 1st year in Poland got me so much internalised frustration and grudge that everyone will just serve themselves or even take something and finish the full of it without offering to part, ARGH, after months of trying to politely raise the issue to my boyfriend I just switched game and now it’s “who’s gonna get first” and ciao baby no apologies. And because I am a very slow eater/drinker, sometimes I even take more and hide it so I can have my fair share xDD In Poland it’s every man for himself!

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