Cultural Musings

How to survive a visit with a Polish urzędnik

I’ve met my fair share of urzędniks in Poland. Specifically, I will be discussing mainly the ones from Urząd Wojewódzki today, but, in general, these rules apply pretty much everywhere. However, I have found that often in Urząd Miasta they tend to be less mean, even nice sometimes! That’s, honestly, the best you can hope for.

Disclaimer: Of course I’ve met some nice civil servants, so this does not apply to everyone, it’s just meant to be funny.

I had a not-so-terrible visit in Urząd Wojewódzki recently… one of my least favorite places on the planet. I think I have trauma when it comes to that place, honestly. The whole on the way there I was nervous. Stressed. When I finally found a parking spot, I was so busy trying to get there on time that I forgot where I parked. That is what this place does to me. Of course, it was unnecessary as when I got to the stanowisko where I had an appointment, no one arrived for the next 10 minutes.

If you’re never been to Urząd Wojewódzki (otherwise known as bitch face central) if it’s your *first time*, please take a moment to go over the following advice. You will need it.

What you need to understand:

They will not be nice.

Hopefully, they won’t be mean. They will definitely say things which you’ll think are mean. To them, that is just normal.

They won’t speak English to you unless it is uncomfortably awkward.

It’s better to take someone with you who speaks Polish if you don’t. Even if you do, I’d recommend it.

You will feel small.

Infinitesimal. Prepare yourself for that.

What you should never do:

Do not create rapport.

If you’re from a friendlier society, try to contain the urge to create a rapport with the urzędnik. They likely won’t take kindly to it.

Do not laugh.

We often feel the need to laugh when we are interacting with people. A little giggle to show we’re nice. Just don’t.

Do not speak unless spoken to.

Seriously. You’ll regret it.

Don’t offer up information they haven’t asked about.

Just wait patiently until they ask. Otherwise, you will invoke looks of hatred.

Remember:

If you think a document could be useful, make a copy and take it with you.

They always need both. Having to find the copy room (usually in the basement) and ask another person to help you in Polish will just push you over the edge.

They will dictate things to you to write and it will be the most stressful moment of your life.

Today, my urzędnik told me “Przecież ‘Wojewódzki’ nie ma żadnego “s”, and I literally said “przepraszam”. I thought she might cancel my application at that very moment 😳

Lastly, if you can somehow make yourself exist a little less, do it.

No further explanation necessary 🙂

That’s it! If you can manage all that, you’ll be fine! Luz. Nie martw się. Będzie dobrze. Breeeeeathe. Trzymam kciuki dla Was!

This post is a continuation of another on this topic, A guide on how to survive Polish institutions. Each time I go, I’m just *inspired* apparently.

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7 Comments

  • Reply Piotr 22 December 2020 at 19:22

    I suspect that they are just as terrified of a visit by a foreigner, especially an English speaking one, as you are by being there. Being cold and sometimes rude is their primary defense response to keep their self-esteem intact.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 22 December 2020 at 20:38

      Maybe but I speak Polish when I go there… so what’s there to feel bad about??

  • Reply Ronald Ti 23 December 2020 at 18:15

    Sorry Piotr, I cannot agree. You are replying as a Polish person, who are often a bit shy and embarassed that they do not speak English as well as they think they should. This is simple and pure Polish courtesy.

    No, my friend, we are taking about PUBLIC SERVANTS here, and I believe what you are seeing at the office- most times, not all the time- is the old Communist PRL public servant mentality-starting with that they are doing you a big favour by even talking to you. There is definitely a lot of that.

    My own experience over 5 years of living in Poland has actually been pretty good– but not uniformly so. There is a definite difference of attitude however, between public servants here and in Australia where I am from. I think the difference is in one word: accountability. If public servants have a bit of attitude in Australia , you can generally ‘ping’ them through a conplaints process. I think the same is the same in the USA. I do not think there is a similar system in Poland, and if it does exist, its pretty inaccessible for foreigners.

    Just while we are talking public offices, the inside of the humanitarian disaster refugee camp that is the Office of Foreigners’ Affairs is a place, Piotr, I am willing to bet you will NEVER have to go to-from your first name it sounds like you’re a local! But even whilst we are on that subject, I’ve noted a huge change since arriving in Poland. In 2016 and 2017, you could just wander up at any time of day. When the rules changed around the
    ? end of 2017 and many people from Ukraine and Belerus took advantage of the greater opportunities in Poland, it became pretty unmanageable. I actually feel pretty sympathetic for the workers in the office, it was not their fault, they were not funded for this massive expansion in numbers . I think they did the best they could.

    Last word- Ukraine and Belarus are train wrecks of countries- can you blame these folk? I don’t, and if it was me, I would be out of Ukraine like a shot-and millions of Ukrainians have voted with their feet. Its a pure lottery I was born in Australia.

  • Reply stephen earl 23 December 2020 at 21:34

    Interesting as usual Leah . I still don’t think that i will move to Poland for another couple of years, waiting for my daughter to finish grammar school!

  • Reply VegLucy 3 January 2021 at 19:48

    I felt exactly the same as an expat in Hungary, where I lived for several years;)

  • Reply Cai 29 January 2021 at 00:30

    Funny, my experience is the opposite. At the Urząd Wojewódzki in the people have always been kind, helpful, and happily spoke English. Going there is still stressfull and the atmosphere is a bit soul crushing, but the people working there were always nice to me. In fact, I brought a Polish friend there, and he suggested that they would respect me more if I just spoke directly with them in English.

    The Urząd Miasto is just the opposite…they will not speak English, even if they clearly could (which is fine, I get that I am in their country and need to adapt to them), generally unhelpful, and seem to try to find ways to deny you the thing you came for.

    Even so, I have ways found kond people there, though only if I try to handle matters in Polish. Even so, thr last time I went the lady was patient with my Polish.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 31 January 2021 at 18:32

      That’s really interesting! where do you live?

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