The topic of jealously in Poland is a sensitive one, but it’s an important aspect of culture that I think requires its own post. I’ve had this post written for a long time but I keep going back and forth with it because it makes me nervous. I’m afraid of the stirring the pot too much and the backlash it may result in, but anyway I think it’s time. So, why are Poles so jealous and how do they express that jealousy?
DISCLAIMER: These observations do not apply to all Poles by any means. Many people, especially when they’re your good friends or family, don’t seem to behave in the ways described in the article, but it does happen, and I’ve experienced it many times first hand.
What Poles say about the issue.
It’s obvious that Poles consider themselves to be a jealous nation. Many of my students have expressed their dislike of this character trait among Poles, so it’s clear that many people are conscious of it and perhaps try to push back again it. But I think it’s also possible many people don’t actually realize what’s going on and just see it as a natural reaction. Maybe it comes from communist times when everyone was more or less “equal” and it was really unfair when someone had more than you. Can someone provide some insight into this? For sure someone can explain it better than I can.
Poles don’t say positive things about their lives when asked “how are you?”
Why is that? Perhaps they’re afraid that they will make the other person jealous, which could make the other person dislike them. If they prove that they have more, they may be seen as someone bad. So the answer to “how are you?” is often something like “oh, well, you know, not bad, but I’m tired and the weather could be better, my boss is kind of a jerk”… etc. This is completely opposite to Americans who take every opportunity to not-so-humbly brag about their lives. I don’t see anything wrong with talking about the good things in your life, along with the bad.
Poles won’t be happy that you have something nice or better than they do.
Their version of “Keeping up with the Joneses”, so maintaining the same social status as your neighbors, i.e. buying a new car when they do, is like ours but on crack. If you have something new, your neighbors will surely take note and comment on it amongst themselves but they won’t say anything to you about it. Like “Oh, I love your new car” is something Americans would say but in Poland really rather not.
Another thing which I find interesting is the reactions Poles have when someone has something nice or whey they win something or achieve something. I observe this different between my reaction and my husband’s to these situations very often. Like if one of our friends posts a vacation picture online, I’ll say “Oh, wow, it’s so beautiful. I wanna go there!” and he’ll say “Ugh! I hate them. Those bastards! I’m unfriending them” Slight exaggeration but you get the idea. And I always think “Why can’t you just be happy for them that they’re happy or have something nice?” It’s a strange thing for me, but I guess it just comes down to culture. Or if I say “Oh, look, they have a nice ______ (insert whatever here), my husband might say “yeah, but ours is better” like it’s a competition or something. It’s just funny.
Poles will almost never say “thank you” when you compliment them on something.
Cringing, they’ll say “oh no, it’s old” or “it’s nothing special” or “yours is even better” – something to that effect. I think it’s so that they don’t see arrogant, again so the person won’t dislike them. In contrast, I’d just say “thank you” because I think it’s the most polite thing to say.
Do you think my observations are true or am I looking into it too deeply? Have you ever experienced something like this in Poland or maybe you have your own comments? If so, please feel free to put them below, so we can start a discussion about it.