Cultural Musings

Jealousy in Poland

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.

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17 Comments

  • Reply Wiktor G. 16 May 2018 at 19:44

    You presented basic stereotypes about Poland, but as people say: “You don’t make sterotypes out of thin air” 😉 There must be something to them.
    Poland has a very intense past which, as you corretly pointed out, might influence our way of being. Distrust and envy are, with highest probability, the echoes of wars and communism – times of intimidation. This, however, changes with Millenials now entering adult life. We don’t remember dark times and many of us laugh at all those vices we still notice in our parents. Jealousy is a human thing, but its level starts to drop amongst younger people – at least that’s how I feel it.

    And I don’t consider myself especially attractive, so I’m glad every time other people do. In that situation, “thank you” is a must when replying to a compliment. ;D

  • Reply Monika 16 May 2018 at 19:51

    That’s exactly how it is! But i’d say, as an 18 yo, that in my environment it’s considered as offensive, piggish behaviour, involving mostly stereotypical “grumpy old people” who lived during PRL. We do like appreciating others’ successes and when someone is so jealousy, it’s just their nasty character, most of the times (in my experience!). This kind of people are very often not liked. To sum up, it’s true what you’ve observed, however it’s also being eradicated and discouraged.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 24 May 2018 at 14:56

      Hey Monika! Yeah I really think you’re right – for sure young people are very different than older people. I guess I don’t really know enough young people to really have observed that so that’s for bringing it to my attention! Of course you grew up in a very different Poland than they did so it makes sense, right?

  • Reply Alex 16 May 2018 at 20:03

    Hi! I am from Poland and I have to say that what you wrote about Polish people is right. Maybe also we are like that because we feel unconfident? Well, I don’t know why where it has roots, but it is true, that we are jealousy people.

    • Reply Alex 16 May 2018 at 20:04

      There shouldn’t be “why”, sorry.

  • Reply Magda 16 May 2018 at 20:57

    As a Pole I think it’s true. I think we just don’t want to brag about what we have or what we’ve achived beacuse of our modesty. We just don’t want other people to feel bad because they don’t have what we have. Sometimes I find myself a little bit annoyed when someone brags about what she/he has done because I think you can just keep it for yourself and only mention it, not boast.
    Jealousy is not problem only in Poland I think. In every part of world we will find people who are jealous of everything. For me it depends on one’s personality but I must admit that sometimes I am jealous about what other people have 😉

  • Reply Aneta 16 May 2018 at 20:57

    I couldn’t agree more.

  • Reply Bezem 16 May 2018 at 21:35

    >Poles don’t say positive things about their lives when asked “how are you?”
    Because when someone asks us that it means they show interest. In Western Europe or USA it’s part of saying “hi”.
    >(…) like it’s a competition or something. It’s just funny.
    It sounds funny unless you remind yourself that its the country that had barely any peace in last couple of hundred years. People are bitter and competitive because its the only way to survive. During PRL you had to kombinować to get better stuff. You came to Poland when it started to grow its economy and raise from knees after soviet occupation. But 20 years ago it was totally a different country. People didn’t live in peaceful american dream with sunny beaches. Getting better things or jobs often meant that it was due to connections instead of skills. Mentality like this might die in next 50 years but who knows.

    • Reply Piotr 17 May 2018 at 14:42

      I think that being jealous an envy isn`t only Polish problem. Unfortunately, some of my compatriots tend to show their negative feelings to much. I`ve experienced this a few times. For example, when I wrote my composition very well or I my test was passed best among my classmates, I heard: Piotrek, It`s impossible! You got A grade again! Did you learn all long day? To be clear, my colleagues liked me I suppose. But their disbelief and jealousy was easy to see in their eyes. I reckon the part of your post about being unhappy when someone has or does something better is pointed out excellently as well. If somebody owns a new car, has a pretty renovated house and earns a lot of money, people like spreading the rumours about stealing stuff or doing something against law. What more, you mustn`t be different from your surrounding in Poland. If this happens, then must be something wrong with you. Furthermore, we aren`t able to appreciate our sportpeople achievements very often. When he or she get the win against a really top opponent, sometimes you may read: X was simply lucky, Y can`t be so good, the rival wasn`t playing too well at all and so on. Some congratulations are given obviously but this is much rarer than could be. Really sad to see.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 24 May 2018 at 14:55

      Bezem – For sure you make some good points. I live in a very different Poland than everyone grew up in, so you’re right I see it from a different perspective. I also understand that it’s cultural and I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with it, these are just my observations.

    • Reply Aggie 6 July 2018 at 14:23

      >Poles don’t say positive things about their lives when asked “how are you?”
      Because when someone asks us that it means they show interest. In Western Europe or USA it’s part of saying “hi”.

      Well, that doesn’t change the fact that you could _choose_ to mention good things. Showing interest doesn’t require hearing complaints in return.

      >It sounds funny unless you remind yourself that its the country that had barely any peace in last couple of hundred years. People are bitter and competitive because its the only way to survive.

      Do you seriously think about the last couple hundred years every time you look at someone’s photo on facebook/your friends’, neighbours’ or colleagues’ things etc? Being bitter wasn’t and isn’t the only way to survive.

  • Reply Witek 18 May 2018 at 00:47

    A very appropriate post, Leah. Very true, and unfortunate. On one hand, I’ve found it’s hard to make meaningful friendships with average Polish folks because of jealousy. Earning dollars remotely and spending here goes a hell of a long way. And then people look at me and think that i probably don’t work hard because I’m self employed and work from home. That shit came easy. In America it’s all “beaches and palm trees” and money grows on trees. Sorry to be blunt, but in my opinion the average Pol doesn’t know what it means to bust ass and work for your success. To make sacrifices. But then on the other hand, I’ve also found “new money” around here is also jealous when maybe they shouldn’t need to be. Right? You’re well off, I’m well off, great. Bragging about this trip or that expense, or needing to drive the newest car, just to boost their self worth. A lot of “Keeping up with the Joneses” as well. I see more Maybachs and Rolls Royces driving around in little Nowy Sacz than I did living in Santa Barbara and in Silicon Valley. The few ultra successful people I’ve had the pleasure getting to know in my lifetime in the U.S. you wouldn’t ever know they were rich by the car they drove or by the clothes they wore. Anyway… enough of my rambling. No place or person is perfect. I’m a little nuts myself 😉

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 24 May 2018 at 14:54

      Witek – haha aren’t we all? Yeah I think a lot of our friends/neighbors probably think my parents pay for all of our stuff but that’s fine with me 🙂 Whatever they wanna think. I mean it’s not just Poles – lots of people are jealous with others for having more but somehow it’s just more obvious with Poles I feel like? I think Americans are just good liars and pretenders 🙂

      • Reply Witek 24 May 2018 at 15:15

        I think you’re right. It’s probably the same everywhere. Well, like they say, if you can’t beat them, join them. Now where’s Porsche dealer? hmmmm :). Re-reading that post I think I came out a bit too harsh. Note to self to not to post comments at night.

  • Reply Matleo 22 May 2018 at 13:35

    She atleast tried to make a objective point of .
    Good to start a discussion about this Subject.

    I always wanted a girlfriend but all girls are jealous about me to much and think I would jump from flower to flower, but the truth is I would only jump from flower to flower with a beloved one that would enjoy it fully with me.

  • Reply Laura 21 June 2018 at 13:50

    I think it’s only fair that you touched this subject. It is true in many ways. I heard many years ago, while still in school, that the huge difference between Polish and American mentality could be presented in this one simple example: If a Pole sees his neighbor has a brand new car, he’ll think to himself or say out loud: How come he drives a brand new car like this? He probably stole it! Some may even slash the tires! Whereas in the same situation an American would think/say: My neighbor just got a brand new car. I like it, I’d like to drive something like that. I’ll work a second job and eat out less to save up money and buy a ride like that, too!

    I agree with it, because now I see it first hand. Not every Pole is like that, not every American is like that, but it is a visible trait in many!

  • Reply Leah Morawiec 26 June 2018 at 20:55

    Hey Laura – that’s a perfect example of both the Polish and American mentalities!! I really think it’s true. I feel exactly that way and I observe the Polish point of view here. It’s funny, especially those completely different views in one household!

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