Cultural Musings

Polish health myths… or truths? 

There’s a whole load of things which make people sick in Poland that don’t make people sick elsewhere. I swear I’ve only heard these things here and maybe they’re real and maybe they’re not but I’m skeptical. Perhaps we can get a doctor to weigh in? Anyone? So let’s talk about polish health myths

Drafts.

The dreaded przeciąg. A very scary thing for Poles. Nothing in Poland is more dangerous than the wind. Neck hurt? Draft. Head hurts? Przeciąg. Every time you get sick practically everyone questions whether you slept with the window open. When I’m at my parents-in-law’s and it’s hot as hell inside their apartment, we can’t open the window because the wind might make the kids sick. It doesn’t matter if it’s -5 or 30 degrees outside. Or someone has problems with their back because they were sweaty and the wind blew on their back? Huh? Who else finds this strange? There must be truth to it since it’s so universal. Even the nurses at the hospital were worried about it. I got a breast infection while breastfeeding and the midwife said it could have been from a draft… Also old people are always telling me to put a hat on my baby indoors when its 30 degrees because there could be a przeciąg… boże drogi. But seriously, I half started believing this because people talk about it so much.

Air conditioning and the quick change in temperature.

I come from Florida where AC is ubiquitous so getting sick from it is just not possible. People here are always saying that the AC at work or even in their cars made them sick. I used to believe this was a myth but nowadays when I go home my throat hurts the whole time, but that might be because my mom keeps it a cool 19 degrees all year. But this goes along with the changing of temps making you sick. It’s funny to me because in the summer when someone gets ill, it was for sure because they went from inside, where there’s AC, to outside where it’s warm. However, no one claims this as a problem in winter when the same situation occurs, just in the reverse. What’s the difference? who knows.

The skin of peppers or tomatoes sticking to your stomach.

This is otherwise known as food poisoning or a stomach virus everywhere else in the world. I eat peppers and tomatoes all the time with skin on them and I don’t have this problem. I recently had a stomach thing and this was the conclusion my whole family came to. Apparently it’s a thing! Where does this myth come from and is there truth to it?

Not wearing a hat.

Does not wearing a hat outdoors when it’s under 10 degrees really make you sick or is it just a comfort thing? Who knows but if you don’t wear a hat in Poland when it’s cold and you get sick then that was definitely the reason. Same with not wearing socks or slippers. It wasn’t because you came in contact with a bacteria or something. Nah.

Not covering yourself with a blanket when you lie down.

My mother-in-law swears you’ll get sick if you don’t. I think it’s a load of bull but she’s fully convinced.

The best possible remedies for illnesses:

Something which is cool is that a lot of Poles will use some home remedies to try and treat themselves instead of only taking medicine, although I’m sure there’s a lot of that as well. Anyway I also like home remedies but these particular few seem to be most popular here:

Tea with lemon and honey. If you’re any kind of sick then this is apparently a panacea – all you need to get healthy. Granted I think it helps you feel better but it’s not a miracle drug.

Steam inhalations. I’d never done these before moving to Poland but I’d seen them in old cartoons and things a few times. I don’t know if it really works but I usually feel better after – kind of like when you feel refreshed after the sauna.

Garlic. Poles truly believe in the healing powers of garlic. There’s even a mixture of garlic, milk and honey, which I think sounds okropne but seems to be widely used.

Lemon balm tea (melisa for the Poles). Stressed? Drink this and everything will be ok. It’s like whenever you feel upset someone offers to make you lemon balm and assumes it will make it all better. But it does have a calming effect, I agree.

Can you think of any other similar health beliefs which are a little iffy? I tried thinking of American ones but I couldn’t think of any. Probably it would help to have an outsider’s perspective! Let me know what you think in the comments!

Previous Post Next Post

37 Comments

  • Reply Piotr 23 July 2017 at 16:22

    I think everything is related to an our health culture-Poles are simply oversensitive about their wellness! I can`t count out how many times I heard mothers talking to children: `Don`t run cause you will get sweaty`, Wear a coat/cap cause you will get cold, `Don`t open the window! It`s too windy here!` and so on. And when you have running nose, sore throat and slightly high temperature, you almost beg your general practitioner to get a prescription for antibiotics-it`s insane! In the West it`s almost unknown apparently-kids play outside and attend school there normally while having flu, leaking nose and painful throat! The medicines killing bacteria are given only when needed and necessary. I have read a lot of times that the Westerners wear their sons and daughters in blouses with short sleeves when it`s about 10 degrees outside. If someone behaves otherwise, she or she must be Pole almost surely ;-). And if we talk about remedies for sickness-have you ever heard about onion syrup (with sugar)? Really good thing for cold but a bit inedible for me. I would recommend black blueberries for diarrhea and food poisoning-the warm juice made of them is really helpful. I tried this once and I got a deep relief.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 25 July 2017 at 15:16

      Hey Piotr! Yeah of course I’ve even had the onion and sugar syrup. It’s not that bad! But yeah I think people go a little overboard here with the dressing warmly, especially with children. It’s a little ridiculous in my opinion. I really don’t like when someone on the street tells me to put something on my kid! how obnoxious.

  • Reply Asia Lengiewicz 23 July 2017 at 22:14

    Great long-awaited post Leah! 🙂 hope everything is going well with the baby. In my family, przeciag is something that just drives me insane! Of course the fact I get ill more at university is przeciag, rather than me being exposed to thousands more people and their bacteria (or at least my mum seems to think so). Look forward to your next post already 🙂

  • Reply Leah Morawiec 24 July 2017 at 11:34

    Hey Ania – everything is going really well with the baby, thanks! He’s the reason for the lack of recent posts 🙁 I’m sorry! Anyway it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who thinks this is absurd!

  • Reply Anna 25 July 2017 at 17:23

    Ah dreaded przeciąg, my dad is one of those that claim he is cold if there is a window open somewhere in the house, luckily my mom get us used to sleep by open windows, and I have open windows constantly from around April-May to November. And I’m a warm loving person.

    As for hat under ten degrees, when I was younger I didn’t agree, but now when the temperatures are going down around ten I wear it all the time, otherwise headache and painful sinuses. It might come from sinus infection if you had one you will wear a hat even in 10 degrees always, if you don’t you are hurting.

    From home remedies garlic is awesome, but also orzechówka – a homemade alcohol from green walnuts – it’s a cure for everything to do with stomach – food poisoning, gas etc. 😀

  • Reply Ola 25 July 2017 at 17:49

    yeah … That’s really crazY. I cant really hear about hat or socks or blanket when it’s really hot! my parents and parents-in-law make me crazy about that!

  • Reply Leah Morawiec 25 July 2017 at 18:03

    Hi Ania – ooh I’ve never heard of this alcohol made from walnuts. Unfortunately no oe in my family makes homemade alcohol! Only kompot, kapusta, dżem and ogórki 🙂

    • Reply Theresa 3 August 2017 at 19:50

      I have walnut trees all around me. How do you make alcohol from green walnuts? Are green walnuts the ones that fall from the trees that look like tennis balls??

  • Reply Sara 25 July 2017 at 20:23

    Ooohhh, przeciąg is no joke. I have problems with my ears, so any kind of przeciąg is likely to make me stay in bed with severe ear pain for a long time… When I went to States I caught a cold because I spent too much time in a room with a quite cold AC. The Americans I was with said it was “quite chilly”, but they were used to it, so nothing happened to them…
    As for tea (or just warm water) with honey and lemon – honey moisturizes your throat, lemon has a lot of vit. C, warm tea/water warms you up – everything to help you fight a cold 😀 During winter time whenever I feel like I’m catching a cold, I drink such a drink and take a lot of vit. C pills (or just one, but a strong one – like Witamina C 1000), take a hot shower, sleep and I’m usually fine the following day! Or, as Anna above me wrote, I use homemade alcohol. ;p

  • Reply Kasia 26 July 2017 at 01:30

    hahaha this is all so true!! Przeciag and not wearing a hat – source of all illness! My mom and grandma say that you lose the most heat through the head;) I’ve never heard about the pepper skin thing though..
    I totally believe all those home remedies though – they work for me:)

  • Reply Witek 26 July 2017 at 17:07

    Leah, I think you’re becoming more Europeanized than you think… in America we say draft vs draught. The British folks use draught 🙂

    Poles like their sweaters and jackets. So sensitive to cold.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 27 July 2017 at 10:17

      I agree it would be draft in America but frankly I wasn’t entirely sure and when I looked it up I read that draught is more correct! But that could have just been a Brit writing that 🙂

  • Reply Marina 27 July 2017 at 14:50

    That’s so interesting! Now I really wonder what we think/do that outsiders would see as equally bizarre.

  • Reply Anna Banaszczyk 29 July 2017 at 10:00

    completely Polish health issues! I love fresh air, so I open windows as often as possible! My parents – in law have so tiny and stuffy apartment and they have always closed windows. My boyfriend does not understand, why I don’t like to visit them 🙂

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 2 August 2017 at 12:07

      I know I feel like everyone here always has the damn windows closed when it’s sweltering!! It drives me nuts.

  • Reply Katie W. 1 August 2017 at 00:06

    During the winter, I wore a dress a few times without tights or nylons and I was told multiple times that I’d get a UTI or bladder infection. 🙂 It was really new advice for me and I’m not sure if I can see the correlation between those two Haha

    • Reply Katie W. 1 August 2017 at 14:23

      Ooh and as for American myths – feeding a cold but starving a fever. Did your grandparents ever say that to you?

      • Reply Leah Morawiec 2 August 2017 at 12:08

        Ohh yeah definitely heard that. Is that a myth? lol

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 2 August 2017 at 12:08

      hahaha omg, what?! It’s like the same thing with the breast infection. How even?! It’s an infection. Aren’t they caused by bacteria?

  • Reply Regin 1 August 2017 at 20:58

    Hi,
    great post. You should do one on superstitions. You know, like do not leave your handbag on the floor, or you will lose all your money and that kind of nonsense.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 2 August 2017 at 12:08

      I’m thinking about that! I need some ideas.

    • Reply Alisa 3 August 2017 at 23:24

      Hi,
      If you leave your bag on the floor it can be stolen. So you can loose all your money, lol. 😀😀😀

  • Reply Adrienne 1 August 2017 at 22:31

    My great-grandmother used to always tell us to open up a can of pineapples for her if she ever felt she was coming down with anything. She lived to be 100 so I would take her word on it for any remedies. When we would have colds, we would take boiling water and homemade horseradish in a bowl, take a towel and drape it over our head. It clears your head up quickly!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 2 August 2017 at 12:09

      I guess I’d take her word for it too! You have good genes. Oh you did the inhalations with horseradish? Huh that’s interesting. Gotta try that next time 🙂

  • Reply Mark Wenden 2 August 2017 at 02:07

    Did you forget consuming drinks with ice cubes in them? You will get a cold to your throat!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 2 August 2017 at 12:06

      I know I forgot that! I need to add it.

  • Reply Carol Radion 2 August 2017 at 14:21

    I remember the dreaded draft and being the last kid in the neighborhood to be allowed to go out without a hat in spring—“You’ll catch something”

    Tea with lemon and honey—yes! Plus the addition of a shot of whiskey and some black pepper!!!

  • Reply Stephanie 4 August 2017 at 07:07

    OMG! When I was 5 I had the mumps…apparently a slap of salt across the throat, (lymph nodes I guess) , was the cure…

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 3 October 2017 at 14:55

      Weird! Never heard that!

  • Reply Chrobry 6 August 2017 at 06:21

    My Father-in-law visiting us in Philadelphia years ago was surprised when I offered him a cold beer after I mowed the lawn in July and then quaffed mine. He was concerned that I would get a stomach cold, or drop dead like someone did in Poland.

  • Reply Jason 21 August 2017 at 01:51

    Lol, this is too funny. I’m also an American, have lived in Poland and have a Polish girlfriend.

    ‘Air conditioning and the quick change in temperature.’
    Yes, of course, but don’t forget that being directly in-front of a fan can also give you a cold…

    Of course they have no issue with burning coal (and god knows what else) so badly that the air smells like plastic in the winter time…

  • Reply Leah Morawiec 25 August 2017 at 16:04

    I know the air quality is sorry, but fucking abysmal here. I live in Gliwice where it was really bad this past winter and I was pregnant! Awesome!

  • Reply Leticia 30 November 2017 at 14:24

    The same rules in Brazil

  • Reply Liz 2 December 2017 at 01:50

    I was born in Canada to Polish parents and I studied lab technology straight out of high school, including microbiology. My mom always talked about not going out with wet hair, protecting my neck from draughts, wearing hats, etc. And once I was old enough I would argue with her and tell her those were dumb ideas, that no one got sick from not doing those things, that it was viruses and bacteria that caused illness. Many years and much chronic illness later, my long-term acupuncturist said the same things. She very much believes, like the Poles do, that drafts, etc lower our body’s immune response. I’ve come to believe it too. 🙂

  • Reply Liz 2 December 2017 at 01:52

    Oh, I’ve also become a strong believer in the healing power of garlic. Proven to knock germs dead time and time again in my personal experience. The secret is apparently to crush fresh garlic and let it stand for 10-15 minutes during which the healing/ immunity boosting enzymes are activated, and then NOT to heat the garlic. OK to stir into hot soup, etc., just don’t cook it. When I feel like I’m coming down with a bad cold or worse, I do this three times a day. My husband smells me the minute he opens the door to the house… but man, it really works!

  • Reply Wiktor Górecki 27 September 2019 at 10:31

    Fun fact: the draught panic is a thing in many Slavic countries and it most probably dates back to pagan beliefs 🙂

    https://www.slavorum.org/promaja-the-uncatchable-balkan-serial-killer-and-bane-of-every-babushka/

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 27 September 2019 at 16:28

      Hahah draft… the biggest threat in all of Poland. And apparently other Slavic countries as well!

    Leave a Reply