I realized recently I have a problem with the various forms of the word “friend” in Polish, so “przyjaciel”, and even for a long time I couldn’t remember the word at all. Finally, I know why. Poles seem to avoid using the word almost entirely and I just don’t hear it used often enough to use it properly. Why is that?
How Americans use the words for “friend”
It’s well known that Americans are friendly and in English we use the word “friend” quite liberally. We also have the words “colleague” (so a friend from work, not to be used about people outside work) and “acquaintance” (for people you just know but aren’t necessarily close with), but those are only for when you want to be very specific about how well you know the person. Most of the time, we’ll just use the word “friend” to really refer to anyone we know personally. The closeness relationship of the relationship doesn’t matter much in this case. It could be anyone you know, even if you haven’t really talked to them in years. We are essentially “friends” with everyone we know. So, this really shows that we don’t have much distance between people. We often wants to be “friends” immediately, and we consider most people we know to be our “friends”.
How Poles use the words for “friend”
Poles are NOT at all like Americans in that way. Most people are not their friends. Honestly, I think for most Poles maybe 2-3 people in their lives fall into that category; however, when we’re talking about those people, they’ll usually use a different word. So, in Polish, the more common words are “kolega/koleżanka” (colleague, but is used for people outside of work unlike in English) or “znajomy/znajoma” (acquaintance), but the actual word friend “przyjaciel” is basically used for idk who… your best best best friend ever? I just don’t hear people using it. They’ll pretty much always call their friends “kolega” when referring to them, which is just odd to me – even kids at school. My son’s friends at preschool are “koledzy” not “przyjaciele”. Why? Really though – what’s the reason? I mean it’s not like using the word itself requires something of you. Is it a historical thing? – like just in case you had to put some distance between you and another person if they turn out to be bad? Or perhaps I’m exaggerating…that does happen a lot…
Help me understand!
If you’re a Pole, do you use the word “przyjaciel” very often? Who can shed some light on this? I’m sure plenty of you have something to say, so let me know in the comments so I can understand it a bit more!