Cultural Musings

Why’s the topic of health so taboo in Poland?

I know there are some taboo topics in Poland like sex (actually true), supposedly money (but everyone talks about it all the time), and health – the topic of today’s post. I’ve had so many situations recently where someone has kept what seems like perfectly normal information about their medical health from me, and it drives me absolutely mad! Please don’t tell me you’re going to the hospital but not why. Please don’t tell me your kid is near death by not why. Please don’t tell me you got a biopsy but not of what. PLEASE. I can’t stand it anymore! 

I can understand if you have a venereal disease and you don’t wanna talk about it. Or maybe you’re getting a vasectomy – fine, don’t need to know. If you have an issue that might be embarrassing in casual conversation, there are ways to avoid talking about it all together. How about – “hey, I have something going on next week so I can’t meet.” or “My grandma’s coming into town so I need to reschedule.” Perfectly acceptable lies that don’t make me worried that something terrible is going on with you. 

But recently, I get a lot of things like this: 

My ex-long-time-student who I bumped into recently that “she’s feeling better after surgery in March”… no details whatsoever. I hesitate in these situations because I don’t want to intrude into their privacy (I actually do but don’t want them to think I’m rude and I’m not sure what the norm is here), so I wait for them to tell me, and nothing! 

My kid’s babysitter went to the hospital – didn’t tell me why. UGH. 

My student’s kid was in the hospital for a few weeks. When I asked her what was wrong, she said she’d tell me next time we see each other… which still hasn’t happened since then and has left me wondering this entire time! 

Even my 9-year-old neighbor recently came over to our house and had this big scab on her forehead, so I asked her what happened. Her response… “oh, it’s a long story… haha” Turns out she got in a small motorcycle crash with her dad. Why would that be taboo? Why couldn’t she have just told me? 

I’m pregnant (second baby, it’s a girl! not hiding facts in an effort not to infuriate you!) and no one feels embarrassed to ask me about the details. Every cashier, neighbor, or old man selling chicken at the targ can ask me when my due date is – fine with me. But just imagine if my answer was something like “oh, sometime this year…” That would be annoying! And I don’t even know those people. 

I know that people are entitled to their privacy, but if we’re not strangers and you bring up on your own that something is wrong with you, please god don’t leave me in the dark about how serious it is. I need to know how little or how much to worry about you. 

Am I insane or do other people experience this as well? I’m always left hesitating between wanting to ask (because I think that’s nice, plus I’m interested) and not wanting to go too far.

So, to my Polish readers, should I start being rude and just flat out asking people? Would it be considered rude to ask or considered rude not to ask? Are people waiting for me to ask for more information or is it considered strange for people to discuss their medical problems in casual conversation? A little advice would be greatly appreciated. 

Na zdrowia to you all! 

Also, if you’re interested in this this topic, take a look at a post I wrote about health myths in Poland.

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  • Reply GoHa Samo H 27 September 2019 at 08:03

    Wow! I would never perceive health issues as a taboo 😮 Unless, as you noticed, it’s a veneral thing or other very upsetting condition (I could think of cancer), people usually talk about their condition With Too Many Details if you ask them 😀 I remember my grandma… she was number one in doing this.

    I think… if you don’t ask people they won’t tell you even if the need of telling the story squeezes them inside. They probably didn’t want you to be overwhelmed by their problems. Especially… as you are pregnant 🙂 Maybe the last is the case?

    I’m also not healthy enough, problems with conceiving built in my DNA. Usually that’s a taboo, (any problems with getting pregnant), but I don’t care much. About 10% of women have PCOS like me, it would be awesome if women knew about such condition.

    All the best!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 27 September 2019 at 20:18

      Perhaps what you’re saying about people not wanting to overwhelm someone else with their problems is true, but then again in that case, why bring it up at all? I think that what people don’t realise is when someone doesn’t give me all the info, I worry more because I think about the whole range of possibilities and what’s in my imagination is probably worse than the real thing!

  • Reply Gosia 27 September 2019 at 08:52

    I’m a very open person so I give away a lot of my personal info and I totally feel you because I’d like to hear as much from others 🙁
    In my opinion it’s not rude to ask for details, I do it all the time and people just know that this is how I am. And I think that most of Poles wouldn’t really mind being asked for more information ❤

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 27 September 2019 at 20:16

      Well that’s nice to know. If you think people wouldn’t mind being asked, then I’ll go ahead and just do it 🙂

  • Reply Wiktor Górecki 27 September 2019 at 10:00

    I feel that the topic really is taboo in Poland, but it’s more about not throwing one’s own misery on another person. I would consider it perfectly fine asking “what happened?” or “something serious?” – most people should share some details when they see you got worried and thus curious.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 27 September 2019 at 20:19

      This seems to be a trend in terms of answers, so I think I got the explanation I was looking for 🙂 Thanks for the help!

  • Reply Maciek 27 September 2019 at 13:40

    Hi Leah!

    That’s interesting, only after reading your text I realized this is all true and makes not much sense ^^ I feels natural for me, cause I’ve been raised in this culture and it just is as it is. I can only think about a handful of possible explanations, none of which is a good one:

    * People don’t want dig into details because this kind of situations are hard for them and speaking about them is not pleasant at all.

    * By sharing the full story you can expect the listener to be empathizing with you, try to lift your spirit up, talk positive things – and we often do not want this kind of things from other people than our close friends and family.

    * It’s a way of putting a “bargain” on the listener shoulders (“oh, now she knows..”) making him/her obligated to feel sorry for you, and we also do not like that.

    What I’m pretty sure of is that it isn’t a smart/calculated/cold way of placing a trap for someone just to make them ask (well, in most of the cases at least). I’d say its’ rather a defensive mechanism, because we’re very picky about people we want to talk about this stuff to. I don’t want to have everybody around me being upset about my medical condition (and we also do not like lying about visiting grandmas 😉 ). However, as you illustrated in your post, sometimes it can work just the opposite way 😛

    So, advice? If you are truly concern, just be rude and ask 🙂 You can add something to better emphasize your intentions, like “Oh, is it serious? Should I be worrying?”. It may not help overcome a defensive way of thinking I mentioned above, but now there is no way someone would take such a question as a rude one 🙂 There is still a good chance they won’t tell you, but as a last resort you can rant about how this kind of behaviour drives you crazy, maybe they will feel ashamed and tell a little bit more knowing how you feel about it 😉

    So, it’s how I’m going to approach this from now on. If I really care, I’m just gonna ask 😛 There are worse things in the world than being rude, who cares.

    PS: Second baby, yay, congrats! 🙂 All the best!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 27 September 2019 at 16:25

      Hey Maciek! Great to hear from you!! Thanks for the congratulations.

      As for your theories — I love that you said that people don’t want someone other than close friends or family to try and lift their spirits? Why not? Because it makes you feel vulnerable or something? That’s funny to me. Maybe you’re right, it’s just not wanting to burden someone with your issues but like why bring it up at all then? Why not just completely not discuss the issue? That’s what I don’t get. Why bring up something, dangle a carrot in front of my face, so to speak, and then just yank it back? I mean why the coy act? If I don’t want to discuss something in full detail, I just don’t talk about it at all. It’s a funny thing! Next time I’m just gonna do what you said and ask if it’s serious or not. That seems like a great follow-up question, even though I’m sure I won’t get a detailed response 🙂

  • Reply gghgghghghgh 27 September 2019 at 15:03

    If you only tell people about un-embarrasing things regarding your health, the first time you’ll omit details people will instantly be suspicious.

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