Visiting Poland: the truth about the local faux pas. Following my latest blog post about the faux pas in India, I thought it might be an interesting perspective to write this time about Poland. Somehow I write less about Poland here so that’s also a great occassion to share a bit more about my home country.
What are some of the top faux pas in Poland? What should you avoid doing when visiting Poland during your holidays or maybe when considering a relocation? Some items might be more “European” while the others a bit more unique or even funny. Check this list and learn more about Poles.
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE LOCAL FAUX PAS
#1 DON’T USE “YOU” IF NOT APPROVED
Let’s start the list! Don’t refer to people in Poland as “you” if not approved. The “approval” word is, on the one hand, an exaggeration here, but on the other hand, I want to highlight the validity of this point.
Refer to people in Poland as “pani” (Madame) or “pan” (Sir) and wait for what will happen next. The general rule is that .shifting to “you” is usually done based on the agreement. The discussion is initiated by the older person. Yet, don’t get surprised if this is followed by a glass (or two) of vodka or beer. It is time to celebrate the new form of the relationship.
Ps. The above (and vodka drinking for sure ;-)) usually doesn’t happen in Poland in the corporate world. It is the norm to refer to people as “you” (also to supervisors), reflecting more American style.
#2 faux pas while greeting
There are two common items to consider when greeting someone from Poland.
- We do not greet in the doorstep. While home represents security, an old belief says that the world outside reflects the unknown environment, potentially bad one. Greeting someone in the doorstep might pull the negative energy home. Always first enter home and then greet your Polish friends.
- In Poland, we do not greet in criss-cross way when four people are greeting each other together. I got reminded myself of it last Sunday, during a birthday party. I automatically removed my hand when my husband’s sister tried to greet me in the criss-cross manner. If someone takes the hand away, do not get ofended. It will be done a few seconds later.
Imagine the land of princesses and knights! That’s still Poland! 🙂
Women in Poland should get double respect and knightly treatment, especially if someone wants to make a good impression or take good care. Open the door, let the lady pass first, and pay when going out. The list can get very long! If you are a lady, do not be surprised to be kissed on your hand by a Polish “knight”! 🙂 This custom is a bit disappearing but still present, especially among more senior people.
#4 DON’T COME EMPTY-HANDED
There is a famous Polish proverb, “Gosc w domu, Bóg w domu” (Guest in house, God in house). Grand hospitality is in Polish blood. People love to invite others home, preparing for them a small (or big) feast.
It is very common to bring something for your hosts when visiting your Polish friends, colleagues, or family. If you know that there are children at home, bring something small every time you visit. It doesn’t matter what the gift is. It is more important not to come empty-handed. What to gift? It might be flowers, a plant, a bottle of wine, cake, snacks, ice-cream, toys, or sweets for children. It is the gesture that counts.
#5 FLOWERS GIFTING
One additional highlight about flower gifting in Poland. Do not gift an odd number of flowers; unless the number reflects a person’s age or, for example, years of an anniversary. Opt for 1, 3, 5 etc. Also, avoid gifting chrysanthemum and calla flowers. They are usually brought for funerals in Poland. The last highlight, don’t carry flowers upside-down when giving them. I remember that used to be a pretty common issue in Poland in the 90’s among men.
#6 SHOES REMOVAL
Similarly, like in my latest blog post about the local faux pas in India. When you plan to visit someone’s home in Poland, remove your shoes.
I wrote recently that in India, shoes are also removed in temples and churches. In Poland, there is no practice like this for churches. People always wear shoes inside them.
#7 DO NOT REFUSE A DRINK
When visiting someone’s house in Poland, be ready to drink something. The initial options might be tea (without milk), coffee, or water. After the “light drink” or simultaneously, expect to drink something more powerful! 🙂 And the rule is simple. It needs to be a minimum of two glasses (or shots) since we have two legs and one needs to walk straight! 🙂 One for each leg!
Ps. If you are visiting someone for breakfast and you feel “safe” about the morning hours, it might be a trap. 🙂 One small shot at 9 am might work too. At least that’s what my beloved Grandma used to do! Apparently, one can be just healthier with that! 🙂
#8 SIPPING TEA / COFFEE WITH THE SPoon
This one is close to my heart as this is my own habit! Hmm, yes, in Poland one shouldn’t drink tea or coffee with the spoon inside the cup. My dad keeps on scolding me for it. And my mom explains me: this is exactly how her dad, my grandpa, used to do so I am blessed to continue, even if generally it is not fine to do it.
#9 DON’T SLURP or burp
Do you remember my latest blog post about the local faux pas in India? It said that cleaning the nose is not good to do while burping is fine.
In Poland, it is a no to burping and also to slurping. In fact, many activities that create more noise might not be that well accepted. It might be slamming the door or dragging your feet with noise. While in Poland, try to do things with less noise and more care. Yet, we are a loud nation but mainly at parties or stadiums.
#10 DON’T DRINK ON THE STREETS / BEACHES
Although drinking alcohol in Poland is commom, it is not allowed outside. You can drink at home, in the bars, restaurants, hotels etc. However, drinking is not allowed while walking on the street, sitting on the bench or on the beach.
“Drinking alcohol in public is not allowed in Poland, except in specially designated places such as restaurants or beer gardens. Streets and parks are a no-alcohol zone, unless you are willing to risk a fine.”
Police and the municipal police are pretty strict about it. Drinking in the public place can result in 100 PLN (21 Euro or $22) fine to be paid within seven days. Take it seriously.
#11 OFFER A SEAT
Whenever you have an option to travel within Poland by the local train, bus, or tram, offer your seat to elder people, pregnant women, women with children, or anyone else in need. There is no need to wait and to be asked for it.
The same applies to the queue in the shops. Pregnant women should be served on an immediate basis, without queuing.
#12 NO HAT OR SUNGLASSES IN THE CHURCH
No matter the religion, the sacred places need to be respected. It also applies to churches in Poland. Proper modest clothes should be worn without exposing the body. Additionally, remove your hat or sunglasses when entering the church. Sunglasses shouldn’t be kept on the head. It is better to leave them in the bag, pocket, or home.
#13 DON’T ASK UNNECESSARY QUESTIONS
Polish people are pretty straightforward. We do not ask unnecessary questions, especially if not interested in the answer or when asked: “without heart”. Culturally, we do not follow the American style of “how are you”, to express the general interest and act in a polite way.
If a Polish person will ask you “how are you”, it means she/he wants to know more details about your feelings, mood, and situation. If the person doesn’t want to hear all the details, this “ice-breaking” part will be skipped. At the same time, remember that if you ask about the well-being of the person, it means you expect a personal and detailed answer. So get ready to hear a story! If not interested, feel free to skip the question.
That’s a general suggestion. Many couples in Poland decide not to marry while having children. Additionally, the percentage of divorces is pretty high. Both living together before a marriage and deciding not to marry and have a family is standard.
Hence, it is safer to refer to someone in the couple as “your partner”. Avoid using words like “your wife or husband”. It is better to use universal language.
#15 DON’T CALL ME A BLONDE
My hair is naturally blonde (yet, I enhance the color a bit!). I love it, I also love the jokes about the blonde women. I think many blonde-hair women in Poland do.
But somehow it stays only as our own acceptance level. Calling someone directly a blonde might cause the reverse effect. If you want to admire the hair color, be careful how you phrase the sentence. I would suggest saying “I love your hair color” vs “I love you, blonde.” Else, your date will be over by now.
#16 The meaning of “nooo”
Visiting Poland, you might hear many people saying “no”. But it is a bit different “no”. It is a longer sound, something like “nooo”. And in fact, it means yes! 🙂 A quick Polish lesson: “tak” means yes, “nie” means no, “nooo” means yes. Are you confused? Take a screenshot of it before your next travel to the land of Poles! 🙂
And by the way, one more unique thing about our “no”. Whenever you wish someone in Poland “good luck”, you will hear back “nie, dziekuje” (no, thank you). We believe that by accepting the good luck, we will get the bad luck, so we prefer to thank for it and refuse it! 🙂 We love to complicate things a bit!
#17 DO NOT COMPARE
Poland is one of the Slavs countries. Yet, we are pretty sensitive about the comparison. Whenever you meet a Slavic person abroad, especially a Polish one, do not assume about the nationality. It is better to ask: where are you from. Due to the history and currently also to the present situation, it is a big faux pas to ask: “Are you from Russia?”.
I am Polish. Proud to be Polish. And I love to say that that I am also Indian.
Did I miss any important faux pas from Poland? If yes, add it to the comments below. If you haven’t been to Poland yet, what surprised you the most from the above list? Share in the comments below. Sharing is caring!
Moments that matter, no matter the mistake.