Poland 101: a quick guide to our culture

This month I had the honour of being featured in Pi Youth Association’s digital magazine, Youppi. Not only did I give an interview (which turned out to be super long, so I don’t blame you for not reading the whole thing), but I also had the opportunity to design my own pages. One of the questions I got asked was about Poland and our distinctive features as a nation. It was only then that I remembered that we were once planning to organize a cultural evening and briefly present Polish culture to our Turkish colleagues. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it doesn’t seem possible any time soon. Therefore, I decided to prepare a short (and somewhat subjective) blog entry about what makes the Poles Polish.

Here is a short list of some of the things that you should know about us:

  1. We love complaining

Polish people spend so much time complaining about different things that it should be considered our national sport. It’s been raining all week? The bus you take to work is always so crowded that you have to travel smashed against the window? Your neighbour plays loud music all night long and you can’t sleep? A true Polish person will always find a reason to complain. Although we’re quite a pessimistic nation (our difficult history is largely to blame), it’s not true that we always focus on the negative aspects of things. However, for some twisted reason, we believe that it’s easy to relate to other people’s problems or even failures, and as a result, bond over similar hardships.

  1. We don’t like being confused with Russians

This sentiment is shared by all Slavic nations. It annoys us like nothing else when foreigners, upon hearing our language, immediately think that we’re Russians. We don’t have anything against Russia per se- there are many similarities between our nations and usually we find a common ground pretty quickly and get along well. However, because of our complicated history and various political tensions over the years, we get frustrated when people immediately  assume we’re from Russia. So, if you don’t want to start off on the wrong foot with a Polish person, or a Slav in general, simply ask us where we are from!

  1. We enjoy planning

Turkish spontaneity is something very foreign to us and, at times, even a source of frustration. Generally, we enjoy making detailed plans and like to know what, where and when something will happen at least a couple of days (if not weeks) in advance. We also need an exact time frame- telling us that a meeting will last for a few hours is simply not enough! I have to admit that even though I admire Turkish uninhibitedness and the overall carefree approach to life, it’s so unnatural to me that it even triggers some anxiety.

  1. We may seem cold and reserved upon the first meeting

Unlike many exuberant Southern nations, we like to keep our distance, especially when we meet someone for the very first time. We behave in a polite, but reserved manner and, as a result, we might come across as cold and even unfriendly to more extroverted cultures. But fear not- once we get to know you better, we magically transform into reliable, trustworthy friends who will support you no matter what. Instead of having hundreds of casual acquaintances, we prefer forming close-knit friendships that will last a lifetime.

  1. Other Polish quirks include:
  • Weird superstitions. Unlike some other cultures, we believe that black cat brings misfortune, especially if it crosses your path. In order to stop bad things from happening, we spit three times over our left shoulder. We also believe that you should never say your goodbyes over the threshold, because it might bring unhappiness to the household. Women are always careful not to put their handbags on the floor, because if they do it, the money will ‘run away’. And if you want to wish someone good luck, you should gently kick their behind.
  • We’re very proud of all the famous and successful Poles, whether they’re historical figures or still alive, and we get offended if someone forgets they were originally from Poland. If by any chance you mention that Fryderyk Chopin or Maria Skłodowska- Curie were French, or that the Enigma code was cracked by the British, be prepared to witness a wrath like never before!
  • We love Polish cuisine, but by no means we’re food nationalists like the Turkish:-) We enjoy discovering new flavours from all over the world and closely observe the culinary scene in our cities. If you ever visit Warsaw, don’t forget to do a quick tour of its many restaurants and bars- it has become a true food capital of the country and every foodies’ heaven! Also, contrary to the popular belief, we don’t drink as much alcohol as people say- so take your friend’s wild tales about the Poles drinking hectolitres of vodka with a grain of salt.
  • Even though we’re not a party-loving nation and fans of over the top celebrations, we still take our holidays pretty seriously. What’s particularly interesting is that we have a lot of peculiar customs related to specific holidays. For instance, on the first day of spring we burn and drown a rag doll, referred to as Marzanna, to celebrate the new beginnings. Every Easter Monday we engage in an all-day water battle by pouring buckets of water onto each other- all tricks in the book allowed! Furthermore, during Christmas we put straw underneath the tablecloth, leave one additional plate for an unexpected visitor and eat exactly 12 dishes. We also believe that at midnight animals are able to speak. Funnily enough, there’s  always that one person who tries to convince you that they witnessed it!

If you’d like to find out what things you have in common with the Poles, I strongly encourage you to take this Buzzfeed quiz: https://www.buzzfeed.com/annaneyman/how-polish-are-you

Poland 101: a quick guide to our culture

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