“Dispelling” Polish Stereotypes | #4

When it comes to living in Warsaw for an extended period of time, you start to notice certain quirks about another culture. Luckily, I’ve had a wonderful group of employees to bounce these quirks off of and see if they’re true. Culture.pl has a ton of articles about Polish “stereotypes” about certain topics such as weddings, dates, etc. so this internship is the perfect place to discuss these cultural consistencies. I’d just like to start with this…

They’re all true.

Polish people, in their home country, are very direct, don’t like to speak English very much, and are very punctual. However, I would like to clear up a common misconception. When an American travels to Europe, they’re often in for a pretty large culture shock when it comes to interacting with other people. For example, I first thought Poles didn’t like Americans because of how sharp and rude people were to me when ordering food or checking out at the grocery store. These thoughts were just my American ideals attempting to reflect themselves on a non-American country. The waiters weren’t being rude. The Polish culture simply doesn’t participate in a lot of small talk and pleasantries. That’s the first thing you have to learn in Warsaw, my new home away from home.

People aren’t rude, you’re just not used to people being so direct.

This continued to be true with everything I noticed once settling in. Yes, not many people visibly like to speak English, but they are just not as confident in their English as you are. Therefore, they feel silly not speaking Polish. Imagine if you had to learn another language because the world expected you to know this one “universal” tongue. It sounds ridiculous when you spell it out like that, so checking your privilege as a native English speaker is crucial. Finally, Polish people are very on time. It may seem weird to an American that someone would leave an arranged meeting if someone wasn’t on time, but we’re just much more lenient with our schedules!

In conclusion, many things you’ve heard about Warsaw and Poland in general (having been to Krakow and Zakopane as well) are true but before you cross Poland off of your list of European countries to visit one day, look at its culture with fresh eyes and don’t take it too hard when someone is short or harsh with you. Assuming everyone is out to get you is the first step to not fully enjoying your experience in Poland.

2 thoughts on ““Dispelling” Polish Stereotypes | #4

  • July 10, 2017 at 5:55 pm
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    The cultural barrier can be a shocking experience for travelers but I like that you put an explanation behind these misconceptions. I appreciate that you put them into a Polish perspective as well, especially for things that seem like a given for us Americans (like the language). Looking forward to reading more about your experiences 🙂

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  • September 12, 2017 at 2:55 pm
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    Well, you’re very kind. I’m polish, moved to US in my teens, and now I’m back in Warsaw after living in US for almost 25 years. Polish people are fracking rude!! Oh, this is my one major complaint. They need to cheer up, for crying out loud.
    They keep fighting with each other – complete strangers because someone sat next to them on the train and poked them accidentally, or because someone’s child is too loud, they can’t wait in line in a grocery store so they start shouting and picking on the sales clerk, and the list goes on. Everyone here is so bloody angry. You can be direct and kind. You can be direct and smile. You can show some loving-kindness towards others. All of that is just plain missing here. There is no way around that, no excuses. It ruins my mood daily. Daily. I keep walking around with headphones listening to American radio to create a barrier.
    Where you’re wrong is the English language. No matter where you go people are gonna be skittish about speaking a foreign language because it just is unnerving – to anyone, not just Polish people. Poles are actually in top 10 countries in the world (non-English language nations of course) when it comes to knowledge of English – ahead of Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, etc. It’s a little known fact, probably because just a short 15-20 years ago you hardly had anyone with knowledge of English coming out of communism.

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