By Ken, Teacher in Warsaw
It’s currently the end of 2023 and it’s almost been two years since I left the terrifically tremendous Tokyo to the wonderful and somewhat wintry Warsaw. It’s a move that has borne a lot of fruit for me personally and it’s been quite the journey. In this blog I will be sharing with you my observations and my experiences of Poland thus far, and especially things that I didn’t initially notice or know. DISCLAIMER: Experiences may vary!
One of the more subtle things I’ve noticed is……
People smile when they’re speaking English
….But not when they’re speaking Polish to me!
Case in point: I was in a restaurant the other day and I had to get a receipt with the company’s tax number on it. Did it all in somewhat questionable Polish and the waitress started to speak English after a while, and then smiled broadly as she gave me my receipt and change. This isn’t an isolated incident either, and almost always happens when I try to speak Polish when I’m in a shop. People have theorised that it’s because I actually make an effort to speak their language and that they really appreciate it as they know that Polish is extremely difficult to learn/speak. As they say, a little goes a long way! Either that or they’re amused by my feeble attempts to speak Polish, who knows? Either way it’s interesting to observe as it’s not that common for people to smile in Poland in customer service roles. They’ll do their jobs very well, but don’t expect a smile!
Money is precious
From what I’ve witnessed and also experienced with my students, Polish people seem very sensible when it comes to spending money. Whenever I’m practising conditionals, I ask them “what would you do if you won the lottery?” they all come up with sensible answers such as investing, buying a house, saving for the future etc. No one ever says anything such as having a big party, buying a Lambo etc. Poles really seem to value what they have and don’t like to waste things (I’ve been told these behaviours are linked with their history) Speaking of big parties….
We graduated, so what?
Polish people don’t really celebrate their graduation. Normally in the UK we will have a massive after-party full of drinks, music, food and families and it’s a glorious occasion. In Poland they tend not to do that and almost treat it just like a normal day. They will have a graduation ceremony, but no massive after-party. However…..
Polish weddings can last 2 days
You have the usual wedding ceremony, after-party drinking shenanigans, but then the day after you might have a meal with loved ones and close friends. I don’t know about you but the last thing I’d want to do after drinking a lot (and yes, Poles can drink!) is to have to look sober and awake during a family dinner. Apparently this isn’t a tradition so you may or may not have to partake in this. If I get married in Poland I’m definitely opting out!
Excuse me, do you mind?
First of all, to get past someone you’d normally say “excuse me”, right? In Poland, although this still happens (It’s przepraszam for you polyglots) it’s almost more common to slither through the gap, or to gently barge your way through especially if you’re in a supermarket. Speaking of supermarkets, don’t expect people to give you personal space if you’re in a queue, and don’t be surprised if someone is so close to you that they’re almost literally breathing down your neck. Lovely!
“How are you” is an actual question, and be prepared for an actual answer!
In the UK we rather flippantly ask people how they’re doing, and we’re expecting an answer similar to “Yeah I’m good, how are you?”. A lot of the time we aren’t too bothered by the response, we just say it to appear nice and polite.
If you ask this question in Poland, be prepared for an actual answer. They take this question a LOT more seriously, so if they’re going through a messy break-up or some trauma you’d better be prepared. After all, you did ask how they were! Poles tend to ask “how are you?” only if they are genuinely interested and not as a flippant, meaningless comment. Personally, I much prefer this!
Final thoughts of 2023
Poland has been such a contrast from Tokyo, but in a really good way. From ravishing ramen to perfect pierogi, it’s been quite the adventure. And that is what life is all about. As Cilla Black once sang, “life is full, full of excitement”. And with that horribly obscure British reference out of the way, I wish you all a very merry Xmas and New Year!
But if you’re after an adventure and some excitement in the new year, why not look here?