How to piss off someone from Poland

1. Suggest we’re Russians.

Typical. You see the blond hair, the blue eyes, the big cheeks, you hear the thick accent, and there it goes: “You from Russia?”

Capital offence. Due to certain historical circumstances, we do not like this association at all. Also, because Russia is bigger and everyone’s more interested in what happens there. It’s like Canadians and Americans, or New Zealanders and Australians — only with centuries of conflict and oppression operating as subtext.

Of course, it’s not that we don’t like the actual Russians. We are, after all, nothing if not magnanimous and gregarious, even though they hurt us so much in the past, the evildoers…. But we don’t harbour bad feelings. No, we aren’t prejudiced at all — and if you suggest we are, we’ll take issue with that too!

2. Label our food ‘so-so’.

Poland isn’t known as a gourmet country. We like simple, filling, comforting stuff, like pork chops with potatoes or sauerkratz dumplings, and a lot of thick soups to fend off the winter cold. But anyone visiting Poland should be legally obliged to praise our fare. We are ridiculously proud of the quality of our staples — keep your baguettes and bruschettas, for we and only we are the keepers of the real, natural, nourishing bread in all its shapes and varieties.

Dairy… okay, so we don’t make hundreds of varieties of cheese — we prefer simple white cottage cheese and curdled milk (which is wasted by the rest of the world as milk gone bad) — but we take great pride in complaining about the EU directives which demand that all milk should be pasteurised, when everyone knows only fresh milk straight from the udder can be good. And sausage — we’ll give you pastrami and salami, but in terms of good old sausage with a lot of fatty bits and gristle, we’re the best. Period.

3. Feign (or admit) ignorance of Poland’s location.

“Poland?” “Yeah, y’know, Poland. Erm, Europe?” “Aaah. Didn’t know that Poland was in Europe!”

“You’re from Poland? That’s great! Now, let me show you how to use a fork and a knife!”

“I’ll let you try our national beverage, I’m sure you don’t have it where you come from. It’s called tea.”

“Poland? Wait, that’s where polar bears are from, right?”

All of the above are real-life conversations.

4. Suggest that anyone else has suffered as much as the Poles.

Yeah, so we’ve been through some major crap. The 19th and 20th centuries in particular were not too peachy. Other nations just love to pick on us. Especially the Russians. And the Germans. Unluckily, we’re stuck between the two. We’re always victimised. Poor us. Pat our backs and nod sympathetically. We’ll tell you it’s not that bad, but that’s only because we’re well-mannered and don’t like to belabor the point. But it’s true. And it doesn’t matter that sometimes we can only blame ourselves. It’s still not fair.

5. Imply that other countries are worse off.

On a related point, we do take major pride in being The World’s Number One Victim. In times of peace, when our neighbouring countries are not very obliging in providing a reason, we’ll find our own excuses. “Bad roads in Uganda? Dude, have you seen our roads?” we’ll say with a gleeful smile.

And maybe other governments are corrupt, but no one can be as primitive, classless, and ineffective as a Polish politician! This is why we have such strong characters — because we have to put up with all this nonsense! Change it, you say? Naah — we wouldn’t have anything to complain about then, would we?

6. Dare to imply that Polish people are not the best.

Despite all of the above, just try to concur and join the choir of poignant Polish whiners and you’ll be dealt with swiftly and unmercifully. We Poles are the best. We didn’t have a country for a whole century and in the end we got it back. We can drink so much alcohol it should kill a normal person and still drive a car2. We even had bears fighting for us in WWII3! So yes, we may be the worst country in the world. But all the others are much worse than us.

2 fact
3also a fact

7. Suggest that other nationalities can drink more.

This is the big one. The Death Star of any Pole-befriending scheme you might be hatching. No one has better vodka than we do. And no one — no one — can drink more of it than us. We’re ready to prove it any time, any place, for as long as necessary, until we’re completely drunk, inebriated, plastered, pissed, sloshed, and out of it. But we’ll be the last ones standing.

Henry Sapiecha

18 signs you were born and raised in Poland

1. As a child, you ate gooseberries until your stomach hurt.

Your summers involved eating sour cherries and cherries straight from the trees, raspberries straight from a bush and strawberries straight from a plant. And it wasn’t that you didn’t wash the fruit that caused you pain, you just couldn’t stop and ate way too much!

2. Every Saturday you woke up to the smell of a freshly-baked ciasto.

It was either a golden sponge cake layered with whipped cream and strawberries, a rhubarb crumble yeast-cake or a peach cheesecake, which had to be available for any guests visiting on the weekend.

3. You witnessed a domestic animal being killed at least once in your lifetime.

Your grandparents most likely lived in the countryside and you spent many summer vacations at their house. You ran through the wheat fields and got told off for ruining the crops. You climbed trees and maybe broke your first bone by falling off. You also have an unfortunate memory of a chicken running around without its head or pig screams coming from the pigpen. You might have become a vegetarian because of that.

4. You celebrate Easter Monday by pouring water on other people.

The tradition is called “Śmigus Dyngus”, and initially it was boys who would pour water on girls and vice-versa, but now it’s all families that continue the tradition. This is when water guns come into serious use. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like, you’re going to get wet.

5. Your living room was also your parent’s bedroom.

You grew up in a minuscule apartment in a block building. The whole apartment was around 40m2 and not larger that 60m2. In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s blocks were built across all Poland to accommodate the influx of population migrating to cities. The housing was designed to fulfill only the basic living needs and so the living room was also your parent’s bedroom and you shared a room with your siblings. The kitchen and bathroom were so small that you could barely turn around. The apartment also included a tiny balcony, about a square meter or two of surface, which your mother used for hanging the laundry out and you for playing “string telephone” with your neighbor friends.

6. Your mum is a cooking machine when you visit home.

Arriving at your parents place you find the fridge stuffed with kopytka, pierogi, bigos and gołąbki and your mum tells you “Well, I wasn’t sure what you would like to eat”. There is ciasto for you for dessert, too, whether it’s Saturday or not.

7. Your father can fix anything yet barely knows how to turn on his cell phone.

Your car broke down – call your dad. The washing machine made a noise – he’ll ask you what kind of a noise it is, how frequent and based on that will tell you what the problem is. Your faucet is dripping? He’ll explain step by step how to clean it out or tighten the seals. When it comes to technology, though, he can barely make calls on a mobile phone (no smartphone please!), turn on a laptop, open a browser or type.

8. You walked to school by yourself since you were in 2nd grade.

You were super independent as a child. You played outside your block with friends and your parents only called you home when it was time for dinner (they would lean out from the window and call your name, no mobile phones back then!). You helped with cooking and by the time you were 12 you could cook a full meal by yourself and bake a ciasto. Around that age, you also started picking up your younger siblings from kindergarten, walk them home and take care of them until your parents arrived from work.

9. Your Christmas dinner involves 12 dishes made out of 5 ingredients.

The ingredients are sauerkraut, wild mushrooms, beetroot, fish and poppy seeds. Historically, not much variety of sustenance used to be available in winter months, and so the Polish needed to invent festive food with what they had at hand. In addition, Polish Christmas dinner is eaten on the 24th, symbolically awaiting Jesus’s birth and is meatless. What’s created of the 5 main ingredients are: a creamy wild-mushroom soup for starters, a clove-infused clear barszcz or beatroot soup, pierogi stuffed with sauerkraut and wild mushrooms, łazanki (noodles with more sauerkraut!), and a variations of fish dishes (with carrot and onion cold topping, in cream, fried). For dessert, there is makowiec (poppy seed cake) and kutia (poppy seeds mixed with wheat, dried fruit, honey and nuts). Surprisingly, there are no potato-based dishes, but given that we eat them on every other day of the year, that’s okay.

10. You know that no party is as epic as a Polish wedding.

A typical wedding lasts for two days. The church ceremony is on a Saturday and the party starts right after that. Bottles and bottles of vodka are constantly brought to tables and drunk in shots. The food is served all evening- and night-long. The dancing and the food slow down the alcohol effect and so everyone seems to be cheerfully tipsy and silly, not downright drunk. The second day of the wedding is called poprawiny and it involves more of the same: food, drinks and dancing.

11. Your parents don’t celebrate birthdays as much as they celebrate imieniny, their nameday.

Let’s be honest, here, though. You prefer to celebrate you birthday.

12. You know at least 10 people with the same name as yours.

Name choices are very limited in Poland and so, first names are very repetitive amongst the population. Every other girl seems to be called Kasia, Basia, Ania and Magda and boys are Paweł, Łukasz, Marcin and Tomek. And if an ‘unusual’ name emerges like Maja or Nikola, it quickly catches on and again, many are named with it.

13. You say no when you actually mean yes.

In Polish, there is a word for yes – “tak” — and no — “nie.” But you use “no” when you agree with what someone is saying. The word sounds negative to a foreign ear. “Do you want some tea?” “No”. “Do you like this TV show?” “No.” Or you use it to show that you are listening attentively. Your whole phone conversation might seem like you are disagreeing with someone, but you’re really not: “Halo? No. No. No. Aha. No. No pa.”

14. When you speak Polish, you sound angry.

You got off a phone with your parents and your foreigner friends ask: “What happened, did you just fall out with your parents?” “No, I just told them about my week”. There is something about our tone of voice or the way we use our language that sounds harsh.

15. If you don’t like the top your sister is wearing, you tell her.

You are direct with your friends and family. If you’re at your friend’s house and are hungry, you ask them what they have to eat. You only heard about the need to say things gently to people (or not say them at all) when you started hanging out with foreigners.

16. You offer tea to anyone who comes into your house.

Tea is just as popular a drink in Poland as it is in England (no exaggeration there!) We don’t drink it with milk, though – just plain tea with sugar or tea with a round slice of lemon in it.

17. You complain.

A lot. You complain about the long winter. When the snow starts melting you complain about the mud. And when eventually the summer comes, it is too hot! You complain about the politicians (even though you haven’t actually voted in years) and prices (even though you can afford to live comfortably and you actually own your apartment and a car and live without mortgages).

18. But all of your complaining doesn’t make you an unhappy person.

A complaint is often a conversation-starter. It’s easier to make friends when you can both moan about something together. Then you move on to joyful topics.

Henry Sapiecha