13 things people from Poland have to outline to foreigners

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1. Poland is not located in the polar circle.

There are no polar bears roaming free through snow-covered plains. It’s not freezing cold all year long. And no, we don’t all wear those ridiculous fur hats with earflaps. (Well, we didn’t before they became trendy.) Poland has a moderate climate with four properly marked seasons and summer here actually gets hot.

2. We’re not all communists.

In case you missed that moment in history, it’s been over 25 years since Poland transformed quickly and successfully from a communist regime into a Democratic republic. Our parents and grandparents experienced the severe repercussions of a failed attempt to put the noble foundations of Marx and Engels into practice by violent imposition. And so, majority of Poles actually hate as little as the mention of communism.

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3. How we don’t get bored of eating potatoes every day.

Because there are so many ways to eat potatoes! Boiled and sprinkled with fresh dill, accompanying kotlet; baked and topped with a wild mushroom creamy sauce; made into a savory pancake and covered in goulash; pierogi, kopytka, pyzy — how could anyone ever get bored of this variety?

4. Poland is not a tiny country.

Poland is the ninth biggest country in Europe, both in terms of population and territory. Its area is only slightly smaller than Germany’s and bigger than the UK or Italy’s.

5. Poland is not an impoverished country.

Polish turbulent history did affect the country’s economy, but today Poland is one of the fastest-growing countries in Central Europe, with quality education, stable markets and strong foreign investments. Relative poverty still touches about 10% of the population, but this figure is similar to relative poverty levels of any other developed nation.

6. We don’t all live in Warsaw.

There are 38 million people in Poland and Warsaw’s population is less than 2 million. So next time you meet someone from Poland, don’t just ask “Oh, from Warsaw,?” because that’s the only Polish city you’ve ever heard of. There’s a huge chance the Pole in front of you is one of those 36 million who live elsewhere.

7. But we also don’t all live in the countryside.

While farmlands and forests cover 90% of Polish territory, the majority of Polish population lives in cities and towns. We don’t each own a pet donkey, but most of us have a relative with a piece of land and we love spending weekends with them surrounded by fields and forests.

8. We’re not all alcoholics.

We don’t start our day with a shot of vodka for breakfast. Yes, we are proud of how good Polish vodka is, especially that it’s so cheap. And yes, we drink a lot of vodka when we do drink and are proud of how much we can withstand its effects. But, seriously, we really only drink on occasion.

9. Yes, Poland has beaches and yes, it has mountains.

Almost 800 km of seashore and 3 major mountain chains (Carpathian, Sudet and Świętokrzyskie) divided into 44 ranges, exactly. Where you imagined ice-deserts, there are diverse landscapes. Moving sand dunes in the Pomerania region are a curiosity on European scale. We call Masuria “The land of one thousand lakes,” just because there are so many. Poland also has the only Central-European desert, Pustynia Błędowska. There are wetlands in Biebrzański National Park, gorges in Ojcowski, and islands in Woliński.

10. How is it possible to pronounce “W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie?”

Polish pronunciation may not be easy overall, but this particular sentence is a tongue-twister, hard to pronounce even for native Poles. Polish language uses many consonants, but when they are grouped they correspond to a single sound, which means that you don’t have to pronounce every single letter. For example, “sz” is pronounces like “sh”, “cz” like “ch”, “rz” more or less like “j” in the French “je t’aime.” Sounds easier, doesn’t it?

11. Polish cities are not ugly remnants of the communist era.

Stare Miasto or Old Town, the center of every major city, is surrounded by kamienice, some of which are 700 years old. These beautiful residential buildings are painted in bright colors and decorated with fantastical carvings and sculptures — just look for images of Poznań, Wrocław, or Kraków. Polish cities are testimony to centuries of history. Toruń is full of gothic architecture; Malbork has the biggest in Europe brick-built medieval castle; Gniezno a cathedral from 1170. And all Polish cities are green with parks and riversides.

12. Polish last names.

My last name is Góralska, but my father’s is Góralski. This happens with all Polish last names that end with –ski/ska or –cka/cki (and a couple others). Last names with those endings work like adjectives and adjectives in Polish need to agree in gender with the noun. So the –ski ending is for a male, and –ska for female.

13. Poland doesn’t only produce non-famous people.

Many of the famous Poles are mistakenly thought to be of other nationality. Roman Polański, the movie director, is Polish. Frederic Chopin, created music in Paris, but was born and grew up in Poland. Maria Skłodowska-Curie married a French scientist and worked in France. Joseph Conrad was a Pole (his real name was Józef Konrad Korzeniowski) and he didn’t even master English until he was in his 20s. Nicolaus Copernicus, the guy who first discovered that the sun doesn’t go around the Earth, but the other way round — Polish too!

Henry Sapiecha

 

11 memories you have when you grow up in Poland

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You know you are in Poland when…

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Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland

1. You can’t figure out how to greet other people. Your friend’s grandparents give you three kisses on the cheeks — left, right, and left again. Their father kisses you on the back of your hand in an outdated fashion while their mother gives you a flimsy handshake and their brother just says, “Cześć” from a distance.

2. When people speak, all you hear is “shhh chhh shhh chhh.”

3. You have no idea what the deal is with those ą, ę, ó, ć, ł, ś, ż, ź letters. How are you supposed to pronounce city names like Szczebrzeszyn, Łódź, Wrzeszcz or Trzcianka?

4. There is a flat voice speaking Polish over the original voices in English in movies on TV. It’s the same voice that reads the lines of all characters in the movie: men, women, and children.

5. The Polish voice in movies heavily euphemizes the language. “Get the f*** out from here, you motherf****!” is read in a monotonous intonation as “Odejdź stąd, ty szarlatanie.”

6. You are required to take your shoes off and leave them by the door when you enter someone’s house. You get guest slippers to walk around in inside.

7. Buying bread becomes a mind-boggling decision. Bakery shelves are lined with a selection of bread you have never seen before. You find round brown whole-wheat bread, oval white with crunchy crust sprinkled with poppy seeds, square sunflower seed sourdough bread, rectangular soy or flax seed loaves, as well as croissant-shaped milky rogale and different flavored buns: cheese and onion, 7 grains, pumpkin seed and Italian herbs.

8. Your breakfast is huge. You get your favorite bread, spread some butter on it and prepare open sandwiches layered with ham, cheese or cottage cheese, lettuce leaves, sliced cucumber, tomatoes, radishes and spring onions. You then sprinkle some salt and pepper over. Instead of coffee, you drink hot tea with a slice of lemon in it.

9. You are grateful for the substantiality of your breakfast, because the main meal of the day isn’t until 4pm. Around noon you get “second breakfast” — a piece of fruit, a sandwich, or a sweet pastry and a coffee.

10. All the dishes in typical restaurants contain potatoes. Boiled, mashed, fried or baked potatoes accompany any main course, but there are also kopytka (Polish gnocchi), potato pancakes, pierogi filled with potatoes and cottage cheese.

11. With your meal, you are served a drink of warm strawberry water, a few boiled pieces of fruit floating in it. You learn that it’s called kompot and that it can be made out of any fruit.

12. You eat all kinds of food made out of “rotten” ingredients. Sauerkraut is just rotten cabbage, ogórki kiszone are fermented cucumbers, traditional barszczis made out of beets that had gone bad (now vinegar is used to gives it the sour taste), żurek is a soup based on fermented yeast dough.

13. You are surprised to discover that none of the “rotten” foods make you sick.

14. You go for a walk in the forest and run into people picking wild mushrooms and blueberries.

15. Everyone lives off seasonal fruit in the summer. You eat jagodzianki, blueberry-filled yeast-dough sweet rolls, every day.

16. You can buy beer and vodka in a shop dedicated entirely to alcohol sales. Any time, any day.

17. You order a beer at a bar and you’re asked if you’d like raspberry syrup in it. You decide to give it a try. Your beer is served with a straw.

18. You can never have another type of vodka again after tasting how delicious Żubrówka is.

19. You discover that Polish people indeed make great use of their seasonal fruit when you try nalewki, fruity spirits. Many households produce them for own personal consumption.

20. Zapiekanka is your anti-hangover food. At the end of the night, you eat an entire 50-centimeter long baguette cut open, topped with mushrooms and cheese and grilled, then served with cabbage salad and slices of ogórki kiszone on top and lots of garlic sauce.

Henry Sapiecha