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

10 words that look the same in Polish and English but have totally different meanings

1. But

In English, you have “but” and “butt,” and they’re very different things. In Polish, but is pronounced “boot” and means simply, “shoe.”

2. Jest

In English, “jest” is an old-fashioned word for joke. In Polish, pronounced “yest,” it’s the third person singular of the word być (”to be”). IS.

3. Pan

In English-speaking countries, a pan is used for cooking. In Polish, you can say, for example, Pan Kowalski or Pan Nowak. In this language, it simply means “mister.”

4. Most

In English, this word is used to form superlatives (the most important thing, for example). In Polish, most is “bridge.” Just keep in mind that the “O” is pronounced like “aw” in “awesome.”

5. Brat

We all know who “brat” is: an unruly, loud, badly behaved child. In Polish, brat means “brother.” And while the meanings of these two words can definitely overlap, not all brothers are brats and not all brats are brothers.

6. Fart

In Polish, mam fart doesn’t mean what you think it means. In fact when someone tells you that, you should be either happy for them because in Polish, fart simply means “good luck.”

7. Windy

In Polish, this word has nothing to do with the weather. The Polish word for “elevator” is winda, pronounced “veenda.” The plural form is windy, making it look similar to the English word describing a certain kind of weather.

8. Herb

In English, herb is something that you use in your cooking. In Polish, it means “coat of arms.” But if you ask me, I find the culinary herbs much more interesting.

9. Chart

Pronounced in a similar manner to the word “heart” but with a rolled R, it actually refers to a certain breed of dog, a sighthound to be exact. It has nothing to do with an actual, English “chart.”

10. Prom

There is no connection whatsoever between the “prom” that all American secondary school children are looking forward to and the Polish word prom, which is actually a ferry.

Henry Sapiecha

You know you are in Poland when…


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

10 ultra totally meaningful Polish expressions

An article

1. Masakra, tragedia

Yes, these words mean what you think they mean: massacre and tragedy. But they’re applied to totally different situations. For example, my husband and I went to Cracow once, and we wanted to take the last train to Warsaw, but the lady selling our tickets was rather slow. When she finally managed to print out our passes, she said, “Okay, now hurry up or there will be a tragedia.” This one’s similar to the Croatian word, katastrofa.

2. Bo tak

My favourite word to stop being questioned by my kids all day long: “Why do I have to do this?” Bo tak. “Why is the world round?” Bo tak. It’s the Polish equivalent of “because I said so.” Or simply “because yes” or “because so” — that’s what bo tak literally means.

3. No ba

No ba is used similarly to the English word “indeed”, even if it is way more colloquial. By itself, ba can mean “duh”, as in when someone states the obvious.

“So, did you win all that money?” “No ba!”

4. No

This little word has so many meanings. Just remember that the “o” is pronounced like in the English word “port”. Depending on the context, this word can mean yes (wanna go to the cinema? Noooo!), be used to issue a warning (no, no, no, most effective when accompanied by a waggling finger), to show sign of agreement (This film was so cool, right? Nooo!), stalling (so what do you think about this problem? No… I think it’s complicated) and many more.

5. No co ty!

This means “don’t exaggerate”.


“I am sick, I need to go to the doctor.”
No co ty, it’s just a headache.”

It’s also used to mean “Are you insane?”


“I asked her to marry me.
No co ty!”

6. Jak nie jak tak!

Literally, “how not when yes”, this one’s used to offer encouragement: “Of course you will do this. How can you not do this, when you’re totally capable?”

I was telling myself this multiple times while writing this article.

7. Spoko, wporzo

Abbreviations of spokojnie (calmly) and w porządku (okay), they’re used in a similar way — meaning cool, all right, okay, and the like. They’re also sometimes used in the context of “not so bad”.


How was your exam? Spoko.

8. No nie!

I don’t know how many times I use this to talk to my kids: “No nie, you made a mess again!” This one’s similar to “Oh no”. It can also be used in expressions like “No nie mów” (You don’t say) or no nie wiem (I don’t know).

9. Won! Precz! Spadaj!

These words have the same meaning, which goes along the lines of “please kindly remove yourself from this place”, but put less nicely. I really want to say this to some trolls who, without a doubt, will show up on my articles on Matador Network (including this one).

10. Ojej/Ojejku

Another handy word, this one allows you to express various emotional states, from admiration to panic, surprise to helplessness. For example, when your friend tells you some unexpected happy news, you can react with a loud “Ojej!” If you come back home to find that your laptop got stolen, shake your head and say ojej (it should be pronounced like ‘oyey’). And sometimes, it’s the only appropriate response to my kids wrecking chaos on the house.

P.S. If you point out to me that I didn’t include the most concise of Polish words, also known as the Polish K-word, let me tell you that it’s because I don’t swear.


Henry Sapiecha