From the ancient custom of greeting visitors with bread and salt, Poland’s system of social graces has developed into one that is unmatched in the world, and will often put a smile on your face. You can expect to be spoilt - every Pole wants to be the host with the most, no money and effort spared.
When in Poland, be prepared for your words to be sometimes misinterpreted, but do not worry about communication. You will find it very easy to engage in a friendly conversation, even regardless of the other speaker’s linguistic competence.
You wil be overwhelmed by the exceptional hospitality offered by the Polish people and the good-hearted everyday social rituals you will experience.
When visiting a traditional Polish home, be prepared to be confronted with situations described described below:
- Even on the first visit do not be surprised to be offered by your host a pair of slippers for your comfort.
- If you are invited for dinner, better go on an empty stomach because otherwise you will find it difficult to feast on a generous helping of soup with noodles, pork cutlet with cabbage and potatoes, topped with a cheesecake and washed with a bottle of home distilled flavoured liquor.
- If you abstain from alcohol, you will find that in Poland it is sometimes not enough just to say “no, thanks”, as your host may assume his traditional Polish hospitality is being put to test.
- If you travel on public transport, be prepared for a display of old fashioned courtesy: young people give up their places to the elderly, while gentlemen make way for ladies.
- It is considered exceptionally courteous to kiss a woman’s hand as a way of greeting. This practice is particularly popular among the older generation.
- While dining in a restaurant, you will be expected to leave a tip. Tipping is similar to the rest of Europe, i.e. at least 10% of the value of the bill.
There are, of course, many more specifically Polish customs. It is also worth knowing that the Poles are a particularly friendly and supportive people, who cultivate a sense of duty towards each other and their families and friends.
Since 95% of the population are Roman Catholics, all major church holidays are strictly observed, particularly Christmas and Easter. On such occasion, Polish families come together to enjoy good food and drink.
The Polish character
A Pole is on one hand the heir to a rich history, tradition and culturally ingrained vices and virtues, but on the other hand a great individualist. A Pole doesn’t try to be original – a Pole is original!
Poles show their dissatisfaction when conversation turns to politics. Then they start to complain and get angry. A Pole is always frustrated because the government or the system is not as it should be. A Pole would most happily see him or herself on the parliamentary rostrum, but only for a short while, because all in all politics is an unrewarding subject.
The Polish character is a mixture of hospitality, light-heartedness, noble tradition and a frequently unjustified sense of inferiority. Poles, particularly the young, have an ever increasing desire to acquire knowledge, and they certainly place great emphasis on education.
But something still remains of the traditional culture of the Polish nobility. This can be seen, for example, in Poles’ very well-developed individualism, broadly altruistic nature, extravagant generosity and special – often blunt – sense of humour. A Pole also attaches great importance to his honour and dignity. Sometimes he may be over-excitable and display reckless behaviour. All this makes the Poles extremely colourful characters. You are unlikely to get bored when you spend time with a Pole. For Poles love to talk about themselves, about their family, about their dreams, and about... Poland. But at the same time they are always ready to listen. If there is also a well-laden table and fine company, a Pole will be in his element, infecting others with his inherent optimism and eternal hope that, even if things are not too good at the moment, someday they undoubtedly will be.
Lesbian and gay
Poland is becoming increasingly tolerant towards sexual minorities. This attitude is apparent among the younger people in large towns.
Trolerance throughout history
Poland is one of very few countries where historically homosexuality has never been banned, except when Poland lost sovereignty to foreign powers and for a few years after regaining independence.
The Polish constitution guarantees equal rights to all people and protects them against discrimination on whatever grounds, including sexual orientation.
Nonetheless, in Poland there’s no legal recognition of same sex relationships with regard to marriage and adoption of children.
Lesbian and gay lifestyles
You will find a high degree of acceptance for gays and lesbians lifestyles among the young, educated urban dwellers. Such attitudes are particularly visible in Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, Wroclaw, Poznan, Katowice and Gdansk, where a large number of GL bars and other public places declare themselves gay-friendly.
There is a number of Polish publications and websites devoted to homosexuality topics; many private organisations offer support to same sex communities, champion their rights and promote greater tolerance. Gay pride parades are organised from time to time.