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BellaOnline's Polish Culture Editor


Stereotypes about the Poles

Guest Author - Barbara Swiech

We all perceive many nations through stereotypes that we learnt throughout our life. Some of them are closer and some further from the reality, some are not dangerous while the rest hurt or offend others. Even here in Poland we keep stereotypes about some of the countries – all French eat frogs, all Italians are looking for romance, the Germans love order... but what are WE, the Poles, like? It is very hard to make assessment of one selves – as we usually talk about ourselves the way we would wish to be perceived. However, recently there have been series of articles, surveys and programmes that reveal what others think about the Poles.

Poland is very often perceived through Catholicism that dominates in a country. Foreign visitors are most of the time surprised with churches full of people and the view of numerous nuns and priests walking in the street. Apart from this, the government would very often make official statements that prove the fact that we are not ready for some of the changes.

True or false?
That is true that many people attend Sunday service regularly – but I would say that percentage of believers dropped significantly since years ago (especially among younger generations). However, as we were all brought up in Catholic culture, we are used to some things as they are part of our tradition. Most of us celebrates Christian holidays and has holy picture at home. I sometimes wonder whether we are the only country that has its own Catholic radio called ‘Maria’. Are we?
It is hard to say whether we are open or conservative – I would say both. We are open to some of the changes while others seem unacceptable – not because of faith but because of the way of thinking we inherited.

That is something very much stressed by foreigners living in Poland – the Poles complain a lot. If there is the failure, it does not motivate us to improve but to sit and cry that we were unlucky and once again we failed.

True or false?
As much as I travelled, I can honestly say that the Poles complain much more than most of the other nations. Never expect, that if you ask somebody in Poland how he or she is, you will get a simple ‘I’m fine’ answer. Most probably you will get a long list of list of all the failures and bad luck that the person encountered recently. Unfortunately complaining very often stops us from doing. But what is important – we are aware of that and even make jokes about it. Apart from this, one of the last surveys showed that recently we are more satisfied than ever since the fall of communist regime.

A man with a shot of vodka in one hand and sourly pickled cucumber in the other is how the ordinary Pole is shown in many countries. Some even are surprised that one can purchase wine or beer when visiting a pub in Poland.

True or false?
If I would say that the Poles do not like drinking – I would lie. But the researches show that we do not drink much more (if at all more) than other nations. The difference is in the percentage of alcohol. While others consume beer, wine, brandy – we very often drink stronger vodka. Of course, it all depends. If you go with friends to a pub, beer seems to be the most popular spirit. But I have never been to the wedding reception where there was no vodka served – traditionally it is a must. When in Poland, you must really try it with cucumbers in sour pickle (ogorki kiszone) – it goes together wonderfully.

Of course there are many other stereotypes that I did not mention here. The Poles are said to heavily steal cars (at least that is the stereotype in Germany), uneducated with no skills for languages, disorganised and always cheating. The truth is probably always somewhere between. We are not the keenest on languages, but are proud of the way we are educated – although our education system fails in many ways. But when you ask somebody here, he will passionately tell you a story of a friend of his friend whose friend went to school abroad and appeared to be the best in the class almost right after learning the language of the country. We are very cautious with strangers (read: non-Poles) and we like to make things the way they sometimes should not be made. Oh, and I forgot to mention that most of the Poles will tell you that their friends had other friends who heard some foreigners say that Poland has the most beautiful girls in the world.
Isn’t it wonderful that there is so much diversity in the world?
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Content copyright © 2018 by Barbara Swiech. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Barbara Swiech. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.


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