Useful Notes / Poland
Europe's Butt-Monkeynote 

Poland is not yet lost
So long as we still live.
What the foreign power has stolen from us,
We shall reclaim with the sabre.
—The "Mazurek Dąbrowskiego", the national anthem of Poland

Poland (Polish: Polska), officially known today as the Republic of Poland (Polish: Rzeczpospolita Polska), is a country located in the intersection of Central Europe and Eastern Europe, which naturally made it the picked-on kid with glasses of the European school playground for most of its history. Its borders have constantly shifted over the centuries, expanding and contracting and for a long time, disappearing off the map entirely. So let's launch into the history of Poland which is in turn a history of Eastern Europe, fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

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     History 1000- 1900 

Early history

Poland arose when the West Slavic tribes of the region were united by the Piast dynasty of the Polans around about 1000, cleverly alternating between placating the German emperors and going behind their backs. Perhaps the most globally notable event of first two or three centuries of Poland's existence happened during a period of political fragmentation, when one of Polish regional princes invited The Teutonic Knights to help him against the pagan Prussians. It later became quite a nuisance, so to say. Reunified Poland, in dire need for allies, became associated with Lithuania (this historical Lithuania actually consisted of modern-day Belarus and Lithuania). As the last pagan country in Europe, it also had a problem with the Knights, until Grand Duke Jogaila accepted the Polish crown, baptized himself and his realm (thus nullifying the reason of the Order's very presence) and became king Władysław of Poland. Together both countries broke the power of the Order. Over time Lithuania eventually merged with Poland, forming the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Together, Poland and Lithuania ruled over an enormous, immensely powerful and rich empire. It also became a beacon for religious tolerance even before the union with Lithuania, with King Casimir III the Great providing refuge to Jews and prohibited, under pain of death, the forced conversion of Jewish children to Christianity and this increased Jewish migration to Poland. note 

The Golden Age

The 16th and 17th Centuries comprised the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth are known as, respectively, the Golden Age and the Silver Age of Polish history, remembered for its "Golden Liberty", when kings were elected and the franchise included 10% of the population, by far the most inclusive in Europe until the end of the eighteenth century. The Commonwealth's legacy is disputed since nobody knows who truly represented it, and, this is important, who really inherits it. Until the Constitution of 3rd May, it was legally a union of two countries, Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The nobility of the Grand Duchy became for the most part Polonized, but the lower classes of Lithuania, like the lower classes of Poland were left out and Poland was identified as "the Noble nation". Poles see Poland as representative to all of the Commonwealth, ignoring the views of Lithuanians who see Lithuania as the successor to Grand Duchy. Ethnic Lithuanians were actually a minority in a country mostly made of modern-day Belarus, and (due to assimilation) their upper classes were culturally Polish anyway. Ukrainians consider themselves descendants of the Ruthenian population of the region, particularly those who formed the Cossack Host, even though the Cossacks themselves were at least as much an occupation as an ethnic group. note 

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth has been likened to Antebellum America since many of its leaders and rulers proclaimed freedom while still owning large folwarks (manorial plantations) of serfs. The period of the Commonwealth coincided with the Refeudalization of Poland and Eastern Europe. At the time when Serfdom was on its way out in Western Europe, and feudalism gave way to the The Renaissance and the Early Modern Era, serfdom increased in Poland where peasants, who were formerly allowed to own land and given rights to travel, soon had their rights taken away from them. 80% of the population in the Commonwealth consisted of serfs who were bound to their manor houses, denied permission to leave and who could be bought and sold at the whim of their masters. Since the Polish szlachta (Nobility) were reluctant to break up families and sell serfs (unlike slaveowners in the American South) this often meant that whole villages of serfs could be bought and sold by various nobles. The economic reasons for renewed and heightened serfdom was that Poland, a bread-basket region, relied heavily on grain exports to other countries, which combined with the lack of devolution of the aristocratic-military elite, meant that Poland still remained a classically agriculture-based economy at a time when the rest of Europe was starting to diversify. This meant a halt in the development of cities and towns, and a firm halt on the rise of the Polish middle classes. This paved the way for...

Late Reform and Loss of Independence

Golden Liberty was a great inspiration for the American Revolution, but it had a flaw, to which we owe the existence of a strong US Presidency. The principle that Poland was a nation of nobles meant that the nobles did not represent anybody other than themselves and so lacked any constitutency beyond their folwarks. Yes, all nobles were equalnote  and this meant every decision required unanimity and so any one noble could block any government decision (the Liberum Veto which Europa Universalis players might recognize). So it took only one guy to be bribed by Russia, Prussia, or Austria and that was it: the country was theirs. If a noble family decided to start developing Poland, as the Czartoryskis who formed a coalition known as the Familia, they could expect a noble revolt who resented the development of one part of Poland since it would take away trade from another part, the rise of Warsaw, under the policies of one Nobleman meant the decline of Gdansk under another nobleman, which in turn affected the Balance of Power since said nobleman had to deliver committments to their respective geopolitical sponsor, who in turn might decide to put their own candidate in the next "election". Enter King Stanisław August Poniatowski, elected by the Sejm, promoted and planted by Catherine the Great (he was a former lover of hers) to be her puppet, halting reforms and protecting Russia's interests. Yet Poniatowski, who became the last King of Poland was a reformer, a promoter of arts and sciences and sought to strengthen and develop Poland to catch up with its Western counterparts. These reforms angered the "three black eagles" of Russia, Prussia and Austria and it led to the first partition of Poland (1772), leading to the loss of its outer territories.

The aim of this partition was to stifle reform. Yet it did no such thing. And in 1791, the Sejm voted to create a new Constitution which was technically the second modern-type written constitution of a sovereign state in history note . The new constitution was seen as even more of a threat than earlier refoms, for one thing it was a parallel to events in France. Never mind that the szlachta were quite reluctant and hesitant to go as far as even the moderate constitutionalist French didnote , and reluctantly conceded greater rights and protections for serfs. But as far as "enlightened monarch" Catherine the Great was concerned, it was "Jacobinical" and even worse, too close to home. This led to war and the second partition of Poland (1793) which led to the erosion of any remaining borders the Commonwealth had.

The final stage of this decline led to the legendary uprising of Tadeusz Kościuszko. Kościuszko was a popular general and a liberal noble, who had fought in The American Revolution. Noting the various defections and counter-defections and failure of the szlachta to counter the invaders, Kościuszko triggered a popular uprising. He appealed to the peasants, and for the first time included them in the conception of the Polish nation. He also assured peasants civil liberties, and created the first army in Poland fully open to peasant conscripts. Kościuszko's uprising might perhaps have been successful had the reforms he instituted been put in place at the time of the first or even second partition. It was in the end too little too late, and worst of all, seen by Catherine the Great and neighbors as "the last straw" since Poland's relative leniency towards serfs was the reason she interfered in Poland's affairs to start with (too many Russian serfs were fleeing to Poland from a brutal serfdom to a comparatively benevolent bondage), actual abolition of serfdom and feudalism was exactly the thing she feared. The uprising was brutally crushed, and it ended with the dissolution of the Commonwealth, the exile of King Poniatowski and Kościuszko (who was later allowed to emigrate to America) and it marked the effective cessation of Poland for more than a century, with one momentary respite.

The Napoleonic Wars, in 1807, temporarily reestablished Poland as an autonomous but not fully independent state, with territories drawn from the Austrian and Prussian Polish partitions, so it contained much smaller territory than the former Commonwealth (Russia was still Napoleon's ally at this time). The Duchy of Poland lasted until Napoleon's defeat in Russia, which led to Poland once again occupied by Russia and Austria. The Congress of Vienna naturally took no considerations of Polish nationalism since its aim was to preserve a Balance of Power. The Duchy was broken into three nominally independent pieces, respectively partitioned to the Kingdom of Poland (under Russian control), the Grand Duchy of Poznań‎‎ (under Prussian control), and the Free City of Kraków (under Austrian control). Poles in Austria generally enjoyed the right to speak their language and quite a bit of self-rule, and were fairly supportive of the Habsburgs (even today, Emperor Franz Josef is remembered fondly in southern Poland, while praising other rulers of the "three black eagles" would make Poles twitch); this was also partly due to the fact that the Catholic Habsburgs much preferred the Catholic Poles to the Orthodox Ukrainians who also lived in Austria's chunk of Poland (which was known as Galicia). Poles in Prussia were, at first, well-treated (Frederick The Great required the heir to the throne to be fluent in Polish, although this was never really implemented). After, borders were shuffled and the smaller number of Poles left in Prussia were often in ethnically-mixed areas such as Upper Silesia and found their circumstances changed drastically for the worse, especially after the abolition of their autonomy in 1848. Political hardship (like Bismarck's efforts at Germanification, mainly by settler colonialism), rather than breaking the Prussian Poles, substantially strengthened their national identity and spirit, but economic hardship compelled many of them to move to the thriving Rhineland (where they were a much smaller minority) or to the Americas.

The Russian Tsars really didn't like Poles, partly due to old grudges over Russia's humiliation at the hands of Polish economic and military power in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and so, after they were finally victorious, the Russians went out of their way to punish the Poles under their rule. The Russian Empire also introduced policies of Russification and suppression of ethnic culture and identities. Poles were forbidden from speaking their language and culture and this led to the development of such institutions as the Flying University, an underground school that allowed Poles to learn Polish and preserve their culture. The Poles tried, several times, to regain their independence. The first big time, the November Uprising of 1830–31, they actually had something of a chance, as the Congress Kingdom of Poland was technically autonomous and in personal union with Russia, and as such had a halfway decent military. Unfortunately, the Uprising was botched from the beginning. Not surprisingly, the Russians took further steps to eliminate the Polish threat, which meant that the second big uprising, the January Uprising of 1863, was restricted to guerilla warfare and ended in tragedy, and the abolition of Polish autonomy, with many Poles being sent to Siberia. note 

    Modern History 1900-Present 

Twentieth Century

During WW1, many Poles, including future leaders such as Piłsudski and Sikorski, joined Austro-Hungarian forcesnote ) and helped the Central Powers to establish a puppet Polish Kingdom in former Russian territory, as the lesser of two evils. If sent to the western front, they usually deserted to join the French Foreign Legion. After the war, foreign rule was cast off and Piłsudski and others founded a new, independent Poland which managed to defeat the Soviets in the Polish-Soviet War against terrible, terrible odds through sheer strategic brilliance. This defeat convinced the Soviets that they weren't in any shape to spread their revolution, which kept them bottled up for about thirty years.

Immediately after the collapse of the Russian Empire resulted in the renewed independence of most of the former Commonwealth, Poland laid claim to the Lithuanian city of Vilnius,note  leading to a war between the former allies. The Ukrainians who had invited the Poles in to rescue them from the Reds found that Warsaw, ultimately, had none of their best interests at heart (Piłsudski personally was very ashamed by this). The new Poland's German minority also suffered. Poland ended up suffering from a sluggish economy caused by a century of exploitation and field trips from World War I military powers, being surrounded by many powerful enemies, and deep internal tensions between Poles, Lithuanians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Germans, and Jews, and political factions everyone belonged to. The tensions became more severe in certain areas and relaxed in others after a military coupnote  and the establishment of the "Government of Moral Sanitation".

The War

In the years preceding the war, the Polish government tried to balance itself between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Adolf Hitler had made the loss of territory (which in his mind included the land that Germans had settled in the Partitions and Dissolution of the Commonwealth) after World War I to new Eastern European nations such as Czechoslovakia and Poland a campaign priority. To this end Piłsudski had signed Non-Aggression Pacts with the Soviet Union (1932) and Nazi Germany (1934) for pragmatic reasons to stave off a potential invasion from either power. With his death in 1935, the situation began to change. Hitler started to be even more brazen in violating the Versailles agreement about rearmament and the League of Nations, France and Britain were reluctant and intimidated to step in and rein in Germany. The Polish foreign policy greatly relied on Western allies to rein in one or both of its neighbours. This already tense situation was upset by the Sudetenland crisis, where Hitler made a play for the German majority regions in the Czech Republic and diplomats in France, England and the Soviet Union discussed their options, with the Soviet Union advocating military defense of Czechoslovakia (as per one of its committments to the new nation) but requesting passage of its troops through Polish territory in order to enforce it, a condition that Poland was categorical in its refusal. The Polish government eventually sided with Germany's partition of Czechoslovakia claiming the territory of Zaolzie (which had a Polish pluralitynote ) as well as Czech Teschen, which was invaded by the Polish Army in 1938 and ceded to Poland after they issued an ultimatum to the government.note 

Poland's participation in the Sudetenland Crisis and the Munich talks was condemned in its time by French Minister Edouard Daladier and Winston Churchill. The Soviets for their part warned Poland that their intervention in Czechoslovakia would abrogate their earlier Non-Agression Pact, though publicly after the pact, they updated and renewed it while secretly engaging in another round of talks with England, France... and Nazi Germany, before revealing the shocking Molotov-Ribbentrop pact a short while before the 1939 Invasion of Poland, the official start of World War II.

During the War, Poland suffered one of the most brutal occupations in the world. The territory governed by Nazi Germany was described by their Gauleiters as Generalgouvernment and it was this area that The Holocaust was mainly conducted on. The Nazi Invasion of Poland led to the declaration of war by Britain and France. The Poles fought brilliantly against overwhelming odds compared to the common opinion about their performance, but unfortunately the difference in power proved too large. Still, the Polish state never surrendered, and plenty of soldiers managed to escape to fight another day. The cavalry charging tanks was a myth, by the way; the incident that inspired this story involved a Polish cavalry division (actually mounted infantry, like most cavalry of the time, though with traditions and training) which routed a German infantry division but was counter-attacked by armoured cars. Additionally, while some Polish cavalry units did deliberately engage German armor, they did so dismounted while wielding anti-tank rifles. The Poles didn't take occupation lying down. As well as running a resistance movement later organized into the Home Army, tens of thousands of Polish men escaped from the country and made their way to Britain and France to continue the fight, forming entire squadrons of airmen and divisions of ground troops. By the end of the war, there were ~250 thousand Poles fighting alongside the Western Allies, with another ~200 thousand aiding the Soviets.

The war experience in Poland was complicated by the Soviet Invasion of Poland, who seized the Eastern territories, the area of land known as Kresy (today part of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus with parts of Lithuania). This was part of the agreement of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Soviets stated that these were territories it had lost in the Polish-Soviet War and they wanted it back.note  The Poles saw this as a double occupation from two invading powers, but since the Soviet Union was still "neutral", their British allies did not want to antagonize them and the Polish Home Army was consigned to fighting the Nazis. During the Soviet Occupation, the NKVD conducted the infamous "Katyn massacre" of Polish officers, intelligentsia and other figures. 22,000 were killed in the forest and buried in a mass grave. When the Soviet Union joined the war during Operation Barbarossa, the Western Allies immediately recognized Kresy as Russian territory and later suppressed the Katyn massacre for propaganda reasons. Stalin, vacillating and mercurial as always, wavered over recognition of the Polish government-in-exile before finally settling on the Polish People's Republic, formed in the Soviet Union, comprised of Communists, as the legitimate government and the Polish People's Army as alternatives to the Home Army and the government in exile. The fear of an eventual Soviet takeover led to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the largest partisan operation during the war, which ended in failure, defeat, the destruction of Warsaw and the end of the Polish Home Army as any force to safeguard Poland's sovereignty, paving the way for its eventual Soviet Occupation.

Poland lost a fifth of its population in the war — seven million people in all, mostly civilians. Out of a pre-war Jewish population of 3.3 million, only 300,000 survived (Poland's Jewish population were Polish citizens; Israel did not exist until after the war). A contentious issue among Poles is the wartime anti-semitism.note  While Poland was formerly religiously tolerant, during the 19th Century, anti-semitism had risen among parts of Poland and in the inter-war years. It is known that anti-semitic massacres such as the Jedwabne massacre were conducted by Polish peasants, many of whom accused Polish Jews of being collaborators with the Soviets, leading to a particularly nasty strain with, naturally, very little basis in reality. After the Holocaust, several Jews who returned home became victims of reprisals from citizens who had bought their property and killed them for returning. The Communists for their part, were quite happy to publicize these incidents and associate its opponents and Home Army sympathizers with fascist collaborators, while erasing their involvement in the Katyn massacre. It must be noted that 6620 Poles are considered Righteous Among the Nations, more than any other European nation.note 

The Soviet Era

After the war, the country was taken over by the Reds with Rockets. Present-day Poland is formed by absorbing the Kresy and other territories into the Soviet Union, pushing its eastern border west a few hundred miles. To compensate the Polish, however, the Soviet Union deposited them in former Eastern Germany, including areas like Silesia and Pomerania that had historically been Germannote . This triggered the largest population exchange in history, with Poles and Germans kicked out of their respective ancestral homes. This accounts for the country's suspiciously straight borders (the western border follows the line of the Oder and Neisse rivers) and the fact that Warsaw, originally chosen as the capital for its central location, is no longer especially central. The new Poland under the eye of Soviet big brother undertook the task of agrarian reform, altering Poland's class structure (which involved land seizures and collectivization), rebuilding wartorn buildings and building new ones. This includes the massive Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science (which is still the largest building in Poland and seventh in the European Union). That is not to say the new government did not bring some improvements with it, but as usual, it was packaged by a heavy dose of repression, exile, execution and the heavy air of Police State machinery. While early attempts at reform, such as the Polish October in the Khruschev Thaw provided Poland greater autonomy than other satellite nations, it eventually led to a new series of purges and counter-purges in imitation of Stalin, and like Stalin in his twilight years, involved a period of nasty anti-semitism masqueraded as striking against cosmopolitans.

A culture of dissent started growing in Poland. A youth movement fascinated by the West (aided by the CIA backed Radio Free Europe) was taking root. Some of them ironically found expression in the National Film School in Łódź, which received Soviet support but this led to the Polish New Wave which included rebels, future solidarity activists and defectors (the likes of Andrzej Wajda, Andrzej Munk, Jerzy Skolimowski and Roman Polanski). By The '70s, various labour protests reached an organizational stage and a trade union movement known as Solidarity took form. This originated in the Gdansk shipyards and was led by Lech Wałęsa, an electrician by training. Solidarity aimed to be an independent trade union unconnected to the Communist party, which was seen as a violation of communist doctrine, a challenge to its authority and, by the west, as a symbolic discrediting of the ideals of Communism, since Solidarność can't be equated with fascist/trotskyist/fifth columnist traitors. This movement got the support of the middle-classes, the intelligentsia, dissident communists, right-wingers and the Catholic Church and it led to a series of non-violent protests, civil disobedience campaigns and most ironically and fittingly of all, a worker's strike over the firing of Anna Walentynowicz at the Lenin Shipyard. In response, Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski, who was also General of the Army, declared Martial Law in 1981 and made Poland into a literal Police State for the next two yearsnote . Then in the course of The '80s, Jaruzelski released the main leaders of Solidarity and then granted an amnesty in 1986, later claiming that he declared Martial Law to prevent intervention by the Soviet Union, a point disputed by many former dissidents, but also supported by some of Jaruzelski's former enemies such as Adam Michnik.

Third Polish Republic

Poland became independent in 1989, and this played a role in the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union. Solidarity activists and intellectuals such as Adam Michnik and Andrzej Wajda always insisted that their movement was not a revolution, since in their view all revolutions were Full-Circle Revolution. Upon peacefully taking power, they began a period of lustrationnote  but fell short of actively imprisoning former officials of high rank in Soviet Poland, General Jaruzelski to begin with. There is also a number of grudges among former Solidarity activists about the new government's shift away from the trade unions that formed the basis of the initial strike and the development of a new elite class that some liken to the old Commonwealth. Independent Poland has had more than a few issues dealing with its past and its relationship with its neighbors. United Germany that formed after the collapse of the Berlin Wall recognized Poland's borders and accepted the permanent cession of its Eastern territories to Poland. Poland and Russia still have difficult relationships, mostly over the long history of war, occupation and repression, and the various contending memories, with Russia regarding Poland's enrollment into NATO as an expansion eastwards on the part of the West. There is also the rise of religious nationalism in Poland, where the Catholic Church has always been associated with Polish identity. Polish Armed Forces are also actively involved in The War on Terror, posted in Afghanistan, and bases in Poland are used for rendition by American operatives.

Poland's entry into The European Union had led to a large movement of Poles to the UK and caused a Polish plumber scare in France. Poland, along with Ukraine, hosted Euro football championships in 2012. The games' overwhelmingly positive reception came off as a shock to many Poles, who by then were used to thinking of their country as one big international humiliation.

    Polish language 

Polish language

Polish is a West Slavic language, a group which also includes Czech and Slovak and a number of minority languages. note  It is the most spoken member of the group and the second-most spoken Slavic language, with 40 million native speakers (38 million in Poland itself) and over a million second language speakers (no exact figure exists).

Brace yourself now, 'cause you're in for a hell of a ride.

The Polish language is hard, meaning it is both hard to learn and pronounce. It has many "hard" consonants like:
  • s (snow; sizzle)
  • sz (voiceless retroflex fricative, harder than "sh"; shampoo)
  • ś (voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative, palatized "sh"; show)
  • z (zoo)
  • ż (voiced retroflex fricative, similar to 'g' as in mirage, like 'dż', but without 'd', somehow may seem longer for English speakers; in transcription this sound is rendered as "zh")
  • ź (voiced alveolo-palatal fricative, palatized "zh"; leisure)
  • c (schnitzel, what's)
  • cz (voiceless retroflex affricate; touch)
  • ć (voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative; chicken; often transliterated as 'ti')
  • t (tone)
  • dz (voiced 'c')
  • dż (voiced "cz"; journal)
  • dź (voiced 'ć'; jingle)
  • k (kite)
  • g (gun)

R is always pronounced. The vowels are read like in Spanish. 'w' sounds like English 'v' and next to voiceless consonants even like 'f'.

Sample words:
  • strzelać (pronounced: [s t sz e l a ć]) - to shoot
  • bezwzględny (notice 5 consonants in a row) - ruthless (if describing a person) or absolute (if a scientific term)
  • gżegżółka ([g ż e g ż ó ł k a]) - a folk name for a cuckoo, and a sadist's favourite spelling bee challenge
  • Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz ([g ż e g o ż, b ż en cz y sz cz y ki e v i cz]) - a Polish name (the first name meaning: Gregory, last name means something similar to 'Buzzingson')
    • To clarify, this isn't actually a popular surname; it was used as a gag in a Polish comedy movie and became somewhat of a meme since then.
      • In this gag the protagonist uses the name to confuse a Nazi officer who tries to write down his personal data (along with birth place: Chrząszczyżewoszczyce, powiat Łękołody). Hitlerity ensues.
      • Also, the entire scene is based on a gag from a book that served as the basis for another Polish comedy, CK Dezerterzy. In "CK Dezerterzy", the protagonist Kania identifies himself as "Szczepan Brzęczyszczewski" to an Austrian officer, and gives his birthplace as "Mszczonowieścice, gmina Grzmiszczosławice, powiat Trzcinogrzechotnikowo". And those are hard to pronouce fast even for Poles.

Polish language uses several additional letters:
  • ć, ś, ż, ź (described above)
  • ą ("ow" not as in cow; won't)
  • ę ("ew" not as in screw; you rang?)
  • ł ("w"; bowl, why)
  • ó (like "oo", only short; hoot)
  • ń (sort of soft "Ni"; senior)

This means that when you see a Polish word in a generally English text, you can't be sure if it is really written like that, or just the Polish signs were left out. We try to make this article consistent, except for the links. The ą's and ę's tend to mess with namespaces, so they have to be omitted there.

By the way, ż and rz are pronounced the same way, except when "rz" is just "arr"-"zedd". And ó the same as u, and h same as ch. They, however, make a difference in how the word is inflected.

Many Polish words are impossible to pronounce by non-native speakers. Very few non-natives can speak Polish so fluently that their foreign accent will not be noticed. Polish is considered to be the most difficult of the Slavic languages for English speakers to learn, which is saying something.

Polish children are taught the poem: Chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Szczebrzeszynie i Szczebrzeszyn z tego słynie. (The beetle sings in reeds in the city Szczebrzeszyn, which is famous for it.) Making foreigners pronounce the poem is a favourite sadistic pastime of Polish people. The other is making them pronounce the word pchła (flea) or żelatyna (gelatin). note 

Polish grammar is even harder than the pronunciation. There are thousands of rules, each with thousands of exceptions (though generally a lot more consistency than most languages in general, and especially English). Some (irregular) words do not obey any rule at all. Most meaningful words undergo inflection. Grammatical gender is important, as it affects the inflection of all verbs, all adjectives and some numerals. Nouns are divided into personal animate, impersonal animate and impersonal inanimate, which changes masculine nouns' accusatives. There are even two plural genders that apply to everything but nouns - masculine-personal and non-masculine-personal, which changes depending on whether the plural word refers to a group that includes anything that can be called by a masculine personal noun or not.

Conjugation example
  • wycierać - to wipe
  • wycieram - I wipe
  • wycierasz - you wipe
  • wyciera - he/she/it wipes
  • wycieramy - we wipe
  • wycieracie - You wipe (plural)
  • wycierają - they wipe
  • wycierałem - I (masculine) was wiping
  • wycierałam - I (feminine) was wiping
  • wycierałeś - you (masculine) were wiping
  • wycierałaś - you (feminine) were wiping
  • wycierał - he was wiping
  • wycierała - she was wiping
  • wycierało - it was wiping
  • wycieraliśmy - we (masculine-personal) were wiping
  • wycierałyśmy - we (non-masculine-personal) were wiping
  • wycieraliście - You (masculine-personal) were wiping (plural)
  • wycierałyście - You (non-masculine-personal) were wiping (plural)
  • wycierali - they (masculine-personal) were wiping
  • wycierały - they (non-masculine-personal) were wiping
  • wycieraj - wipe!
  • wycierajmy - let's wipe!
  • wycierajcie - wipe! (plural)
  • wycierałbym - I (masculine) would wipe
  • wycierałabym - I (feminine) would wipe
  • wycierałbyś - you (masculine) would wipe
  • wycierałabyś - you (feminine) would wipe
  • wycierałby - he would wipe
  • wycierałaby - she would wipe
  • wycierałoby - it would wipe
  • wycieralibyśmy - we (masculine-personal) would wipe
  • wycierałybyśmy - we (non-masculine-personal) would wipe
  • wycieralibyście - you (masculine-personal) would wipe
  • wycierałybyście - you (non-masculine-personal) would wipe
  • wycieraliby - they (masculine-personal) would wipe
  • wycierałyby - they (non-masculine-personal) would wipe
  • wycierający - wiping (masculine or masculine-personal)
  • wycierająca - wiping (feminine)
  • wycierające - wiping (neuter or non-masculine-personal)
  • wycierająco - wipingly note 
  • wycierając - while wiping
  • wycierany - being wiped (masculine)
  • wycierany - being wiped (masculine-personal)
  • wycierana - being wiped (feminine)
  • wycierane - being wiped (neuter or non-masculine-personal)
  • wycierano - something was being wiped

The word wycierać belongs to classes: imperfect, transitive. Other classes may have different forms. For example, when one wants to say 'I have wiped', he must use the word wytrzeć (perfect counterpart of wycierać) - the past form: wytarłem. Note that we didn't include the archaic forms of Polish, which are even worse than the modern language.

In short, Polish language runs on For the Evulz. On the other hand however, Polish spelling is quite simple (almost phonetic) as compared to English (or traditional Chinese). Notably, the stress in Polish is consistent - always on the penultimate (second to last) syllable, or antepenultimate (third to last) for: first and second-person plural verb conjugations, and any words ending in -tyka. You can always tell exactly how a Polish word is pronounced based on how it's written, though, due to some redundancies among the characters, not necessarily the other way around.

There are, however, a few things about Polish that make this language a tad easier (or more interesting) to study. Despite the impressive number of its speakers, due to historical reasons, Polish has all but lost all its dialects save for a few minor ones. To put it simply, if three people were to have a discussion, one from Warsaw, one from Kraków, and one from Gdańsk, chances are that none of them would realize where the other two come from unless informed directly. In other words, once you have mastered standard official and colloquial Polish, you're all set to get the message across no matter where you go (and the people you will have trouble understanding will prove a hard nut to crack to native speakers as well).note  Moreover, Polish ortography is remarkably different from those of other Slavic languages which tend to get mixed up by beginners at times. Even if there are no peculiar Polish characters (such as ą or ę) involved, if you see the letter w popping up a few times in an apparently Slavic text, you can tell with 99% accuracy that the whole thing's written in Polish.

    Polish naming conventions (please read if writing a character who's Polish - thanks in advance!) 

Given names

For you English-speakers, diminutive means sticking a little word "little" in front of a noun. Polish has grammatical morphemes for that - there's kot (a cat) and kotek (a little cat - not necessarily kitten, there's another word for that). Stół (table) and stolik (a small table, like a nightstand). Some words have several diminutive forms, there also exist diminutive forms of diminutive forms - in this case, koteczek and kiciuś - which can also be inflected by gender ( where kotek, koteczek and kiciuś are grammatically male, while kicia, koteczka and kiciusia are female)note .

Fun fact - the word stołek is also a diminutive form of stół (table), but refers to a chair (stool).

A diminutive sometimes just denotes that something is tiny (Dałeś mi tę kanapeczkę? - You've given me this tiny sandwich?), or cute (Jaki śliczny kiciuś! - What a cute kitty!), is always (always) used in Baby Talk (Zobacz, skarbie, kotek! - Look, darling, a kitty!), sometimes ironically and sometimes by older people who don't realise how annoying they are. Moving on.

Most typical diminutive endings are masculine -ek, feminine -ka and neuter -ko, but they are not universal.

Given names have diminutive forms too. These are not as much standarised (diminutive of Helena may be Hela, or Ela, or Helenka, or Helusia, if you're her elderly grandmother) as grammatically dictated by word creation rules and euphony (Helutka sounds a bit odd, but is correct - if she likes it, use it.) This is why some names are impossible to treat in that manner - see the scene in Opium w rosole where Aurelia's mother is asked how she calls her, since the poor girl's name just doesn't lend itself to diminution - this contributes to mom's Heel Realisation of just how cold and neurotic she is. (Aurelia's grandmother calls her "Orelka", which is as good as it gets).

Generally speaking, these dimunitives bear a strong resemblance to those used in Russia but they're not used just as extensively and most of the time they seem to share a much closer bond with their original forms. The most cryptic it can get is the rare and optional ocassions when some of the initial and middle vowels are omitted (i.e. Helena turns into Ela and Małgorzata becomes Gosia) and the Russian level of obtuse (such as Sasha being dimunitive to Alexander or Alexandra) is largely avoided.

In addition to the diminutive forms, there are also augmentatives. These are no less informal than diminutives (perhaps even more), and are quite common around old friends (especially of the vitriolic kind) and teenagers. One can even use a name in the augmentative and diminutive form at the same time, for example Jan (John) to Jaś (diminutive, Johny or even [little] Johny) to Jasiek (Jaś augmented by the suffix -ek). Johny the edgy teenager probably wouldn't use a form that sounds as if he was a small child.

In general: "ń" makes the already diminutive name more diminuitive. Same goes for ś at the end. For rebellious teens: shortening (and sometimes adding -ek, -ka, especially after already diminutive forms ending with -ś or similar sound) makes the diminutive name less diminutive, but still informal. Endings -ek, -ka stuck to a name will make is a diminutive (Łukaszek from Łukasz (Lukas), Karolek from Karol (Charles; used by Melanie for Scarlett's first husband in Polish translation of Gone with the Wind), Marylka from Maryla (Marilla)).

Some suffixes might carry a rather specific meaning (such as with the example with John above), so be careful.

In formal settings, only the base forms are used - you can call your friend "Janek", but his checks are always signed "Jan". note  There's a sketch in which part of the humour is derived from a grown (to maturity) guy insistently calling himself a "baby" name in a very inappropiate setting (courtroom). Better Than It Sounds.

Some popular names, their commonly used diminutives/augmentatives and English equivalentsnote :

  • girls:
    • Aleksandra (Alexandra): Ola, Oleńka (see Oleńka Billewiczówna in Sienkiewicz Trilogy)
    • Barbara (Barbara): Basia, Basieńka, Baśka (note: in Sienkiewicz Trilogy, Basia's husband affectionately calls her "Baśka" and this is in practice in Real Life)
    • Małgorzata (Margaret): Gosia, Małgosia, Gośka
    • Magdalena (Magdalene/Madeline): Magda, Madzia, Magdusia
    • Katarzyna (Katherine): Kasia, Kaśka, Katarzynka (kind of playful-sounding)
    • Joanna (Joan): Joasia, Asia, Aśka, Asiczek (strange form)
    • Zuzanna (Susan): Zuzia, Zuza, Zuzka, Zuzanka (only for pigtails and frilly skirt age, or if she's your girlfriend)
  • boys:
    • Aleksander (Alexander): Alek, Olek, Oleś (sickeningly cute)
    • Piotr (Peter): Piotrek, Piotruś
    • Jan (John): Janek, Jaś, Jasiek, Jasio
    • Stanisław (no equivalent - it's a Slavic name note ): Staszek, Stasiek, Staś (see In Desert And Wilderness), Stasio
    • Krzysztof (Christopher): Krzysiek, Krzyś, Krzysio
    • Jakub (James/Jacob): Kuba, Kubuś (Polish version of Winnie-the-Pooh is called "Kubuś Puchatek" - we don't know whynote )
    • Zbigniew (Slavic again): Zbyszek, Zbysio, Zbycho ("tough guy"-ish sounding)
    • Tomasz (Thomas): Tomek, Tomuś (sickeningly cute), Tomaszek (sickeningly annoying)

There are also a few names like "Marek"translation  and "Jacek"translation  that may look like diminutives due to the misleading -ek ending, but actually they are formal given names in modern Polish. Of course, said names can also have diminuitive forms ("Mareczek" for "Marek" and "Jacuś" for "Jacek" are common, for example).

To make things more complicated, the vocative note  ending with -u is often incorrectly used in place of nominative (as subject) which ends with -o (for example Jasiu, Zbychu).note  Generally, the vocative of names is falling out of use, especially among the younger speakers, but we still do it with common names - see the "skarbie" in examples above (the nominative note  "skarb" would not work there - it's a grammar thing).

Important note: New given names are rarely created in Polish (they might be borrowed from other languages, often through popular foreign media, but this seems a bit awkward). If you'd rather not name your character something ridiculous, check if the name is used in Poland (eg. look it up in Polish version of The Other Wiki). Some names are less common than others, but you should be able to figure which are fine, as long as you bear in mind that Polish naming customs seem to evolve significantly over relatively short periods of time. And so, while seeing that two Polish presidents elected in 1990 and 2005 respectively bore the name Lech might tempt you to think it might be an awfully popular name, you'd have a pretty hard time finding anyone called Lech among people born in the 1970s or later. Generally speaking, Polish society seems to be moving away from the traditional Slavic naming fashion faster than her Slavic neighbors; names like these are all but extinct among women and lose their popularity with men with each passing year.

Fun fact - foreign names (or regular names in their Anglicised forms) are considered the height of cheapest snobbery. For example, while English names like Kevin, Jessica or Brian and their Polonised forms are in use, they are also punchline of jokes about the lowest of low and carry a hefty social stigma.

There are middle names in Poland but they're entirely optional and picked by the parents. The middle name will be present in all of your documents: ID, registrations, deeds, diplomas and so on, even if it might be otherwise absent from your life. And if you happen to be Catholic (as most Poles are), you will be choosing your own second or third name (of a patron saint you'd like to keep watch over you) during confirmation, but that name only exists in Church documents. A common practical joke: address mail with all three names and surname, since it usually barely fits on the envelope.


One - surnames inflect. The -ski, -cki ended ones inflect like adjectives, because that's what they really are - they were originally derived from the name of someone's estate, for example: the owner of a place named "Brzezina" would be called Jan z Brzeziny (John of Brzezina) in XII century, but Jan Brzeziński in XV century. Some were Patronymic, ("Piotrowski" - Peter's son) but the usual patronymic ending is -icz ("Piotrowicz") - these inflect like nouns (see below). Other adjectival names like "Chudy" are derived from nicknames (sometimes embarrasing).

Since -ski needs an estate to be named after, it's usually a nobleman's name (sometimes peasants were given these for valour in battle or somesuch, but that's rather rare). Peasants names were nickname-derived: if there were twenty Johns in the village, you'd need some way of distinguishing between them in conversation, so one would be Jan Grusza (pear tree, because he has one), another Jan Koza (goat - maybe he kept goats?), another Jan Sum (catfish, cause he keeps talking about this catfish he caught back when...). These are nouns and inflect as such (Google it).

A note about noblemen's names - an old-style nobleman would list the coat of arms (herb) to which his family belonged as a part of his name. A gentleman Mr. Długoszowski may thus call himself "Wieniawa-Długoszowski" (as his family belongs to the Wieniawa coat of arms), or even "Długoszowski herbu Wieniawa". But as the nobility died as a social class, the coat of arms fell out of favour. Some people still use the hyphenated form nowadays, but it is a name like any other (ie. no ancestral castles to go with it). Explanation  Double-barelled names also show up in mentions of people known for using pseudonyms, such as wartime resistance fighters adding their nom-de-guerre to their full name (like general Bor-Komorowski), and may be used by married women (see below).

Immigrants (and there were immigrants to Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, from Germany, Scotland and further) brought their own names, which were later polonised in spelling, if needed: a German calling himself "Deutscher" might be known as Dajczer to his neighbours. Irena Adler is a perfectly plausible name for a singer from Warsaw. Lithuanian names have a very distinctive sound, like Daszuta or Żyłajtys note . Some of these names are not inflected (e.g. Adler), some are - if in doubt, ask. Polish Jews were forced into adopting surnames by the partitioning powers in XIX century — these were mostly the fruit of some clerk's "creativity", but in a pinch, Ashkenazi stereotypes like "-berg" or "-stein" are perfectly acceptable (polonised or not).

And now the moment you were waiting for: what's with the endings? To reiterate - names are inflected by gender (Words have sex in Polish, remember?), but there's also (an increasingly outdated) secondary system for female names. We'll need an example now, so enter an average Polish family: Jan Kowalik, his wife Anna and their daughter Krystyna.

Jan Kowalik is pretty straightforward - that's his name, just inflect it when you're talking about him ("Widziałem Jana Kowalika." - I've seen Jan Kowalik).

Anna, though - if you're feeling modern, call her Anna Kowalik. No problem. If she were the wife of Piotr Kowalski, she'd be called Anna Kowalska - adjective-like names inflect by gender (like adjectives). For more old fashioned speakers, though, Anna Kowalik is Anna Kowalikowa (compare the Roman convention of Terentia Ciceronis - same thing). Some female writers from XIX and early XX century were known under their husbands' surnames, like Eliza Orzeszkowa (mr. Orzeszko existed, but he died while his wife was still young and we don't tend to remember him otherwise). Others used their fathers' surnames (see below), or witty Nom De Plumes.

As for Krystyna - if you're her school colleague (modern speaker) you'll probably call her Krystyna (or Krysia) Kowalik. Older people, though (very old or very tongue-in-cheek) would know her as Krystyna Kowalikówna, which is the leftover of old patronymic forms. Panna (miss) Krystyna Kowalikówna. Now you're ready to understand the joke in which the doctor says to a young woman: "Mrs. Kowalikowa, I have good news." and she replies "I'm Kowalikówna." "In that case, I have bad news." (Nobody said it was a good joke).

How to adress someone

It depends on who they are to you, really. From the least to most formal:
  • Family:
    • you call your siblings and cousins by their given names/nicknames - diminutives are fine and expected
    • same goes for children (everyone younger than you are)
    • parents will usually be called mom (mama) and dad (tata, or more archaic, tato), in second person - modern Polish speakers don't really address their elders the old, formal way, but it went like this: "niech mama usiądzie" ("let mom sit down" - notice the third person) - it is still used sometimes, especially for parents-in-law
    • aunts and uncles are called "aunt/uncle (name, often in diminutive)"
    • grandparents are addressed like parents (except with grandmother/grandfather, of course)
  • School:
    • other kids - by name/nickname
    • teachers and staff - formally (see below)
  • Semi-formal (neighbours, casual aquaintances):
    • fairly close (when in doubt, go for more formal) - mr/mrs (given name, sometimes in diminutive)
    • more casual - mr/mrs (surname)
  • Formal (teachers, bosses, strangers):
    • mr/mrs (surname)
    • people with titles (eg. a professor, a doctor) - by title
    • same as above, but very polite - mr/mrs (title)

On a side note, the word for "mr/mrs" is also the word for "lord/lady". Other Slavs (particularly Eastern) believe it says a lot about Poles and crack jokes about the Poles' delusions of self-importance. Funnily enough, the etymological origins of this tradition can easily be spun the other way around. Traditionally, the Polish peasantry in feudal times were not addressed with any honorific at all, where the English might use "mister," while the szlachta, or nobility (exceptionally large and inclusive compared to other European nations, including all legitimate descendants of its members and independent of any landed title, or lack of thereof), would be addressed either by title or by the common honorific, pan(i), the Polish equivalent of lord/lady. Partly because a modern Polish citizen holds basically the same social status as a member of the medieval szlachta, (i.e., voting rights and constitutional protections under the law, and not inherently much of anything else), and partly due to lacking any other way to formally address a social peer, (like the French "Monsieur"), the result was for the common people to adopt the term used by the former nobility, rather than the other way around, with the effect that now we seem really pretentious.

Along with mr/mrs, use third person forms: "niech pan usiądzie", or, for more politeness, "proszę usiąść" ("please, be seated").

Many female celebrities, such as politicians and journalists, will choose to retain their maiden names. Unlike the West, however, they rarely opt to get rid of their husbands' names completely, instead attaching their maiden names to that of the husbands', joining the two by means of a dash. This phenomenon is gaining in popularity but still not common though. That does not mean that every woman with a two-part surname is necessarily her invention, as there are plenty of rather old last names consisting of two separate words.

    Trivia and Notes 


Where the Brits would make jokes about the stupid Irish, Americans used to make jokes about stupid Poles (Polacks, if you're being really offensive; idiot journalist Giles Coren recently brought richly-deserved criticism upon himself for using it in an article in which he suggested that Polish expats had no business in Britain because of what their ancestors actually didn't do to his.), but this seems to have died off sometime in The '70s, or transferred over to the Brits, since many migrants go to the UK nowadays.

The origin of the stereotype is probably history: the large wave of Polish immigration to the US came after the large wave of German immigration; Germans generally stereotyped the Poles as being a bit slow. Poles also tended to settle where Germans had shown up the generation prior: for instance, the 1850s-80s saw big German immigration to the Great Lakes region, while the 1870s-1920s (ish) saw big Polish immigration to the same area (sidenote: Chicago consequently has the world's highest concentration of ethnic Poles outside of Poland). The jokes probably spread from the more-settled Germans to the wider population. In the meantime, some ethnically German Americans continued to use the word "Polack" for "any stupid person"; a few even forgot that it was originally a slur and have to be embarrassingly corrected by their Polish friends. Polack comes from Polish name for Pole, Polak, and, according to Wiktionary, was considered neutrally through the late nineteenth century.

Polish gamers infested Dawn of War (and several other online games) for a long time, filling it with servers apparently devoted to nationalism (PL PL PL POLSKA, similar to BR) and being really bad at the game. Two things which don't mix very well, by the way - if you're so proud of your nationality, it's best not to spam that nationality out while you're getting your rear handed to you.

Notes on Poland: On the subject of "things you must know about X country before writing about it":
  • It exists.
  • Poles' stereotype of their history tends to be one part Glory Days, one part Doomed Moral Victor. And history is SERIOUS BUSINESS. This is at least partial reason why they're pissy about forgetting that...
    • It's not part of Russia. Poles and their language are similar enough, though, for at least two Polish actors are members of the Lzherusskie Club.
      • By the way, it's not part of Germany either.
      • It really is its own thing.
    • There hasn't been a Communist government since 1989.
      • Although post-communist leftist parties had held power for ten years, they were democratically elected. They are no different that your average social democratic Western party, though. Law in force prohibits and penalizes the promotion of totalitarian ideologies, including communism and fascism. The former is a curious case, as the extent is limited to promoting practical implementations of the ideology along the lines of what happened in the 20th century. An actual Communist Party of Poland exists and is about as influential and popular as you expect.
    • The Teutonic Knights are bad, Ronald Reagan is goodnote , Piłsudski is a hero and don't call him a dictator, even if he was one. Poland had a historically close relationship with the United States after the fall of communism and one of her most loyal allies. Poles are, on the whole, less turned off by hawkish American politicians than the rest of Europe, and several Polish intellectuals eagerly supported the Iraq War.
    • Poland is one of the few countries outside France where Napoleon Bonaparte is adored, due to his restoration of the Polish state. Partial restoration, that is, though that was mostly because he was working the territory he had.
    • Poles are quite insistent that Poland is not in Eastern Europe, but Central. It's a geopolitical and cultural matter, driven by resentment towards Russia and the allegiance to the Western cultural circle.
    • Having said all that — the history of Poland in the eyes of the Western world tends to be stereotyped in these two ways: either "Butt-Monkey of Europe" or "plucky little country". In case the abridged story above doesn't make it clear: It's a modern stereotype. While history dealt Poland a particularly bad hand in the late 18th century, it was a master poker player before, having grown powerful and prosperous to become formally recognized as a Kingdom shortly after making its debut as a(n accepted) nation with its ruler's conversion to Christianity in the 10th century, and going on to grow into an economic and military powerhouse able to engage and emerge victorious from numerous conflicts with neighboring powers, including variously the Russian, Ottoman, and Holy Roman Empires. Even then, it survived being disappeared by three superpowers for 123 years, and can't really be blamed for getting the bottom deck of geographical borders as compared to other nations with large parts of water and mountainous borders to protect them.
  • As it's not Russia, people usually don't speak Russian as a first language or have Russian names (excluding those with a common root, like Michał or Piotr).
    • English is now the most widespread foreign language, and the one which young Poles learn in school - perhaps one reason why so many young Poles choose UK or Ireland to work abroad.
    • Languages are a complex thing. German isn't seen as foreign conquerors' language anymore and many Poles will be able to understand it or even reply in kind. A minority might be offended, kind of like the minority of Frenchmen who will refuse to speak to a foreigner who doesn't use French.
    • It should be noted that the closer to border with Germany, the more Polish schools choose to teach German as the second foreign language, whenever curriculum allows.
    • Speaking German is considered a practical skill to have, especially in the parts of Poland frequented by German tourists.
    • Russian was a compulsory school subject before the fall of communism (1989), so many people old enough speak it. It's much less popular today, although by now it's mostly got past the political associations.
    • To be more precise, most Poles can more or less understand the meaning of simple sentences from other Slavic languages (many words stem from common roots), but don't expect comprehension of complex ideas and two-way communication in Czech or Russian from people who never learned these languages. However, someone who speaks Czech in particular should have minimal problems learning spoken Polish in, say, the space of a year, and vice-versa. The writing system might take longer.
    • A Polish accent sounds nothing like a Russian one. Conversely, this leads to an effect in that nobody who speaks English as their native language has any idea what a Polish accent even sounds like. Anyone can imagine and attempt speaking a stereotypical German accent, a Russian one, a French one, an Italian one, a Japanese one, a generic African accent conflating various local languages, but a Polish one? It will just draw a blank. This is why Tommy Wiseau's speech has baffled people worldwide in regards to his nationality for years, even giving them the impression that he's an alien or a vampire.
  • It's not cold there, except in the winter.
    • However, a winter without snow is extremely rare (although it rarely snows all winter long, either). Poland has a climate in between the temperate maritime climate of Britain and France and the temperate continental climate of European Russia, meaning that compared to the UK the summers are hotter (temperatures in the 30s are common and in the low 40s not unheard of) and the winters are colder (sometimes down to -20, the interior temperature of a domestic freezer).
    • Conversely, Polish autumn is either absolutely ugly (if it's wet), or one of the most gorgeous sights on this Lord's good red-golden earth.
  • Alcoholic drinks other than vodka are available. The most popular drink is beer, which includes several brands of lager on par with most European brands.
    • In fact, Poland is currently undergoing a minor shift in drinking customs, with a growing number of beer fans getting bored with regular lager and trying new styles. New small breweries dedicated to craft brewing are opening every year, targeting mostly the generation of 30-40 year olds.
    • Poles' consumption of alcohol is rather unremarkable, when compared in quantity to other European nations. Be wary, though, if you've made Polish friends. They may want to test your strength, If You Know What I Mean.
    • The reason for that reputation might be that unlike Britons and their casual pub culture, Poles prefer to drink in binges. Sadly, while there's a growing tendency to drink casually, quantity still seems more important than quality, with most drinkers judging the beverage's value by the alcohol percentage.
    • Curiously enough, the Polish law on outdoor drinking is one of the strictest among the non-Muslim countries; even holding an open can of beer out in the open is likely to get you fined (let all the foreigners who have heard a lot about Polish drinking habits not lower their guard should they visit Poland).
  • Poles are pretty touchy when it comes to pointing out their country's flaws; that is, as long as you're not Polish yourself. A foreigner speaking ill of Poland in the presence of a Pole gambles getting tangled into a long and boring tirade about why what they're saying is absolute bullshit. However, it's generally safe to notice out loud that Poles drink and swear much; the locals don't seem to mind that at all.
  • In the first US Presidential debate of 2004, Sen. John Kerry did, indeed, forget Poland. Poland had about 200 troops in Iraq when the invasion started.
    • There was a quite sizable Polish force in Iraq. Another one is serving in Afghan province of Ghazni.
  • Statistically speaking, Poland is the most religious country in Europe, even more so than (fellow Catholic countries) Ireland and Italy.
    • However, statistics aren't always an accurate representation of reality. Polls have shown that more and more people are simply getting by without thinking about religion at all. While most state they're Catholic, they may do it out of force of habit, upbringing, or peer pressure. Mass attendance has been falling down steadily since 1987, to a record low of 40% in 2011 and currently keeping around 45%.
      • Pope Karol "John Paul II" Wojtyła is a major factor that keeps Polish Catholicism alive, as he had one of the highest approval ratings of modern popes and was loved far and wide.
    • Anyway, Poland's reputation for being staunchly Catholic seems to have emerged in the latter parts of the 20th century, possibly in order to replace Spain and Ireland as the stereotypical Catholic (and thus backward) countries of Europe. Whether the Poles like it or not, their perceived Catholicism is one thing that makes it easier for West Europeans and Americans to tell them from the Russians.
  • Polish politics tend to fall on the right side of the spectrum, compared to most all countries in the EU. Its two largest political parties are the Civic Platform (PO), which is more or less neoliberal, pro-European, and certainly not leftist; and Law and Justice (PiS), which is national-conservative, deeply rooted in Catholicism, and somewhat Eurosceptic. Its leftist parties haven't been contenders since their implosion in the early 2000s. Interestingly, when you look at a map of Poland according to the strength of the two political parties (here's the map for the 2010 Presidential election; PO in orange, PiS in blue) you find that PO's support almost perfectly matches the once-Prussian part, while the rest (formerly Russian and Austrian) are strongholds of PiS; the main exception is Warsaw, which, while formerly in the Russian part, is the capital and largest city and consequently has a more cosmopolitan, forward-looking culture.
    • It should also be noted that, despite the Poles being generally pretty conservative and not at all supportive of gay rights when compared to Western Europe, Poland is still much more gay-friendly than most of post-Soviet and post-Yugoslav states. It may partly stem from the fact that even the most traditional of Polish people would rather be associated with the liberal, developed West than with the backward, reactionary East.
  • Poland also has a long, close relationship with Hungary dating back to the Middle Ages. Today, both nations celebrate a Polish-Hungarian Friendship Day. A popular saying emphasized this relationship in war and drinking. Yeah, it's that kind of brotherhood.
  • Finally, with the country's admission into the European Space Agency in late 2012 and the creation of the Polish Space Agency in 2014, it can be assumed Poland can into space. Though technically, it already did in 1978.

Here are some minor tropes memetically related to Poland:
  • Badass Mustache: went as far as to claim Poland's fortune is dependent on the quality of her leader's facial hair.
  • Bling of War: The Winged Hussars tend to prop up in period fiction, if not for any other reason, then because you just can't turn down guys looking so crazy.
  • Butt-Monkey: Yeah, we spoke of it above.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: After the partiations of Poland, this stance was turned into the cornerstone of Polish culture, for better or worse. Mostly for worse, creating a lot of inferiority complexes, fatalistic attitude and being directly responsible for more than one suicidal, pointless uprising, further glorified into "true patriotism". Nowdays it's almost entirely associated with being Too Dumb to Live and making Poles even more bitter.
  • The Exile: Polish artists in exile are a common trope in literature and life. Famous expat Poles include Chopin, Joseph Conrad and Roman Polanski.
  • Meet the New Boss: Poles tend to be quite bitter and cynical since almost any government inevitably uses, belittles and betrays them. They do have a point. There's a lot of grudges against Russia, Germany, the Western betrayal and so on. Inevitably people are disappointed by Solidarity too.
  • Mind Screw: Polish history, is genuinely confusing for many outside observers to grasp (mostly because of how the map keeps changing all the damn time and mostly people wonder "what is Poland"). Polish nationalism on the whole is equally confusing mostly because the Polish after three hundred years of instability are themselves confused about it, and their movies, especially Skolimowski's and Wajda's reflect that confusion.
  • Last Stand: Whether it's Kościuszko's doomed uprising, 19th century Romantic uprisings, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, and the many other failed heroic attempts to resist or die trying. And they always do die trying. However, there is a growing resentment toward the "Polish matryrdom complex", with more and more people percieving those actions as wasteful, if not outright stupid, rather than heroic.

See also:

Famous Real Life Poles:

  • Lech Wałęsa, the former President and leader of the Solidarity movement that toppled the Communist rule.
  • Pope John Paul II
  • Roman Polanski
  • Marie Curie, nee Maria Skłodowska
  • Nicolaus Copernicus - known mostly for introducing the heliocentric model of astronomy, less renowned as a medic and a lawyer. His ethnicity is a matter of hot dispute between Poles and Germans. His internationally known surname is a latinization of the family name "Kopernik" (from "Koperniki", the name of a Silesian village from which the family originated). By most scientific accounts, he was of mixed, Polish-German heritage, but remained a loyal subject of the Polish Crown throughout his life, and even served as a military overseer during an invasion of Warmia by the Teutonic Knights.
  • Jan Sobieski, the elective King of Poland, who turned the tide of the Ottoman invasion on Europe by reinforcing the besieged Vienna in 1683.
  • Fryderyk Chopin. His father was a Frenchman, but he was very much a Pole.
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's advisor.
  • Stanisław Lem, Science Fiction author.
  • Paweł Edmund Strzelecki, an explorer of large swaths of Australia, who named that continent's tallest mountain after...
  • Tadeusz Kościuszko, a revolutionary and badass enough to be a national hero in four countries - Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and USA (he founded West Point).
  • Kazimierz Pułaski, the creator of USA's cavalry, a general and an American national hero; commemorated since 1929 with his own Memorial Day (11th Oct.), usually treated as a day of Polish-American pride (and consequently a rather Big Deal in areas with large Polish-American populations like Chicago, Greater Detroit, and Wisconsin). Also, owner of a bombastic name by American standards: Kazimierz Michał Władysław Wiktor Pułaski herbu Ślepowronnote .
  • Joseph Conrad, whose given name was Józef Korzeniowski. Wrote in English.
  • Zdzisław Beksiński, surrealist painter.
  • Ernest Malinowski: An engineer. Constructed at that time the world's highest railway Ferrocarril Central Andino in the Peruvian Andes in 1871-1876.
  • Miroslav Klose, ethnic German footballer born in Opole and currently the highest-scoring individual player of The World Cup, playing for his ethnic homeland in four straight tournaments.

And note that almost none of this includes the large number of ethnic Poles who settled outside of Poland and contributed massively there—particularly in the US.

The Polish Flag
The flag's colors, common throughout the world, originate from a merging of the heraldic symbols of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: the White Eagle of Poland and the "Pahonia", coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, featuring a white knight on horseback on a red field; the state ensign adds on the white half the Polish coat of arms — a crowned white eagle on a red field.

Alternative Title(s): Useful Notes On Poland