So long as we still live.
What the foreign force has taken from us,
We shall with sabre retrieve."
Poland (Polish: Polska), officially known today as the Republic of Poland (Polish: Rzeczpospolita Polska), is a country located in the intersection of Central and Eastern Europe, which unfortunately made it the metaphorical 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.
Poland arose when the West Slavic tribes of the region were united by the Piast dynasty of the Polans around about 1000, to an ongoing debate among historians as nobody is quite sure what was going on before the mid-10th Century. In any case, Duke Mieszko and his son Bolesław put Poland on the map, cementing it with the former's baptism in 966 and the latter's crowning in 1025. The Piasts spent the next few centuries having their highs and lows, 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 the Polish regional princes invited The Teutonic Knights to help him against the pagan Prussians. This invitation later became quite a nuisance, so to say. When Poland was finally reunified, it found itself in dire need for allies, and in the process became associated with Lithuania (this historical Lithuania actually consisted of modern-day Belarus and Lithuania), which at the time was the last pagan country in Europe and therefore also had a problem with the Knights. The kingdom then went through a period of development under the last Piast king, Casimir III the Great, who also set the foundation for later tolerance by providing refuge to Jews and prohibiting, under pain of death, the forced conversion of Jewish children to Christianity. note
After Casimir's death the throne passed to the King of Hungary and then his daughter Jadwiga. By marrying her, the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila accepted the Polish crown, baptized himself and his realm (thus nullifying the reason for 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.
The Golden Age
The 16th and 17th Centuries in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth are known as, respectively, the Golden Age and the Silver Age of Polish history. They are remembered for the period's "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, the Kingdom of Poland and the 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 re-feudalization 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: the peasants, formerly allowed to own land and 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 unlike slaveowners in the American South the Polish szlachta (Nobility) were reluctant to break up families and sell serfs without land, 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
A popular phrase goes:Szlachcic na zagrodzie równy wojewodzie: "The Noble on his Estate is equal to the voivode". Each member of the aristocracy was equal to each other, and there were no ranks at all among nobility. There was no such thing as a Count, or a Baron, in the society of the Commonwealth, and the only Dukes were of a few Lithuanian families who were granted the right to style themselves so as a Grandfather Clause.
The 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 equal — which meant that every decision required unanimity, and therefore, and 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 king, or even a noble family such as the Czartoryskis (who formed a coalition known as the Familia) decided to start developing Poland, they could expect a revolt by nobles who feared a curtailing of their power or resented it since it would take away trade from their 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, promoted and planted by Catherine the Great (he was a former lover of hers) to be her puppet to protect Russia's interests. Yet Poniatowski, who would become 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. This anger 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. It 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 regime, and only 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 annulment of the Constitution and the erosion of any remaining borders the Commonwealth had. note
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 civil liberties for the peasants, and created the first army in Poland which was 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, the reforms were seen by Catherine the Great and other neighbors as "the last straw" since Poland's relative leniency towards serfs was the reason she interfered in Poland's affairs to start with: with too many Russian serfs 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, and the effective cessation of Poland with one momentary respite in the form of the French-backed Duchy of Warsaw during The Napoleonic Wars. After Napoléon Bonaparte's defeat however, the Congress of Vienna naturally took no considerations of Polish nationalism in its aim to preserve a Balance of Power, and the reshaped borders between the partitioning powers remained set for more than a century.
The Austrian part became officially known as the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria. 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. On the flip-side, Austrian authorities treated those territories as a mix of enforced Ruritania and a colonial breadbasket of the empirenote , which in no time turned it into a poverty-struck backwater. In fact, the disproportionally large share of Polish emigration towards the United States and France came from the Austrian partition, as other than grain, it was also overproducing people who just couldn't find any job outside farming. All land was already divided into tiny, unprofitable farms.
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) under a technically-autonomous Duchy of Poznań, but especially after the post-Napoleonic border shuffle the 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 1848note . Later political hardships such as Otto von Bismarck's efforts at Germanification, 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 part was subservient to the vaccillating moods of the Tsars, whose periods of leniency often preceded crackdowns, not the least because people chaffed under their rule even at the best of times. 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 of Vienna-established 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. Many Poles were sent to Siberia. (Interestingly enough, many of them became great explorers of Siberia — as commemorated by Chersky Range, though it actually wasn't discovered by Jan Czerski himself.) The Russian Empire introduced policies of Russification and suppression of ethnic culture and identities, and Poles were forbidden from speaking their language and culture. 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.
There were several notable approaches to independence, differing between regions and political ideologies. First, there were the cynical loyalists, who believed that nothing will ever change and there's no point in trying. Although such mindset was not uncommon anywhere, as a coherent faction they appeared under Austrian rule, where the law was relatively liberal and ethnic Poles could and did rise to high positions in K.u.K. government (including the position of a prime minister). The peasants' opinions ran the full gamut as long as serfdom remained abolished and land was redistributed, but again in the Austrian part the conditions were right for the rise of an organized peasants' movement as a separate entity, up for both land reform and independence. Another important faction were the Nationalists, who advocated ethnic solidarity and building up political and economic power instead of armed action. Adhering to a doctrine of a sort of ethno-political darwinism formulated by their leader, the diplomat and ideologue Roman Dmowski — they believed that stronger cultures inevitably take over the weaker ones, therefore given enough time, Poles will ultimately take over Russia, while risking the same from well-organised Germans — they were prominently pro-Russian. Although they are nowadays associated first with Poles in Imperial Germany, where their stance worked well against German legal oppression, they were a pan-Polish faction and Dmowski also notably served as a deputy to the post-1905 Russian Duma. And then were the socialists, who carried on the torch of armed resistance in the era of increasing industrialization, but were divided on the relative importance of establishing socialism vs. establishing Poland. The primary figure of the latter camp was Józef Piłsudski, who after a period of revolutionary action went on to the Austrian side to establish totally-not-paramilitary sport shooting clubs.note
During World War I, Poles were drafted into the armies of all three partitioning powers. Piłsudski played the Central Powers, working with them to establish a puppet Polish Kingdom in former Russian territory as the lesser of two evils, while playing the long game with an eye towards independence. Poles sent to the western front usually deserted to join the French Foreign Legion. The collapse of the Russian Empire resulted in the renewed independence of not only Poland, but most of the former Commonwealth. Carving its place in the world, Poland managed to defeat the Soviets in the Polish-Soviet War against terrible, terrible odds through sheer strategic brilliance, which convinced the Soviets that they weren't in any shape to spread their revolution and kept them bottled up for about thirty years. Along the way, Poland laid claim to the Lithuanian city of Vilnius leading to a war between the former allies. The Ukrainian leader Semyon Petlura had invited the Poles in to rescue them from the Reds, but ultimately — and to Piłsudski's great personal shame — the new government in Warsaw had none of their best interests at heart. note
Despite efforts at national economic development that included the building of Gdynia as the country's new main seaport (since the older Baltic port of Gdańsk had been made a "Free City" under neither German nor Polish control), 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 the various political factions which everyone belonged to. The tensions became more severe in certain areas and relaxed in others after a military coup in 1926 and the establishment of the "Government of Moral Sanitation" that would rule Poland until 1939, led first by the aging Piłsudski until his death in 1935 and then by the clique of his most trusted mennote . A handful of fun facts to show the background: the officer corps was largely made of Piłsudski's former soldiers, the far-right Nationalists were part of the modernist and pro-democratic faction (Piłsudski was an old-school Romantic in the Polish tradition), and a large factor in the coup's success was the support of labour unions recognizing Piłsudski's past as a revolutionary socialist.
In the years preceding World War II, the Polish government tried to balance itself between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Adolf Hitler had made the territory lost 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 the United Kingdom were too reluctant and intimidated to step in and rein in Germany. The Polish foreign policy greatly relied on the 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, Britain 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 and the Czech Teschen. note
Poland's participation in the Sudetenland Crisis and the Munich talks was, frankly, a public relations disaster. It 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 Britain, 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 did their best 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; while some Polish cavalry units did deliberately engage German armor, they did so dismounted and had the right means for it. 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 further complicated by the Soviet Invasion of Poland, who seized the Eastern territories (Kresy, "the Borderlands") as part of the agreement of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. 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. Josef Stalin wavered over recognition of the Polish government-in-exile before finally settling on the Polish People's Republic, formed in the Soviet Union from a hand-picked set of Polish 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. The operation 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. This event is quite contentious, and still remains so in Polish history. Note that Soviet propaganda spent quite a time before the Uprising chastising the Home Army for not taking action — only to call the action which they have taken an idiotic bloodloss (and continuing to do so after the war). All the while, Soviet troops were standing on the other shore of Vistula. note
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. While Poland was formerly religiously tolerant, from the 19th Century forward anti-semitism had risen among parts of ethnic Poles. 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, an accusation that ignores the complex circumstances by which the Nazi-Soviet invasion and partition of territories made the Soviet-occupied part of Poland a haven for Polish Jews fleeing Nazi and Polish collaborators in the West during the first three years of the war, before Operation Barbarossa. After the Holocaust, several Jews who returned home became victims of reprisals from citizens who had bought their property. The Communists for their part, were quite happy to publicize these incidents and associate its opponents and the 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
See here for The Unconquered - a quick digest of Poland's war-time drama, narrated by Sean Bean (who else?).
The Soviet Era ("People's Republic of Poland")
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 been for centuries German. This triggered the largest population exchange in history, with many Poles and Germans and then also Ukrainians kicked out of their respective ancestral homes, and accounts for the country's suspiciously straight borders. note
The new Poland under the eye of the Soviet big brother undertook the task of agrarian reform, altering Poland's class structure (which involved land seizures and collectivization), rebuilding war-torn buildings and building new ones such as the massive Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science (still the largest building in Poland and the 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, executions and the heavy air of a Police State. While early attempts at reform, such as the Polish October in the Khruschev Thaw provided Poland with 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, the purges involved a period of nasty anti-Semitism masqueraded as striking against cosmopolitans.
A culture of dissent started growing in Poland, helped along by youth movements fascinated by the West taking root, the emigre circles, and the Radio Free Europe. (Many Poles who lived at the time have memories of hunching over the radio in the secrecy of their homes, trying to make out the words through the white noise of the ubiquitous signal jammers.) Some of it ironically found expression in the National Film School in Łódź, which received Soviet support but gave rise to the Polish New Wave which included rebels, future Solidarity activists and defectors (the likes of Andrzej Wajda, Andrzej Munk, Jerzy Skolimowski and Roman Polański). 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 Walesa, 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 Solidarity 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 military dictatorship for the next two years. (Fun fact: the junta called itself one bad name after another, which just happened to sound like the word for crow or, ahem, the male organ. You can imagine the jokes.) Jaruzelski would later claim 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 "lustration" (a check of personal history of officials to see if or how they were involved with the former system) but fell short of actively imprisoning former officials of high rank in the communist regime, General Jaruzelski to begin with. Many grudges arose among former Solidarity activists about the new government's shift away from the trade unions that formed the basis of the initial strike, especially as many people were left broke after the closing of many of the old state-owned industrial plants. 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 were also actively involved in The War on Terror, which infamously led to bases in Poland having been 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 (this is going to be long)
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 affricate; chicken; often transliterated as 'ti')
- t (tone)
- dz (voiced 'c')
- dż (voiced "cz"; journal)
- dź (voiced 'ć'; jingle)
- k (kite)
- g (gun)
Surprisingly, vowels are a lot simpler, as there is just 8 of them: a, ą (nasalized o), e, ę (nasalized e), i, o, u (sometimes also spelled ó for reasons) and y.
R is always pronounced. The vowels are read like in Spanish. 'w' sounds like English 'v'. Pairs of voiced-unvoiced or unvoiced-voiced consonants are pronounced unvoiced-unvoiced except when they don't. Consonants right before i+another vowel are always palatalized.
- 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, C.K. 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.
- 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.
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)
- Additionally, a letter ƶ may pop up from time to time, but don't panic - it's just an alternate way to write ż. It appears mostly in handwriting or some fancy typefaces.
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. Historically, h and ch were pronounced slightly different, and ł sounded like "dark-l" - the English "belt" and Polish "bełt", meaning "crossbow bolt" were pronounced all but identically. Nowadays this kind of pronunciation can be heard only in old pre-WWII made movies and some Eastern dialects.
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 instantly noticednote . Polish is considered to be the most difficult of the Slavic languages for English speakers to learn, which is saying something. Even among native speakers, learning Polish is a trying task; anecdotal accounts postulate that most native Polish speakers don't become truly fluent in the language until they're around 12 years of age, give or take a few years. And about fifth of all schoolchildren during the elementry school tend to have issues with grammar that take years to correct, especially in regards of conjugation and verb participles.
Polish children are taught a 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, alongside such lovely tongue-twisters like Stół z powyłamywanymi nogami ("a table with its legs broken off") or Konstantynopolitanczykowianeczka ("an unmarried daughter of a resident of Constantinople") The other, slightly simpler pastime 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-personalnote 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.
Side note: Since Polish language is gendered and there are actual rules for figuring a grammatical gender of a word (often regardless of what you might think when looking at the object)note , this leads to loads of She's a Man in Japan. One of the most famous cases would probably be black panther Bagheera from The Jungle Book: not only panther by itself is already feminine, but so is name Bagheera. Funny as it is by itself, it also completely changes the relationship with Mowgli into that of a caring, adoptive mother. Variety of other works of literature fall victim of this every time the character isn't explicitly referred as either man or woman and God forbid if they are only ever referenced by their job title.
- 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 (adverb)note
- wycierając - while wiping
- wycierany - being wiped (masculine)
- wycierani - 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.
It is worth to note Polish native speakers have considerably easier time learning pronunciation of other languages, as long as they aren't tonal. This comes from all the vowels and consonant that exists in Polish (thus leaving very few sounds that are tough to make for Poles), along with the fact Polish alphabet allows to create home-made transcription and transliteration with ease, further helping with learning. On the flip-side, foreign grammar tends to be a nightmare for Polish users and the more structurised the sentence patterns are, the harder it gets. Polish itself allows to re-shuffle order of words in sentence in almost any configuration (and without sounding like Master Yoda) thanks to conjugation of all parts of speech note . When facing a language that lacks that feature and relying on strict sentence patterns instead, Poles draw a blank and/or make distinctive mistakes.
And don't sweat it! Here'a a video with foreigners trying to pronounce and make sense of some simple Polish words and phrases: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHpcgTQ_dMI Good for a self-conscious laugh.
Remember - use "pan" (sir, mister) if your interlocutor is a man and "pani" (madame) if she's a woman. These are formal words and you don't have to use them with friends; while in English it's possible to use "you" semiformally in certain context (as leftover from when it was the formal one and "thou" was the informal pronoun), "ty"/"wy" is always informalWell, almost always
Oh, and by the way. Some languages use the plural "you" as the formal pronoun, but Polish doesn't (anymore). Saying "wy" to a single person will make you sound like a Fish out of Temporal Water (whether it's a Sienkiewicz character or a pre-'89 communist hardliner will depend largely on context). Conversely, to refer formally to a group, you say "panowie"/"panie" (for a same-sex group) or "państwo" (for mixed). Impersonal things like instructions just avoid pronouns altogether, using passive voice. You do need to mind masculine/feminine first person forms, though, or you'll sound funny (although if it's obvious you don't really speak the language, people will either repress their giggles or find it cute).
Additionally, a bit like in German, while "musieć" is equivalent to "must", negating it ("nie musieć") creates "need not"; a prohibition/ban is indicated by negating the verb "wolno" ("to be allowed to"), though sometimes it can also be indicated by negating the more vague "można" (which can mean either "can" or "be allowed to"). For the pronunciation - look above.
- Good morning. - Dzień dobry.
- Goodbye. - Do widzenia.
- Thank you. - Dziękuję.
- No, thank you. - Nie, dziękuję.
- Yes, please. - Tak, poproszę.
- Do you speak English? - Czy mówi [fm.] pan/pani po angielsku?
- I don't speak much Polish. - Nie za dobrze mówię po polsku.
- I'm sorry (apology)/Excuse me (comin' through, leaving or asking favours). - Przepraszam. note
- It's quite all right. - Nic nie szkodzi OR Nic się nie stało.
- No problem. - Nie ma sprawy.
- Both. - To i to. OR Jedno i drugie. OR obu/obie/oba (masculine/feminine/neuter).
- How Do You Say (something)? - Jak się mówi (coś)?
- I'll have a zapiekanka note /(ham/cheese) sandwich/bottle of water/tea/coffee/lemonade/apple/kilo of apples/10 dag of krówkinote /some more potatoes/(rare/well-done) steak, please - Poproszę zapiekankę/kanapkę (z szynką/z serem)/butelkę wody/herbatę/kawę/lemoniadę/jabłko/kilogram jabłek/dziesięć deka krówek/jeszcze ziemniaków/(krwisty/wysmażony) befsztyk.
- May I have some ketchup/cream/sugar/salt/pepper with that? - Czy można do tego prosić keczup/śmietankę/cukier/sól/pieprz?
- I'd like (one) scoop of plain ice-cream, please. - Poproszę (jedną) gałkę lodów śmietankowych.
- I'd like two/three/four scoops of strawberry ice-cream, please. - Poproszę dwie/trzy/cztery gałki lodów truskawkowych.
- I'd like five scoops of chocolate ice-cream, please. - Poproszę pięć gałek lodów czekoladowych. note
- I'm allergic to nuts. - Mam alergię na orzechy. note
- May I partake in this halvah? Is it with nuts? - Czy mogę się poczęstować chałwą? Czy jest z orzechami?note
- I'm scared of spiders, take it away. - [inf.] Boję się pająków, zabierz go. note
- How much for that? (when you're decided and about to pay) - Ile płacę?
- How much for this plushie/necklace/Fun T-Shirt/magnet/umbrella/thingy? (when asking about a specific item) - Ile kosztuje ten pluszak/ten naszyjnik/ta koszulka/ten magnesik/ta parasolka/to coś?
- May I have a bottle of sunscreen spray, please? SPF 15/30/50. - Poproszę butelkę olejku ochronnego. SPF read piętnaście/trzydzieści/pięćdziesiąt.
- How do I get to the consulate/train station/bus station/bus stop/beach/hotel/city museum/bicycle rental/post office? - Którędy dojdę do konsulatu/na stację kolejki/na dworzec autobusowy/na przystanek/na plażę/do hotelu/do muzeum miejskiego/do wypożyczalni rowerów/na pocztę?
- Could you direct me to the (men's/ladies) room/little shop/electrical outlet/vegetarian restaurant/crepes place/bakery/cafe/tea room/chocolate room/bicycle repair shop? - Czy może mi pan/pani wskazać drogę do (męskiej/damskiej) toalety/sklepiku/gniazdka elektrycznego/wegetariańskiej restauracjinote /naleśnikarni/piekarninote /kawiarni/herbaciarni/pijalni czekoladynote /warsztatu rowerowego?
- Take first turning to the left/right - Skręć [inf.]/ Proszę skręcić [fm.] w pierwszą ulicę w lewo/prawo.
- Go straight ahead - Idź [inf.]/ Proszę iść [fm.] prosto.
- You need to go back - Musisz [inf.]/ Musi pan/pani [fm.] zawrócić.
- Can I buy a map of the city here? - Czy dostanę tutaj plan miasta?
- My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels - W moim poduszkowcu jest pełno węgorzy.note
- May I use the WiFi here? - Czy mogę tutaj skorzystać z WiFi?
- I don't know. - Nie wiem.
- Why are you looking at me like this? - [inf.] Czemu tak na mnie patrzysz? [fm.] Czemu pan/pani tak na mnie patrzy?
- Get lost! - Odczep się!note
- Stop it! - [inf.] Przestań! [fm.] Proszę przestać!
- I don't feel like it. - Nie mam ochoty.
- Help! - Pomocy!
- We need medical aid. - Potrzebujemy pomocy medycznej.
- There was an accident. - Był wypadek.
- I don't feel well. - Źle się czuję.
- I feel sick.note - Niedobrze mi.
- I'm diabetic/epileptic. - Mam cukrzycę/padaczkę.
- I need a band-aid/charcoal tablets/doctor/dentist/blanket. - Potrzebny mi plaster/węgiel w tabletkach/lekarz/dentysta/koc.
- I need a tissue/throat lozenge/peroxide/aspirin/insulin/hard-boiled sweet. - Potrzebna mi chusteczka/pastylka na gardło/woda utleniona/aspiryna/insulina/landrynka.
- I'm really cold. - Strasznie mi zimno.
- I have a cold. - Jestem przeziębiony [m.]/przeziębiona [f.]. note .
- I think I have a heatstroke. - Chyba mam udar cieplny.
- I have a stomach ache. - Brzuch mnie boli.
- I fell off my bike. - Spadłem [m.] / Spadłam [f.] z roweru.
- I think I broke my arm. - Chyba złamałem [m]/ złamałam [f] rękę. note .
- You have a concussion. - Ma pan/pani [fm.] wstrząs mózgu.
- Do you have insurance? - Czy ma pan/pani [fm.] ubezpieczenie?
- I have cyclist's insurance. - Mam ubezpieczenie rowerowe.note .
- Don't litter! - [inf.] Nie śmieć! [fm.] Proszę nie śmiecić!
- Pick this up! - [inf.]Podnieś to! [fm.] Proszę to podnieść!
- I slipped on a banana peel. - Pośliznąłem [m.]/Pośliznęłam [f.] się na skórce od banana.
- My ankle hurts a lot now. - Teraz bardzo mnie boli kostka.
- Excuse me, but I'd like to buy a hat. - Przepraszam, ale chciałbym [m.]/chciałabym [f.] kupić kapelusz. note
- Poproszę tę czapkę z pomponem. - I'll have this hat with a pompom, please.
- There is a hole in my sneaker, I need a new pair. - W moim trampku jest dziura, potrzebuję nowej pary. note
- Has anyone seen my towel? - Czy ktoś widział mój ręcznik?
- May I borrow some sunscreen? - Czy mogę pożyczyć krem do opalania?
- Will you apply it to my back? - [inf.] Posmarujesz mi plecy?
- I don't understand. - Nie rozumiem.
- What's so funny? - [inf.] Z czego się śmiejesz? [fm.] Z czego pan/pani się śmieje?
- You're a sweetie. - [inf.] Jesteś kochany [talking to a male sweetie]/ kochana[talking to a girl].
- Watch out, a pigeon! - Uwaga, gołąb!
- Say cheese! (taking pictures) - Uśmiech, proszę! note
Signs - you're likely to see these in writing more than hear them spoken
- Emergency exit. - Wyjście ewakuacyjne.
- Pull/push (on doors). - Ciągnąć/pchać.
- No entry - Zakaz wstępu/wjazdu. The first bars any entrance, the second means no entry for vehicles. All of them, but electric scooters in particular.
- Private property - Teren prywatny or własność prywatna.
- Opening hours. - Godziny otwarcia.
- From... till... - Od... do.... Keep in mind Poland uses 24h format, rather than AM/PM, which might be the confusing part of the sign.
- Closed on Sundays. - W niedzielę nieczynne.note .
- Night curfew - Cisza nocnanote . Not technically a curfew ("A regulation or rule requiring certain or all people to leave the streets or be at home at a prescribed hour." according to American Heritage Dictionary), because you can go wherever you want, as long as you do it quiet-like. We just have no idea how to translate this properly. Polish law decrees that making noise between 9 PM and 7 AM is a great way to spend the night in the nearest police precinct with a bill to match your lodgings, especially when you're a foreigner. People want to sleep, you know. The city of Cracow especially has problems with noisy tourists - see here.
- Soft serve ice cream. - Lody włoskie. Yes, we call these Italian ice creamnote . A slightly less soft, but chocolate covered sort is called "lody amerykańskie", or American ice cream. A fun fact to tell your friends. Also, most soft serve ice cream stands have two flavours to choose from, usually vanilla and strawberry or chocolate. "Both" is an absolutely valid choice.
- Bird reservation. No entry - Rezerwat ptaków. Wstęp wzbroniony. Usually, there's a good reason for that, so be a responsible tourist and don't disturb the birds. Ambulances are really loud here.
How to thank a deaf cashierMany supermarkets employ deaf people as cashiers, and before the pandemic forced us to hide our mouths, we used to thank them with a slightly awkward smile. With a mask on, though, this is impossible, so you might want to learn the sign for "thank you", just in case. But first, a little explanation - most Polish deaf people do not speak ASLnote . The Polish deaf community has its own sign language, derived partly from Old French Sign Language (it shares the manual alphabet) and partly from German Sign Language (it shares numerous signs), but evolved a lot during about 200 years of history (see here for a chronology of Polish Institution of the Deaf - in Polish, and here for the archived site of Polish Association of the Deaf). So, how to sign "thank you"? Here's a clip with a lady (a professional interpreter) demonstrating. The same website also has demonstrations of other signs, should you want them (click "Słownik" and pick the Polish word you want translated).
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).Fun fact
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!) or when talking about babies, sometimes ironically or to denote you're not treating something seriously (Pan Samochodzik, an Adventurer Archaeologist character from a popular book series, is nicknamed "mister little-car" for the sheer weirdness of his machine - the joke is on the nicknamers, though) and sometimes by older people who don't realise how annoying diminutives can be when overused. Cuteness Overload will be telegraphed by multi-story diminutives. If someone is doing this to verbs the cuteness has reached hazardous levels. Diminutives are also used (often in excess) when talking about food, especially food the speaker really likes or wants you to appreciate. 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. Aleksandra turns into Ola 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 were 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 it 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.
Let's now consider an example:
- Anna - a basic form,
- Ania - a diminutive form,
- Anusia - a double diminutive,
- Anusieńka - a triple diminutive,
- Anka - an augmentative,
- Aneczka - an augmentative softened with a diminutive back into an overally diminutive form,
- Anuśka - a double diminutive playfully hardened with an augmentative,
- Anula - a sort of very endearing technically-an-augmentative that is functionally a diminutive.
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 the situation where a grown (to maturity) guy insistently calls himself a "baby" name in a very inappropriate setting (courtroom). Better Than It Sounds. There is also a regional quirk, that's specific to two groups of people: repatriates from the territories lost by Poland post-WW2, mostly in Lower Silesia and Opole region, where they were re-settled, and the general population of the Lesser Poland region. Both of those groups use in day-to-day life different name than the one in their papers. In case of the repatriates, it's usually because their given name is "Rus-sounding" and that wasn't exactly a welcomed thing back in the day - hence, most of these people are the elderly, who were born in what's today Ukraine or Belarus. In case of Lesser Poland, nobody really knows why it's a thing - it's just a local custom. So you might know someone for years, if not your entire life, under specific name, until documents are needed and you find out their real name is completely differentnote . This often leads to awkward situations when the same person is known to different people under different names and then those people meet each other. Goes up to eleven if they celebrate nameday of the name that's technically not theirs.
Girls' names usually end with an "a"note . Exceptions like Beatrycze are extremely rare and don't even think of them unless you want your character to stand out. Boys' names end with consonants. Some masculine names end with an "y" (eg. Jerzy, Ignacy, Onufry) which is not a consonant in Polish (hence "an", not "a" - look above for pronounciation) or some other vowel. Alternative forms of the same name (eg. Anna/Hanna, Bogdan/Bohdan) are mostly treated as different names, but some people will be aware of the connections note and, eg. call their friend Anna "Hania" (diminutive of Hanna). This is an endearing quirk, unless it's Malicious Misnaming (using the diminutive someone vocally dislikes is Malicious Misnaming)note
Some popular names, their commonly used diminutives/augmentatives and English equivalentsnote :
- 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 the augmentative "Baśka" and this is in practice in Real Life)
- Grażyna (no equivalent because , some people use Grace for the similar sound): Grażynka, Grażunia, Grażka, Graga (when she's boyish)note
- Katarzyna (Katherine): Kasia, Kaśka, Katarzynka (kind of playful-sounding note )
- Karolina (Caroline/Charlotte)note : Karolinka, Karolcia (there's a children's book titled Karolcia)
- Julia (Julia/Juliet): Julkanote , Julcia, Jula (especially if she's The Lad-ette)
- Joanna (Joan/Jane): Joasia, Asia, Aśka, Asiczek
- Małgorzata (Margaret): Gosia, Małgosia, Gośka
- Magdalena (Magdalene/Madeline): Magda, Madzia, Magdusia
- Marzena (no English equivalent) note : Marzenka
- Wanda (origins unknownnote , often mistranslated as Wendy) - Wandzia, Wandula, Wandunia, Wandusia and even Wandziusia (increasingly cute, to the point of annoyance - and also increasingly less feasible to pronounce by non-Poles)
- Zuzanna (Susan): Zuzia, Zuza, Zuzka, Zuzanka (only for pigtails and frilly skirt age, or if she's your girlfriend)
- Aleksander (Alexander): Alek, Olek, Oleś (sickeningly cute)
- Piotr (Peter): Piotrek, Pietrek (for more folksy sound), Piotruś
- Jan (John): Janek, Jaś, Jasiek, Jasio. These could also be attributed to...
- Janusz - a derivative form of Jan, originally probably a dimunitive, but it quickly became a name of its own, noted since the Middle Ages (also as Hanusz)note
- 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 why)
- Zbigniew (Slavic again): Zbyszek, Zbysio, Zbycho ("tough guy"-ish sounding)
- Tomasz (Thomas): Tomek, Tomuś (sickeningly cute), Tomaszek (sickeningly annoying note )
- Sławomir (Slavic once more): Sławeknote , Sławuś, Sławko, but confusingly also Mirek, Miruś and Mireczek. The confusing part comes from...
- Mirosław (another Slavic name): Mirek, Miruś, Mireczek and Miro(n) - and Mirek managed to become its own thing, too
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 comes out 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 womennote and lose their popularity with men with each passing year - althrough there seems to be a rebound since the 2010s. For a statistic of popularity of names, see this page (column left is boys, column right - girls), but remember to account for a generation the character belongs to.
Fun fact - foreign names (or regular names in their Anglicised forms) are considered the height of cheapest snobbery. For example, while English names like Alan, 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.note
If you absolutely must give your Polish character a Celtic name, female Brygida (Bridget) and male Artur (Arthur) are old and established enough not to carry the stigma and are the best choices, although Brygida is rather rare. On the other hand, ancient, Slavic names are going to sound just as pretentious, so don't try to call your characters (and definitely not your own children) Czcisława or Miłogost, unless you really want them to stand outnote .
A good rule of thumb for Slavic names is to check if there's a Catholic saint and/or a king bearing that name — it won't work in every case, but like we said, it's a rule of thumb.
And if you want to write a piece of historical fiction, you need to remember that traditional Slavic names dropped in use after The Council of Trent (1545-1563), which effectively banned "pagan" names in favor of the Christian ones. So, a character named, let's say, Mścisław would be plausible in a work set in the 13th century, but a bit out of place in the 17th century. Naturally, it was impossible to enforce this rule in 100% of situations everywhere, and there were some notable exceptions, such as names of Slavs who lived before the date and have been beatified or canonized by the Church (for example: Bogumił, Kazimierz, Wojciech, Stanisław). Slavic names have regained their popularity in the 19th century, when Polish people struggled to keep their ethnic identity under foreign domination. Maria (Mary), nowadays one of the most popular girls' names was generally avoided until the 19th century due to strong devotion towards Virgin Mary (Marianna or Maryna were in use instead).
By law, you are not allowed to name your kid a common noun or locations of any kind (so it will break suspension of disbelief in fiction), although there are traditional exceptions: Róża (Rose), Kalina (guelder rose, even if the first and usually only person an average Pole will think of in association with this name is actress Kalina Jędrusik, the sexbomb of PRL), Nadzieja (Hope). Jagoda (blueberry) and Malina (raspberry) sound like common nouns, but are actually forms of Jadwiga and Magdalena, respectively. In general, Polish law does its best to prevent Unfortunate Names, not that it stops some people. On the flip side, it requires the parents to strictly abide to rules of Polish language, even if they are first-generation immigrants, requiring often bizarre Polonised forms of established names, creating all sorts of problems both internally and abroad. Then there are traditional Romani names, which weren't even legally recognised as names until 1991 and are still stigmatised againstnote . You can query the Rada Języka Polskiego about whether a name is acceptable and some of the propositions... wow.
We have middle names in Poland but they're entirely optional and picked by the parentsnote . The middle name will be there in all 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 your 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. Oh, and keep in mind when creating fictional Poles that Mysterious Middle Initial doesn't work in Polish nor has any established precedence - people either skip their middle name entirely (usually) or display it fully, making the custom of using initial completely alien. If you want to use initials, you will have to apply it to the first name, toonote .
Ah, last but not least. A Pole can change their legal name (without having to marry) at the local office, but it involves a lot of red tapenote and social stigma following the act.
Part of the reason why new names are rarely created is because Poland is a Catholic country and we generally name our kids after saints - although these days people just tend to pick names they like without much spiritual consideration. In any case, since birthdays are a pagan holiday (Romans used to celebrate their "genius" note on the day of their birth and it evolved from there), long time ago the Church tried to create a Christian equivalent of this - nameday, when you commemorate the saint whose name you were given at baptism. Few Christian countries remember this custom, and even in Poland it's fading among the youth - although a lot of people celebrate both, in much the same ways (i.e. a family party, or an outing with friends), because hey, why not.
Because there often are many saints with the same name, namedays repeat - Maria (Mary)note about once every two weeks, so the only surefire way to know somebody's nameday is to ask them or (if you want to make them a surprise) someone close to them.hint
In any case, namedays are listed in calendars. All calendars. And while the paper ones will have two-three names per day, the Internet calendars, not being restricted by the page size, will list every single name the author can think of, no matter how obscure. Keep that in mind while naming your character. Also keep in mind that printed calendars list genetive forms of names (e.g. "Robert's", "Elisabeth's" - as in, Robert's or Elisabeth's nameday). Online calendars usually have nominative forms, but not always.
Also, some namedays (or their eves) are occasions to have fun even if you don't know anyone who celebrates on this specific day:
- Saint John's Eve (June 23), which commemorates John the Baptist, but with the sort of things that Slavic people did before they were Christians - bonfires, dancing and throwing wreaths into water,
- Martinmas (November 11), apart from being the Polish Independence Day, it's also a local holiday in Poznań (saint Martin is the patron of this city), but the traditional sweet crescent rolls can be bought in pastry shops everywhere in Poland around this date,
- Saint Andrew's Eve (November 29), when girls traditionally try to divine who their future husband will be, using apples, wax, dogs and so on - nowadays it's usually an excuse for a last party before Christmas,
- Saint Barbara's Eve (December 4), is a big day in Silesia and any other place with mines or oil-wells, as she's patron saint of miners,
- Saint Nicholas's Eve (December 6), when kids are given chocolate Santas and small gifts.
For the curious - Christmas Eve is the nameday for... Eve (Ewa). And Adam. The biblical ones. (And yes, Adam Mickiewicz was indeed born on December 24th and was named appropriately to the nameday - that was a fairly popular custom back in the day.)
For a fictional account of nameday celebrations, see the novel Imieniny by Małgorzata Musierowicz, which is structured around several characters' namedays, and they celebrate in a variety of ways (trying not to be hindered by the plot too much, but tough luck if you're a literary character). Other Polish novels occasionally have these as plot points, e.g. in Nad Niemnem the party is used to push the plot forwards (introducing a suitor for the protagonist).
SurnamesOne - 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 12th century, but Jan Brzeziński in 16th 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 for the most part 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, since Lithuanian is a completely different language from a different family 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 19th century — Ashkenazi stereotypes like "-berg" or "-stein" are perfectly acceptable, both in Polonised form and not (because that's how they came to be).note Also, if a person has a name derived from a big city — e.g. Warszawski — there is a good chance for a Polish Jew somewhere in the family tree. Since these surnames were enforced, the Jews either had to come up with something quickly or were left at mercy of the clerks writing them down, and these folks were as creative as only government officials can. That said, many people of Jewish descent later changed their names to better blend in, for all manner of reasons.
From the newer history, in the parts of Poland gained from World War II (Western Pomerania and Lower Silesia) there are lots of people of Ukrainian origin, due to forced deportations after the war. Their surnames sound very similar to those originally Polish, but some suffixes (like -enko or -uk), as well as sound changes that occured at the stage of East-West Slavic division (g-h, v-b etc.) sound distinctly Ukrainian to native speakers.
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), and if her husband's surname ended with a vowel, she might be called Zarembina (that's the wife or mr. Zaremba). Some female writers from 19th and early 20th century were known under their married names, like Eliza Orzeszkowa (mr. Orzeszko obviously existed, but he died before his wife was famous and we don't tend to remember him otherwise). Others, like Maria Rodziewiczówna, used their maiden names (see below), or witty Nom De Plumes along the lines of Magdalena Samozwaniec note ("self-named" - she wrote rather biting satire). All three options are open for female writers nowadays, but patronymic maiden names go virtually unused.
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. Surnames ending with a vowel gain an -anka instead (eg. the daughter of mr. Skarga would be miss Skarżanka). 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).
Some popular surnamesnote :
- Nowak and Kowalski are the Polish equivalents of Smith (Kowalski literally)
- Wójcik - Kabaret Ani Mru Mru is comprised of three guys, two of whom are named Wójcik - and they are not brothers, that's how popular this one is
- Kowalczyk - another name derived from smithing profession (those smiths sure got around, huh?), also good for Polish Americans played by Marilyn Monroe. You may also remember Justyna Kowalczyk, a multiple gold medal-earning cross-country skier.
- Schmidt, Szmit, Szmid, Szmidt and all the different forms involving Sh and Sch... As you might guess, this is another smithing-related surname, very popular in so-called Recovered Territories, formerly owned by Germany. The inconsequence in spelling comes from rather lax attitude of bureaucrats after WW2 toward standardisation. And those officials who understood at least a tiny bit of German simply Polonised Schmidt surnames into Kowalski.
- Kamiński - Real Life athletes tend to be named Kamiński, in some freak of statistics
- Wiśniewski, Lewandowski, Zieliński, Dąbrowski, Grabowski, Malinowski, Jabłoński, Leszczyński, Chmiel and Chmielewski, Lipiński and Olszewski are some of the most popular examples of surnames derived from placenames that were in turn derived from names of plants.
- Wróbel, Czyż, Sikora, Słowik, Sokół, Wrona and their inflected forms: Wróblewski, Czyżewski, Sikorski, Słowiński, Sokołowski and Wroński. There are also Kos, Kruk, Drozd, Dudek, Szczygieł and (inflected) Orłowski and Orlińskinote . All those names come from common bird species.
- Also, Olszewski and Wróblewski were rather famous physicists who worked with gases in late 19th century, but their last names are quite generic (might count as Genius Bonus if you do use them to suggest anything physics-related)
- Ryba and Rak (Fish and Crayfish), along with their countless variants.
- Raczyński - see dr. Raczyńska in All Creatures Great And Small
- Woźniak and Furman are region-sensitive Polish equivalents of Carter.
- Kwiatkowski as in Colonel Kwiatkowski
- Młynarczyk and Młynarski (Miller). You might also find Mielnik, indicating origins from Kresy.
- Krawczyk, Szewczyk, Tkaczyk/Tkacz/Tkocz, Tokarz/Tokarski (also Toczek), Olejnik/Olejniczak, Rybak and Cieśla/Ciesielski/Cieślak/Cieślik are common, trade-derived surnames (respectively: Tailor, Cobbler, Weaver, Turner, Oil-presser, Fisher and Carpenter)
- Kaczmarek i Kaczmarski (Innkeeper)
- Marzec, Majewski, Lipiec, Grudzień and Grudziński are all names of months or inflected forms (March, May, July and December). Other month-related surnames are also present, but definitely less common.
- Jankowski, Janowski, Janik, Janicki, Iwanickinote , Andrzejewski (and Jędrzejewski), Stasiak, Antczak, Adamski, Florek, Lech, Michalski, Mikołajczak, Mikołajczyk, Tomasik, Tomaszek, Tomaszewski, Szymański, Szymczak and Szymczyk, Urbański, Pawłowski and Pawlak are some of the most common surnames derived from... given names.
- Mróz and Mrozek (Frost)
- Górski, Zabłocki - both with geographical connotations. Aside Górski, there is also Góra, Górka and Zagórski, all mountain-themed.
- Walczak - has some dorky associations, but they're not overwhelming.
- Turek and Tatara/Tatarski, related with Turkish and Tatar ancestry. Of the more common names derived from ethnic background, there is also Czech, Czeski and Czechowicz, Litwin (Lithuanian), Rusin (Ruthenian or Rus), Szwed and Szweda (Swede), Niemiec (German) and Prus, Olender (Dutch) and curiously enough, Polak.
- Mazur, Mazurek i Mazurkiewicz are among the most popular surnames, indicating origins from the region of Masovia (Mazowsze in Polish). That despite on first glance, those people should come from Masuria (Mazury in Polish).
- In Real Life, people named Sienkiewicz or Mickiewicz tend to meet with some disbelief when introducing themselves, since these are both household names, but both are still used, because Reality Is Unrealistic.
Aww, you thought we're ending here? Now it's "how to address someone" lesson time!As of addressing people, it really depends on who they are to you, really. From the least to most formal:
- you call your siblings and cousins by their given names/nicknames - diminutives are pretty much 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 (i.e. use the vocative: mamo, tato) - 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 "aunttranslation /uncletranslation (name, often in diminutive)"
- grandparents are addressed like parents (except with grandmothertranslation /grandfathertranslation , of course)
- There is a range of other words denoting family relations, but how often are they used depends on circumstances such as the time period and the region of the country. Meanwhile, the set above is comparatively generic and will be enough to go by in about any case. (The most common alternate forms are a separate term for a paternal uncletranslation , and a specific term for a paternal/maternal cousintranslation .)
- Note: it's possible to call parts of your extended family as a whole by adding "-stwo" to the name ("kuzynostwo" - cousins, "wujostwo" - uncles etc.). Due to the way cultural norms used to work, referring to male part of your family usually includes female members as well (so "wujostwo/uncles means your aunt as well). 'Be warned' about using this while referring to your grandparents, though - while "dziadostwo" translation is technically a correct term, nowadays it usually means trash and/or crap. There's plenty of stories and jokes about earnest kids making this mistakes in front of their parents. A boring liguistic note
- 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) eg. "pan Jacek/panie Jacku" Another boring liguistic note
- more casual - mrtranslation /mrstranslation (surname), or just sirtranslation /madamtranslation . An unrelated person of an older generation whom you have known since childhood may be considered a honorary uncle/aunt and addressed accordingly.
- Formal (teachers, bosses, strangers):
- mr/mrs (surname), eg. "pani Kowalska", or sir/madam as described above
- people with titles (eg. a professor, a doctor) - by title, eg. "doktor/doktorze"
- same as above, but very polite - mr/mrs (title), eg. "pan profesor/panie profesorze"
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 (or gender neutrality), "proszę usiąść" ("please, be seated").
Nowadays many Polish women, celebrities or not, 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 thoughnote . 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. Of course there are guys who decide to take their wife's surname (or hyphenate) instead, but they remain still in the firm minority and it's usually done in one of the three "very understandable" caseswhich comprise of...
- Dzielić włos na czworo ("Split one hair into four parts") - Analyse something in excessive, minute, teeny-tiny detail.
- Nająłeś się za psa, to szczekaj ("You signed up to be a dog - go bark") - this particular job/task sucks, but you agreed to it. Alternatively, it can be used in self-deprecating way to point out how bad your job is.
- Wymienił stryjek siekierkę na kijek ("The uncle traded an axe for a stick") - when someone makes a bad deal. Related to wyjść jak Zabłocki na mydle ("End up like Zabłocki on soap") - legend says that a 19th century nobleman Cyprian Zabłocki tried to smuggle soap to Prussia by stuffing it into crates and dragging them behind the barges... underwater.
- Wyskoczyć jak filip z konopi - ("To jump like a philip from the hemp bush") - "philip" (written in lowercase) used to mean a rabbit or hare. To act in sudden, unexpected and usually ill-timed way.
- Słowo się rzekło, kobyłka u płota ("The word was given, the mare's at the fence") - based on (apocryphal) story about a nobleman travelling to the king's court with a petition. On the way, he met a traveler who asked him what will happen if the king refuse his plea, to which he responded that he'll tell him to kiss his horse's ass. Of course, the traveler turned out to be the king, and he repeated the same question when presented with nobleman request - to which he responded with aforementioned phrase. Luckily, the king found that Actually Pretty Funny (or, depending on the version, he admired his dedication to keep to his word), and ruled in noble's favor.
- Trzeba zjeść tę żabę ("You gotta eat that frog") - a phrase with a meaning close to the above: the time has come to face what's coming. Whether it is an event ahead of you, a job to do, or consequences of something you've already done, you don't want it, but you've already postponed it enough. (While most people just go along assuming eating a frog is self-evidently loathsome, it seems to be a German borrowing.)
- Kto sieje wiatr, ten zbiera burzę ("Those who sow winds, they reap storms") - "Live by the sword, die by the sword", but with an added catch - everything bad you will ever do, will not only return to you, but will be also worse than your original action.
- Wlazłeś między wrony, musisz krakać jak i one ("If you're amongst crows, you have to caw like them") - pretty much "when in Rome, do as the Romans do". Crows are something far more familiar than Rome.
- Wyżej tyłka nie podskoczysz ("You can't jump above your butt") - it's futile to fight against some things, some thing can never be done. Related to rather vulgar wyżej sra, niż dupę ma ("he shits higher than his ass"), used to describe someone acting pompous, and way above their own status.
- Na pochyłe drzewo wszystkie kozy skaczą ("All goats jump on the crooked tree") - anyone can do the easy task, and everyone does, so there is no point bragging about it. Sometimes taken to mean something entirely different: if you let others figuratively jump on you, they will.
- Pokorne cielę dwie matki ssie ("A humble calf sucks two mothers") - another undidactic saying about keeping your head low: it's more profitable to stay quiet and profit from keeping a low profile, thus avoiding any suspicion, rather than speak up or stand for yourself or report something wrong. (Compare the Russian saying "the quieter you ride, the farther you will go".) Modern meaning seems to devolve more into "a smart guy seize multiple chances to profit", which is not the intended meaning.
- Panu Bogu świeczkę i diabłu ogarek ("[to give] God a candle and [to] devil a wick-end") - a close equivalent of "Run with the hare and hunt with the hounds", where one is capable of maintaining good relationships with both sides, often for one's benefit. Related with above about the calf, since this is the "proper" saying for ability to profit on oftentimes morally-dubious acts. Supposedly, this saying came to be due to the leftovers of old Pagan beliefs after Christianisation: many a superficial Christian still paid homage to the old mythic creatures (equated here with the Devil), just in case.
- Gdzie diabeł mówi dobranoc ("Where the devil says goodnight") - middle of nowhere, god-forgotten place (more vulgar alternative is gdzie psy dupami szczekają - "where dogs barks with their asses"). This one is oftentimes lost in translation, like the ending of The Edge of the World (which ends with the "devil" literally saying goodnight to Dandelion).
- Wziąc dupę w Troki ("Get your ass to Trakai") - a somewhat vulgar - but not overtly, it that makes sense - way to tell someone to get lost and to get lost far, far away. Trakai is a fortress town close to Vilnius, Lithuania. As such, it was considered a far-away place for majority of Poles during the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
- Note that it's often spelled with lower-case "t" (...w troki) and understood to mean "travel bags", but the literal meaning is pretty much the same - "pack your ass up and get lost".
- Gdzie drwa rąbią, tam wióry lecą ("Where wood is chopped, the shavings are flying" - compare: Бояре дерутся – у холопов чубы трещат from Russian Proverbs and Expressions) - often translated as "you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs", though the intent behind it is quite the opposite of how it's expressed in English: it's usually a warning and/or a reminder that casualties are bound to happen, rather than as an excuse.
- Wbić gwóźdź do trumny ("Seal the coffin") - to make a situation irreversibly bad, to seal somebody or something's doom. Essentially the same as "put the final nail in coffin".
- Na świętego nigdy ("On St. Never Day") - "when pigs fly", something that's never going to happen.
- Raz na ruski rok ("Once upon the Rus year") - something that happens rarely. Comes from the folk misconception that both months and thus years in the Julian calendar (used in Russia till WW1 and in Orthodox Church to this day) are longer due to not aligning with Gregorian calendar and thus indicating longer time passage each month and year.
- Od wielkiego dzwonu ("Once upon the big bell") - again, a rare event. However, in this case it means something done on special occasion, rather than happening on its own, and something definitely positive. Historically, bell tolling was reserved for big celebrations, doubly so when it was some huge bell used solely during specific holidays.
- Nie wywołuj wilka z lasu ("Don't call out wolf from the woods") - "don't jinx it", don't mention something unfortunate (or it might happen). Related to the above: O wilku mowa (a wilk tu) (literally: "the talk's about the wolf (and the wolf's here)"note - "speak about the devil", where the subject of the conversation suddenly appears.
- Nosił wilk razy kilka, ponieśli i wilka ("The wolf carried [something] away few times, until someone carried the wolf out") - Karma Houdini Warranty. When used, the saying is usually shortened to simply "Nosił wilk razy kilka".
- Wilk syty i owca cała ("the wolf [is] fed and the sheep's [left] whole") - a resolution that reasonably satisfies every side. Another wolf-themed saying.
- Wilczy apetyt ("wolfish appetite") - a ravenous, near-feral hunger, one that's very hard to sate. It can be also used in a context of someone that's a Big Eater, particularly a growing-up teen. Compare with German (where it's bear) and East Slav (where it's also a wolf) variants.
- Patrzeć wilkiem ("to give [someone] a wolf's stare") - to look at someone or something with noticeable hostility.
- [Natura] ciągnie wilka do lasu ("[Nature] calls [literally: drags] the wolf [back] to the forest") - it's very hard to overcome your own nature and it will always lure you back to your default behaviour. The saying is pretty ubiquitous, as it covers habits, upbringing or past deeds. A regional variant exists, where Wilk zmienia sierść, ale nie naturę ("Wolf changes its fur, but not nature") - people might change their situation or stance, but not their upbringing, origins and ingrained habits.
- Chodzi jak wilk w klatce ("[He] paces like a caged wolf") - to be very anxious; to behave in a clearly irritated way, barely controlling your own temper; to literally pace around in nervous manner. It comes from the behaviour of a wild predator, caught and now nervously trying to find a way out of a cage and gnarling at anything at the slightest provocation.
- Dostać wilka ("to get [a] wolf") - to get hemorrhoids or an urinary tract infection. This time the inability to sit down and calm down comes from quite... different circumstances.
- Wycofać się po angielsku ("Leave the English way") - leaving stealthily. Refers to a sterotype of the English being too polite to bother you by announcing that they leave.
- Każdy kij ma dwa końce ("Every stick has got two ends") - "it cuts both ways", everything has got a better and a worse side.
- Druga strona medalu ("A medal's other side") - even if it seems to be related to "two sides of the same coin" or "it cuts both ways", meaning of this proverb is slightly different. It means something or somebody's traits not seen at first (that usually oppose the traits initially seen).
- Tani jak barszcz ("As cheap as beetroot soup") - a way to call something very cheap. Fun fact
- Płacić jak za zboże ("To pay as if for grain") - paying loads of money for something, and in certain contexts, also overpaying for something. It is usually used when describing a situation when one must buy something, regardless of its high price.
- Myślał indyk o niedzieli (a w sobotę łeb mu ścięli) ("The turkey thought about Sunday (and they chopped off his head on Saturday)") - when someone makes too far-fetched plans (often used as a warning against doing so).
- To nie moja bajka/mój konik ("It is not my story/my horse/my hobby") - meaning is the same as "It's not my cup of tea". The word "konik" is a diminutive of "horse", but can also refer to a hobby or personal interest.
- Marzenie ściętej głowy ("A dream of a chopped-off head") - a dream or desire impossible to fulfill.
- Udawać Greka ("Pretend to be Greek") - playing dumb, pretending not to understand.
- Strugać idiotę ("Carving up an idiot") - like above.
- Zrób się głupi, przyjdziesz fraj ("Make yourself [look] stupid, you will go free") - to play dumb, either as a way to avoid some unwanted task or to not face consequences of your previous actions.
- Najciemniej jest pod latarnią ("The darkest shade is under the streetlamp") - "The darkest place is under the candle", the meaning is roughly the same, it means that people tend to overlook the obvious.
- Szewska pasja ("A shoemaker's wrath") - being angry to the limit; compare "going postal". Supposedly, the phrase came to be because constant exposure to various chemicals used in shoemaking had a detrimental effect on the nervous system, so in this sense it can be compared to "mad as a hatter" as well.
- Szewc bez butów chodzi ("A shoemaker wears no shoes") - a person that helps troubled people cannot help themselves in a similar situation.
- Ciemnogród ("dark town", "Darknessville") - backwardness, lack of modernity. Note that it usually carries strong political associations, as it was originally coined to criticize conservative mindsets (compare "the Backwoods Bigot" subtrope of Half-Witted Hillbilly).
- Brud, smród i ubóstwo ("Grime, stench and poverty") - the poor conditions and general decay of something, achieved due to negligence and/or incompetence.
- Słoma z butów wystaje ("Straw is sticking out of the boots") - someone is clearly from a rural and/or very low social background, and as such lacks tact, manners and taste. Also works as a jab toward Nouveau Riche. Comes from the historical way of "filling in" too big or already used up boots, as it was cheaper than buying a new pair.
- Poznać pana po cholewie ("You can recognise a lord by [his] boot-top") - someone's status is clear from their clothes alone. This has historical context, given both the historical high prices of leather boots and shoes as such, along with the fact only the truly rich could afford to make them further drapped in the boot-top with excess leather.
- Nie szata zdobi człowieka ("It is not the gown that adorns a man") - unsurprisingly "Clothes do not make the man" operates in Polish. The "don't judge book by its cover" variant also works, in unaltered form.
- Habit nie czyni mnicha ("Frock doesn't make [one] a monk") - closely related with above. Not only clothes don't make the man, but them wearing specific uniform doesn't mean they have to follow Stock Costume Traits and associated stereotypes.
- Jak cię widzą, tak cię piszą ("They write about you as they perceive [literally: see] you") - despite all of the above, "Fine feathers make fine birds" is still very much in force. People will judge you by your appearance and surface-level actions, rather than your actual character. In other words, it's a warning not to make the mistake that first impressions don't matter.
- Napisane po chińsku ("Written in Chinese") - something unintelligible. Often used as a rhetorical question ("Is this written in Chinese?"), when someone ignores clearly written instructions. Leads to Czy ja mówię po chińsku? ("Am I speaking Chinese?"), when someone in turn ignores spoken instructions.
- Za Chiny (Ludowe) ("For [People's Republic] China") - A very strong negation. This one is almost always followed by some negation or the context makes it a negation. To explain the context a bit - it's about invoking a great, all-mighty force that still won't be able to do or make you do something, or a grand prize you are offered for doing an impossible task that still won't make it happen. For example "Za Chiny nie da się tego zrobić" - "it can't be done, even for China". Keep in mind the saying dates at least back to the first decades of 20th century (the communist context was only added in the 50s), rather than being a modern thing. Has a local variant, "za Chińca" - for a Chink, and nowdays obsolete and out-of-use "za chińskiego boga" - for Chinese deity.
- Wpaść z deszczu pod rynnę ("Go away from the rain and get under a rain gutter's downpipe") - "out of the frying pan, into the fire"; somebody is already in a bad situation, and they find themselves in a worse one.
- Wpaść jak śliwka w kompot ("To fall like a plum into a kompot") - similar to above, it means any situation where you end up right in the middle of trouble, usually in the most unexpected way. Originally the saying meant showing up at the wrong time (like the plum being added at the wrong moment of cooking kompot), but it's been operating as a general saying about getting into trouble since at least the 1920s.
- Kowal zawinił, cygana powiesili ("The smith was guilty, the gypsy got hanged") - when the guilty party is ignored, and clear scapegoat is punished instead. Related to dla towarzystwa cygan dał się powiesić ("the gypsy got himself hanged for the company") - when you do something uncomfortable for the sake of staying with the group/not being alone. NOTE: both of those play negative stereotypes associated with Roma people, and can be viewed as racist.
- Murzyn zrobił swoje, Murzyn może odejść ("The Negro did the job, the Negro can go now") - one performed an unpleasant chore for somebody else and yet is sent off with no gratitude for it; often spoken about oneself. Another less than politically correct saying, and one of a few using the association with people of African extraction for dramatic effect. Although you may frame them as actually recognizing the plights of the black people (with biting sarcasm and perhaps a measure of - pun not intended - black humour along the way), the existence of such sayings is (as of 2020/21) a reason why academic authorities on Polish language advise to refrain from using the word "Murzyn" in spite of there being no such history of nastiness as the English equivalent hasnote .
- Być [czyimś] murzynem ("to be [someone's] negro") - closely related to the above: to be someone else's go-to guy for unpleasant chores, implicitly to little to no reward, and likely bossed over. This phrase is also used sometimes to convey the implication of being an Extreme Doormat, kind of like calling someone an Uncle Tom but without the recipient being necessarily black.
- Sto lat za murzynami ("Hundred years behind the negroes") - primitive and backwater beyond any belief; "Darkest Africa is more up to date than this". Yet another reason why word "murzyn" ended up under crossfire.
- Robić z igły widły ("To make a pitchfork out of a needle") - making mountain out of the molehill/ Делать из мухи слона in Russian.
- Gadaj zdrów! ("Speak heartily!") — "say what you like (I'm not believing you anyway)", implying that you don't care/believe what the other person is saying. More old-timey and elaborate version of this saying was Pisz do mnie na Berdyczów ("Write to me at Berdyczów") — Berdyczów (nowadays Berdychiv in Ukraine) was known for poor quality of postal service, therefore asking someone to address their letters (or just any form of communication) meant "don't talk/write to me anymore" note
- Pal (to) sześć ("Burn (it) six [times]") - "forget about it". Burning someone with iron was medieval form of torture, and few people survived it six times, so saying that is pretty clear declaration you no longer care about something.
- Pleść jak Piekarski na mękach ("To babble like Piekarski during tortures") - to tell nonsense, babble incoherently. Related to historical case of attempted regicide by a noble called Piekarski, who - during his process and later execution - kept making baseless (and barely coherent) claims and accusations.
- Bieda piszczy ("Squeaking poverty") - related to old Slavic folklore, where demon of poverty/misfortune was known to emit high-pitched squeal (alternatively, it refers to one of few ways to cast it away: making a small hole in piece of animal bone and trapping the demon inside it. The squeal is the noise Poverty makes as it tries to leave it).
- Biedny/biedna jak mysz kościelna ("Poor as a church mouse") - a mouse living in a church has nothing to eat, thus being held as a pinnacle of poverty.
- (Ledwo) wiązać koniec z końcem ("[Barely being able] to tie one end with the other") - to live on the verge of poverty, to barely get by.
- (Żyć) od pierwszego do pierwszego ("[To live) from the 1st to 1st [of a month]") - lack of any spare income or financial reserves, to literally wait for the next payday (pay in Poland is paid on a monthly, rather than weekly basis, and traditionally was paid on the 1st of a given month - nowdays it's either the 1st or 10th).
- Od wypłaty do wypłaty ("From payday to payday") - a more straightforward variant of the above.
- Masło maślane ("buttery butter") - Shaped Like Itself; simply a comedic name for pleonasms.
- Koń jaki jest, każdy widzi ("everyone [can] see what a horse is") - a less literal example of Shaped Like Itself that predominantly means "this is too obvious to need any explaining". Originally, this was a line in a 18th century Polish encyclopedia, which didn't even consider it worth the time to write an entry about a horse - and from there becoming a Memetic Mutation.
- Darowanemu koniowi w zęby się nie zagląda - essentially "don't look a gift horse in the mouth", never complain about something you were given for free.
- Koń by się uśmiał ("a horse would have a laugh") - so laughable, pathetic, stupid, or ridiculous that even a horse would break out into laughter when exposed to it. Usually uttered as a standalone comment or a sentence along the lines of "it's so [whatever], that [a horse...]".
- [Mieć] końskie zdrowie ("[To have] equine health") - to have good health, but also to be very resilient, to withstand something that would harm others. Keep in mind that in reality, horses are incredibly frail creatures.
- Końska dawka ("Equine dose") - a very large dose of something, usually medicine. The idiom comes from the extra amount of medication needed to be given to a horse due to its mass and how hard it can be to get it right on the first attempt.
- Kopać sę z koniem ("To kick [each other] with a horse") - to enter a hopeless competition or argument, to be on a lost position from the get-go. More specifically: to try to argue with someone who's dumber than you, but too strong or too stubborn to be reasoned with, and no amount of effort is going to change that. A general term for the lost cause and a fruitless effort.
- Stare śmieci ("Old garbage") - old neighborhood. Surprisingly, it have very few negative connotations and is generally used in a rather endearing way.
- Biały kruk ("a white raven") - a rare artistic creation, often of great artistic value. In contemporary times used nearly always in refering to rare books or publications.
- Dać palec, to weźmie całą rękę ("If you give somebody your finger, they will take the whole hand") - "give them an inch and they'll take a mile"; some people will rely on your help and abuse your niceness if you help them only a little.
- Złej baletnicy przeszkadza rąbek spódnicy ("A bad ballerina is hindered by the hem of her skirt") - Never My Fault, when someone sucks at their job but blames everything but themselves for the failings.
- Gdyby szafa miała sznurek to by była windą/gdyby babcia miała wąsy, toby była dziadkiem ("If the wardrobe had a string, it'd be an elevator/if grandma had a mustache, she'd be a grandpa") - "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride", there is no point in idly fantasising about what could and couldn't happen "if only". The grandma version is far, far more common.
- Bez pracy nie ma kołaczy ("There is no bread without work"Note ) - "No pain, no gain", you must work to get results or even just get by. Usually used toward someone who is clearly slacking around. The bread in the saying is a specific one, used traditionally for weddings, with entire lengthy ritual to bake it, hence the extra work needed.
- Nie chwal dnia przed zachodem słońca ("Don't praise the day before dusk") - "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched", but unlike the English version, it's about being overly optimistic about something that can clearly backfire almost instantly or in short period of time, rather than more abstract future. Compare to the one about a turkey above. Similar saying:
- Nie mów "hop" (póki nie przeskoczysz) ("Don't say 'hop' [until you make the jump]") - usually only the first part is used.
- Nie dziel skóry na niedźwiedziu ("Don't divide the skin [that's still]] on a bear") - comes with extra layer of acknowledged danger to it, since bear hunting was a particularly risky endeavour.
- Nie bądź taki do przodu, bo ci tyłu zabraknie ("Don't desire to go so far, or you'll lose your back") - a humorous way of saying that being too ambitious and/or confident can end badly, for you can lose what's important because of disdain.
- Co ma wisieć, nie utonie ("What is to be hang, won't drown") - despite sounding rather morbid in modern Polish, what the saying originally meant was "what (fate) was written to you, won't be ever lost". In modern times, the literal meaning is applied, suggesting something as inevitable as an execution, from which there is no escape.
- Dzieci i ryby głosu nie mają ("Children and fish have no voice") - "Children should be seen, not heard", a rather undidactic, yet deeply ingrained in the Polish language way of telling your children to zip it.
- Co wolno wojewodzie, to nie tobie, smrodzie ("What's allowed for a voivode is not allowed for a little stinking fellow such as you") - a saying which in spite of having much broader application, is likewise usually told to dismiss a child's complaint, particularly one that addresses a perceived age-related double standard.
- Zapomniał wół, jak cielęciem był ("The ox forgot it used to be a calf") - a retort to the above, if you want to call the old man out for once doing the stuff you are now scolded for, or when a Former Teen Rebel is acting all sanctimonious now.
- Szlachcic na zagrodzie równy wojewodzie ("A nobleman in his stead is equal with a voivode") - historically: every nobleman is equal, regardless of their wealth and offices he holds. In broader, modern context: all people feel strong and important, when in their own domain. Read up about Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to grasp this one fully, we already covered it.
- Wolnoć Tomku w swoim domku ("You're free in your own home, Tommy") - you are allowed to do as you please, as long as it happens in your own home and stays inside of it. (And by extension, only when it stays inside - loud music doesn't get a pass, unless you sound-proof your place.) This is a Memetic Mutation from a famous children fable, hence the rhyme in Polish. note
- Grosz do grosza, a będzie kokosza ("Penny to penny, and there will be a hen") - "In for a penny, in for a pound", usually used as an endearing way to point someone's habits of making petty savings - or to justify them.
- Ziarnko do ziarnka, a zbierze się miarka ("Grain to grain, and the measure will fill out") is the same in a slightly different version.
- Łaska pańska na pstrym koniu jeździ ("Great man's favour rides on a motley horse") - Great man's favour is uncertain. You can never be sure about intentions or stability of the favour(s) you are receiving from someone higher than you in the hierarchy. The motley horse relates to the traditional symbolism of white and black horses - a motley one is both and neither.
- Raz na wozie, raz pod wozem ("Once on a wagon, once under a wagon") - There are better and worse days and the fortune is ever-changing. Another cross-language saying, with Ukrainian version ("Was on horseback, is under the horse") being probably the closest.
- Due to popularity of Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham, a variant of Czasem słońce, czasem deszcz ("Sometimes sun, sometimes rain", the Polish release title) entered colloquial Polish.
- Baba z wozu, koniom lżej ("Woman off the wagon, lighter (load) for the horses") - "Good riddance to bad rubbish". Traditionally, carting was a male job, so a woman on a wagon would be more than useless, especially since it was intended to move things, not transport people. Related to above: "Piąte koło u wozu" (5th wheel to a wagon), which has the exact same meaning as English "Third wheel".
- Nie święci garnki lepią ("It doesn't take a saint to make a pot") - you don't to have to be particularly talented or special to perform mundane tasks.
- Kruk krukowi oka nie wykole ("Crow won't peck out an eye of another crow") - people with shared interests, usually ones against the public, will stick together and won't fight each other. Alternatively known as "mnich mnichowi kaptura nie oberwie" (monk won't tear off a hood of other monk) and vulgar "kurwa kurwie łba nie urwie" (whore won't teat off a head of other whore - but the "kurwa" might also mean any given criminal in this context).
- Ręka rękę myje ("Hand washes hand") - the native variant of Latin manus manum lavat; people with common interests will stick together, often against the public. Also: any sort of clique that supports its members, Chain of Deals style.
- Ja tobie, ty mnie ("I for you, you for me") - just like above.
- Zły to ptak, co własne gniazdo kala ("It's a bad bird who blights its own nest") - don't bring dirty secrets of the community (usually a family) out to the public. Useful for occasions when "snitches get stitches" is too confrontational.
- Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy ("Not my circus, not my monkeys") - "it's not my business" and "I wash my hands of it" at the same time. Something's stupid or even harmful, but essentially not yours to fix.note
- [To] nie moja broszka ("[It's] not my broche") - "not my business", but more neutral, somewhat in tune of "I simply don't care enough about it to bother", rather than ignoring something that can be even qualified as a problem, a state of indifference about something harmless.
- Tonący brzytwy się chwyta ("A drowning man will clutch at a razor") - "desperate times call for desperate measures"; someone in trouble will try anything to save themselves.
- Kopnąć w kalendarz ("To kick a calendar") - "kick the bucket"; a comedic Deadly Euphemism. Compare wykorkować ("to cork out"), zejść ("to go down"), etc.
- Pisać do szuflady ("To write stories and hide them in a drawer", literally "To write [straight] to a drawer") - an act of graphomania, when one writes a lot and of questionable quality, only to hide it and not even try to publish it. This is either used about self-awareness of a writer or as a critique of publishing personal notes of deceased writers. But note that there also is an equivalent neutral meaning, of writing just to express your creativity without publishing it immediately.
- Dziad swoje, baba swoje ("Old coot [said/did] his, old crone [said/did] hers") - two uncooperative parties that are too stubborn to let go and would rather argue or even fight than come to a conclusion of any kind. Also: any situation that leads to a Right Hand Versus Left Hand scenario. The saying predominately applies to stalemates achieved out of petty stubbornness, rather than any other factor.
- Ja o kozie, ty o wozie ("I'm [talking] about a goat, you [talk] about a cart") - two parties talking about ultimately unrelated subjects, where they realise they not as much can't communicate, but aren't even trying, missing each other. Usually used as a sign of frustration after a tedious, yet ultimately fruitless discussion.
- Głodna dyskusja/gadka ("Hungry talk") - an unproductive discussion of uncooperative parties that goes nowhere and can't achieve anything.
- Głodnemu chleb na myśli ("Hungry one thinks about bread") - a equivalent of "the tongue always turns to the aching tooth". If one desires something, they just can't resist the urge to mention it, even in unrelated conversation.
- Głodny głodnemu wypomni ("Hungry one will call others hungry") - used as a defense against above, where the supposed hidden desire is in reality held by the person calling you out, rather than yourself. Essentially a No, You.
- Nosi spodnie ("Is wearing pants") - pointing out who's the dominant person in the relationship, usually used when it's the girl that's bossing around a guy. Somewhat archaic, for obvious reasons.
- Myśleć o niebieskich migdałach ("To think about blue almonds") - to be unfocused, to daydream about fantastic, unreal things.
- Niedźwiedzia przysługa ("A bear's favour") - a well-meaning act that brings nothing but misfortune and additional trouble(s).
- Dobrymi chęciami piekło wybrukowano ("Hell's paved with good intentions") - "The road to hell is paved with good intentions", but slightly more decisive. It takes far, far more than just good intentions to make your act count as good or well-meaning and said intentions are no excuse for messing up.
- Mieć węża w kieszeni ("To have snake in your pocket") - to be an extreme penny-pincher, one that would never lend your any money or help financially, no matter how small the sum. Also, a person that's a miser, but without any goal beyond simply hoarding money.
- Rzucać/walić grochem o ścianę ("To throw peas at a wall/hit wall with peas") - a futile attempt to negotiate with someone stubborn, where all arguments just bounce off without any effect.
- Wypchaj się sianem! ("Stuff yourself with hay!") - get lost, go away. Particularly context sensitive when someone shows up with help right when you've finished your task.
- Wykręcić się sianem ("To get off with only hay") - to get away from trouble or danger cheaply. Usually applied in the context of easily avoiding unwanted work. It also means a situation where one managed to get away with something with some very cheap and flimsy excuse.
- Daj se (sobie) siana ("Give t'self [yourself] hay") - calm yourself, but also give up, stop obsessing over something.
- Wrzuć na luz ("Put on the idle gear") - when above meets Technology Marches On.
- Weź/brać na wstrzymanie (literally "[You should] take/Taking [one] for stopping") - "take a chill pill", calm down, but also stop acting out. The "weź na" part is an old-timey formula doctors were saying when addressing their patients (and mimicking a Latin formula from prescriptions), so the chill pill is almost literal here.
- Zrobić w konia ("To make [one] into a horse") - to trick somebody, actively using their naivety against them or to make them look or behave as stupid. In broader context, it also means situation where one is set up and treated in misleading way. Comes with few variants, all meaning roughly the same:
- Wpuszczać w maliny ("To [mis]lead one into raspberries") - this one indicates an added trap or intend to hurt one, given raspberries have thorns.
- Nabić w butelkę ("To stuff [one] into a bottle")
- Zrobić w balona ("To make [one] into a baloon")
- Robić z kogoś wariata/idiotę/bałwana ("To make one into a crazy/idiot/stupid")
- Narobić bigosu ("To make too much bigos") - to create (multiple) problems all at once. And in the broader context, to create complete chaos. There is also Nawarzyć piwa ("To brew beer"), with identical meaning. In both cases it refers to the fact both bigos and beer can easily overflow the pot they are made in.
- Nawarzyłeś piwa, to musisz je teraz wypić ("You've brewed the beer, now you must drink it") - you have to take consequences of your actions. Has equivalent in both German (where it's a soup) and Russian (where it's kasha-based porridge).
- Obudzić się z ręką w nocniku ("To wake up with [your] hand inside a chamber-pot") - to end up in a situation where it is too late to change or fix something, to be forced to face the consequences of own negligence. Sometimes also: to be unable to foresee an easily avoidable situation.
- Szukać dziury w całym ("To try to find a hole in a whole") - to look for problems and issues where there are none, to needlessly complain about something perfect.
- (Mówić/walić) prosto z mostu ("[To speak/hit] straight off a bridge") - to cut the chase and speak straight, to be very direct and honest. This does not mean to be blunt or impolite, which is a recurring problem with translations.
- Stawiać kawę na ławę ("To put coffee on a table") - to directly go to business, without wasting time. Also: to explain something in the most straightforward way possible. Just like above, doesn't mean lack of politeness - in fact, the saying has roots in a customary guest hospitality, where the welcoming coffee is already brewed and waiting on the table.
- Owijać w bawełnę ("Wrapping in cotton") - to describe something in an oblique, un-straightforward way, particularly to sand off the edges of something wrong you would prefer not to admit to. Usually rendered as nie owijaj w bawełnę ("don't wrap in cotton"), that is, "get to the point".
- Porywać się z motyką na słońce ("To go against the Sun [armed] with a hoe") - to be ill-prepared and ill-equipped for a daunting task, to try to achieve something impossible with current resources. Also, to greatly over-estimate one's capability of handling the situation.
- Trzeba mierzyć siły na zamiary ("[One] should measure strength for [their] plans") - essentially "Never bite more than you can chew", but more about being a warning to plan actions ahead, rather than a sarcastic jab toward someone already overwhelmed by said actions.
- Urwać się z choinki ("To fall off a conifer tree") - to say or do something ill-fitting, as a result of (apparent) unfamiliarity with the ongoing issue or discussion. In broader context, to act weirdly or in unexpectedly bad way.
- (Obiecywać) gruszki na wierzbie ("[To promise] pears on a willow") - an empty, impossible and unrealistic promise that sounds interesting, but has no real chance to be fulfilled. Curiously, with the advances in plant grafting, it became a relatively common practical joke from 19th century onward to graft pears on willows. If the graft bears fruits, they tend to be small and very sour.
- Gwiazdka z nieba ("A little star from the sky") - another way of pointing out something is an empty promise, with deliberate diminutive.
- Chcieć gwiazdki z nieba ("To desire little stars from the sky") - "To ask for the Moon". To have unrealistic dreams and expectations, to demand way too much.
- Wiercić komuś dziurę w brzuchu ("To bore a hole in someone's stomach") - to constantly and consistently pester someone to do something, as if torturing them with the endless reminder.
- Bierny, mierny, ale wierny ("Passive, mediocre, but loyal") - often written in upper case, or outright shortened to "BMW", after the car brand. One of the most "modern" sayingsnote , it entered colloquial Polish toward any form of nepotistic practices and hiring blatantly incompetent people.
- Czy się stoi, czy się leży, dwa tysiące/jednakowo się należy ("A standing one and a resting one will both get two thousand/the same paycheck") - it is not as popular nowadays, but it was very common (and real) during the Communist era. The pay-grade was fixed, while working was mandatorynote . As a result, there was absolutely no point putting any effort whatsoever into your job, as all it could achieve was rising the production norms, without rising the pay. Nowdays this sort of thing is usually attributed to tax authority clerks, who are proverbially unhelpful, while still being paid as if being hard-working.
- Jaka płaca, taka praca ("As the pay, so the work") - you can't expect from people to put much effort into something, if they aren't properly compensated. This particularly refers to, but isn't limited, putting half-assed effort in your job, because you're barely paid for it in the first place or not paid enough to take extra risks.
- Idzie jak po grudzie ("Goes like through frozen ground") - something that's going very slowly, with hardship. The saying is referring to the process of plowing still frozen ground in early spring. Also known as Idzie jak krew z nosa ("Comes like a blood from nose").
- Idzie jak po maśle ("Slides like over butter") - the opposite: something goes smoothly, without a hitch.
- Idzie jak w dym ("[He] walks as if into the smoke") - to do something in a bold, unflinching fashion; to ignore the danger (but also acknowledging it first).
- Po ptakach ("After the birds") - "It’s all over bar the shouting". Something already happened and is resolved (e.g. you startled the birds and they flew away), so no point sweating over it or rushing. Unlike the English version, it mostly refers to a lost opportunity, a chance that wasn't seized in time.
- Co ma piernik do wiatraka ("What does gingerbread has to do with a windmill") - a rhetorical question, asked when someone suddenly jumps from one subject to another, without any real connection between them. Alternatively, asked when someone attempts to pull a whataboutery on you.
- Nie odwracaj kota ogonem ("Don't [try] to turn the cat tail-forward") - trying to (futility) spin a blatant lie out of a well-known facts. Just like the cat, it will still turn back on its own to the default "position". The saying is used when calling someone on lying or whataboutism.
- Wieszać na kimś psy ("To hang dogs on someone") - to besmear and defame someone. Also known as "Obrzucać kogoś błotem'' ("To throw mud at someone").
- Zmieszać z błotem ("To mix someone with mud") - to take someone apart, to rip them a new one. More vulgar version: Zmieszać z gównem ("To mix someone with shit").
- Nie zostawić na kimś suchej nitki ("To not leave a single dry thread on somebody") - thoroughly criticising someone from top to bottom, particularly after someone delivers to them "The Reason You Suck" Speech cranked up to eleven. This one is context-sensitive, as it implies the harsh critique was well-earned and deserved.
- Potrzebne jak umarłemu kadzidło ("As useful as incense to a dead man") - something completely useless, pointless. Similar to such sayings in Spanish ("as dogs on the Mass"), German ("as hole in the head") and Russian ("as rain boots to a dead man").
- Przyszła kryska na Matyska (archaic "The end came for [little] Matthias") - another version of Karma Houdini Warranty. Comes with a second meaning, when someone finally has to face a task they've dodged for a long time, being forced into it by some higher authority.
- Kto (pod kim) dołki kopie, ten sam w nie wpada ("He who digs a pit for others, falls in himself") - a rather self-explanatory and cross-language saying.
- Nieszczęścia chodzą parami ("Bad luck always comes in pair") - "Misery loves companion". Another cross-language saying.
- Wzięli diabli krowę, niech biorą i cielę ("The devils took the cow, let them take the calf, too") - when you say "Bring It" to your bad luck, when you no longer care about the misfortunes around you.
- Mądry Polak po szkodzie ("A Pole is wise after sustaining harm") - a Latin "Post mala prudentior" with an extra layer of Self-Deprecation, present since there is such thing as written Polish language.
- Nadzieja umiera ostatnia ("Hope dies last") - never give up, because there is always a chance the situation, no matter how bad, will turn into your favour. This is not just about being a Determinator, but rather going into the extent of Defiant to the End and As Long as There Is One Man, which often gets Lost in Translation.
- Nadzieja matką głupich ("Hope is the mother of stupid") - a cynical take of the above, where the only people holding hope until the bitter end are simply idiots.
- Każda matka swoje dzieci kocha ("Every mother loves her children") - no matter how bad or outright evil they might be, children are always beloved to their mothers, even when they are adult. Compare with Russian version ("Every mother's child is sweet"). And related with the above saying about hope, as the ultimate Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers! come-back.
- Od przybytku głowa nie boli ("You won't get a headache from excess possessions") - nobody ever suffered from having excess goods or money, making any sort of extra or an overflow always welcomed.
- Jeść nie woła ("It doesn't scream for food") - a rather simple argument for the above: if it does not cost you to obtain or keep something, then there's no real reason to avoid having it.
- Lepszy wróbel w garści, niż gołąb na dachu ("Better sparrow in your hand than a dove on the roof") - "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush". Comes with few variants, of different popularity:
- Jak się nie ma co się lubi, to się lubi co się ma ("If you don't have what you like, you like what you have") - this one is the "default" Polish saying for such scenario, essentially "Beggars can't be choosers".
- Na bezrybiu i rak ryba ("Where no fish can be caught, a crayfish counts as one, too") - this one, while very popular, aged poorly, as the times when crayfish was easier to catch went away with the industrial revolution - native crayfishes are near-extinct.
- Dobra psu mucha, gdy głodny ("A fly is tasty to a hungry dog")
- Z braku laku i opłatek dobry ("[When] out of sealing wax, a wafer is fine too") - somewhat related with the above, describing a situation where something is done as a stop-gap measure, or an ersatz is used instead. Unlike above set, this one clearly indicates the use of something inferior for the task. Comes from historical use of wafer dough (which is just water and flour) instead of sealing wax, since it's significantly cheaper, while still allows to seal a letter and put a stamp over itself.
- Z braku laku dobry kit ("[When] out of sealing wax, putty is fine too") - a version of the above which is more intentionally silly and/or working class. As a tool of trade for glaziers and plumbers, putty would be sooner at hand for a common working man than sealing wax.
- Gdzie kucharek sześć, tam nie ma co jeść ("Where there are six cooks, there is nothing to eat") - "Too many cooks spoiled the soup". The cooks in Polish versions are explicitly female, but the saying is used toward both genders. Usually shortened to "Gdzie kucharek sześć"
- Stara miłość nie rdzewieje ("Old love doesn't rust") - "Old love dies hard". Another cross-language saying, however, in variety of Slavic languages it explicitly refers to the rust-proof quality of love.
- Trafiła kosa na kamień ("The scythe hit the stone") - while often translated as "Diamond cut diamond", it carries a slightly different meaning in Polish: in particular, the eventual surprise of someone who always is confrontational and uses brutal, aggressive or underhand means when facing someone even tougher. Present in variety of Slavic languages in the exact same form.
- Na grubą gałąź trzeba grubego klina ("For a thick branch you need a thick wedge") - you need sufficient means to deal with sufficiently big problems - or strong people. This one is either borrowed from, or heavily influenced by the Russian, near-identical saying.
- Sprać na kwaśne jabłko ("To beat someone into a sour apple") - to beat someone into bloody, bruised pulp. The "sour apple" indicates a wild variety that has fallen off, was collected and used for producing home jams - and as such, cooked into a soft pulp.
- Prać/lać/bić i patrzeć czy równo puchnie ("Beating [someone] and observing if it's swelling evenly") - when words and even slapping isn't enough to condemn and punish someone for their awful actions and behaviour. While this is usually used to harshly criticise someone, it can also work as a rally call against a Karma Houdini.
- Postawić na kimś kreskę ("To cross someone out") - to assume someone will fail, to stop believing in them. Also: to send someone to certain death or to a task they can't possibly succeed in. The second meaning is particularly associated with very similar ''Postawić na kimś krzyżyk" ("To put a cross over someone"). In Polish, those two indicate different way crossing things out - "kreska" is a single line, "krzyżyk" is a cross and also comes with the connotation of obituary or a grave plate.
- Konia kują, żaba nogę podstawia ("A horse is shoed, [and] a frog sticks in its own leg") - when one lines up for a reward or acknowledgement one did not earn in the first place.
- kombinować - not a phrase, but possibly the best-known untranslatable word of the Polish language, and also one of the most crucial. The closest faithful translation would be along the lines of "getting up to" or "coming up with" something; to be arranging something, possibly by less than legal or overly complicated means, particularly when a more straightforward way is (or is perceived as) unavailable for whichever reason. Many a Chain of Deals, Unspoken Plan Guarantee and similar tropes would qualify as examples of kombinowanie. It also covers many cases of tinkering without the benefit of tools or materialsnote . It's hard to pin down, but it can imply crafty ingenuity, unnecessary complexity, or even both at the same time.
- załatwić - a related term loosely translatable as "to arrange" or "to fix"; implicitly for good, and behind the scenes. Often used as a sort of a social equivalent to kombinować. Due to the undertones of finality, it is also used as an euphemism: either deadly or scatological (załatwić się - "to fix oneself"). "Załatwiać" has a strongly negative implications when it's used in context of anything related with governing, bureaucracy or civic dutiesnote , since it implies bribery, cronyism and nepotism, rather than a well-functioning institution.
- kombinować jak koń pod górę ("to kombinować as a horse [on an] upward [slope]") - an example of one of many meanings of the word, where a comparison to a draught horse is used to deliver the sense of "trying so hard to make one's work easier that it would be simpler to just do it the straight way".
- Polak potrafi ("a Pole can do/a Pole is capable") - a closely related saying. It's never specified what it exactly is that a Pole can do, but the meaning is clear: no matter what it is, they will come up with (wykombinuje) some sort of a solutionLinguistic note . Since it's very context-sensitive, it can be either used as a boast or a cynical critique.
- ułańska fantazja ("an Uhlan'snote imagination") - another related phrase. You might end up applauded for this if you engage in some very out-of-the-box kombinowanie with a roguish smile and a particularly self-aware approach to it. "Ułańska fantazja" also has rather negative connotations with World of Ham and Leeroy Jenkins tendencies, where someone would do something "cool" without taking into account how damn stupid it is, or to indicate Suicidal Overconfidence (something pre-requested for a good cavalryman, but not very practical in day-to-day life).
- Poczta pantoflowa ("slippernote postal service") - an informal way of passing information and gossip. The term itself doesn't carry negative connotation, but it's usually the only way you can learn something unpleasant, that would usually be kept secret from you in the official channels. Usually any multi-level kombinowanie will involve hefty use of poczta pantoflowa.
- Wyszło szydło z worka ("An awl pierced through [literally: came out of] the sack") - The Reveal, and one where someone's true, often sinister intentions, are revealed or come to light. Had a massive memetic spike once MP Beata Szydło became the Polish Prime Minister and then further mutated into "wyszło Szydło z rządu"note after she got "promoted" into the European Parliament by her own party.
- Co z oczu, to z serca ("Out of eyes, out of heart") - "Out of sight, out of mind".
- Pańskie oko konia tuczy ("The master's eye makes the horse fat") - any sort of enterprise works better when directly supervised by its owner. Similar sayings exist in Italian and Spanish.
- Strzeżonego Pan Bóg strzeże ("A guarded object is guarded by God Himself") - there is no such thing as "too many" precautions and it's always better to be safe than sorry later. "God helps those who help themselves" in a natively Polish variant.
- Dmuchać na zimne ("To blow on [something already] cool") - to be very cautious. This one is very context-sensitive, as it might be a praise, a self-proclaimed reasoning or a way to mock someone overly cautious or paranoid.
- Ciekawość to pierwszy stopień do piekła ("Curiosity is the first step to Hell") - not just knowing too much might be bad for your health, but even prying into business of others in the first place can be harmful to you. This one is often mis-translated as "Curiosity killed the cat", but the Polish version is far less threatening.
- Co było, a nie jest, nie pisze się w rejestr ("What was, but isn't [anymore], is not kept in the registry") - comes with variety of distinctive meanings, being context-sensitive. And due to its rhyming nature, it often gets shortened to simple "Co było, a nie jest..." in more serious situations:
- No point dwelling in the past and it's better to focus on current situation.
- Whatever good/bad deeds you did in the past, they carry no weight anymore, thus gaining you no favours/penalties.
- Where your ex, amicable or not, is not obliged in any way to side with you.
- Lekko przyszło, lekko poszło ("Came lightly, went lightly") - something achieved effortlessly is easy to be given away or resign from, without any remorse or hard feelings. This one is routinely mistranslated as "Easy come, easy go" (in both directions), which is not the meaning of the saying.
- Dla chcącego nic trudnego ("Nothing tough for a willing [one]") - "Where there's a will, there's a way". As long as one wills something, they can easily achieve it. This is one of the rare Polish sayings that isn't deterministic, pessimistic or about downright browbeating people into acceptance of their (poor) stance.
- Do odważnych świat należy ("The world belongs to the bold") - stand for yourself and be brave, and sky shall be your limit. Another "unique" saying, given its encouraging nature. Unsurprisingly, it's foreign (German), rather than Polish.
- Każdy orze jak może ("Everyone plows as they are able to") - everyone deals with something according to their capabilities and resources at hand. The usual context is that of hard-earned bread or running the sort of business that verges on legality.
- Zabierać się (do czegoś) jak pies do jeża ("To take on [something] as a dog takes on a hedgehog") - to reluctantly try to do something, to be very cautious over perceived danger, to take on an undesirable job.
- Zabierać się jak jeż do stosunku ("To take on as a hedgehog to an intercourse") - a humorous variant of the above, the kind of situation where the job or task is both seen as unpleasant, and yet lucrative.
- Goi się jak na psie ("Heals like on a dog") - when any kind of wound or harm heals quickly and easily, without any complications. Take note that it's often understood to mean the complete opposite (whether by personal misunderstanding or general semantic drift), so better mind the context.
- Tu leży pies pogrzebany ("Here lies the buried dog") - something is the crux or the source of an issue. Borrowed from German. A more "native" variant is ''W tym (cały) sęk" ("In this the [whole] tree knot"), indicating a hidden and hard to overcome obstaclenote .
- Jeden pies ("Same [kind of] dog") - it's all the same to me. Usually meant derisively.
- Jak się chce uderzyć psa, to kij się zawsze znajdzie ("If one wants to hit the dog, a stick will always be found") - if one wants to pin the blame on someone specific, usually some sort of social pariah, then finding an actual pretext to do it is a mere formality.
- Pies ci mordę lizał ("A dog licked your mug/muzzle/face") - go screw yourself. Has far more vulgar and literal variant, Pies cię jebał, where the dog instead fucked you - and this is the sort of thing you won't be saying in a polite company.
- However, Pies to jebał ("dog fucked that") is a kinda happy-go-lucky approach to some loss, no matter how severe, where you don't care about something and simply chalk it up. Has a somewhat less vulgar version substituting shitting for fucking, and still-rather-vulgar-but-won't-rise-eyebrows-anymore version of Pies cię/to trącałnote , where instead of fucking, the dog nudged you/something - "trącać" being a double-meaning word, covering both literal nudge and an intercourse.
- Psu na budę ("For the dog for [its] kennel") - something completely useless, without any practical application.
- Zejść/schodzić na psy ("To descend/descending to dogs [level])" - to get worse, to decrease quality. Specifically: to decline morally, to become a worse person.
- Francuski piesek ("French [lap-] dog") - a very picky, never-satisfied, always complaining no matter how much care they are receiving, spoiled rotten kind of person.
- Żyć jak pies z kotem ("To live like a dog with a cat") - pretty self-explanatory.
- Pogoda pod psem ("Weather under a dog") - very bad, most likely heavily rainy weather.
- Ni pies, ni wydra [coś na kształt świdra] ("Not a dog, not an otter [some sort of drill]") - anything you can't quite fit into any neat single category and you don't know what to do with it, but it's there. Also, an expression of vaguely amused bafflement. (If you were wondering, the only reason the drill part is there is that it rhymes with the otter part, so if you ever go to Poland don't expect drill-shaped otters there, or anything like that.)
- Drzeć koty ("To shred cats [together with sb]") - a variant of above which is sometimes understood as an endearing term, carrying a hint of best buds under all the vitriol.
- Dla kota za dużo, dla psa za mało ("Too much for a cat, not enough for a dog") - you can't please everyone with whatever you are doing or sharing.
- Dostać kota ("To get cat") - To go crazy, to be very erratic and aggressive. Comes from an old superstition regarding moody maternity - it was all a witch's fault! And she switched the child in a womb with an angry cat, now clawing its way out! Why the witches do this? We don't know, but they don't have to explain their wicked ways! But clearly, that's why pregnant women can get angry at the drop of a hat.
- Tyle, co kot napłakał ("As much as the cat [was able to] cry out") - a very small, completely insignificant and insufficient amount of something.
- Żyć na kocią łapę ("To live on cat's paw") - to live together without a marriage, to be in concubinage. Despite two adult people living together and having children without a marriage stopped being seen as offensive or shocking almost a century ago, the saying sticked around and even gained (somewhat) endearing meaning in the right context. One thing for sure: it completely lost its original, negative meaning.
- Kocia wiara ("Cat's creed") - originally, dismissively about any non-Catholic religion, but nowadays, it's considered an insulting way of addressing Jehovah's Witnesses specifically.
- Kaczka dziennikarska ("Journalistic duck") - a specific kind of blatantly fake news, which was originally typical for tabloids trying to bolster their sales with sensational articles. Over time, the saying evolved to mean a doctored or outright fabricated news to stir reaction out of people and also ones that started as well-meaning, but quickly turned into a Snowball Lie.
- Sezon ogórkowy ("Cucumber season") - a dry seasonnote , a period of the year where nothing interesting happens in culture and domestic politics (usually middle of the summer, which is literally a cucumber season in Poland) and as a result, there is nothing interesting to write about in the newspapers. Thus, a cucumber season is a period where media publish a lot of sensational articles or put focus on random, often insignificant stuff, which is dropped the next day and never brought up again.
- Do tanga trzeba dwojga ("It takes two to tango") - another self-explanatory saying, further popularized by a classic rock song. Unlike the English version, it doesn't carry an overwhelming negative connotation and might be used in encouraging context, too.
- Wchodzić oknem, nie drzwiami ("Entering through a window, not through doors") - to enter somewhere with bad intentions. It's not much used nowdays, but is the root for much more popular...
- Jak nie drzwiami, to oknem ("If not [through] doors, then [use] a window") - don't get yourself easily brushed off and insist on what you want, no matter how uncooperative or unwilling to play along the other side is. This is usually the standard advice you can get from your parents when looking for your first job.
- Nie kijem go, to pałką ("If not [to hit him/someone] with a stick, then with a club") - much like above, but with a rather more hostile tone.
- Kropla drąży skałę/kamień ("A drop drills a rock/stone") - shortened Latin "gutta cavat lapidem non vi, sed saepe cadendo". Small, but long and insistent action will eventually achieve its goal.
- Jak się człowiek spieszy, to się diabeł cieszy ("A man in haste makes the devil happy") - "Haste makes waste", otherwise rather self-explanatory. note
- Co nagle, to po diable ("What's done in haste, goes with the devil") - a variant of the above. Noticed the insistence of the demonic presence in hasty actions already?
- Śpiesz się powoli ("Haste slowly") - Latin "Festina lente".
- Nie pali się ("It isn't burning") - the task in question doesn't require instant action and there is no real point to rush toward it, but it will be done eventually. Usually told either to some hot-head to calm down or to justify own slacking right now.
- Robota/praca nie zając, nie ucieknie ("The job [is] not a hare, it won't run away") - similar to above, however this one is a clear-cut excuse for slacking off. Compare with Russian version, where the comparison is made with a wolf or a bear running away to a forest.
- Potrzeba jest matką wynalazków ("Necessity is the mother of invention") - a very self-explanatory one.
- Żadna praca nie hańbi ("No job gives you dishonour") - no matter what's your job or way of meeting your ends, there is nothing wrong in doing it. Note the word "praca" - it means employment and general hard working. And as such, the saying doesn't cover criminal activities, Get-Rich-Quick Schemes or alike. Unless, of course, one is a Consummate Professional, but then the saying is used as a boast, rather than an observation.
- Urobić się/ręce po łokcie ("Work yourself/your arms up to elbows") - to work really hard, to be very tired after hard work. There is also "Zarobiony po łokcie" ("working up to elbows"), which means someone very busy with their current task, with no time to spare.
- Nazwisko ma się tylko jedno ("You have only one surname") - since you can't easily change your surname without completely cutting off yourself from your previous achievements, you should think twice before doing something that can easily backfire on you, because Once Done, Never Forgotten. This has a wide range of applications, from cautionary reminder to self-realisation of a White-Dwarf Starlet, or even when considering changing your surname via marriage.
- Syty głodnego nie zrozumie ("The sated [one] won't understand the hungry [one]") - "He that is warm, thinks all are so". This one is pretty well-ingrained into the Polish language and culture, given the monumental historical inequalities. Comes in expanded variant: "Syty głodnego nie zrozumie, a bogaty biednego wyśmieje" ("... and the rich [one] will laugh at the poor [one]), but that one is rarely used due to being a mouthful.
- Nie urodzi sowa sokoła ("An owl won't give birth to a hawk") - you have to take into account your own limitations. Alternatively: you can't overcome your background and family ties.
- Okazja czyni złodzieja ("An opportunity makes a thief") - a chance to profit illegally is enough to tempt people into stealing or commit crimes in general, especially if they (think) they can get away with it.
- Nie śpij, bo cię okradną ("Don't [fall a]sleep, or they will rob you") - related with the above, but the actual meaning is a playful way to keep someone awake and alerted, while they are obviously distracted and sleepy. Might or might not be preceded by some harmless prank.
- Kradzione nie tuczy ("[Something] stolen won't fatten you up") - you won't be able to benefit from something obtained illegally. Comes with second, more literal and humorous meaning: that food you've stolen (particularly: fruits from an orchard or a garden) won't make you fat, excusing you from pigging out on it.
- Ten się śmieje, kto się śmieje ostatni ("The one laughing is the one, who laughs the last") - "He who laughs last, laughs best", but with an added factor of grim resolve and Best Served Cold.
- Prawda nie głaszcze ("The truth doesn't caress") - truth tends to be harsh, so don't expect anything pleasant when someone is honest or goes off the record.
- Prawda w oczy kole ("Truth pokes you in the eyes") - when someone can't accept the fact that they are in the wrong after being corrected, and are now fussy about it.
- Ile wina w głowie, tyle prawdy w słowie ("As much wine in the head, as much truth in the word") - Polish culture believes in In Vino Veritas. A lot. To the point it's almost customary to get drunk or at least drink a lot with someone you are befriending, precisely to get all the filters out.
- Poznać błazna i bez dzwonków ("You can recognise a jester even without his bells") - Latin "Non opus est follo suspendere tympana collo", but adjusted from sheep to the concept of a court jester. An idiot will always make it clear to everyone around him that he's stupid, without any prompt or provocation. The word "błazen" means not just a jester, but also a fool in general - and that's the default meaning of it.
- Jedna jaskółka wiosny nie czyni ("A single swallow doesn't make it spring") - "One swallow doesn't make a summer", a multi-language saying. Like all Slav languages (except for Slovak), Polish uses the "spring" variant.
- Kozła doić próżno ("It's futile to try to milk a billy goat") - certain actions will obviously bear no results, so no point performing them.
- Równia pochyła (literally "Declined plane", but meaning "Inclined plane") - a slow, but steady decrease of quality of something, always sliding lower and lower. Notably, while an inclined plane can be used to move objects both ways, the idiom is never used to describe improvements, but only worsening of something. To make it less confusing for English users, while "inclined" means rising, Polish "pochyła" implies a downward slope.
- (Mieć) z górki ("To [have] downhill") - to overcome an obstacle and now just having the easy part ahead, to live on the easy street.
- Robić (komuś) pod górkę ("To make [it] uphill [for someone]") - to deliberately create obstacles for someone, to needlessly complicate things for someone. Important context - while the "for someone" bit is rarely verbalised, the problems from the saying are always made for someone else, and almost always in a conscious, mean-spirited way, rather than simply creating problems for the sake of it, not to mention never doing it for yourself.
- Cios poniżej pasa ("Groin attack", literally "Below-waistline hit") - a dirty trick, something clearly crossing a line and using excessive force. Often used when an argument goes out of hand and someone starts going for really touchy subjects or outright offenses. Unlike English equivalent, groin attacks aren't considered in any way humorous in Poland, but synonymous with cheap and underhand behaviour.
- Od Sasa do Lasa ("From the Saxon to the Las/the Forest") - mixed, very diverse. This phrase refers to a civil war fought in the 18th Century between two rival candidates to the throne: one of the Wettin dynasty of Saxony ("the Saxon"), the other by the name Leszczyński (which stems from the root "las", forest).
- Cała para poszła w gwizdek ("All the steam went to the whistle") - a lot of hard work that bears no meaningful results. Also used for situations that create a lot of buzz, but no actual action is taking place and eventually the issue remains unsolved.
- Krowa, która dużo ryczy, mało mleka daje ("A cow that roars [moos] a lot gives little milk") - there is little use from declarations. A person that brags a lot usually does the least.
- Pies, który dużo szczeka, mało gryzie ("A dog that barks a lot, bites a little") - "Barking dogs seldom bite".
- Słomiany zapał ("Straw enthusiasm") - a burst of initial enthusiasm that very quickly dies, leaving no lasting results, burning out as quickly as straw yet unable to sustain fire.
- Na oko/Pi razy oko/Pi razy drzwi ("By eye"/"Pi times eye"/"Pi times the door") - by an ad-hoc assessment; "guesstimate".
- na oko to chłop w szpitalu umarł ("'eye' is what a man/a peasant died of in the hospital") - an expression of disbelief in such an ad-hoc assessment.
- Ni w pięć, ni w dziesięć ("Not in five, not in ten") - something uniquely unfit, that doesn't belong anywhere and is hard to place or group with other stuff. A close equivalent of English "no rhyme or reason", but more about the troublesome uniqueness than how illogical it is.
- Musi to na Rusi [a w Polsce, jak kto chce] ("'But Thou Must!' is for the Rus [and in Poland, it's free-for-all!]") - I don't feel like doing that, naa-naa-naa-naa, and it's not like you can make me. Refers to a difference between old Polish "Golden Liberty", and much greater degree of direct control that a Russian tsar had over his subjects.
- Nudne jak flaki z olejem ("Boring just as tripe [soup] with oil") - something dreadfully boring. Comes from incredibly bland taste tripe soup can have when poorly seasoned and further cooked with oil (think carp fried in oil and similar dull-tasting food).
- Nudy na pudy ("Boredom [weighted] by poods") - another one to describe extreme boredom or to call something uninspiring to a fault. Pood is an old Russian weight measure, equal to slightly over 16 kg (or 36 poundsnote ). So anything requiring multiple poods to be weighted is excessive.
- Pies ogrodnika ("A gardener's dog") - somebody who won't share, despite otherwise having no use whatsoever of the thing to share. Refers to the perception that a gardener's dog won't find any use for its master's produce (i.e. garden vegetables). In Polish, the metaphor of "The Dog in the Manger" came by way of Spanish playwright Lope de Vega.
- Modli się pod figurą, a diabła ma za skórą ("Prays under an effigy, but has [the] devil under [his/her] skin") - somebody is a lot more vicious person than outwardly presents, often with a big heaping of holier-than-thou attitude and hiding behind religion. Since Catholicism is the "default" religion in Poland, the "effigy" is immediately understood as a devotional focus without any further explanation. Actually not always used in context of religious hypocrisy, but commonly so.
- Diabeł ubrał się w ornat i ogonem na mszę dzwoni ("Devil put on a chasuble and rings for Mass with his tail") - another way to call out a hypocrite, but also frequently used in context of pots meeting kettles.
- Złego diabli nie biorą ("Devils don't take away evil ones") - a Polish take on the age-old problem of "why all the good people seem to die young when bad folks live like forever".
- Cicha woda brzegi rwie ("The quiet water [flow] tears at the [river] banks") - somebody looks unassuming, but is anything but, often with a big hint of Seemingly-Wholesome '50s Girl. Sometimes may be also used in a meaning similar to "slow and steady wins the race".
- Zastaw się, a postaw się - this saying is tricky to translate, because the word stawiać się, stemming from a root "to stand", can mean very different things. Originally, it meant "go in debt, but do [build] it [up]". In other words, it was either an acknowledgement or a criticism, depending on the context, of the sort of mentality that's still common even today: that appearances matter more than the actual ability to maintain them and to show-off with wealth (particularly in front of your guests) you don't actually posses. The saying is also notable for the fact people routinely mangle it as "postaw się, a zastaw się" and/or take it to mean "stand your ground no matter what"Explanation .
- Po linii najmniejszego oporu ("[To follow] the line of the least resistance") - to try to achieve something with least effort imaginable (and preferably none). Can be used as a mockery of someone who's either lazy or "kombinuje" too much or even for Get-Rich-Quick Scheme. Also comes with a common Malaproper, this time "po najmniejszej linii oporu" ("over the smallest [smallest, not shortest] line of resistance").
- Człowiek strzela, Pan Bóg kule nosi ("man shoots, Lord carries the bullets") - not all plans can be fully realised; general inability to fulfill your plans due to circumstances outside your own influence. Context-sensitive, as it ranges from admitting own limitations to looking for excuses over own insufficient planning or poor execution of it.
- Człowiek myśli, Pan Bóg kreśli ("man thinks, Lord writes it down", literally "draws" instead of "writes") - a far less common equivalent of the above.
- (Trafić jak) kulą w płot ("[to hit like with a] bullet into a fence", literally a "ball" rather than a "bullet") - to be unable to read the room, to say something inappropriate and also wrong on factual level. To miss a point in a dramatic and embarrassing fashion.
- Pier...ąć jak łysy o beton ("to hit like a bald guy against the concrete") is a rather colorful, if vulgar, alternative based on a multi-purpose swear word that can mean both "to hit" and "to blurt out [something]".
- Powiedzieć/zrobić coś, że aż ręce opadają ("to say/do something that cause the arms to slump down", literally "for arms to fell down/off") - when someone does or says something so unexpectedly stupid or wrong, you are left speechless by it; a faux pas beyond imagination. The "ręce opadają" part also operates as something similar to "hands down the worst" when describing someone.
- Klepać pacierze (literally "to pat prayers") - to pray mechanically, to mumble prayers without focus or actual meaning. Usually when mocking a religious hypocrite, akin to Tartuffe.
- świętoszek (diminutive of "święty" - a saint) and its adjective form, świętoszkowaty - not an idiom, but an important word when describing someone that appears to be wholesome or goodly, while being a self-serving hypocrite. It isn't even restricted to religious hypocrisy, as a conman, a common thug or a convict can be called this too when they play up being innocent goodie-two-shoes. And it goes beyond Faux Affably Evil context, as it even extends to children that did something bad, but try to cover it up. Incidentally, Świętoszek is Polish title for Tartuffe.
- Klepać biedę (literally "to pat poverty") - to live in poverty, to be poor. However, this one is a sympathetic, endearing description of the situation, where someone is poor, but happy and doesn't suffer or feel lesser because of it.
- ''Spać na pieniądzach" ("to sleep on money") - to be filthy rich, to be few tiers more wealthy than everyone around (so it can be used to describe a relative situation, too).
- Upychać pieniądze do skarpety ("to cram money into a sock") - to save money by simply hoarding cash in your home, usually hidden in some non-obvious place (like a sock drawer). Usually comes up in a context describing inefficient or outright lack of money management, despite making constant savingsnote .
- Czesać kasę ("to comb dough") - to rake in money. Comes in three distinctive meanings: to simply make money, to multiply money you already have through crafty means OR to milk your income source excessively (think rock star singing on a wedding reception in rural nowhere for quick and easy cash, despite releasing three new hit albums that year).
- Odcinać kupony ("to cut off coupons") - to earn profit out of your past successes. Can be both literal (like living off copyright income) and metaphorical (like still using old favours to help yourself). Might also mean to stop putting effort into something, to just coast on the past momentum. The saying comes from the old way of selling pieces of your bonds for instant, if partial pay-off, even before the bond matured.
- Rozmieniać na drobne (literally "exchanging [money] to smaller", but meaning "to break bills into pennies") - to turn something valuable for quick, meager pay-off, to undervalue something severely, but also to simply squander great wealth, to mismanage your estate. One can also "rozmieniać się na drobne" ("exchange self to smaller"), where they waste their talent(s) and potential or when selling themselves out (and doing so cheaply).
- Bajońskie sumy ("Sums [of money] from Bayonne") - impossibly large amount of money, one that's even hard to imagine; originally in the context of impossible to pay back debt. The saying dates back to The Napoleonic Wars, when Napoleon re-created part of Poland as "Duchy of Warsaw". In the treaty of Bayonne, he graciously agreed to give the Duchy back all the debt notes its citizens made under Prussian rule, evaluated at 40 million francs (which was ruinously large debt)... requesting for his grand gesture "mere" 20 million francs to be paid back in hard cash, preferably by yesterdaynote . With Friends Like These...
- Sumy neapolitańskie ("Sums from Naples") - similar to the above, this phrase refers to a loan taken by the Crown of Spain ca. 1557 and never returned in full. It can be used simply as an earlier variant of the above, suited better for a pre-Napoleonic period piece, or to additionally carry the undertones of money you are owed but could never enforce the repay of.
- Amerykański uśmiech ("American smile") - a fake, forced smile. Comes from the general perception of American-style pleasantries, particular the constant grin, to not only be fake, but outright pointless and grating. (If you wanted to ask: it's possibly the newest of sayings listed here, inspired mostly by the post-Nineties exposure to American popular culture.)
- A grammar curio - it's actually "amerykański", as adjectives made from nations aren't capitalised in Polish.
- A cultural curio - don't ask Poles how do they do or how are they, if you don't actually care about the answer and your culture considers this sort of question to be just a small talk. Not only you are going to get a honest, winded answer, but it's almost guaranteed to be a complain.
- Krokodyle łzy ("crocodile's tears") - fake tears; pretending to be sorry for something. Comes from old-timey folklore about crocodiles shedding tears before they eat their prey - something they don't really regret at allnote .
- Mieć wodę w piwnicy ("to have water in your basement") - to wear ill-fitted, slightly too small clothes, particularly ankle-length trousers (but not the ones that are actually designed to be ankle-length). Often operates as shortened "woda w piwnicy" ("water in the basement")
- Ze starszego brata ("[taken] from the older brother") - to wear ill-fitted, but this time too large and baggy clothes. Might also indicate something being generally worn-off, a hand-me-down in poor condition and in case of clothes specifically - no longer fashionable.
- Półkownik (portmanteau of "pułkownik" - colonel - and "półka" - a shelfnote ) - a specific kind of The Shelf of Movie Languishment from commie era, where political censorship could retained any given movie for "anti-system elements". During various political thaws, those movies were then released, often years after production wrapped. The colonel part in the word isn't purely for a pun - at least some of the censors held officer ranks in various State Secs. One of the more acclaimed półkowniks was Kieślowski's Blind Chancenote and it's in general a sort of badge of honour if a movie was shelved by censors.
- Piąta/siódma/dziesiąta woda po kisielu ("Fifth/seventh/tenth water after kissel", the number depending on region) - a very distant relative, someone who is barely related to you. The sort of extended family you meet at large wedding receptions or funerals of people who were already distant relatives to you (and there is a good chance you only ever interact with those people during such events). The saying comes from traditional (rather than modern) way of making kissel dessert, which was progressively more and more diluted each time served, eventually losing all taste and hence no longer being considered to be kissel anymore.
- Przyszywany wujek/ciotka ("Stitched uncle/aunt") - Honorary Uncle, the sort of a friend of the family that for the ease of communication was introduced to you as an uncle or an aunt when you were a child. Often leads to awkward situations later on, since you obviously keep the habit of calling them uncle or auntie, despite knowing better. Other types of familial relation can also be "stitched-on" (e.g. you may regard their children as your honorary cousins), excepting perhaps only parent-child because you're either a full child (whether adopted or biological) or not.
- Końskie pieszczoty ("Equine caress") - a very rough form of showing affection, bordering on using violence. Can be both used to describe Interplay of Sex and Violence and, more commonly, when someone outright harms their partner in a misguided attempt to show their affection. If you ever saw horses necking each other, you should get the picture. In modern times, it often blurs with the popular misconception about BDSM.
- Końskie zaloty ("Equine advances") - replace caress with advances and you get the kind of very forward action that's somewhere between molestation in all but name, and just plain molestation. The kind of attention that the resident shy wallflower receives from a school bully and is told by the apathetic teachers to "just not respond to".
- Koń by się uśmiał ("A horse would laugh") - something definitely not funny, but also absurd, nonsensical. This saying is ironic (and can even be rude in the right context) in nature, the sort of snide remark you make after someone says a really bad joke or pull an ill-fitted prank.
- Na jedno kopyto ("From a single (shoemaker) last") - something repetitive to a fault, sickeningly monotonous. In Polish, the same word - kopyto - is used to describe an animal hoof and a shoe-making last, which often leads to this saying being put in the weirdest contexts whenever someone is thinking about hooves.
- Zjadać własny ogon ("To eat [its] own tail") - Someone, who keeps making the same mistakes, or who is the cause of their own problems. While originally this saying was a variation of "you are your own worst enemy", it eventually changed context to mean repetitive creators and artists, who keep making the same thing over and over. Contrary to what you might think, the saying has nothing to do with Ouroboros.
- Uderz w stół, a nożyce się odezwą ("Hit the table, and the scissors will ring [literally: speak out]") - I Never Said It Was Poison, pretty much. Somebody took offense despite not having been explicitly called out, and you are pointing it out.
- Nogi ci z tyłka powyrywam ("I'm gonna rip yer legs outta yer arse") - a traditional way to scold a misbehaving child. A more vulgar variant switches it to "z dupy" - outta your ass, and it works in any given context when you want to threaten someone with a bloody, painful punishment.
- Cisza jak makiem zasiał ("So silent as if [they] were planting poppy [seeds]") - A complete and total, often almost unnatural, silence. Poppy seeds are very light and the silence from the saying originally indicated lack of wind (thus allowing proper planting without much seed loss), but it evolved to just general silence.
- Dobrali się jak w korcu maku ("A match made in a pot [full] of poppy seeds") - A perfectly matched group, usually a duo, be it friends or lovers. Think Single-Minded Twins without the "twins" part. Context-sensitive, since it can also mean partners in crime or a particularly nasty Enemy Mine situation.
- Groch z kapustą ("Peas with cabbage") - a random mix, a state of chaos. Comes from a traditional dish, that combined exactly that: cooked (dried) peas and sauerkraut.
- Wieszać nudle na uszach ("To hang pasta on someone's ears") - a context-sensitive and multi-meaning saying that can cover someone's tendency to:
- Over-elaborate, to speak in a needlessly detailed way
- Tell tall tales, to spin fantastic, but blatantly untrue stories
- Keep talking nonsense, distracting from the actual subject
- Talk behind someone's back
- Temat-rzeka ("Topic-river") - a vast, extensive, near-impossible to exhaust subject to talk about; something that will take a very long time to explain properly.
- Być na ty ("To be on 'you' [basis]") - to know someone well-enough to ignore formalities and address each other with just "ty" or their given name (or even a diminutive). It applies particularly in professional environment and toward people you aren't related with or there is a significant age gap, all of which would normnally lead to more formal address.
- Nie jesteśmy na ty! ("We are not on 'you' [basis]!) - when someone oversteps the boundaries and tries to get too cozy with you. However, it's less about crossing social norms and more about scolding someone who clearly is acting in a smarmy, too direct way, as if being your friend, while clearly not being one - think in terms of Honest John's Dealership salesman trying to work you out into a deal. It might be also used when someone tries to bribe or you simply don't want to deal with someone that's pestering you and slipped into informal addressing.
- Bruderszafta nie piliśmy ("We didn't drink to brotherhood") - we aren't as close as you think we are. (Also, sod off.)
- (Iść) na noże ("[To go] for knives") - somewhat similar to English "knives out"note . Any situation in which two parties are overly aggressive and openly hostile toward each other, with the potential to escalate even into a physical fight. Also, if the "iść" part is added, it indicates either planning escalation of a conflict or a conflict that will obviously escalate soon, depending if you're a participant or an observer.
- Zerwać się z łańcucha/ze smyczy ("To break loose off the chain/the leash") - to act in a carefree, hedonistic way, where there are no rules and everything is allowed, to abuse short-lived freedom. Not only this saying is negative in meaning, but the usual context is a teen that went away from home for vacations without parents and now is acting up. The chain in the saying is also specific one - it's the one you put a guard dog on, and the animal acts in unpredictable way should it break free.
- Słomiany wdowiec/wdowa ("Straw widower/widow") - whenever your spouse leaves for just a few days, be it delegation, spa or hospital and you are left alone, "free" to do whatever you please. Unlike the above, this has endearing meaning. (Men Can't Keep House, Bumbling Dad and the like.) Also, the widower version is far more popular.
- Albo rybki, albo akwarium ("Either the fish, or the aquarium") - unlike the saying about having a cookie and eating it, which does sometimes leave room for taking both options at once, this one focuses on the exclusivity. (Yes, despite it being very much possible to keep both the fish and the aquarium.) It's usually said as a reminder to someone that they have to make a decision.
- (Mieć) kiełbie we łbie ("[To have] gudgeons in [one's] head") - to be stupid beyond measure, to be easily confused with a mad man due to own idiocy. Comes from the folk belief that stupid people have extra water (read: less brain) in their heads, so a truly dumb person would have enough of said water to sustain a shoal of tiny fish.
- Mieć małe rybko w głowie ("To have tiny fishes in the head") - a far less popular nowadays, but once used interchangeably. Made somewhat memetic due to being used in The Promised Land.
- (Dojść) po nitce do kłębka ("[Following] the thread leads to the ball [of yarn]") - to pay close attention to details, to be able to piece together a bigger picture from disconnected leads (despite the saying suggesting an obvious trail to follow).
- Im dalej w las, tym więcej drzew ("The further into the forest, the more trees [there are]") - the further you investigate something, the more details and connections become visible, the sort of situation where you start with something almost completely innocent and then quickly find more and more incriminating details, sometimes even literally.
- Nauka nie poszła w las ("The study didn't go into the forest") - ability to use prior knowledge or some trivia for practical purposes; also - to apply previous experiences and misadventures to deal with current issue(s).
- Wozić/nosić drwa do lasu ("To cart/bring wood into the forest") - to do completely pointless job, to bring in something that's not only unnecessary, but already in abundance.
- Od prawa do lewa ("From right to left") - something thoroughly covered, a fact or event that everyone is familiar with thanks to excessive coverage. Has just as common variant, "od lewa do prawa", which means the exact same thing, just flips the directions.
- Bronić się rękami i nogami ("To defend [yourself] with arms and legs") - to fiercely refrain from something, or doing something. This is context-sensitive, as one might resist doing something either unpleasant (when it is understandable) or beneficial or positive (when the idiom works as a critique of such resistance).
- Bronić jak niepodległości ("To defend [something] like the independence") - to defend something till your last breath, for better or worse. Like the above, it can be context-sensitive, but more often than not, it is used to describe fighting for an obviously lost cause, being (willingly) blind to the reality of the situation. This one has the obvious historical source, given the countless bloody Last Stands done in the name of Polish independence during the late 18th and first half of the 19th century.
- Z uporem godnym lepszej sprawy ("With persistence worth a better cause") - when someone stubbornly keeps doing something or going with some initiative, no matter how stupid, wasteful, counter-productive or even outright harmful it is. Also: when they refuse to accept that their actions are bad or ill-conceived.
- Z uporem maniaka ("With persistence of a maniac") - a Broken Record persistence, when someone keeps doing something time and again and again and again, utterly blind that it doesn't work or bears no results.
- Sobie, a muzom ("For myself and the muses") - a Memetic Mutation from a Renaissance poem; an activity done for own leisure, without looking at anyone or even the situation around. This can work in a variety of contexts:
- steadily doing your job, no matter how bad the situation around you is
- pursuing (often unpleasant or tedious) tasks, because you simply feel like it
- ignoring orders and directives, the bureaucrat version of being a loose cannon
- performing a pointless task that nobody asked for and which ultimately doesn't amount to anything
- performing a task that's not pointless by itself, but will be nullified by the existing laws or regulations anyway
- simply engaging in some activity just because you yourself find it interesting or entertaining, no matter what it is
- Szukać jelenia ("To look for a deer") - to look for a patsy, and more literally - to look for an easy prey.
- Szukasz jelenia?/Jelenia szukasz? ("Are you looking for a deer?") - the disbeliving question when someone tries to blatantly take advantage of your.
- Szukać frajera ("To look for a sucker") - same as above, just less flowery.
- Umierać za Gdańsk ("To die for Danzig") - a way of calling an argument overly fallacious, derived from French writer and future Nazi collaborator Marcel Déat's article "Why Die for Danzig?", which advocated against French intervention in response to Adolf Hitler's demands for German control over the Free City of Danzignote . The article and the eponymous anti-war slogan it created were, understandably, loathed in Poland.
- Słoń a sprawa polska ("The elephant and the Polish cause") - a Memetic Mutation from Przedwiośnie novel, but has a longer history. A critique of trying to find connections with Poland or Polish undertones in any given work, Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory-style. This comes from the late 19th century sentiment, bordering on obsession, where the independence cause completely and utterly dominated the discourse in art (to the point that the period is known as "Young Poland"). Ever since, it has either been used in the original context, particularly against misguided patriotism and national ego, or in a slightly broader one, when someone is trying to bend facts to fit their agenda.
And here are some common, but potentially counter-intuitive comparisons that one may hear from a native Polish speaker:
- dumber than...
- a Parliamentary act postulates. (Readings Are Off the Scale crossed with a politician joke.)
- a hedgehog.
- stupid as...
- a shoe.
- laughing/joyful like...
- [a] stupid [one]. (Yeah, in Poland laughing does not even mark you as mad, merely stupid.)
- a weasel/marten on the funeral of a fox.
- loiter around [literally: to move in circles] like...
- a shit in an ice hole.
- dressed up as...
- a woodworm for Forest Day. (There's no nation-wide Forest Day in Poland.)
- a rat for the [official] opening of a sewer.
- a janitor on Corpus Christi.
- staring as...
- a magpie at a bone.
- healthy as...
- a horse.
- a fish.
- crying like...
- a beaver.
- silent as...
- a mouse under a broom. (In Poland, the mouse's location is usually specified.)
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), 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 neutral 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 Napoléon 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.
- 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.
- 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).note
- 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, and schoolkids might use the "patriotic argument" as an excuse not to do homework, but otherwise you should be fine.
- 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.
- Most people out of Poland think the Polish national dish are pierogi, but the usual Polish dinner is a two-course one: first - a soup; the second is often a meat dish with rice or potatoes and some kind of salad.
- Just as anywhere else on Earth, there are massive regional variables when it comes to cuisine, to the point you might feel that you've ended up in a different country after driving a car for an hour. So what usually passes as "traditional Polish cuisine" when served to tourists is a small selection of dishes that aren't even particularly popular or might be outright unknown outside the specific region you're in. Even pierogi come in local variants (we're not going to list all the possible fillings here), not to mention that for some regions they are foreign cuisine.
- Bar mleczny, a specific kind of a diner, will serve pierogi of all kinds and sorts. But not only, since this is a law-regulated establishment that serves traditional food, mostly dairy-, and flour-based (hence the name - mleczny means "milky"). Many of those foods are vegetarian, but certain dishes are served with gravy and greaves, and soups are often based on broth. If you are looking for pierogi and nothing else (aside maybe a drink with that), your destination is a pierogarnia instead.
- Like in many other Slavic countries, a traditional drink to your meal is going to be kompot - a beverage made by cooking fruits, either preserved or fresh, in a large quantity of water, until they get soft and release all their juices. Depending on the weather outside, kompot is served cold or still mildly hot after cooking. The usual mix of fruits tries to get both sweet- and sour-tasting fruits together. If the bar, diner or restaurant you're in serves kompot, give it a shot.
- A culinary curio: Poles eat both pasta and rice with or even as sweet dishes. In fact, you are more likely to get pasta served with either sweetened white cheese, strawberry mash, or grated-and-baked apples (and not just when in a bar mleczny) than with a meat or at least a vegetable sauce. This is a regional thing - as a rule of thumb, the farther east you go, the more likely you are to find exotic (to an Anglosaxon) sweet dishes. Rice with cinnamon apples is a Comfort Food for many Poles, who were served it a lot during their childhood.
- A linguistic-culinary point: "sałatka" is the Polish word for salad, any salad, be it fruit, macaroni, something fancy with walnuts or anything else. "Surówka" (in culinary context) means a salad made solely of raw vegetables (sauerkraut generally counts as raw vegetable, some people will allow grated apples) and a simple dressing. So, any "surówka" is a "sałatka", but not the other way aroundnote . Also, "surówka" is, by definition, vegan (unless the dressing is cream based, like in "mizeria" - a surówka made of cucumbers and cream), and people who don't have much understanding of vegan cooking will think it's all "surówka" (even though we have plenty of traditional vegetarian, even vegan dishes - like uszka, sort of tiny, mushroom-stuffed pierogi, served with soups).
- Speaking of vegetarian dishes - a traditional Polish Christmas Eve supper (Wigilia) is meatless, because the entire advent used to be a fasting period in the Catholic Church. It's not anymore, but traditions remain. There will probably be a fish course, but soups usually won't contain any meatnote . If you're a vegan guest, you'll probably enjoy pierogi z kapustą. Kutia and makówki are also vegetarian-friendly desserts - unless you're allergic to nuts, and they contain honey, too, so they're not vegan.
- If you like sweets, there is a wide variety of traditional pastries in Poland, sold either in bakeries or even in dedicated pastry shops, not to mention regular stores (in fact, if the local grocery-slash-liquor-store isn't selling at least the most regular yeast-dough pastries, something is seriously off and the owner was probably abducted by aliens). Typically fillings are made out of either fruits, white cheese, poppy seeds, sweet pudding, raisins or nuts (or a mix of at least two of those). Some of the pastries are regional, while others are accessible countrywide.
- Poland famously managed to get the local branch of Dunkin' Donuts go bankrupt. Twice, since apparently they didn't learn the first time. The same goes with just about any sort of foreign chain that's trying to sell pastries - they always fail to compete with the locally made stuff, both in terms of quality and price.
- Keeping it donut-centric, if you are to visit Poland in January or early February, always check when Fat Thursday happens to be that specific year. It's both traditionally and unofficially a national pączek day, and pączek is amost-but-not-quite the same as donut.
- 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.
- Modern 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 we 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. There is also a historical context - soon after introduction of potato, a way to make very cheap vodka out of it was developed. By mid-19th century Poles gained a reputation of notorious drunkards and alcoholism remained an extremely serious problem until late The '70s, while drinking at work was normal and socially accepted until the fall of communism. In fact, thanks to the ever-increasing shortages and rationing of pretty much everything under the communist government, high-proof alcohol was one of the few things that one could easily buy - until it also became rationed. Not out of shortages, mind you, but to fight off the ever-increasing alcoholism. So the fact current alcohol consumption is so unremarkable is a good thing, while the boastful nature about drinking habits is mostly tied to a not that distant past, ignoring the more current consumption.
- Curiously enough, the Polish law on outdoor drinking is one of the strictest among the non-Muslim countries, which is a residue from communist campaigns against alcoholism. 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. And no, putting your drink in a paper bag won't help - the police not only is going to fine you, but you will actually draw more attention to yourself, since this trick simply doesn't work in Poland and nobody but foreigners try it.
- 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.
- Kerry's point was that Bush said he invaded Iraq with a grand coalition of 40 nations, when in reality most of them just gave nominal support - the only nations with significant troop numbers on the ground were the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland. The humor of the exchange was that Bush gave a petty rebuttal: "You didn't invade with a grand coalition of 40 nations, only three of them had significant troop numbers!" "Four! We went in with FOUR countries that had significant troop numbers!" "That's still not forty!" - It wasn't specifically mocking Poland.
- 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 then record low of 40% in 2011 and currently keeping around that valuenote . This situation is also represented in common statement about one's creed - "wierzący, niepraktykujący", which translates as "believer, non-practitioning" (Anglophones may compare it to "spiritual, but not religious" and "non-denominational Christian").
- 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.
- As of 19th November 2016, Jesus is officially the king of Poland, no really.
- It is worth to note that the whole religious thing applies to people born in the previous century. For young adults and teenagers, pope John Paul II is ancient history with no impact on their life (beyond maybe the extremely heavy-handed "cult of saint Pope the Pole"), the Episcopal Conference is stereotypically Corrupt Church without even a single white sheep in it and the religion plays close to zero part in their life beyond attending First Communion at the age of 10note - and usually only due to grandparents demand or peer pressure put on parents. You would be hard pressed to see during a mass more than a small handful of teenagers, while around the turn of the millenium you could have entire church full during special, "children" mass - and the drop is so severe, it can't be simply blamed on lower birth rates. At the same time, the ever-increasing connection between the high hierarchy and politicians and related scandals, along with continuous denial about any Pedophile Priest issues that just never seem to stop popping out and the stream of freshly-ordained young priests that instantly turn into far-right activists slowly, but gradually grinds down the attendance of adults, regardless of how religious and faithful they might be. A common joke in Poland is that the Church is a great thing - just not the Polish one.
- In short, Catholic upbringing is common. While you may not know of the minutiae of dogma — and in fact, many a fervent church-goer will not know them eithernote — but you would have still learned a lot of adjacent customs simply by Pop-Cultural Osmosis. Having "Religion" (read: Roman Catholic Church dogma and theology 101) as a non-elective, but non-mandatory school subject definitely "helps" with this. Even if in the same time it is cited as one of the main reasons why church attendance is dropping so badly among young people, much to denial of the Polish Episcopal Conference, which championed that change in the curriculum after the fall of the communism.
- 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 then record low of 40% in 2011 and currently keeping around that valuenote . This situation is also represented in common statement about one's creed - "wierzący, niepraktykujący", which translates as "believer, non-practitioning" (Anglophones may compare it to "spiritual, but not religious" and "non-denominational Christian").
- 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 and their eventual, modern replacements aren't faring much better. 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 brotherhoodnote .
- Television in Poland, both national and private, extensively uses Voiceover Translation. Dubbing is not only rare, but also used almost exclusively for shows and films aimed at kids, making it "kid stuff". Want to escape Animation Age Ghetto? Just don't dub itnote . Theatrical releases use subtitles - again dubbing is generally applied only to films aimed at children. Unless it comes from Disney or Marvel Studios (all the superhero stuff), but these movies often have dubbed and undubbed versions. The numerous lectors - people reading the voiceover - often have minor celebrity status and are sometimes used for Stunt Casting thanks to their highly recognisable voices. At the end of the voiceover, the lector will say their name. Wildlife Commentary Spoof jokes tend to end with "czytała Krystyna Czubówna" ("read by Krystyna Czubówna"), just like real wildlife commentaries Czubówna is known for. And a handful of actual advertisements go meta with their Wildlife Commentary Spoof by hiring... Krystyna Czubówna.
- Conversely, while cinema releases use almost uniformly subtitles (except already listed dubbing for children-oriented movies), there is a small niche for television broadcasts where subtitles are used instead of voiceover: either it's a musical (rap films included), it uses different languages for plot purposes or it was directed by Stanley Kubrick. For reasons unknown, his films are always broadcasted with subtitles.
- There is also a specific facet of subtitles in Poland. Namely, subtitles for the deaf. They including dialogue list, organised in four coloursnote and plot-relevant sound descriptions. For decades, it was using teletext system, with the standard page number 777, regardless of station. In fact, the teletext service is still kept around predominately due to that function. TV stations that started after the advent of the digital television usually use selective access to subtitles.
- A small handful of programs, mostly news and talk shows broadcasted by public television, also use interpreters. Unlike typical case, Polish interpreter is a tiny figure in the bottom right corner. Private TV stations deploy interpreters only when there is some very special broadcasting (transmissions from important events, news during some sort of crisis etc.), making them a rare sight outside public stations.
- Poland can into space: the country was admitted into the European Space Agency in late 2012 and a separate Polish Space Agency formed in 2014. However, the only so far Pole to go into space, Mirosław Hermaszewski, did so in 1978, as one of the non-Soviet cosmonauts taking part in Soviet space outreach program.
- In Poland, most shops are closed on Sundays (except for family business shops and "family" business shopsnote ), so if you stay here for a weekend, go shopping for Sunday groceries and such on Saturday.
- When entering someone's house or flat, take your shoes off. Even if your host insists that you keep them and tells you it's not a big deal or any sort of problem. Especially when they insist on you staying in your shoes - it's weird like that.note Obviously, there are exceptions for practical reasons (say, it's a middle of a home repair), but generally take your shoes off. While the severity of the faux pas depends from region to region, it is generally frowned upon to get into someone's house with your footwear still on. The only possibly worse thing to do is to have your hat or any other headgear still on, which is topped only by sitting down to a meal with said hat on - and that applies to restaurants, bars and diners, too.
- If you want to cycle around Poland and write about it: first of all - you're welcome. The last guy to do this made his trip in 1934, when the borders were different anyway, so we're past due another book. Seriously, though:
- It's over 3500 kilometers. Make sure you can handle this - if not, try a shorter route, like around Wyspa Sobieszewska (23 kilometers). Pace yourself, you're not competing in Tour de Pologne. Keep yourself hydrated. We don't really have trail mix here, but gas stations and grocery stores will happily sell you various nut-dried fruit mixes and power bars. Even halvah bars (candy-bar sized, individually wrapped portions of halvah) - search for these in the sweets aisles or around the register. Also - it's not Jamaica, but you can still get sunburn when you least expect it. Sunscreen spray isn't just for kids. And wear a hat.
- Learn the basics of traffic laws:
- As long as you're over eighteen, you don't need any license to ride a bike, and kids under ten are considered pedestrians (and not allowed to use bicycle roads, curiously enough). Teenagers technically should have a "karta rowerowa", but you're unlikely to be asked about it. And if you have a driving license, it also counts.
- We ride on the right side of the road. Cyclists should use the designated roads, if possible. If there's none, make sure you're not obstructing the traffic. Don't use the sidewalk, unless you're escorting kids under ten.
- You're not allowed on expressways and highways (this is plain common sense!).
- You're not allowed to cross the road that cars use. Dismount and walk through the crossing. Riding through a crossing is a great way to end up with a heavy fine, so don't do that.
- The standard road signs apply. Cycling routes are colour-coded (local) or numbered (EuroVelo). All distances are in kilometers.
- Unlike car insurance, cycling insurance is not compulsory. Only buy it if you want to. Make sure you understand what your policy covers, exactly. You'll probably get your pick from: theft/damage of bicycle, theft/damage of luggage, "odpowiedzialność cywilna" (any damage you've done), cyclist's injury, cyclist's illness (but not heat stroke and other things you would have been able to prevent with a little thought - only serious illness, like heart disease you didn't know you've had).
- But be safe - keep your bike well-maintained and well-lit. Helmets are not compulsory, but won't hurt. And, to reiterate, this is not Tour de Pologne, you're here to see the sights, so look around you.
- If your tyres have either Presta or Dunlop valves, make sure you are carrying your own, fitting pump. Public pumps are almost exclusively fitted for the "standard" Schrader valve and don't come with an adapter.
- You can download cycling maps from several sites. Use them to plan your trip.
- Above all, don't be an "Englishman abroad". Of course, you can be a literal Englishman - what we mean here is the attitude, so brilliantly satirized by George Orwell, of "if it's not like home, it's wrong". If that helps, imagine you're The Doctor and the bike is your TARDIS, so you can use the wrong verbs and kiss complete strangers (maybe refrain from kissing...) and just drink the world around you.
- On trains, streetcars and buses - baby carriers and wheelchairs go first. The driver may ask you to wait at the station if there's no room inside. Or in case of buses, flat-out refuse to allow entry - bus rules aren't uniform across the country and various companies in different municipalities have regulations against transporting bikes inside. If you decide to use a train, keep in mind that you must pay a small bike fee to your ticket, for your bike is treated as "large dimension luggage"note . Most trains nowdays have designated spot for putting your bike, either as a stand or a rack.
- Since it's the 21st century, your writing will probably be a blog. Even if it's not, keeping a backup on a server somewhere won't hurt. Internet access will be found in most towns on the road.
- Just because the Polish traffic code was updated some time ago and you no longer will lose your driving license for drunk riding, common sense dictates you should still remain sober. No matter how much your newly made Polish friends will want to give you a "parting shot".
Here are some minor tropes memetically related to Poland:
- 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 partitions of Poland, this stance was turned into the cornerstone of Polish culture, for better or worse. It created a sense of solidarity among the Poles, but also inspired them into more than one pointless, doomed-to-fail uprising.
- 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 almost always do die trying. Faced with powerful neighbors on every side and no significant geographical barriers, Poland's answer was always a defiant "We'll die, but we'll sure as hell make the bastards pay for every inch of land in blood." However, there is a growing resentment toward the "Polish martryrdom complex", with more and more people perceiving those actions as wasteful, if not outright stupid, rather than heroic.
- As Long as There Is One Man: The more upbeat take on the whole "Doomed Moral Victor" martyrdom complex. The lyrics to Polish national anthem explicitly state the ethos that so long as any Poles remain alive, Poland is not truly defeated.
- Another aspect of the insistence of doomed moral victor is complete ignorance toward those few fights that Poles won. Every single defeat is drilled into school children since they can write, but they are lucky if any other success than the Grunwald battle (itself completely insignificant, but being a national rally point for over 500 years) will be mentioned throughout their education. This is particularly bitter issue in Upper Poland and Silesia, which ended up within Polish borders post-WW1 solely because local population staged successful, well-planned uprisings, as opposed to the romantic "let's get ourselves killed for the cause, achieving nothing".
- The Exile: Polish artists in exile are a common trope in literature and life. Famous expat Poles include Chopin, Joseph Conrad and Roman Polanski.
- Hates Small Talk: English-style small talk is a great way to at best confuse and at worst offend Poles by oversharing and prying, at the same time not caring about what they say. Because if you are asking someone how they are doing in Poland, you will get the answer, whether you like it or not, and it will be a complaint. And if you don't care - why did you ask, then?
- Jewish Complaining: But if a ritual exchange of complaints is what you're after, feel welcome. On a good day, you may end up in a complaint contest where each participant tries to one-up the other with a litany of their minor woes and ailments. (And yeah, Poles and Jews - the Ashkenazi at least - have lived side-by-side for long enough that you'd expect a few things in common.)
- Manly Facial Hair: Cracked.com went as far as to claim Poland's fortune is dependent on the quality of her leader's facial hair.note
- 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.
- Romanticism: Polish flavour of it is distinctive, as it ignores almost all the tropes related to it, instead turning it into an emotional cry to people to fight for freedom and restoration of the lost country. It directly created the Doomed Moral Victor stance and contributed to two major (and ill-fated) uprisings in the 19th century that were full of ideas, but lacked completely the practical side. If you aren't familiar with Polish history, going through Polish romantic literature can be confusing, to put it mildly.
- For much the same reason, Polish take on Positivism is also nothing like the generic form. Instead of philosophical movement with a taste for science and empiricism, it's a mix of literary realism and social activism that grew out of disillusionment with Romanticism. It arose at a time when people figured that noble doomed uprisings kind of don't work, and perhaps educating the common folk and slowly building up strength is actually a better idea in the long term.
- Self-Deprecation: It is very common in Poland, with a specific brand of Black Comedy involved. Generally, while you might have already heard about the Polish dry wit, it's still something that can and often does take foreigners off-guard with just how dark or vicious things get. That doesn't make Poles an entire nation of Eeyores or anything like that - it's simply the local style of humour and general attitude, along the lines of "if life gives you lemons...".
- Lech Wałęsa, the former President and leader of the Solidarity movement that toppled the Communist rule.
- Pope John Paul II
- Roman Polański
- 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.
- Ignacy Łukasiewicz, the inventor of kerosene lamp and of oil industry, pretty much (apparently, the oil well he built is still frequented by Arab tourists), not to be confused with...
- Jan Łukasiewicz, a logician and inventor of Polish notation (this is why it's called "Polish"), also one of the pioneers of trinary logic.
- Bronisław Malinowski, a anthropologist and ethnologist who pretty much reinvented anthropology to its modern format. Not to be confused with...
- Ernest Malinowski, a railway engineer, responsible for Ferrocarril Central del Perú, also known as the Trans-Andean Railway, which remained the highest build railway in the world for well over a century, while having to accommodate for steam trains.
- 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.
- Miroslav Klose, ethnic German footballer born in Opole and currently the highest-scoring individual (male) player of The World Cup, playing for his ethnic homeland in four straight tournaments.
- Robert Kubica, racing driver. Currently the first, and only, Pole to race in Formula One and win a Grand Prix race (Canada 2008). As of 2021, current Test and Reserve Driver for Alfa Romeo Racing, while also participating in other sports car races. Also a Handicapped Badass for continuing his racing career after having suffered serious injuries in his right arm from a rally car crash in 2011.
- Robert Lewandowski, football star for Barcelona (after a long run with Bayern Munich, and before that Borussia Dortmund) and the Poland national team. Captain and all-time leader in both international appearances and goals for Poland, seven-time leading goal scorer in Germany's Bundesliga (also holding the league's single-season goals record), and two-time selection as The Best FIFA Men's Player. For starters.
- Joanna Jędrzejczyk, MMA fighter and former UFC women's strawweight champion.
- Iga Świątek, tennis star, current (September 2022) women's world No. 1, and winner of three Grand Slam events so far. The first Pole to be either world No. 1 or the winner of a Grand Slam singles event.note
- Andrzej Sapkowski, author of The Witcher series.
- John Bluthal, actor best known for The Vicar of Dibley (emigrated with his family to Australia as a child).
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
Coat of arms of Poland
The Polish national anthem
- Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic
- President: Andrzej Duda
- Prime Minister: Mateusz Morawiecki
- Capital and largest city: Warsaw
- Population: 38,268,000
- Area: 312,696 km² (120,733 sq mi) (69th)
- Currency: Polish złoty (zł) (PLN)
- ISO-3166-1 Code: PL
- Country calling code: 48
- Highest point: Rysy (2499 m/8,199 ft) (95th)
- Lowest point: Żuławy Wiślane (−2 m/−6 ft) (38th)