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, cleverly alternating between placating the German emperors and going behind their backs. Perhaps the most globally notable event of first two or three centuries of Poland's existence happened during a period of political fragmentation, when one of Polish regional princes invited The Teutonic Knights to help him against the pagan Prussians. It later became quite a nuisance, so to say. Reunified Poland, in dire need for allies, became associated with Lithuania (this historical Lithuania actually consisted of modern-day Belarus and Lithuania). As the last pagan country in Europe, it also had a problem with the Knights, until Grand Duke Jogaila accepted the Polish crown, baptized himself and his realm (thus nullifying the reason of the Order's very presence) and became king Władysław of Poland. Together both countries broke the power of the Order. Over time Lithuania eventually merged with Poland, forming the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Together, Poland and Lithuania ruled over an enormous, immensely powerful and rich empire. It also became a beacon for religious tolerance even before the union with Lithuania, with King Casimir III the Great providing refuge to Jews and prohibited, under pain of death, the forced conversion of Jewish children to Christianity and this increased Jewish migration to Poland. note
The Golden Age
The 16th and 17th Centuries comprised the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth are known as, respectively, the Golden Age and the Silver Age of Polish history, remembered for its "Golden Liberty", when kings were elected and the franchise included 10% of the population, by far the most inclusive in Europe until the end of the eighteenth century. The Commonwealth's legacy is disputed since nobody knows who truly represented it, and, this is important, who really inherits it. Until the Constitution of 3rd May, it was legally a union of two countries, Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The nobility of the Grand Duchy became for the most part Polonized, but the lower classes of Lithuania, like the lower classes of Poland were left out and Poland was identified as "the Noble nation". Poles see Poland as representative to all of the Commonwealth, ignoring the views of Lithuanians who see Lithuania as the successor to Grand Duchy. Ethnic Lithuanians were actually a minority in a country mostly made of modern-day Belarus, and (due to assimilation) their upper classes were culturally Polish anyway. Ukrainians consider themselves descendants of the Ruthenian population of the region, particularly those who formed the Cossack Host, even though the Cossacks themselves were at least as much an occupation as an ethnic group. note
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth has been likened to Antebellum America since many of its leaders and rulers proclaimed freedom while still owning large folwarks (manorial plantations) of serfs. The period of the Commonwealth coincided with the Refeudalization of Poland and Eastern Europe. At the time when Serfdom was on its way out in Western Europe, and feudalism gave way to the The Renaissance and the Early Modern Era, serfdom increased in Poland where peasants, who were formerly allowed to own land and given rights to travel, soon had their rights taken away from them. 80% of the population in the Commonwealth consisted of serfs who were bound to their manor houses, denied permission to leave and who could be bought and sold at the whim of their masters. Since the Polish szlachta (Nobility) were reluctant to break up families and sell serfs (unlike slaveowners in the American South) this often meant that whole villages of serfs could be bought and sold by various nobles. The economic reasons for renewed and heightened serfdom was that Poland, a bread-basket region, relied heavily on grain exports to other countries, which combined with the lack of devolution of the aristocratic-military elite, meant that Poland still remained a classically agriculture-based economy at a time when the rest of Europe was starting to diversify. This meant a halt in the development of cities and towns, and a firm halt on the rise of the Polish middle classes. This paved the way for...
Late Reform and Loss of Independence
Golden Liberty was a great inspiration for the American Revolution, but it had a flaw, to which we owe the existence of a strong US Presidency. The principle that Poland was a nation of nobles meant that the nobles did not represent anybody other than themselves and so lacked any constitutency beyond their folwarks. Yes, all nobles were equalnote and this meant every decision required unanimity and so any one noble could block any government decision (the Liberum Veto which Europa Universalis players might recognize). So it took only one guy to be bribed by Russia, Prussia, or Austria and that was it: the country was theirs. If a noble family decided to start developing Poland, as the Czartoryskis who formed a coalition known as the Familia, they could expect a noble revolt who resented the development of one part of Poland since it would take away trade from another part, the rise of Warsaw, under the policies of one Nobleman meant the decline of Gdansk under another nobleman, which in turn affected the Balance of Power since said nobleman had to deliver committments to their respective geopolitical sponsor, who in turn might decide to put their own candidate in the next "election". Enter King Stanisław August Poniatowski, elected by the Sejm, promoted and planted by Catherine the Great (he was a former lover of hers) to be her puppet, halting reforms and protecting Russia's interests. Yet Poniatowski, who became the last King of Poland was a reformer, a promoter of arts and sciences and sought to strengthen and develop Poland to catch up with its Western counterparts. These reforms angered the "three black eagles" of Russia, Prussia and Austria and it led to the first partition of Poland (1772), leading to the loss of its outer territories.
The aim of this partition was to stifle reform. Yet it did no such thing. And in 1791, the Sejm voted to create a new Constitution which was technically the second modern-type written constitution of a sovereign state in history note . The new constitution was seen as even more of a threat than earlier refoms, for one thing it was a parallel to events in France. Never mind that the szlachta were quite reluctant and hesitant to go as far as even the moderate constitutionalist French didnote , and reluctantly conceded greater rights and protections for serfs. But as far as "enlightened monarch" Catherine the Great was concerned, it was "Jacobinical" and even worse, too close to home. This led to war and the second partition of Poland (1793) which led to the erosion of any remaining borders the Commonwealth had.
The final stage of this decline led to the legendary uprising of Tadeusz Kościuszko. Kościuszko was a popular general and a liberal noble, who had fought in The American Revolution. Noting the various defections and counter-defections and failure of the szlachta to counter the invaders, Kościuszko triggered a popular uprising. He appealed to the peasants, and for the first time included them in the conception of the Polish nation. He also assured peasants civil liberties, and created the first army in Poland fully open to peasant conscripts. Kościuszko's uprising might perhaps have been successful had the reforms he instituted been put in place at the time of the first or even second partition. It was in the end too little too late, and worst of all, seen by Catherine the Great and neighbors as "the last straw" since Poland's relative leniency towards serfs was the reason she interfered in Poland's affairs to start with (too many Russian serfs were fleeing to Poland from a brutal serfdom to a comparatively benevolent bondage), actual abolition of serfdom and feudalism was exactly the thing she feared. The uprising was brutally crushed, and it ended with the dissolution of the Commonwealth, the exile of King Poniatowski and Kościuszko (who was later allowed to emigrate to America) and it marked the effective cessation of Poland for more than a century, with one momentary respite.
The Napoleonic Wars, in 1807, temporarily reestablished Poland as an autonomous but not fully independent state, with territories drawn from the Austrian and Prussian Polish partitions, so it contained much smaller territory than the former Commonwealth (Russia was still Napoleon's ally at this time). The Duchy of Poland lasted until Napoleon's defeat in Russia, which led to Poland once again occupied by Russia and Austria. The Congress of Vienna naturally took no considerations of Polish nationalism since its aim was to preserve a Balance of Power. The Duchy was broken into three nominally independent pieces, respectively partitioned to the Kingdom of Poland (under Russian control), the Grand Duchy of Poznań (under Prussian control), and the Free City of Kraków (under Austrian control). Poles in Austria generally enjoyed the right to speak their language and quite a bit of self-rule, and were fairly supportive of the Habsburgs (even today, Emperor Franz Josef is remembered fondly in southern Poland, while praising other rulers of the "three black eagles" would make Poles twitch); this was also partly due to the fact that the Catholic Habsburgs much preferred the Catholic Poles to the Orthodox Ukrainians who also lived in Austria's chunk of Poland (which was known as Galicia). Poles in Prussia were, at first, well-treated (Frederick the Great required the heir to the throne to be fluent in Polish, although this was never really implemented). After, borders were shuffled and the smaller number of Poles left in Prussia were often in ethnically-mixed areas such as Upper Silesia and found their circumstances changed drastically for the worse, especially after the abolition of their autonomy in 1848. Political hardship (like Bismarck's efforts at Germanification, mainly by settler colonialism), rather than breaking the Prussian Poles, substantially strengthened their national identity and spirit, but economic hardship compelled many of them to move to the thriving Rhineland (where they were a much smaller minority) or to the Americas.
The Russian Tsars really didn't like Poles, partly due to old grudges over Russia's humiliation at the hands of Polish economic and military power in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and so, after they were finally victorious, the Russians went out of their way to punish the Poles under their rule. The Russian Empire also introduced policies of Russification and suppression of ethnic culture and identities. Poles were forbidden from speaking their language and culture and this led to the development of such institutions as the Flying University, an underground school that allowed Poles to learn Polish and preserve their culture. The Poles tried, several times, to regain their independence. The first big time, the November Uprising of 183031, they actually had something of a chance, as the Congress Kingdom of Poland was technically autonomous and in personal union with Russia, and as such had a halfway decent military. Unfortunately, the Uprising was botched from the beginning. Not surprisingly, the Russians took further steps to eliminate the Polish threat, which meant that the second big uprising, the January Uprising of 1863, was restricted to guerilla warfare and ended in tragedy, and the abolition of Polish autonomy, with many Poles being sent to Siberia. note
During WW1, many Poles, including future leaders such as Piłsudski and Sikorski, joined Austro-Hungarian forcesnote ) and helped the Central Powers to establish a puppet Polish Kingdom in former Russian territory, as the lesser of two evils. If sent to the western front, they usually deserted to join the French Foreign Legion. After the war, foreign rule was cast off and Piłsudski and others founded a new, independent Poland which managed to defeat the Soviets in the Polish-Soviet War against terrible, terrible odds through sheer strategic brilliance. This defeat convinced the Soviets that they weren't in any shape to spread their revolution, which kept them bottled up for about thirty years.
Immediately after the collapse of the Russian Empire resulted in the renewed independence of most of the former Commonwealth, Poland laid claim to the Lithuanian city of Vilnius,note leading to a war between the former allies. The Ukrainians who had invited the Poles in to rescue them from the Reds found that Warsaw, ultimately, had none of their best interests at heart (Piłsudski personally was very ashamed by this). The new Poland's German minority also suffered. 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 Gdansk 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 political factions everyone belonged to. The tensions became more severe in certain areas and relaxed in others after a military coupnote and the establishment of the "Government of Moral Sanitation".
In the years preceding the war, the Polish government tried to balance itself between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Adolf Hitler had made the loss of territory (which in his mind included the land that Germans had settled in the Partitions and Dissolution of the Commonwealth) after World War I to new Eastern European nations such as Czechoslovakia and Poland a campaign priority. To this end Piłsudski had signed Non-Aggression Pacts with the Soviet Union (1932) and Nazi Germany (1934) for pragmatic reasons to stave off a potential invasion from either power. With his death in 1935, the situation began to change. Hitler started to be even more brazen in violating the Versailles agreement about rearmament and the League of Nations, France and Britain were reluctant and intimidated to step in and rein in Germany. The Polish foreign policy greatly relied on Western allies to rein in one or both of its neighbours. This already tense situation was upset by the Sudetenland crisis, where Hitler made a play for the German majority regions in the Czech Republic and diplomats in France, 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 (which had a Polish pluralitynote ) as well as Czech Teschen, which was invaded by the Polish Army in 1938 and ceded to Poland after they issued an ultimatum to the government.note
Poland's participation in the Sudetenland Crisis and the Munich talks was condemned in its time by French Minister Edouard Daladier and Winston Churchill. The Soviets for their part warned Poland that their intervention in Czechoslovakia would abrogate their earlier Non-Agression Pact, though publicly after the pact, they updated and renewed it while secretly engaging in another round of talks with 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 fought brilliantly against overwhelming odds compared to the common opinion about their performance, but unfortunately the difference in power proved too large. Still, the Polish state never surrendered, and plenty of soldiers managed to escape to fight another day. The cavalry charging tanks was a myth, by the way; the incident that inspired this story involved a Polish cavalry division (actually mounted infantry, like most cavalry of the time, though with traditions and training) which routed a German infantry division but was counter-attacked by armoured cars. Additionally, while some Polish cavalry units did deliberately engage German armor, they did so dismounted while wielding anti-tank rifles. The Poles didn't take occupation lying down. As well as running a resistance movement later organized into the Home Army, tens of thousands of Polish men escaped from the country and made their way to Britain and France to continue the fight, forming entire squadrons of airmen and divisions of ground troops. By the end of the war, there were ~250 thousand Poles fighting alongside the Western Allies, with another ~200 thousand aiding the Soviets.
The war experience in Poland was further complicated by the Soviet Invasion of Poland, who seized the Eastern territories, the area of land known as Kresy (today part of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus with parts of Lithuania). This was part of the agreement of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Soviets stated that these were territories it had lost in the Polish-Soviet War and they wanted it back.note The Poles saw this as a double occupation from two invading powers, but since the Soviet Union was still "neutral", their British allies did not want to antagonize them and the Polish Home Army was consigned to fighting the Nazis. During the Soviet Occupation, the NKVD conducted the infamous "Katyn massacre" of Polish officers, intelligentsia and other figures. 22,000 were killed in the forest and buried in a mass grave. When the Soviet Union joined the war during Operation Barbarossa, the Western Allies immediately recognized Kresy as Russian territory and later suppressed the Katyn massacre for propaganda reasons. Stalin, ruthless game-player that he was, wavered over recognition of the Polish government-in-exile before finally settling on the Polish People's Republic, formed in the Soviet Union, comprised of Communists, as the legitimate government and the Polish People's Army as alternatives to the Home Army and the government in exile. The fear of an eventual Soviet takeover led to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the largest partisan operation during the war, which ended in failure, defeat, the destruction of Warsaw and the end of the Polish Home Army as any force to safeguard Poland's sovereignty, paving the way for its eventual Soviet Occupation. 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 they've 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.note While Poland was formerly religiously tolerant, during the 19th Century, anti-semitism had risen among parts of Poland and in the inter-war years. It is known that anti-semitic massacres such as the Jedwabne massacre were conducted by Polish peasants, many of whom accused Polish Jews of being collaborators with the Soviets, an accusation that ignores the complex circumstances by which the Nazi-Soviet invasion and partition of territories made Soviet 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 Home Army sympathizers with fascist collaborators, while erasing their involvement in the Katyn massacre. It must be noted that 6620 Poles are considered Righteous Among the Nations, more than any other European nation.note
The Soviet Era ("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 historically been Germannote . This triggered the largest population exchange in history, with Poles and Germans kicked out of their respective ancestral homes. This accounts for the country's suspiciously straight borders (the western border follows the line of the Oder and Neisse rivers) and the fact that Warsaw, originally chosen as the capital for its central location, is no longer especially central. The new Poland under the eye of Soviet big brother undertook the task of agrarian reform, altering Poland's class structure (which involved land seizures and collectivization), rebuilding wartorn buildings and building new ones. This includes the massive Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science (which is still the largest building in Poland and seventh in the European Union). That is not to say the new government did not bring some improvements with it, but as usual, it was packaged by a heavy dose of repression, exile, execution and the heavy air of Police State machinery. While early attempts at reform, such as the Polish October in the Khruschev Thaw provided Poland greater autonomy than other satellite nations, it eventually led to a new series of purges and counter-purges in imitation of Stalin, and like Stalin in his twilight years, involved a period of nasty anti-semitism masqueraded as striking against cosmopolitans.
A culture of dissent started growing in Poland. A youth movement fascinated by the West (aided by the CIA backed Radio Free Europe) was taking root. Some of them ironically found expression in the National Film School in Łódź, which received Soviet support but this led to the Polish New Wave which included rebels, future solidarity activists and defectors (the likes of Andrzej Wajda, Andrzej Munk, Jerzy Skolimowski and Roman 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 Wałęsa, an electrician by training. Solidarity aimed to be an independent trade union unconnected to the Communist party, which was seen as a violation of communist doctrine, a challenge to its authority and, by the west, as a symbolic discrediting of the ideals of Communism, since Solidarność can't be equated with fascist/trotskyist/fifth columnist traitors. This movement got the support of the middle-classes, the intelligentsia, dissident communists, right-wingers and the Catholic Church and it led to a series of non-violent protests, civil disobedience campaigns and most ironically and fittingly of all, a worker's strike over the firing of Anna Walentynowicz at the Lenin Shipyard. In response, Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski, who was also General of the Army, declared Martial Law in 1981 and made Poland into a literal Police State for the next two yearsnote . Then in the course of The '80s, Jaruzelski released the main leaders of Solidarity and then granted an amnesty in 1986, later claiming that he declared Martial Law to prevent intervention by the Soviet Union, a point disputed by many former dissidents, but also supported by some of Jaruzelski's former enemies such as Adam Michnik.
Third Polish Republic
Poland became independent in 1989, and this played a role in the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union. Solidarity activists and intellectuals such as Adam Michnik and Andrzej Wajda always insisted that their movement was not a revolution, since in their view all revolutions were Full-Circle Revolution. Upon peacefully taking power, they began a period of lustrationnote but fell short of actively imprisoning former officials of high rank in Soviet Poland, General Jaruzelski to begin with. There is also a number of grudges among former Solidarity activists about the new government's shift away from the trade unions that formed the basis of the initial strike and the development of a new elite class that some liken to the old Commonwealth. Independent Poland has had more than a few issues dealing with its past and its relationship with its neighbors. United Germany that formed after the collapse of the Berlin Wall recognized Poland's borders and accepted the permanent cession of its Eastern territories to Poland. Poland and Russia still have difficult relationships, mostly over the long history of war, occupation and repression, and the various contending memories, with Russia regarding Poland's enrollment into NATO as an expansion eastwards on the part of the West. There is also the rise of religious nationalism in Poland, where the Catholic Church has always been associated with Polish identity. Polish Armed Forces are also actively involved in The War on Terror, posted in Afghanistan, and bases in Poland are used for rendition by American operatives.
Poland's entry into The European Union had led to a large movement of Poles to the UK and caused a Polish plumber scare in France. Poland, along with Ukraine, hosted Euro football championships in 2012. The games' overwhelmingly positive reception came off as a shock to many Poles, who by then were used to thinking of their country as one big international humiliation.
Polish 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. The other is making them pronounce the word pchła (flea) or żelatyna (gelatin). note
Polish grammar is even harder than the pronunciation. There are thousands of rules, each with thousands of exceptions (though generally a lot more consistency than most languages in general, and especially English). Some (irregular) words do not obey any rule at all. Most meaningful words undergo inflection. Grammatical gender is important, as it affects the inflection of all verbs, all adjectives and some numerals. Nouns are divided into personal animate, impersonal animate and impersonal inanimate, which changes masculine nouns' accusatives. There are even two plural genders that apply to everything but nouns - masculine-personal and non-masculine-personal, which changes depending on whether the plural word refers to a group that includes anything that can be called by a masculine personal noun or not.
- wycierać - to wipe
- wycieram - I wipe
- wycierasz - you wipe
- wyciera - he/she/it wipes
- wycieramy - we wipe
- wycieracie - You wipe (plural)
- wycierają - they wipe
- wycierałem - I (masculine) was wiping
- wycierałam - I (feminine) was wiping
- wycierałeś - you (masculine) were wiping
- wycierałaś - you (feminine) were wiping
- wycierał - he was wiping
- wycierała - she was wiping
- wycierało - it was wiping
- wycieraliśmy - we (masculine-personal) were wiping
- wycierałyśmy - we (non-masculine-personal) were wiping
- wycieraliście - You (masculine-personal) were wiping (plural)
- wycierałyście - You (non-masculine-personal) were wiping (plural)
- wycierali - they (masculine-personal) were wiping
- wycierały - they (non-masculine-personal) were wiping
- wycieraj - wipe!
- wycierajmy - let's wipe!
- wycierajcie - wipe! (plural)
- wycierałbym - I (masculine) would wipe
- wycierałabym - I (feminine) would wipe
- wycierałbyś - you (masculine) would wipe
- wycierałabyś - you (feminine) would wipe
- wycierałby - he would wipe
- wycierałaby - she would wipe
- wycierałoby - it would wipe
- wycieralibyśmy - we (masculine-personal) would wipe
- wycierałybyśmy - we (non-masculine-personal) would wipe
- wycieralibyście - you (masculine-personal) would wipe
- wycierałybyście - you (non-masculine-personal) would wipe
- wycieraliby - they (masculine-personal) would wipe
- wycierałyby - they (non-masculine-personal) would wipe
- wycierający - wiping (masculine or masculine-personal)
- wycierająca - wiping (feminine)
- wycierające - wiping (neuter or non-masculine-personal)
- wycierająco - wipingly note
- wycierając - while wiping
- wycierany - being wiped (masculine)
- wycierany - being wiped (masculine-personal)
- wycierana - being wiped (feminine)
- wycierane - being wiped (neuter or non-masculine-personal)
- wycierano - something was being wiped
The word wycierać belongs to classes: imperfect, transitive. Other classes may have different forms. For example, when one wants to say 'I have wiped', he must use the word wytrzeć (perfect counterpart of wycierać) - the past form: wytarłem. Note that we didn't include the archaic forms of Polish, which are even worse than the modern language.
In short, Polish language runs on For the Evulz. On the other hand however, Polish spelling is quite simple (almost phonetic) as compared to English (or traditional Chinese). Notably, the stress in Polish is consistent - always on the penultimate (second to last) syllable, or antepenultimate (third to last) for: first and second-person plural verb conjugations, and any words ending in -tyka. You can always tell exactly how a Polish word is pronounced based on how it's written, though, due to some redundancies among the characters, not necessarily the other way around.
There are, however, a few things about Polish that make this language a tad easier (or more interesting) to study. Despite the impressive number of its speakers, due to historical reasons, Polish has all but lost all its dialects save for a few minor ones. To put it simply, if three people were to have a discussion, one from Warsaw, one from Kraków, and one from Gdańsk, chances are that none of them would realize where the other two come from unless informed directly. In other words, once you have mastered standard official and colloquial Polish, you're all set to get the message across no matter where you go (and the people you will have trouble understanding will prove a hard nut to crack to native speakers as well).note Moreover, Polish ortography is remarkably different from those of other Slavic languages which tend to get mixed up by beginners at times. Even if there are no peculiar Polish characters (such as ą or ę) involved, if you see the letter w popping up a few times in an apparently Slavic text, you can tell with 99% accuracy that the whole thing's written in Polish.
It is worth to note Polish native speakers have considerably easier time learning pronounciation 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.
Remember - use "pan" (mister) if your interlocutor is a man and "pani" (madame) if she's a woman. These are formal pronouns and you don't have to use them with friends. 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). For the pronounciation - look above.
- Good morning. - Dzień dobry.
- Goodbye. - Do widzenia.
- Thank you. - Dziękuję.
- No, thank you. - Nie, dziękuję.
- Yes, please. - Tak, poproszę.
- 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.
- 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? - Ile płacę?
- 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? - Czy może mi pan/pani wskazać drogę do (męskiej/damskiej) toalety/sklepiku/gniazdka elektrycznego/wegetariańskiej restauracji?note
- 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
- 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!
- Stop it! - [inf.] Przestań! [fm.] Proszę przestać!
- Help! - Pomocy!
- I don't feel like it. - Nie mam ochoty.
- I don't feel well. - Źle się czuję.
- 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 have a stomach ache - Brzuch mnie boli.
- 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.
- 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!
Signs - you're likely to see these in writing more than hear them spoken
- Emergency exit. - Wyjście ewakuacyjne.
- Pull/push (on doors). - Ciągnąć/pchać.
- Opening hours. - Godziny otwarcia.
- Closed on Sundays. - W niedzielę nieczynne.
For you English-speakers, diminutive means sticking a little word "little" in front of a noun. Polish has grammatical morphemes for that - there's kot (a cat) and kotek (a little cat - not necessarily kitten, there's another word for that). Stół (table) and stolik (a small table, like a nightstand). Some words have several diminutive forms, there also exist diminutive forms of diminutive forms - in this case, koteczek and kiciuś - which can also be inflected by gender ( where kotek, koteczek and kiciuś are grammatically male, while kicia, koteczka and kiciusia are female)note .
Fun fact - the word stołek is also a diminutive form of stół (table), but refers to a chair (stool).
A diminutive sometimes just denotes that something is tiny (Dałeś mi tę kanapeczkę? - You've given me this tiny sandwich?), or cute (Jaki śliczny kiciuś! - What a cute kitty!), is always (always) used in Baby Talk (Zobacz, skarbie, kotek! - Look, darling, a kitty!) or when talking about babies, sometimes ironically 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. Also, when talking about food, especially food the speaker really likes or wants you to try and 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. Helena turns into Ela and Małgorzata becomes Gosia) and the Russian level of obtuse (such as Sasha being dimunitive to Alexander or Alexandra) is largely avoided.
In addition to the diminutive forms, there are also augmentatives. These are no less informal than diminutives (perhaps even more), and are quite common around old friends (especially of the vitriolic kind) and teenagers. One can even use a name in the augmentative and diminutive form at the same time, for example Jan (John) to Jaś (diminutive, Johny or even [little] Johny) to Jasiek (Jaś augmented by the suffix -ek). Johny the edgy teenager probably wouldn't use a form that sounds as if he was a small child.
In general: "ń" makes the already diminutive name more diminuitive. Same goes for ś at the end. For rebellious teens: shortening (and sometimes adding -ek, -ka, especially after already diminutive forms ending with -ś or similar sound) makes the diminutive name less diminutive, but still informal. Endings -ek, -ka stuck to a name will make is a diminutive (Łukaszek from Łukasz (Lukas), Karolek from Karol (Charles; used by Melanie for Scarlett's first husband in Polish translation of Gone with the Wind), Marylka from Maryla (Marilla)).
Some suffixes might carry a rather specific meaning (such as with the example with John above), so be careful.
In formal settings, only the base forms are used - you can call your friend "Janek", but his checks are always signed "Jan". note There's a sketch in which part of the humour is derived from a grown (to maturity) guy insistently calling himself a "baby" name in a very inappropiate setting (courtroom). Better Than It Sounds.
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 - and as such it mostly coveres elderly that were born in what's today Ukraine or Belarus. In case of Lesser Poland, nobody really knows why it's a thing, but unlike the first case, it isn't restricted to a specific generation and persists to this day as 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 together.
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)
- Małgorzata (Margaret): Gosia, Małgosia, Gośka
- Magdalena (Magdalene/Madeline): Magda, Madzia, Magdusia
- Katarzyna (Katherine): Kasia, Kaśka, Katarzynka (kind of playful-sounding)
- Karolina (Caroline/Charlotte)note : Karolinka, Karolcia (there's a children's book titled Karolcia)
- Julia (Juliet): Julka, Julcia
- Joanna (Joan/Jane): Joasia, Asia, Aśka, Asiczek
- 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
- Stanisław (no equivalent - it's a Slavic name. note ): Staszek, Stasiek, Staś (see In Desert And Wilderness), Stasio
- Krzysztof (Christopher): Krzysiek, Krzyś, Krzysio
- Jakub (James/Jacob): Kuba, Kubuś (Polish version of Winnie-the-Pooh is called "Kubuś Puchatek" - we don't know whynote )
- Zbigniew (Slavic again): Zbyszek, Zbysio, Zbycho ("tough guy"-ish sounding)
- Tomasz (Thomas): Tomek, Tomuś (sickeningly cute), Tomaszek (sickeningly annoying note )
There are also a few names like "Marek"translation and "Jacek"translation that may look like diminutives due to the misleading -ek ending, but actually they are formal given names in modern Polish. Of course, said names can also have diminuitive forms ("Mareczek" for "Marek" and "Jacuś" for "Jacek" are common, for example).
To make things more complicated, the vocative note ending with -u is often incorrectly used in place of nominative (as subject) which ends with -o (for example Jasiu, Zbychu).note Generally, the vocative of names is falling out of use, especially among the younger speakers, but we still do it with common names - see the "skarbie" in examples above (the nominative note "skarb" would not work there - it's a grammar thing).
Important note: New given names are rarely created in Polish (they might be borrowed from other languages, often through popular foreign media, but this seems a bit awkward). If you'd rather not name your character something ridiculous, check if the name is used in Poland (eg. look it up in Polish version of The Other Wiki). Some names are less common than others, but you should be able to figure which are fine, as long as you bear in mind that Polish naming customs seem to evolve significantly over relatively short periods of time. And so, while seeing that two Polish presidents elected in 1990 and 2005 respectively bore the name Lech might tempt you to think it might be an awfully popular name, you'd have a pretty hard time finding anyone called Lech among people born in the 1970s or later. Generally speaking, Polish society seems to be moving away from the traditional Slavic naming fashion faster than her Slavic neighbors; names like these are all but extinct among women and lose their popularity with men with each passing year. For a statistic of popularity of names, see this page (column left is boys, column right - girls).
Fun fact - foreign names (or regular names in their Anglicised forms) are considered the height of cheapest snobbery. For example, while English names like Kevin, Jessica or Brian and their Polonised forms are in use, they are also punchline of jokes about the lowest of low and carry a hefty social stigma.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 (not to mention 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.
There are middle names in Poland but they're entirely optional and picked by the parents. The middle name will be present in all of your documents: ID, registrations, deeds, diplomas and so on, even if it might be otherwise absent from your life. And if you happen to be Catholic (as most Poles are), you will be choosing your own second or third name (of a patron saint you'd like to keep watch over you) during 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.
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.
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.
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 — these were mostly the fruit of some clerk's "creativity", but in a pinch, Ashkenazi stereotypes like "-berg" or "-stein" are perfectly acceptable (both in Polonised form and not). 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 used their maiden names (see below), or witty Nom De Plumes.
As for Krystyna - if you're her school colleague (modern speaker) you'll probably call her Krystyna (or Krysia) Kowalik. Older people, though (very old or very tongue-in-cheek) would know her as Krystyna Kowalikówna, which is the leftover of old patronymic forms. Panna (miss) Krystyna Kowalikówna. 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
- 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 standarisation. 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, 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, Sokół, Wrona and their inflected forms: Wróblewski, Czyżewski, Sikorski, Sokołowski and Wroński. There are also Kos, Kruk, 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)
- Woźniak and Furman are region-sensitive Polish equivalents of Carter.
- Kwiatkowski as in Colonel Kwiatkowski
- Młynarczyk and Młynarski
- Krawczyk, Szewczyk and Cieślak are common, trade-derived surnames (respectively: Tailor, Cobbler and Carpenter)
- 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, Iwanicki, Andrzejewski (and Jędrzejewski), Stasiak, Antczak, Adamski, Florek, Urbański, Pawłowski and Pawlak are some of the most common surnames derived from... given names.
- 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.
- Raczyński - see dr. Raczyńska in All Creatures Great and Small
- Turek and Tatara/Tatarski, related with Turkish and Tatar ancestory. Note however there is no such surname as "Turecki". There is also Czech, Czeski and Czechowicz.
- 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.
How to adress someoneIt 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 fine and expected
- same goes for children (everyone younger than you are)
- parents will usually be called mom (mama) and dad (tata, or more archaic, tato), in second person (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)
- other kids - by name/nickname
- teachers and staff - formally (see below)
- Semi-formal (neighbours, casual aquaintances):
- fairly close (when in doubt, go for more formal) - mr/mrs (given name, sometimes in diminutive)
- more casual - mrtranslation /mrstranslation (surname), or just sirtranslation /madamtranslation
- Formal (teachers, bosses, strangers):
- mr/mrs (surname), or sir/madam, like above
- people with titles (eg. a professor, a doctor) - by title
- same as above, but very polite - mr/mrs (title), eg. "Pan Profesor"
On a side note, the word for "mr/mrs" is also the word for "lord/lady". Other Slavs (particularly Eastern) believe it says a lot about Poles and crack jokes about the Poles' delusions of self-importance. Funnily enough, the etymological origins of this tradition can easily be spun the other way around. Traditionally, the Polish peasantry in feudal times were not addressed with any honorific at all, where the English might use "mister," while the szlachta, or nobility (exceptionally large and inclusive compared to other European nations, including all legitimate descendants of its members and independent of any landed title, or lack of thereof), would be addressed either by title or by the common honorific, pan(i), the Polish equivalent of lord/lady. Partly because a modern Polish citizen holds basically the same social status as a member of the medieval szlachta, (i.e., voting rights and constitutional protections under the law, and not inherently much of anything else), and partly due to lacking any other way to formally address a social peer, (like the French "Monsieur"), the result was for the common people to adopt the term used by the former nobility, rather than the other way around, with the effect that now we seem really pretentious.
Along with mr/mrs, use third person forms: "niech pan usiądzie", or, for more politeness, "proszę usiąść" ("please, be seated").
Many female celebrities, such as politicians and journalists, will choose to retain their maiden names. Unlike the West, however, they rarely opt to get rid of their husbands' names completely, instead attaching their maiden names to that of the husbands', joining the two by means of a dash. This phenomenon is gaining in popularity but still not common though. That does not mean that every woman with a two-part surname is necessarily her invention, as there are plenty of rather old last names consisting of two separate words.
- Dzielić włos na czworo ("Split one hair into four parts") - Analyse something excessively in 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
- Wyskoczyć jak filip z konopii - ("To jump like a philip from the hemp bush") - "philip" (written in lowercase) used to be a name for a rabbit. 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
- 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 jumps on the crooked tree") - everyone can do the easy task, meaning there is no point bragging about it
- 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.
- 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: it's usually used as a warning and/or reminder that casualties are bound to happen, rather than as an excuse for them.
- Wbić gwóźdź do trumny ("Seal the coffin") - to make a situation irreversibly bad, to seal somebody or something's doom. Essentially the same as "final nail in coffin".
- Na świętego nigdy ("On St. Never Day") - "when pigs fly", something that's never going to happen
- 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: "they are talking about the wolf (and the wolf's here)"note - "speak about the devil", where subject of the talk suddenly appears.
- Wycofać się po angielsku ("Leave the English way") - it means that somebody leaves stealthily.
- Każdy kij ma dwa końce ("A 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).
- Myślał indyk o niedzieli (a w sobotę łeb mu ścięli) ("The turkey thought about Sunday (and they chopped 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") - meaning is the same as "It's not my cup of tea".
- Marzenie ściętej głowy ("A dead man's dream") - A dream impossible to fulfill.
- Udawać Greka ("Pretend to be Greek") - playing dumb, pretending not to understand.
- Szewska pasja ("A shoemaker's wrath") - being angry to the limit.
- Ciemnogród ("dark town") - backwardness, lack of modernity.
- Napisane po chińsku ("Written in Chinesee") - 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? ("Do I speak Chinese?"), when someone in turn ignores spoken instructions.
- Wpaść z deszczu pod rynnę ("Fall from the rain under a rain gutter's downpipe") - somebody is already in a bad situation, and they find themselves in a worse one.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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") - Some people will rely on your help and abuse your niceness if you help them only a little.
- Złej baletnicy przeszkadza rąbek spódnicy (literally: "a bad ballerina is inconvenienced by a seam") - 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 fantasying about what could and couldn't happen "if only". The grandma version is far, far more common.
- 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.
- Bez pracy nie ma kołaczy ("There are no bread without work") - "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 lenghty 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.
- Co ma wisieć, nie utonie ("What is to be hang, won't drown") - despite sounding rather morbidly 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 don't have a 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.
- 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.
- 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 between a white and a black horse, so a motley one is perceived as ever-changing in character.
- Baba z wozu, koniom lżej ("Woman off the wagon, lighter (load) for the horses") - "Good riddance to bad rubbish". Traditionally, cartman was a male job, so a woman on a wagon was something completely unnecessary, 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 do something you're tasked with.
- 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).
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 neutrally through the late nineteenth century.
Polish gamers infested Dawn of War (and several other online games) for a long time, filling it with servers apparently devoted to nationalism (PL PL PL POLSKA, similar to BR) and being really bad at the game. Two things which don't mix very well, by the way - if you're so proud of your nationality, it's best not to spam that nationality out while you're getting your rear handed to you.
Notes on Poland: On the subject of "things you must know about X country before writing about it":
- It exists.
- Poles' stereotype of their history tends to be one part Glory Days, one part Doomed Moral Victor. And history is SERIOUS BUSINESS. This is at least partial reason why they're pissy about forgetting that...
- It's not part of Russia. Poles and their language are similar enough, though, for at least two Polish actors are members of the Lzherusskie Club.
- By the way, it's not part of Germany either.
- It really is its own thing.
- There hasn't been a Communist government since 1989.
- Although post-communist leftist parties had held power for ten years, they were democratically elected. They are no different that your average social democratic Western party, though. Law in force prohibits and penalizes the promotion of totalitarian ideologies, including communism and fascism. The former is a curious case, as the extent is limited to promoting practical implementations of the ideology along the lines of what happened in the 20th century. An actual Communist Party of Poland exists and is about as influential and popular as you expect.
- The Teutonic Knights are bad, Ronald Reagan is goodnote , Piłsudski is a hero and don't call him a dictator, even if he was one. Poland had a historically close relationship with The United States after the fall of communism and one of her most loyal allies. Poles are, on the whole, less turned off by hawkish American politicians than the rest of Europe, and several Polish intellectuals eagerly supported the Iraq War.
- Poland is one of the few countries outside France where 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 I Mean.
- The reason for that reputation might be that unlike Britons and their casual pub culture, Poles prefer to drink in binges. Sadly, while there's a growing tendency to drink casually, quantity still seems more important than quality, with most drinkers judging the beverage's value by the alcohol percentage. 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. So the fact current alcohol consumption is so unremarkable is a good thing.
- 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 value. This situation is also represented in common statement about one's creed - "wierzący, niepraktykujący", which translates as "believer, non-practitioning".
- 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. In the same time, the ever-increasing connection between the high hierarchy and politicians and related scandals, along with continous 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.
- 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 value. This situation is also represented in common statement about one's creed - "wierzący, niepraktykujący", which translates as "believer, non-practitioning".
- Polish politics tend to fall on the right side of the spectrum, compared to most all countries in the EU. Its two largest political parties are the Civic Platform (PO), which is more or less neoliberal, pro-European, and certainly not leftist; and Law and Justice (PiS), which is national-conservative, deeply rooted in Catholicism, and somewhat Eurosceptic. Its leftist parties haven't been contenders since their implosion in the early 2000s. Interestingly, when you look at a map of Poland according to the strength of the two political parties (here's the map for the 2010 Presidential election◊; PO in orange, PiS in blue) you find that PO's support almost perfectly matches the once-Prussian part, while the rest (formerly Russian and Austrian) are strongholds of PiS; the main exception is Warsaw, which, while formerly in the Russian part, is the capital and largest city and consequently has a more cosmopolitan, forward-looking culture.
- It should also be noted that, despite the Poles being generally pretty conservative and not at all supportive of gay rights when compared to Western Europe, Poland is still much more gay-friendly than most of post-Soviet and post-Yugoslav states. It may partly stem from the fact that even the most traditional of Polish people would rather be associated with the liberal, developed West than with the backward, reactionary East.
- Poland also has a long, close relationship with Hungary dating back to the Middle Ages. Today, both nations celebrate a Polish-Hungarian Friendship Day. A popular saying emphasized this relationship in war and drinking. Yeah, it's that kind of brotherhoodnote .
- Television in Poland, both national and private, is using extensively Voiceover Translation. Dubbing is not only rare, but also used almost exclusively for shows and films aimed at kids, thus 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, 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 voice.
- 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.
- Finally, with the country's admission into the European Space Agency in late 2012 and the creation of the Polish Space Agency in 2014, it can be assumed Poland can into space. Though technically, it already did in 1978.
- In Poland, most shops are closed on Sundays (except for family business shops), so if you stay here for a weekend, go shopping for Sunday food on Saturday.
- Poles do not eat swans, as many Brits think of them. It all began with a xenophobiac fake article in Daily Mailnote . Also, Polish farm ducks and farm geese are white and have orange beaks, very much like swans.note .
Here are some minor tropes memetically related to Poland:
- Badass Mustache: Cracked.com went as far as to claim Poland's fortune is dependent on the quality of her leader's facial hair.note
- Bling of War: The Winged Hussars tend to prop up in period fiction, if not for any other reason, then because you just can't turn down guys looking so crazy.
- Butt-Monkey: Yeah, we spoke of it above.
- Doomed Moral Victor: After the partiations of Poland, this stance was turned into the cornerstone of Polish culture, for better or worse. 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 matryrdom complex", with more and more people percieving 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" martydom 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 insistance 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.
- 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.
- Polish Educational System
- Poles with Poleaxes (the Polish military)
- Polish Jews - a little entry intended to cast some light on Polish-Jewish reactions.
- Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth
- Polish-Soviet War
- Siege of Vienna
- The Teutonic Knights
- Polish Media
Famous Real Life Poles:
- Lech Wałęsa, the former President and leader of the Solidarity movement that toppled the Communist rule.
- Pope John Paul II
- Roman 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.
- Jan Sobieski, the elective King of Poland, who turned the tide of the Ottoman invasion on Europe by reinforcing the besieged Vienna in 1683.
- Fryderyk Chopin. His father was a Frenchman, but he was very much a Pole.
- Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's advisor.
- Stanisław Lem, Science Fiction author.
- Paweł Edmund Strzelecki, an explorer of large swaths of Australia, who named that continent's tallest mountain after...
- Tadeusz Kościuszko, a revolutionary and badass enough to be a national hero in four countries - Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and USA (he founded West Point).
- Kazimierz Pułaski, the creator of USA's cavalry, a general and an American national hero; commemorated since 1929 with his own Memorial Day (11th Oct.), usually treated as a day of Polish-American pride (and consequently a rather Big Deal in areas with large Polish-American populations like Chicago, Greater Detroit, and Wisconsin). Also, owner of a bombastic name by American standards: Kazimierz Michał Władysław Wiktor Pułaski herbu Ślepowronnote .
- Joseph Conrad, whose given name was Józef Korzeniowski. Wrote in English.
- Zdzisław Beksiński, surrealist painter.
- Ernest Malinowski: An engineer. Constructed at that time the world's highest railway Ferrocarril Central Andino in the Peruvian Andes in 1871-1876.
- Miroslav Klose, ethnic German footballer born in Opole and currently the highest-scoring individual player of The World Cup, playing for his ethnic homeland in four straight tournaments.
And note that almost none of this includes the large number of ethnic Poles who settled outside of Poland and contributed massively there—particularly in the US.
The Polish flag
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 km (120,733 sq mi) (69th)
- Currency: Polish złoty (zł) (PLN)
- ISO-3166-1 Code: PL