There are a lot of myths about Poland and Polish people around. Foreigners still think of Poland as some country at the edge of civilization where people dance with bears and drink vodka for breakfast. What does the truth look like?
Poland has been shrouded in such legends that stereotypes are thoughtlessly echoed by foreigners who have never actually visited the country. Many of these stories are solidified by the Poles too, as we tend to repeat them without reflection. However, everything changes: the reality, habits, and the climate as well! Let’s deal with what, in our opinion, isn’t in touch with our Polish reality (anymore).
1. Pure vodka runs through our veins
This must be the strongest stereotype concerning Polish people at large. Vodka as the key element of every family gathering, as a nightcap, a companion, and a permanent fixture on Polish tables.
In fact, we don’t drink vodka instead of water and it doesn’t accompany every occasion. Indeed, the consumption remains relatively high compared to Western Europe, but fashions and habits do change. The younger generation has gone over to more “trendy” and less spirited drinks.
The wine culture is on the rise, as seen by the assortment available in our shops. Craft beers have been popular for several years now. Local breweries have mushroomed, there are festivals and multi-taps serving high-quality niche beers. We acquired the culture of sampling drinks quite fast.
During big events (such as weddings and family gatherings), especially in the countryside, pure vodka is still gulped down. Among the older generation, it’s a traditional element of a customary “proper” celebration. The day-to-day and larger town trends have already shifted. We, the younger generation, drink to taste rather than catch a quick buzz.
The best proof of this cultural change will be an uncle’s quiet throwaway: “No-one to drink with anymore…”. Sorry, uncle. We prefer wine.
2. Poland is almost like Russia
Many foreigners imagine Poland and Russia to be territorially (and culturally) the same. Would you believe that even Western Europeans still have a vague idea of exactly where Poland is regardless of us being a member of the European Union for nearly 20 (!) years?
Geographically, we’re situated in Central and Eastern Europe, but culturally, we are much closer to the West. Surely, it all depends on where you visit – small towns and villages are less developed than cities. This seems to be true for most countrysides in general, regardless of where you visit in the world. Numerous people who’ve lived here for years can see great progress and constant development. Welcome to Europe!
3. Polish winters are harsh and the weather volatile
Polish tourists shivering with cold during their vacations in Southern Europe always make the locals giggle. “It goes down to 15 degrees and you put a jacket on? There’s no way you should get cold at 15 since you get an Arctic freeze in Poland most of the time” they say.
Well, the climate has changed and it was only last winter when many kids saw snow for the first time. The summer can be quite tropical and hot as well. Temperatures down to -30, with water freezing in the pipes and public transport cancelled, is a mere grandpa’s memory now. By the way, it’s interesting how vivid they’ve become with nostalgia and the passage of time.
4. The Poles are all conservative Catholics
It’s a fact that almost 90% of Poles are professed Catholics. Seems like a lot, but it’s a statistics and also 10 years old (actually, another general census is underway). Fewer and fewer people are regular church goers or follow conservative religious traditions.
Recently, politics and the conservative Catholic church have become muddled, giving an impression of a strong conservative Catholic country. However, in our daily reality we can increasingly see people who are tolerant and open to other religions and cultures. Here, by no means are we black and white in this topic.
5. Polish cuisine is pork chops and potatoes. Heaps of potatoes
Polish cuisine enjoys good worldwide fame (pierogi, yes, pierogi), but it’s believed to be rather heavy in meat and greasy. The stereotypical Polish dinner continues to be fried breaded pork chops and mashed potatoes, grease on top of course.
Meanwhile, it’s been years since the cooking trend has taken over and inspirations come from all over the globe. We can see the revolution which has hit our markets as it’s hard to imagine a product you won’t find. This change refers to regional cuisine and national Polish dishes as well – people increasingly deconstruct the “classic” pork chop and look for lighter and more refined flavors. It’s apparent from restaurant menus, fashionable seasonal produce, eco markets, blogosphere, and the media. First, we relished the foreign, now we’ve grown to appreciate what’s ours. We’re spoilt for choice and that’s great!
6. You don’t speak Polish? No way to communicate
Polish is among the most difficult languages in the world. The pronunciation is especially difficult – we do have a few sounds that make foreigners sweat. It’s a bumpy start for those moving to places like Szczecin or Łódź – hard to write, harder to pronounce. Keep your hat on, it gets much easier in real life! In cities, the majority speak English, and young people often communicate in other languages as well. In government offices, English will usually do the trick, and official websites are mostly bilingual too.
There are cases, of course, we even find confusing (our number one is the temporary residence permit form to be filled out in Polish only), but there’s been a great improvement in communication with foreigners at large. Cool it, even without an intensive Polish study plan, you’ll deal. We’ll communicate just fine!
7. Silesia is made of coal
This stereotype hits especially close to home for us as we do live and work in Katowice, Silesia, after all. Surprisingly, the image of Silesia as a polluted industrial region with a mining landscape all around and kids playing with lumps of coal is still alive even in other parts of Poland.
In fact, the Silesian Region is an incredibly green and geographically diverse region: ⅓ of its area is covered in forests and Katowice is the second greenest city in Poland.
It’s also Katowice that has developed rapidly, and instead of coal, we associate it with modern services, interesting architecture, and the best musical events in the country. Quite often we’ve witnessed the great positive surprise of our tenants when they see Katowice for the first time. The sight is equally surprising to all those returning to the city after several years away. So, Silesia is civilization after all, and it’s growing fast.
8. Polish people are hospitable and homely
This is true all right! We love to help and give advice, and when you pay us a visit, we’ll host with all our might. We’re glad to see more and more foreigners arrive and we want to change and improve for them as well as for ourselves.
Our grand hospitality can be screamingly funny at times, but this is yet another story…
And what stereotypes have you fallen for? Are any of them true at all in your mind?