How to tell if you're Polish
by Paweł Stachura
One in a series of culture tests from around the world.
Author bio pending...
If you're Polish...
Politicians are bad... but no longer evil
- You believe deep down in the freedom of speech, public assembly, habeas
corpus, because it was fought for and won after years of oppression. The
same applies to Polish independence.
- You're familiar with the Flintstones, Sesame Street, Bill Cosby, Bugs
Donald Duck, Star Trek, the Honeymooners, the Addams Family. (Yes!) As
as: Bolek i Lolek, Pszczółka Maja, Zrób To Sam, Złotopolscy, Na Dobre i na
- You know how basketball, volleyball, and soccer are played. If you're
you can argue intricate points about their rules. You have no idea how
basketball and American football are played; you don't want to know. But
children will sometimes play baseball nowadays.
- You count yourself fortunate if you get three weeks of vacation a year.
Most people will have two weeks. Given the tight labor market, it's
advisable to give up your vacation in this and in the next year.
- You're fairly likely to believe in God; you've certainly been approached
people asking whether you know that you're going to Heaven. They belong to
cults formed in the '90s, when it became (legally) easy to form them. You
detest them, because you dont like talking about religion to strangers.
Religion has always something to do with family, not with community.
- You think of McDonald's, Burger King, KFC etc. as a cool place to go on
Sunday, coming back from the cinema. If you are under 20 McDonal's is
the only acceptable place to eat out. It is not cheap at all.
- You probably own a telephone and a TV. Your place is heated in the winter
and has its own bathroom. You do your laundry in a machine. You don't kill
your own food, unless you live in the country. You don't have a dirt
You eat at a table, sitting on chairs.
You don't consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys, or guinea pigs to be
- A bathroom may not have a bathtub in it, but it certainly has a toilet.
Sometimes the toilet is in a separate room.
It's a beautiful world, in theory
- It seems natural to you that the telephone system, railroads, airlines,
power companies are privately run... but they aren't; they're state monopolies.
Whenever they work inefficiently you think they should be privatized as soon as
- You expect, as a matter of course, that the phones will work; it used to
different, and if you are over 20 you are very happy that it's changed.
Getting a new phone takes a very long time, so many people buy mobile phones.
- The train system isn't very good. Trains don't go any faster than cars,
and you are not surprised if a train comes late. Trains are cheap, though.
Domestic plane routes are for people who do not have to pay with their own
- You find a parliament with many political parties natural. There are many
small parties which form short-lived alliances. The only big one is the
ex-communist party. You are extremely disillusioned with all politicians.
You find the parliamentary system inefficient and comic, but you still
remember how bad it was when it was not here.
- You can sometimes hear socialism seriously defended. Communism,
no way. (Few people could explain the difference in theory But communism is about food
shortages and oppression; socialism is about social benefits.)
- Between "black" and "white" there are no other races. Someone with one
black and one white parent looks white to you. There are some people with brown
skin who have no African ancestors.
Next time we'll choose our liberators better
- You think most problems could be solved if only people would put aside
prejudices and work together. But even then there will always be a
conspiracy to spoil it.
- The court system is inefficient and congested. You know that if you went
into business and had problems with a customer, partner, or supplier, you
could take them to court, but it would be no good, so you prefer
- You'd respect someone who speaks French, German, or English -- but you
likely don't yourself speak them well enough to communicate with a
monolingual foreigner. You think the schools should teach kids English.
You can travel in Europe using nothing but English-- and get by pretty
in the rest of the world, too. Many (older) people will know Russian well,
which helps in the ex-Soviet Union (CIS) countries.
- You think a tax level of 30% is scandalously high. Politicians will
any money you give them, so there should be no taxes at all. On the other
hand, you will readily accept any social benefit handouts you can get.
- School is free through high school. Universities and colleges are free for
day students, but not for extramural students. The competition for free
places is quite fierce, so many people will go to private colleges,
where you have to pay fees.
- College is (normally, and excluding graduate study) three years long. Most
people, for some reason, do a five-year Master course, even though they
don't need it.
- Mustard comes in jars. Shaving cream comes in cans. Milk comes in plastic
bags or cardboard boxes; it used to come in bottles.
- The date comes first: 01.11.1918. (And you know you should know that
date, even if you're not quite sure what it is.)
- The decimal point is a comma.
- A billion is a million times a million. Thousand times a million is a
"Call me Ishmael." "MAM NA IMIE ISHMAEL!"
- World War II was the most horrible and poignant period in Polish history,
and ended badly. It was a time when the country collapsed but still most
people did what was right. And instead of insisting on vengeance, the US
very generously rebuilt Europe instead, with the Marshall Plan.
Unfortunately, Soviets did not let us take part. We could, the US would
help any country which asked.
- You expect marriages to be made for love, not arranged by third parties.
Getting married by a registrar used to be necessary before going to
which effectively meant you got married twice on the same day. Now you can
go either to church or to the local registrar's office. You have a best man
and a maid or matron of honor at the wedding-- a friend or a sibling. And,
naturally, a man gets only one wife at a time.
- If a man has sex with another man, he's a homosexual. There will be some
ostracism and derision, but its legal and most people don't mind.
- You use first names only with friends and family. At work it depends on
age difference: you will never use first name when talking to someone much
older than you.
- If you're a woman, you don't go to the beach topless.
- A hotel room has a private bath.
We need some mountains round this country
- Films are subtitled in cinemas. Films on TV have the script read by an
announcer over the actors' voices. Many people think this is silly. Dubbing is for
- There is a general opinion that bribes are necessary in doing business
and in dealing with the government. Few people would know how to give a
bribe, though. Small gifts and a friendly chat will help a lot.
- If a politician has been cheating on his wife, you would not question his
ability to govern. Surprisingly, the same applies to most misdemeanors,
including bribery and fraud.
- Just about any store will take your credit card in big cities. Elsewhere
only a big store will.
- A company can fire just about anybody it wants at a few weeks notice. Many
people will not have a work-contract, but a service-sale contract, which
can be cancelled at will.
- You like your bacon crisp-smoked or raw. You eat it on bread.
- Labor Day is May 1st. Demonstrations (marches) used to
be compulsory for schoolchildren, university students, and
people who worked in state-owned companies (which effectively meant for
everybody), but few people attend them now.
- You've probably seen Star Wars, ET, Home Alone, Casablanca, and Snow
If you're under forty, add Blazing Saddles, Terminator, Jaws, and 2001;
otherwise, add Gone with the Wind. Then add Kapitan Kloss, Alternatywy 4,
Czterej Pancerni i Pies, Psy, Ogniem i Mieczem, Nad Niemnem, Potop. Most
these films are about wars and uprisings.
- You know the Beatles, ABBA, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan,
Elvis, Chuck Berry, Michael Jackson, Simon & Garfunkel, Frank Sinatra,
Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong. You know
Czerwone Gitary, Wilki, Edyta Górniak. You listen to more foreign songs
than Polish ones. Nobody listens to Polish folk music, but many people like
- You count on at least appropriate medical treatment. Doctors are
competent, and they mean well, but they are underpaid. You know you're not
going to die of cholera or other Third World diseases. You expect very
strong measures to be taken to save very ill babies, but not
for people in their eighties. You think dying at
65 would be a tragedy. But people who actually are that age would have lower
expectations than young ones. It's sad to die, but what can you do?
Austrians probably don't like us either
- You went over Polish, European and Russian history (and you actually
consider Russia a part of Europe: Europe ends at the Ural Mountains). You
know some American history, especially the 20th century.
- You expect the military to fight wars, not get involved in politics. You
may not be able to name the head of the General Staff. But you will know the
Minister of National Defense. He is always a civilian.
- Your country has repeatedly been conquered by foreign nations. Some of
nations have been conquered by your country. If you are male, you like
talking about it with friends, sometimes.
- You're used to a wide variety of choices for almost anything you buy.
- You measure things in metres, kilograms and litres.
- You are not a farmer. If you were born in the country, and you are under
twenty, you do everything not to be one.
- Comics basically come in two varieties: newspaper comics and books; the
latter are for children.
- The people who appear on the most popular talk shows are mostly
authors and celebrities of all sorts. There will be a lot of shows about
ordinary people who went through a tragedy, found true love after a long
- You drive on the right side of the road. You stop at red lights even if
nobody's around. But you tend to disregard yellow lights. If you're a
pedestrian and cars are stopped at a red light, you will fearlessly cross
the street in front of them.
It's not a handout for me, I earned it
- You think of Russia as a horrible country where everybody hates Poland. At
the same time you tell jokes about the Russians who are always stupid.
- You think of Germany as a wonderful country where everybody hates Poland.
would like to be friends with the Germans, though.
- You consider the Volkswagen Beetle to be a medium car. American cars are
huge and expensive.
- The police are armed, but not with submachine guns. They can only shoot at
criminals after warning them repeatedly, and shooting into the air. This
- If a woman is plumper than the average, it doesn't improve her looks.
- The biggest meal of the day is in between 2 and 3 pm. You eat it first
thing after coming home from work.
- The nationality people most often make jokes about is the Russians. You
that Americans tell jokes about the Poles, and this is unfair, since you
just love America and Americans.
- There's parts of the city you definitely want to avoid at night.
Space and time
- You feel that your kind of people aren't being listened to enough in
- You remember both inflation and unemployment being very high (say, over 30%)
at the same time.
- You don't care very much what family someone comes from.
- The normal thing, when a couple dies, is for their estate to be divided
equally between their children.
- You think of opera and ballet as rather elite entertainments. It's likely
you don't see that many plays, either. You will have to see one or two while
- Christmas is in the winter. You spend it with your family, give presents,
and put up a tree.
- You may think the church is too powerful, or the state is; but you are used
to not having a state church and don't think that it would be a good idea.
- You'd be hard pressed to name leaders of all the nations of Europe. You will
know most capitals, though.
- You've left a message at the beep. You write SMS messages like crazy.
- Taxis are generally operated by middle-aged men, who will know the city
- You are used to welfare and unemployment payments-- you think people should
earn a living, but you don't mind taking handouts. At the same time you think
that the state is giving too much money to other people.
- If you want to be a doctor, you need to get a MA first. Then you must be an
intern for something like 3 years.
- There sure are a lot of lawyers. You see them if you get divorced, or if you
are involved in a dispute over an inheritance.
- If you have an appointment, you'll mutter an excuse if you're five minutes
late, and apologize profusely if it's anything more than fifteen minutes. An
hour late is positively inexcusable; no one will wait for you.
- If you're talking to someone, you get uncomfortable if they approach closer
than about one meter, but this will drop to 50 centimeters (or even less) if
it's at work.
- About the only things you expect to bargain for are houses, cars, and
antiques. Haggling is largely a matter of finding the hidden point that's
the buyer's minimum. You are usually too shy to try it.
- Once you're past college, you very rarely simply show up at someone's place.
People have to invite each other over-- especially if a meal is involved.
- When you negotiate, you are polite, of course, but it's only good business
to 'play hardball'. You don't say what you mean, you pretend not to know many
things, but you surely never lie. You know the other side does the same
thing, and they know you know. Many people are tired of it, so they start
talking normally. You say "let's talk like people" then.
- If you have a business appointment or interview with someone, you expect to
have that person to yourself, and the business shouldn't take more than an
hour or so. But you will usually have to make another appointment.