Polish Culture

Communication

Verbal

  • Direct Communication: The Polish can speak quite matter-of-factly and are generally comfortable with directness. For example, they may not hesitate to correct people and can deliver criticism quite honestly. This can give non-Poles the impression that they are being quite blunt and/or are very self-assured. However, consider that this frank approach to communication is natural in Poland and people are expected to be commanding when they speak. Furthermore, Poles can also become quite gentle and indirect if there is a need to maintain harmony in a conversation.
  • Language Style: It is common for people to use quite theatrical language to express their emotions openly. The Poles are fond of metaphors and implied meanings.
  • Humour: The Poles are also known to be quite good at laughing at themselves. They integrate humour into conversation frequently; however, it is nuanced and may not always be evident when translated into other languages. People often like to accentuate and exaggerate the underlying irony of situations. They also use quite a lot of sarcasm.
  • Raised Voices: Poles tend to speak in loud voices and raise them when talking about something they are passionate about.

 

Non-Verbal

  • Personal Space: The acceptable distance of personal space in Poland is a little less than an arm’s length. Poles may sit and stand closer to others than what one is used to.
  • Physical Contact: People are relatively tactile with those they know in Poland. Friends may walk arm-in-arm and often touch each other out of reassurance. Parents commonly show open affection to their children (such as kissing) into teenagehood and adulthood. However, public affection is moderately indulged in. It would generally be socially inappropriate to touch someone further than a handshake if you are not well acquainted.
  • Eye Contact: Direct eye contact is expected. It translates honesty and trustworthiness. Avoiding another’s gaze can seem suspicious and disrespectful.
  • Expression: People rarely smile at strangers in public. There is a layer of public formality that is generally broken once people are introduced. Therefore, try not to be intimidated by a Pole’s apparent ‘serious’ demeanour. They usually become a lot more animated when they get to know you.
  • Pointing: It is best to point and gesture using the whole hand instead of a single finger. Pointing directly at someone’s forehead is offensive.
  • Gestures: To make a fist with the thumb protruding between the index and forefinger is called the ‘fig’ or ‘figa’. It came about during socialist times to represent scarcity, as figs were very hard to come by. Today, it is used as an insult meaning “you’ll get nothing”. The rude gesture of the middle finger is understood in Poland. Slapping one’s forehead lightly indicates stupidity.

 

For more information about Polish communication, see ‘Interaction’ under  Core Concepts.

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