1. Going to church is unbelievably popular in Poland! Not only old people, and not only on Sundays. I’ve been to church a few times back home, of course, but in most parts of Europe the ‘congregation’ is just a few elderly ladies, and most of the pews are empty. Here, by contrast, if you decide to attend a mass, you have to consider whether you’re likely to get a seat, or whether you might just have to stand, even on a normal weekday.
Young people, couples in their twenties and thirties, groups of friends, young groups of girls and boys, and families with small children, all go to mass together. For them, this is a normal activity before/after a movie, excursion, shopping or meeting friends.
2. It’s also striking how often Poles go to the cemetery. At first it surprised me that they go to see their deceased loved ones several times a week, always with candles and sometimes with flowers. After staying a few minutes and saying a quick prayer, you can go on your way.
3. Poles like to get married, and so far as I can see they do so at a much younger age than elsewhere in Europe. The normal age to get married seems to be about 25, but these are not hasty decisions, as many couples have been together for five or six years by this point.
4. If you think the British drink a lot of tea, wait till you see the Poles! They stop for a cup of tea at least three or four times a day – I think sometimes just out of boredom. Always black, and they don’t seem to go in for green tea or herbal teas.
If a visitor arrives, they’re never offered a soft drink and a cookie, like you might see back home, but always tea or maybe coffee with a little plate of assorted sweets. Oh, and the tea is served so hot that to this day I still haven’t learned how to drink it with them without burning my tongue.
5. I can state with confidence that the most popular food in Poland is the sandwich. The breakfast sandwich is such a staple that they don’t seem to consider any other option, and dinner is often the same.
Every single breakfast, every single day… So if you’re going to be spending some time in Poland, and you’re not the world’s biggest sandwich fan, it might be a good idea to bring along some muesli or porridge oats, just so you can work in a little variety.
I haven’t worked out the reason for this yet, as there are lots of great bakeries selling great, tasty pastries.
6. Poles love to walk, and interpret a distance travelled in this manner quite differently to how I usually would. If a Pole says “it isn’t far, we can go on foot”, I interpret that as meaning a 5-10 minute walk, but in reality I shouldn’t be surprised if the walk takes at least 30 minutes.
This is healthy, of course, and it’s good to walk in the fresh air, but I had to get used to the fact that they often choose to walk 2-3 tram stops rather than wait. After all, it’s good to walk, sometimes for hours, which is maybe why they’re also so fond of hiking in the woods and picking mushrooms.
7. If you accept an invitation to visit a Polish family and are offered a slice of cake (or whatever else) upon arrival, be careful how you thank your hosts. If you:
a) would like some cake, then first take it and only then say thank you.
b) if you don’t want cake, just say “thank you”.
Yes, it sounds a bit illogical, but just saying “thank you” is interpreted as “thank you but no thank you”. If you want some, you have to wait until the item in question is safely on your plate before expressing gratitude.
I often broke this rule out of habit, saying “thank you” when food was proffered, and then seeing it whisked away, my hostess saying she wasn’t very hungry either…