Poles – the good the bad and the otherwise

Time for more character insinuation. Observations of the Polish character. Some of them relatively new or recently reinforced, others very old but all have been openly discussed with a variety of Poles who, for the most part, agree with me. Those who don’t agree with me, tend to disagree with anything bad being said about Poles by any foreigner. Fair enough.


  • At close range the Poles are much nicer people than anyone I’ve met. A very strong sense of family makes for a much more intense family unit than I am used to. For the most part this is a good thing as families here can be strong, open and highly supportive although it can on occasion go the wrong way. Poles make for very good friends, never short on ideas for things to do, always up for a bit of a laugh and also very supportive of their mates. Polish hospitality towards family, friends or just guests is the stuff of legend and quite rightly so. I’ve never known other people go to quite the same lengths to make people feel welcome, and overstuffed!
  • Poles are generally very intelligent and always eager to learn more. Whilst their formal education is certainly above average (I don’t think I know a Pole without at least a masters degree!) most people realise that their “real-life” experience, in a business sense if not others, needs improving and they are very eager to work on that. Most are hard working within their allotted scope and hours but going beyond that, for free, is still not to be taken for granted, as it might be in the US or UK for example. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.
  • Poles tend to be very caring people, especially with children, but really anyone close to them who displays any sign of not being quite 100% is going to be fussed over until it’s sorted out. Of course, the hypochondriac nature will mean that a headache is brain cancer and a slight cough is pneumonia but better that way than not caring at all. The caring is coupled with an openness and eagerness to discuss all other problems, not of a physical nature. Amateur psychoanalysis is a national pastime and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Poland is the EU champion of tea-leaf or goats intestine reading along with tarot cards and other ways of finding out what’s going on in people’s heads.
  • The Poles are masters of looking smart on a shoestring budget. To see a badly dressed Pole is unusual and out of necessity they are masters of finding ways to do this without having to resort to Gucci-Falluci shops and prices. I am always shocked at my mother-in-law’s ability to show us an entire wardrobe she just picked up in a market somewhere for 50 zloty!
  • Poles are clean people who live in clean cities in a clean country.
  • Poles, older ones at least although it has been passed on, take resourcefulness and prudence to levels other countries can only dream of (or laugh at, if that’s the way they feel). They can make meals for a week from what at first appearance seems to be an empty fridge. They can live quite happily on what people in most countries would throw away. There is no need for special dumps or recycling centres because the recycling happens naturally at a grass-roots level. Latest example here was our new bed. I took the old frame to pieces and placed them in the basement rubbish room. Before I could return with the mattress, the frame had vanished!


  • Poles believe in exercising their rights even at the expense, danger or inconvenience of others. This is deep rooted and comes out in many different ways in normal daily life. I’m not just talking about their right to vote or to bear arms or something, I mean everything they see as “their right”, which often extends into areas that others might not feel is a right at all. A small but very recent example from home is the “komorki affair”. Most apartments have small rooms in the basement in which you can store all your ‘junk’. This apartment has two parking spaces and therefore two ‘komorki’ when we moved in to this apartment the owner gave us the keys to komorki numbers 147 and 148. We used these for a number of years then suddenly one day we found we were locked out of 148. Someone had removed the door and changed the lock! Without bothering to try and find us and talk about it, of course. We eventually traced the culprit who was the new owner of apartment C2 and apparently was the legal owner of komorka 148 with an “akt notarialny” to prove it. He (lets call him “that miserable bastard downstairs”) rather reluctantly agreed to unlock the door so we could remove our stuff and went in search of the komorka we were supposed to have. The obvious choice was the one with our apartment number on the door ( komorka 159) so we approached the person who was using that. He said it was hard to empty his one as it had special shelving and perhaps we could use the adjacent one which was also his (and leaked!). Having nothing special to move in we agreed and since then were using komorki 147 and 159a. Just a couple of weeks ago now, I was accosted in the basement while getting Zosia in the car to take to school by a woman claiming to be the employee of the owner of apartment C1 who wanted their komorka number 159a returning immediately! I’m afraid I reacted badly. Bear in mind that this owner is the same tosspot who told us we could use the leaky one and now that it has been fixed (and I have fitted a nice new door) wants it back. This went on for quite some time with both the owner and administration ganging up on me, waving akt notarialny’s in my face and sticking notices on the komorka door and the apartment door. It is subsequently resolved to the point that when I have access to komorka 149 (for which I have an akt notarialny) I shall be moving from 159a. The point, as regards this post, is that at NO POINT in all this did anyone care, or even think, about what I was supposed to do with the stuff we have in 159a. For all they care it could be thrown in the street just as long as they get what they are entitled to have, their “right”. When it comes to exercising a right, there is no quarter given, it is my right and who cares about you!
  • Another example of Poles not caring about other people is the almost total lack of respect shown towards ‘strangers’ in everyday life. If you happen to be just one of the masses, not family, not a friend, you can quite simply go to hell. This also shows itself very often, the most common being things like the whole pushing in queues thing, but generally, being able to get your hands on something at the expense of a stranger makes Poles feel good. On the roads, the most obvious example is the blocking of junctions. At busy times here in Warsaw, most of the traffic delays are caused by people who just follow the queue in front of them but end up stranded in the middle of the junction blocking all the traffic going the other way. Buses, trams, cars, they all do it. I used to think this was just bad driving, I’m now convinced it is because they absolutely don’t give a shit about anyone wanting to drive the other way. They will keep their place in their queue and give not a second of thought to who they might be inconveniencing in the process. It’s not illegal, so screw you!
  • I realise that something of a trend is developing here, but the next bad point also involves not giving a shit about other people. Poles have turned blaming other people into an art form! I would need a supercomputer to calculate the number of times I’ve heard excuses as to why something has gone wrong with blame being firmly placed on someone else. I can count on one hand the number of times a Pole has said “I made a mistake, I’m sorry”. Taking responsibility is not something Poles like to do, certainly at work. I know football is a bad example but just look at it – Podolski’s a traitor, the English ref cheated us….this is not just confined to football, this is normal life. One of the main considerations in a Pole’s thought process before embarking on something is “If it goes wrong, who can I blame”.
  • Whoever coined the phrase “Stubborn as an ass” had never visited Poland otherwise it would have been “Stubborn as a Pole”. There are times, many times, when it really doesn’t matter how much glaringly obvious evidence and truth you have on your side, the Polish person you are trying to convince is just going to dig their heels in and deny it all. This is most obvious if the truth involves them having done something wrong, of course.


  • I don’t really have much ‘otherwise’ but there is one thing that intrigues me. Guest writer, Richard Harradine-Robinson, recently wrote of Poland being paradoxical. Take a look at the above lists, the caring nature of the good list and the total opposite of the bad list, a contradictory nature if ever I saw one. What I have not been able to establish is exactly where the line is drawn between someone to care for and someone to screw because it does seem on the evidence I have that there is little in-between. Coming from England, where all citizens are somewhere in-between those extremes, makes this a puzzle worth worrying over. I got to thinking about people in the street asking for directions, this happens a lot at work thanks to terrible signposting of the entrance to Zlote Tarasy shopping centre versus offices and I have been a keen observer of the Polish reactions. In this situation, everybody is a stranger and should therefore be given the finger and told to find it themselves. Quite often they are, not the finger, but they are either ignored, told “I don’t know” or just brushed aside like the trash that they are. However, there are other people who get a lot of help, more than you might expect. What criteria are being used here to distinguish those strangers who should be helped from those who should be ignored? Is this just a tendency to help those strangers who are genuinely in trouble? Get run down by a tram, or a car and you won’t be short of people helping (and watching) no matter how much of a stranger you are so there are limits. But outside of emergency situations, is it a case of if people look like foreigners they are helped and if they look like Poles they are not? I wonder.

All of this is just the product of my own observations. Your mileage may well vary.


32 thoughts on “Poles – the good the bad and the otherwise

  1. I really, really dislike articles like this whether it’s about Poles or any other group of people.

    The same kind of good and bad shit can be said about the English and people from every nation.

  2. In the communist times Poles cared for each other. For example in our flat there was only one guy with a car ,the other family had a color TV and we had a little garden (someone else had coffee ,or cigarettes ,or even 10 pair new jeans from Chicago… and so on)

    And every time we needed a car (mostly in strong winters) ,this guy helped us . And for example if someone needed flowers or vegetables ,we gave it to them. And the olympic games in Sarajevo we could watch on a russian “rubin” color TV thanx to our neighbours…

    Now most Poles care for themselves, because everybody tells them that this is a “good thing” and “communism is over” and that they have to “catch up with the west”, “fight for their rights” and so on. And the problem is that Poles are very ambitious (which is not always good) and they take the “capitalist egoism” very seriously. And so they do not care anymore for the nighbours or for other Poles on the streets in a normlal life situation. They reduced it to family members and to special occasions like for example wielka orkiestra swiatecznej pomocy and to foreigners form other countries…

    I hope and think that this behaviour will change, when most of the Poles finally “catch up” with the west and realize that money and “fighting for you rights like a rat” is not everything…. I think it is already much better than in the 90s.

    sorry for my english. ;)

  3. Poles have style? You obviously know something I don’t, or never been to Ostroleka. Polish “style” is probably the most “dasai” (because there isn’t a word in English to describe just how bad it is) I’ve ever seen.

    As for the rest, you might have been describing New Yorkers, especially when it comes to blocking the intersections. :)

  4. Poles are clean people who live in clean cities in a clean country.

    What are you smoking? I wonder if you live in the same Warsaw I do.

  5. Anna, he ment Polish women. ;)

    I think Scatts is right. If a french or german woman had 800zl per month then they would just wear a plastic bag or something like that…

  6. Yes, during communist times, people were gooder!

    Nobody pushed anybody in queues.

    Everybody sacrificed for the common good.

    I think it was because we all used the same toilet paper with the wood chips still in it. Raw asses made us less diposed to tick other people off.

  7. BTW there is a nice science picknick in the old town. So if you live in warsaw ,then move your *** and go there with your children ;)

  8. Guest, I know he meant Polish women. If he thinks they’re stylish, then obviously he’s been there too long. ;) Though when compared to most British women, it’s a toss up. Both are equally dasai.

  9. I meant women more so than men, but the men don’t do too badly either. Most of all I was thinking what ‘guest’ said, if New Yorkers earned $400 a month they’d be wearing paper bags.

    Baduin – true, there is a problem with dumping.

    Anonymous – ever been to London?

    geez – I know what you mean but I’d really welcome reading a similar article about Brits. You’re suggesting that Brits blame others more so than Poles?

  10. Poles think that Brits are phlegmatic, drink tea all day long and hunt poor foxes every 2nd day. That are the only negative things.

    But it is quite harmless ,isn’t it ?

  11. I think such generalizations are generally spurious.

    Some Poles blame others more than Brits. Some Brits blame others more than Poles.

  12. Well, you’re obviously entitled to hold your opinion. As for me, I was shocked by this within the first few months of working in Poland and I’m still shocked by it now, many years later. Perhaps I was lucky in my 30+ years in the UK, or unlucky in my 10ish here?

  13. I went there about 15 years ago but can’t comment on how it compares to Warsaw as far as cleanness is concerned.

    Nevertheless, Warsaw is a dirty city. Take for example the area around the Central Station and the station itself with its underground passages, or any other train station for that matter. Or trams and buses, it seems as if the authorities don’t think it’s necessary to clean them more often than once in a year. Not to mention recycling containers where people offload whatever garbage they want to get rid off next to them and to predict when they will be emptied is like playing the lottery. The same goes for ordinary litter bins. There are unfortunately many other examples I could add.

  14. Every big european city is more or less dirty. In Warsaw there are 3.000.000 people every day on the streets and you can not control all of them. In London it is of course much more extreme. There are about 1000000000000000000 people from all over the world…

  15. Two things:

    1. Poles learn from the champs. “my komórka is my castle”, or so.
    (Have you been charged with storage dues yet?)

    2. staying in the middle of the junction: “It’s not illegal, so screw you” Actually, it is illegal.

  16. “Actually, it is illegal.”

    Not that anyone would know that by seeing any action being taken to enforce that law. Worth knowing though. I wonder who would “have the right” if I drove into one of them. Must say it is very tempting.

  17. I’ve heard many legends about tram drivers calmly shoving cars out of the way when they strand themselves on tram tracks. Never seen it, but I hope to one day.

  18. Scatts,
    “I wonder who would “have the right” if I drove into one of them.”

    Excepting few exceptions under the Highway Code, drivers are allowed to enter a junction only when they know they will be able to leave it. In theory: seeing an act of road offense you should call the police (to get through the crowd) to do the penalizing. However, if you “drove into one of them”, you are punished (punishable) too, though on different score.

  19. I’ve often been shocked by how Poles change from cold bastards to outstandingly nice people once you cross the public/private divide. Very tribal, in a way.

  20. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Poland: “Observations of the Polish Character”

  21. Pingback: Fly to Poland » Blog archive » Poland: “Observations of the Polish Character”

  22. Pingback: The end of a beautiful relationship « 20 east

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