Myth #7: Polish people drink a lot

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Utter nonsense. The average Pole drinks far less than the average Brit and many of them hardly drink at all. The Polish attitude to alcohol is bizarre. Just about every Pole will tell you that ‘a strong head for alcohol’ is a defining characteristic of the typical Pole, and then immediately tell you that they themselves hardly drink. I’ve come across dozens of Poles, male and female, who just don’t drink at all; I think I’ve met one Englishman in my entire life who forswears. A Polish woman who drinks more than the occasional glass of wine or sickly sweet ‘hot beer’ is truly a thing to marvel at. British lasses suck down pints with the best of them and will question your manhood if you’re unable to keep up.

The truth is that my 87-year-old grandfather could drink the average Pole under the table without really trying. In fact, I believe this is actually one of his hobbies now that he’s given up golf.

So where does this myth come from? The answer is, of course, from the phenomenon of the public drunk. For some reason that I’ve never quite been able to fathom, alcoholics in Poland carry out their business in public. They get utterly wasted on industrial grade spiritus and then pass out on the nearest pavement, bench, doorstep, or Police car; often in 3 foot of snow. My sources tell me this is mainly because they get kicked out of the house at dawn by their wives or mothers or aunts and can’t afford to go to pubs. The point is that finding comatose alcoholics strewn about the streets is a new phenomenon for visiting westerners. They tend to get the impression that most Poles are staggering around half-cut most of the time as a consequence. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Drinking in Poland – the truth

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22 thoughts on “Myth #7: Polish people drink a lot

  1. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    I’m the only person I know who doesn’t drink alcohol, and I’m a bit of a social outcast because of that (there is this unspoken rule which says you shouldn’t get more drunk than the rest of your company). And I haven’t gotten into the habit because of a childhood trauma, and not some ideology.

    The customs regarding alcohol and partying have changed a lot in last twenty years. For instance, my parents’ idea of partying is “invite guests to your home, sit by the table, send children to another room, talk a lot while eating”. In my generation this is all gone, and drinking is much less of a ritual. Meeting at home is still very popular, in which case managing the supply of alcohol (mostly brought along by guests) is often the host’s priviledge, including the right to offer drinks to guests.

    All of my znajomi drink regularly and have been doing so since early highschool at least. Many people seem to think it’s inappropriate to be *visibly* drunk, but it’s perfectly all right and even advisable to be “wstawiony” (feeling good but not too dizzy). In general, people are more restrained when in a public place or in company of strangers (or children, or parents). My theory is that some of those not-drinking people you refer to have refused a drink because you’re a foreigner. Many Poles are very concerned about the perception of Poland worldwide, so they will try to seem more civilized and polite than they really are.

    As for professional drunks, many of them are homeless. Besides, Polish custom forbids (more like FORBIDS, capital F, capital O etc.) drinking without someone to keep you company, but it doesn’t forbid opening the bottle right outside the foodstore you bought it at. Why foodstore and not pub, you ask? Well, we used to have this thing called communism, and there were virtually no pubs back then, because that would mean private business and uncontrolled entertainment – two things a regime like this just couldn’t tolerate. Your only options were a foodstore, an illegal establishment that was best avoided, and a dreaded “beer stall” that didn’t even let you inside (customers were handed their beer through a window). Most pubs in my vicinity are less than five years old. Those “professionals” (note how most of them are middle-aged) simply didn’t have the opportunity to learn how to get hammered like a civilized Westerner.

  2. Renegade Eye says:

    The post is anecdotal. I don’t disagree with you. If you are dealing with someone who doubts you, you’ll need numbers.

    I found this blog at Beatroot’s.

  3. scatts says:

    My experience is different, in that I’ve not met a Pole who won’t have a drink but I have met a couple of Brits and a Dutchman who won’t.

    Whatever the truth on how many people drink, and how much they drink, I’m just glad the Poles are able to drink and be happy rather than drink and be annoying and start fights. That’s the biggest difference I’ve noticed between UK and Poland in this regard.

  4. Kinuk says:

    Just have to say: I LOVE THIS SERIES! More myths, please!

  5. Brad says:

    I think the only people I know who don’t drink are my wife’s two grandma’s …and even they will have the rare shot of vodka or some wine.

    That being said, I drink far more (quantity and frequency) here than I ever did with my friends back in the US.

  6. martiga says:

    maybe Brits specialise in pints while Poles in our precious vodka? ;)
    I agree with scatts. The atmosphere in the city centre of an English city during the weekend’s night can be intimidating for an average Polish girl, like me :) But I think as far as Poland is concerned you can already observe a bigger tendency to drink more and behave in offensive or aggressive way among youngsters.

  7. Pawel says:

    scatts, island2, Jacek, and others

    I agree with Islands’s obervations. I almost never drink. The only time I got drunk in my life was… in Britain:)) Most of my friends don’t drink either, or would have an occasional glass of red wine. So maybe it depends who do you meet and where you live. There are many regional differences in Poland. The town where I live isn’t maybe the most representative. Order is valued here highly as well as work done carefully. And for sure more than in the south or in Warsaw. (However people are much more official and less relaxed). What is more: over a quarter of the town’s inhabitants are students; there is high level of professionals and a low level of workers. It is rare to see any drunks in public. If there are any, city guard brings things to order and either drives them home, to hospital or to izba wytrzezwien (sobering institution). And there are no homeless drunks on the train station like in Warsaw for example. Services are working properly. (There is a shelter, there is a unit for curing alcohol disease, etc. Drunks living in city council estates are evicted etc.) Porządek musi być – order must be.

    However half of my friends smoke smoke. Like chimneys:) Island1, what about Polish smoking?;))

  8. island1 says:

    Jacek: Thanks for the comments. All of the things you are saying are familiar to me; the inviting people home rather than going out; the relative novelty of pubs; the absolute horror of lone drinking; and the exaggerated sensitivity of the Polish to the way they are perceived by foreigners. All true and well noted.

    The post was really aimed at non-Poles and those foreigners who have never been here. There is a perception in the west that Poles are vodka-swilling maniacs who are perpetually half cut. I have absolutely no idea why.

  9. island1 says:

    Renegade: I thought about including figures, but I find they’re rarely actually persuasive to the average casual reader, so I went with the anecdotal approach. As I said to Jacek my aim was really just to question the common western perception that Poles are heavy drinkers.

  10. island1 says:

    Scatts: You’re right of course, Brits are completely shameless about public drunkenness. It’s not big and it’s not clever (heheheheh)

  11. island1 says:

    Kinuk: Never fear. I’ve got a million of ’em!

  12. island1 says:

    Brad: Thanks for dropping by. The whole question of drinking in the States v’s drinking anywhere in Europe is a whole different league I think :) Could be wrong.

  13. shaun says:

    Hey , I agree with you- the Poles I’ve met here hardly touch the stuff and I’ve found myself drinking far less too, for fear of looking like a drunken silly paddy. The only exceptions are the ones I met in Ireland(maybe they were fine before they arrived:/)

  14. mochafueled says:

    Island… couple thoughts… I have friends who run a AA program in Kutno… a hard area where is much alcoholism…

    2nd I never thought of Poles as drunks… was/is the Russians who drink themselves to death.

    At the wedding I attending in Oct in P-land the family only had wine… no hard stuff… yup had to get my own beer… :(

    In my book the Irish are a class until themselves… the Poles not in the top 10.

  15. quackie says:

    I suppose the common tolerance (or leniency?) for drunkards showing in public comes from communism time as well as shopping for beer/wine/vodka in foodstores instead of drinking in non-existing pubs…

    People used to think “The times are so hard, let’s allow him to forget the reality”, “Poor guy, he must have had tough time” and so on.

    But this attitude still declines, especially in order-loving communities (in Wielkopolska region).

  16. Natalee says:

    I”m Polish and 9 years old you don’t understand how it is for me. Scesc

  17. Natalee says:

    just kidding. I’m 9 and on New Years day, my mom lets me put my finger in alchol but I don’t get drunk but I still have some. Does that count?

  18. island1 says:

    Natalee: Yes it does count.

  19. Dawid says:

    I don’t know whether it was done in the EU or in Europe in general, but a recent survey showed that Poles are in the fourth place in terms of drinking – from the bottom of the table! And the perception that they are heavy drinkers indeed seems to be coming from the “open nature” of alcoholics here, combined with mistaking Poles for Russians.

  20. […] #19: Polish people can drive Myth #21: Polish girls are gorgeous Myth #34: Polish people eat swans Myth #7: Polish people drink a lot Myth #17: Poland is poor Myth #46: Poland is in Eastern Europe Myth #24: Poland is a cold and grim […]

  21. According to OECD and WHO, Poles are #13 and #14 highest imbibing people per capita in the world. Top 10%, easy.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_alcohol_consumption_per_capita

  22. Vlad says:

    No offense, but your article is full of shit. I’m a Pole. And I can drink 10 shots of Vodka before I feel buzzed. It’s not a myth. We Poles can handle our liquor like no other. We are champions of the world when it comes to alcohol tolerance. Why? I don’t know. We just do. I would love to see some research into this. I had some uncles who could drink 20 shots within 2 hours before being wasted.

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