THERE’S MORE LIKE THIS ON OUR NEW SITE – POLANDIAN.COM
I’ve thought about this long and hard. Everybody I’ve ever met who’s been to Poland has wrestled with this question. And almost everybody thinks it’s kind of true and kind of not true. This is the current state of my understanding:
1. Polish people in shops, businesses, and government departments often appear rude to foreigners visiting Poland (not to mention to other Polish people).
2. Polish people are extremely polite and hospitable in private social situations.
3. Polish people sometimes are, in fact, extremely rude because they like being extremely rude.
In other words, there is no simple answer to the question ‘Are Polish people rude?’ Sometimes they are, sometimes they are not. The problem arises because the occasions on which they are rude and the occasions on which they are not rude do not correspond to the expectations of the average Western visitor to Poland. This is known as culture shock.
1. Polish people working in shops, businesses, and government departments at the ‘customer relations’ level are usually poorly paid and utterly disinterested in the public perception of the institution they work for. In these situations they tend to feel powerless and undervalued. It’s not difficult to understand why these people fail to interact with customers in a positive and smiley way. I wouldn’t, and neither would you.
2. The woman behind the post office counter who treats you as if you were slightly less important than the dirt she wipes off her shoes would, if you met her in a private social situation, be a paradigm of politeness and hospitality. The private and the public spheres are strictly but unconsciously divided in the Polish mind, If a person is introduced to you by a friend you treat them with genuinely impeccable politeness and generosity. If you happened to meet the same person in the guise of a customer or passerby on the street you treat them as if they were a potential child molester.
3. And this is the ace in the hole that adds spice to the issue. Rudeness is an art form in Poland. Polish people take great, but secret, delight in the devastating insult or social slight. It appeals to the essentially black nature of Polish humor. In other words, sometimes Polish people are rude because it’s extremely funny to be rude. Just about every Polish film regarded as a ‘classic’ features endless scenes of incredible and extremely funny rudeness. After many years I have to admit, it IS in fact devilishly funny.