Myth #1: Polish people are rude


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:

The truths

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.

The reasons

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.

Poland myths, Poland myths, Poland myths…


41 thoughts on “Myth #1: Polish people are rude

  1. Michael Farris says:

    Other factors:

    Most Polish people are suspicious of unmotivated friendliness. An American style big smile and hello from a person in a store does not make them feel welcome, it makes them suspicious. (After so many years here I feel the same way).

    The lady in the post office is being paid (sort of) to do a specific job which does not include helping the befuddled (Polish or foreign). Her job is to peform certain services for people who know what they’re doing. How she treats those who don’t (yet) know the system is totally irrelevant in terms of how she’ll be evaluated and her chances (if any) of advancement. In Poland, kindness and consideration are traditionally personal decisions, the perogative of individuals and not dictated by position.

    As always in Poland, familiarity breeds concern. Always shop at the same stores and/or buy vegetables from the same people at the market and as they get accustomed to you, they’ll show what signs of concern they can (such as warning you off unfresh items you just requested or asking whether you want them to set aside part of an incoming shipment for you or even letting you pay the next time if you’re suddently short on cash).

    Polish people like noisy arguments as a way of passing the time or getting at the truth. They mostly admire those who express themselves frankly and with flair. The main goal is not to be insulting/rude per se, but to express your opinion on any given matter as clearly and forcefully as possible. While this may involve delivering devastating insults, no one expects said insults to have any great affect on those on the receiving end and arguments usually end suddenly with no clear resolution (this is hard for Americans who, once engaged, find it difficult to disengage from arguments, even ones they don’t care about until they’ve ‘won’).

  2. island1 says:

    Michael: Extremely interesting points.

    Unmotivated friendliness
    As a Brit I am equally suspicious of the clearly false US-style customer-relations grin. However, I get the feeling that the Polish attitude in these situations is not neutral (which is what I’m used to), it’s downright confrontational. Given the working conditions of these people though I’m not in the least bit surprised by it.

    Post office lady
    I agree absolutely. Why should she care? I sure as hell wouldn’t in her position.

    Familiarity breeds concern
    I think this is kind off what I was trying to say in point 2. In a personal relationship Polish people are as polite and hospitable as possible. I have no argument with that point. The contrast I would point to (for what it’s worth) is the point that in the UK a shopkeeper who didn’t know you personally would probably engage in the same kind of favoritism much more quickly.

    Noisy arguments
    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. The heated argument laced with meaningless insults is a stable of Polish culture in the same way that the whispered gossip laced with unnecessary politeness is the staple of British culture. I get it, I really do.

  3. darthsida says:

    Would it be rude to notice Freud slipped through you?
    Quote: “it’s kind off true and kind of not true”
    Either case, untrue :)

  4. scatts says:

    I’m not sure any of this is picking up on the tendency to go out of their way to get themselves into a position where an argument is possible. Unless this is driven by the fact that they like an argument?

    It is most noticeable on the road, when people will actually speed up and manoeuvre so that they can be in the right place at the right time to honk and start shouting at you whereas if everyone had just carried on as they were, there would be no problem.

    Similar things happen on foot, too.

  5. island1 says:

    Darth: Just posted a comment thanking you for your vigilance, but it seems to have disappeared. So thanks again :)

  6. Tozznok says:

    Sorry to diverge from the point, but “humor”, without a U?

  7. some dude says:

    One is US spelling, one is British. Sigh. And I thought that being an ESL teacher would actually at least help people.

  8. michael farris says:

    Actually that should be: “One spelling is correct, the other is British.”

  9. scatts says:

    Whoa! Whoa! Hold on a second………

  10. island1 says:

    Tozznok: The awful truth is that the automatic spell checker on WordPress is set to US English and, although I’m inclined to use British English spellings in general, I usually have to use US spellings in my work so I kind of default to US spelling on here. It ain’t pretty but that’s the truth.

  11. Anonymous says:

    In shops I find that a little perseverence is needed before the indifference / apparent rudeness is slowly replaced by normal helpfulness. Post office workers are a lost cause. No amount of perseverence will help here although I find that the younger ones are better – less institutionalised presumably – and that he Post Office is improving.

    A favourite opening gambit of rude Poles (in shops, banks, post offices etc) is the blank stare. e.g. you approach the cloak room attendant with your bag in hand. The cloakroom attendant looks at you, saying nothing. You are forced / provoked to say “this is a cloakroom, isn’t it?” The attendant replies triumphantly / witheringly/ scornfully, depending on the mood, “We don’t accept bags.”

  12. Valerie says:

    Tozznok, there is no point in picking on an American (or as some people prefer to call, international) spelling. Is it in anyway related to this Poland myth discussed here? I can imagine that you have a very busy time whenever you are on the net…

    island1, it wasn’t an ‘awful’ truth as such. Anyway, I agree with you on the unmotivated friendliness point. I general am very suspicious, but when confronted with something like the Polish attitude, I tend to smile a lot ans try to be nice. A bit of a split personality here.

  13. island1 says:

    Valerie: Thanks for the comments. I assume Tozznok had his/her tongue in his/her cheek. To be honest I have some sympathy with American spelling, at least it’s slightly less absurd than British spelling.

  14. Valerie says:

    island1, I assume I didn’t get the joke. I hope Tozznok wasn’t questioning your claim as a Brit.

    I just think that, over the internet, it’s too easy for people to make absurd little comments, or be unduly critical, like me. And I don’t want people to think that our country is inhabited by snobby spellers. As Britons, I think we should know about the little frustrations and amusements caused by spell-checkers and text editors that use the US system by default, and thus could be more understanding. I travel outside Europe frequently, and believe that picking on such differences doesn’t help understanding other cultures and is not in line with the values promoted by this blog. But chances are that it was merely a casual comment from Tozznok.

    By the by, a friend who works in Shanghai and recently visited Macau had reported similar observations. He thinks your number 1 reason is the case. However, as far as I know, Macau is a place where economy depends heavily on a tourism that consists mainly of pleasure seekers of greed, lust or gluttony, and that might have a depressing effect on the local people. So maybe we can’t draw a parallel between the two places.

  15. It is…and it isn’t funny. Sometimes it can be damn right infuriating!

    Simple solution? Join the club and be rude back to them!! ;-)

  16. Anonymous says:

    The Poles are nice.I am Polish and I am very nice to others;=)
    specially foreigners , want them to see our country in a nice,friendly colours
    we shoul not generalize because in every country you can meet rude mean people

  17. magda says:

    and dont mind my english…probably made plenty mistakes ;-)

  18. Mercutio says:

    You wrote:
    “Rudeness is an art form in Poland. Polish people take great, but secret, delight in the devastating insult or social slight.”

    You also said that it is devilishly funny. I disagree. This rudeness is a holdover from Communist days. And I’m sure you wouldn’t find it so funny and hilarious if you were the butt of the insults, lies, or rudeness.

    The funny rudeness you extoll is merely a form of jealousy and a feeling of inadequacy. Successful people in Poland, as elsewhere, don’t waste their time or energy on being rude and insulting.

  19. island1 says:

    Mercutio: What makes you think I haven’t been the butt of insults, lies, and rudeness?

    I disagree, it’s nothing to do with communism. That’s just the easy answer to everything. There are plenty of ex-communist countries where the people have a completely different character.

  20. mercutio says:

    Dear Island1:

    Yes, the younger people from the newer generation in “ex-communist” countries are not as rude as the older people from the older generation. The younger people didn’t have to live thru the fraud of the Marxist system. Their lives weren’t destroyed by the lies of Communism. How can you dismiss the Communist regime so easily and act as if it didn’t affect people’s behavior?

    Living under communism is horrible—and rudeness, social slights, practical jokes, black humor, insulting remarks were all ways with which to deal with the terrible situation.

    People like you, Island1, act as if there never was a thing called Communism in Poland or anywhere else. Why is that? Is it denial?

  21. Anonymus says:

    I just came back from a holiday in wroclaw and can honestly say that most of the poles I met there did actually go out of there way to make you feel about as welcome as a dose of syphallis!!! This was especially true of the males, who sporting there identical millitary No2 style haircuts made you feel like you were running the gauntlet every time you stepped into a bar/restaraunt. My friend and I were actually told whilst in a bar that we were going to be stabbed for speaking to a couple of polish women!!! We were not rude, loud or obnoxious. The guy didn’t even know the girls we were speaking to!!! I thought it must have been a joke till I noticed what he had in his hand. This may not be true of everywhere in poland but where I live in the U.K there is a large polish community and they do not get threatened in this manner.

  22. Sam Urai says:

    poland can suck my balls

  23. Steven Woodruff says:

    If talking to a Polish girl can get me stabbed…. What’s going to happen to me??? I married one and hang with her in Wrocław bars often. I guess what I’m trying to say is……Don’t be such a pussy. One punk with a little knife does not make a city bad for meeting girls.

  24. Steven Woodruff says:


    If I had to work in a Polish grocery store under any government, for 1,200 złoty per month, I would go out of my way to be rude and aloof to the needs of customers. And we all know that there were never really any communists in Poland, just “actors” trying to survive 45 years of occupation.

  25. […] Myth #1: Polish people are rude Myth #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 place […]

  26. annonymous says:

    first off all why are you sayin that polish ppl [me] rude? first of all i really respect english ppl so shut up and stop beaing a rasist btw.iam polish and 11

  27. Anonymous says:

    It’s not complicated or ‘kind of true or untrue’ at all. For anyone who’s lived in a civilized country and then has lived in Poland, they are, in COUNTLESS ways, unbelievably rude. Only a typical, defensive, insecure, Pole…or maybe a Russian would disagree.

  28. Andrew says:

    Living in Poland for so many years, I have to say that I have never seen such egocentric people. To expect a “pardon” or “excuse me” or an apology if they are worng is simply too much. Yes they are rude.

  29. Mud says:

    Poles are polite to you if they think you’re important – or in some cases not Polish. They judge nearly everything and everyone on status, $, and hierarchy/titles. If something in Poland is fucked up – they blame communism, the second world war or any number of other countries (the list is long) for either betraying or invading them. Few will ever admit they don’t know the answer to something or apologize for fear of ‘losing face’.

  30. Morgan Fairchild says:

    No Polish person can possibly take the national high road when discussing the following topics: manners/polite and appropriate social interaction, business ethics, racism, sexism, homophobia, driving safety, sports, arts, science, and literature (yes, the last three are incredibly weak considering your size and history), alcoholism, and religious freaks.

  31. PLJilted says:

    My mother and I are here in Warsaw right now. We’ve spent the last two weeks going from Warsaw to Sopot and Gdansk and then to Poznan. While she and my grandmother have been proud Amercans for 40+ years, our Polish heratige has remained an important part of our lives. This long planned trip has been incredibly special in many ways but unfortunately the most poignant memory I will have is how unbelievably rude Polish people are. I can count on one hand the number of people who were simply pleasant but have lost count of the number who were straight up miserable human beings. In stations, shops and on the street they leer, push and mock you (somehow forgetting that understanding a language is a lot easier than speaking it). That was just the tip of their self-absorbed, ill-mannered ice berg and had I not been raised with respect for myself and others, I would’ve knocked a few out for humiliating my mother. Of course, I understand the difficulties of being and dealing with tourists–we’ve got a bad reputation and it’s probably avoidable with a little more preparation or openmindedness to cultural differences. However, in my opinion, it goes beyond cultural mores to actively treat strangers with disrespect and indecency. Whether you’re inclinded to be suspicious of a harmless smile or “dzien dobry” or you severely hate being a clerk in a store that serves the public it is the most basic of common courtesy to treat people with kindness. We nor others we know expect a red carpet rolled out for our comfort or convenince but we do expect that the same level of respect whether as a guest in your house, store or country. I’m venting slightly but the fact remains that the people here are a disappointment and I’ll likely not waste my time coming back.

  32. emila says:

    Sam Urai says:
    December 23, 2008 at 9:06 am
    poland can suck my balls

    What the hell does that mean?
    This is really shocking. This is racist. When there was WW2 our troops came to England, because no one really helpd them you little frreak jump of a cliff.

  33. Steven says:

    Sorry that your stay in Poland was so rough. Unfortunately your words will likely fall on deaf ears if you’re addressing a native Pole. In fact, you may even be attacked for it:) They tend to think everyone is ‘exaggerating’ or are simply being arrogant foreigners who can’t possibly understand their agonizing, unbelievable, reality (‘well, you’d be rude too!’ – kind of thing). It’s a tough place for people who notice and even enjoy pleasant interactions in day to day life. There are exceptions, but those types of exp. are rarities in Poland.

  34. co2 says:

    I’m glad I found this blog I’m sorry to say but there is a young polish lady at work that has many of the negative personality attributes described at first I thought it was me and as I know some very nice polish people I did not want to think it may be her cultural upbringing I have come to the conclusion that like many other nationalities there are some nice people and some not very nice people and she falls into the not nice caterogy i think it’s best just to be neutral and polite to these kind of people but should to be aware and not over nice as if you responde to the rudeness this is probably what they want I think the fact she is polish and from what I’ve heard some of the women’s cultural understandings and the fact they know no different would not help but on the whole I’m sure even with the hardships polish women have a choice to be nice or not and we have to just accept it but not join people like this in there rudeness I hope I have not offended anyone by my remarks and this is based on one person and does not reflect how I feel about other polish people

  35. co2 says:

    Forgot to say from London

  36. Anonymous says:

    Not agreeing with the rationale behind point one (rude office workers/shop clerks). Listen, these types of jobs are massively underpaid and undervalued in nearly every country on earth. However in my many years living and working abroad, only in those parts did you get that special brand of “I’m miserable, I hate my life, and you’re going to pay for it’ treatment. In other words, most people in the world don’t shine their misery like a beacon of gloom for all to see at their job. This is far more a character thing – simple as that. And really, it’s only said to rationalize the base and profoundly miserable character of the majority of people in that country.

  37. n says:

    i have to saymy experience is just horrible..cleaner came n did the job second time with utter lack of interest n proper cleaning took her wage n went away without giving me a change. it was mere pound 2 but english would never do that.
    plumber came n did job in 1 month though claimed would do it in 2 days. lies a lot n asked for money a lot without completing the job. highly rude attitude n a lot of arguments. extremely insincere attitude towards work..sorry they are not honest people

  38. Anonymous says:

    Currently living in Warsaw after having lived quite some time in Krakow, I can with no doubt confirm that Warsaw is the shittiest capital city in Europe in terms of attitude : Poles in Warsaw are rude, not polite, have no education, are egocentric and unsecure… they think they are the best of the worlds… and all of this thanks to all those countryside people coming to Warsaw, gaining their first 3000zl payroll and felling like the king of the world, before their boss pressure them and they develop anger that they project to others.

    Worst thing is that I develop towards them the same indifference, and it did work to get respected… treating them like shit… crazy… I hate being like that…

    The thing is Warsaw is NOT Poland.

    I would have definitively stay in Krakow (but pollution levels are ones of the worst in Poland). Anyway, I cant wait to leave to join a more civilized country, or at least “area”.

    PS : And for Polish forum users those saying there are good and bad people in every country, I can say, after living in 5 different countries over 3 continents during the past 15 years, that Warsaw is the WORST ever.

  39. Jacek says:

    As a Polish person (born 1991, so after communism), I agree that Polish people are quite nice to their friends and extremely negative/rude to strangers. Also, as a Polish person, I cannot understand why on Earth are they (we?) wasting their time and energy for those carefully crafted insults they make towards each other. To me it makes no sense at all to insult someone when there’s no real reason to do that (for example when someone asked you a simple, neutral question; or sometimes even without any reason at all, ‘just because’). Because of that Polish people are not really ‘united’ in a way most other nationalities are. I really hope the pointless aggression will end some day (although even in the optimistic scenario, I don’t think it will happen sooner than in 50 years or something). In the current situation, living in Poland makes you kind of lonely, because people on the streets and shops are not really ‘approachable’ in a way a human being should be. That’s also the main reason I’m living in UK now – of course, the salaries are higher as well, but I would return to Poland if it wasn’t for this pointless negativity and fighting each other for no reason.

    And yes, I do realise we’re a post-communist country, and this may be a somewhat valid explanation for the current situation. But it’s not really a valid excuse – it’s not really that hard to realise that you should treat other people with the same respect you want to receive.

  40. frank cooper says:

    Attended polish wedding, was ignored until poles had consumed large quatities of vodka.
    Next day back to ignoring us. What a race.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Polish people are rude because they don’t earn enough money? That’s a good one. If a pole earned 290zl an hour they would still be rude. I’ve lived all over the world but Poland is the what by a long way. They love to blame Muslims. The Russians. The Germans. Immigrants. But seem to forget the 1,000,000 poles in the UK most beautiful of whom don’t speak a word of English. Open polski sklep so that they can avoid integration with non poles. They are hypocrits of the highest degree.

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