THERE’S MORE LIKE THIS ON OUR NEW SITE – POLANDIAN.COM
Before coming to Poland, I uploaded CD 1 of ‘Colloquial Polish‘ to my mp3 player, to listen to on the tram. There’s one track where Janet Watson is writing a letter to her friend ‘Droga Susan’ (why she is writing in Polish to a friend with an Anglo-Saxon name is a mystery to me, but for the sake of practice I suppose it makes sense). She says:
– Polacy są miłe. Kobiety bardzo ładne, i męszczyny uprzejmi.
There we have it. The girls are gorgeous and the men are… uh… polite.
Chivalry is certainly more of an imperative here than back in blighty. For me, the first manifestation of this was on the tram, on my very first morning in Kraków, when my boss came to pick me up to go to work.
– I shouldn’t bother sitting down. There’s a strictly enforced tradition of giving up your seat to elderly ladies.
Little did I know. If you are male and under fifty, don’t expect to sit down, anywhere, ever. If you are female and look younger than twenty five, the same applies. Should you find yourself in possession of a seat on the tram, and a babcia of the moherowe variety looks in your direction, relinquish it immediately. This move could Save Your Life.
I have to admit, while dating a Polish guy for a bit I noticed one or two strange things: having doors opened for you and having to get into the car first (please note, if you unlock the passenger door in a Ford Fiesta before going to the driver’s door, the alarm will go off. Clearly American car manufacturers haven’t got the hang of Polish chivalry yet).
Plus I’ve definitely offended several Poles by insisting on putting my coat on all by myself. Girls, if you don’t let a guy do this for you, his friends’ll think he’s a cad and a bounder. So be kind and help him save face. If you want to.
Intrigued by the complexity of etiquette here, we quizzed our Polish teacher over a quantity of grzaniec in Nowa Prowincja.
– Absolutely the guy has to open the door for you to go through first. Honestly? Me and my friends wouldn’t look at a guy who didn’t. Bad manners are a major turn-off here.
What a minefield! How’s a poor foreign guy in Poland ever going to survive? And how, as a foreign girl, should you navigate your way through this obstacle course of potential traffic jams in doorframes, arms twisted in coatsleeves, car alarms and so on?
Well never fear! On the basis of my observations so far, here’s a short guide to the ins and outs of Polish Chivalry. Read, learn and inwardly digest. And don’t let me catch you sitting on the tram again: I’ve got a specially-sharpened umbrella with your name on it young man…
1/ Hand-kissing. Not so common any more. Some older guys or those with a quaint sense of humour will still kiss your hand. Girls: enjoy the attention. Try not to flinch, or to wipe said hand on seat of trousers. If this is a friend, it’ll probably be no problem. If it’s some fragrant drunk in the Planty, run, and get yourself to a bucket of disinfectant as soon as ever you can. Guys: it is absolutely expected and required that foreign guys kiss the hand of every Polish woman they meet. Your girlfriend’s mother will never speak to you again if you don’t.
2/ Door-holding. The rule is the girl goes first. This can get confusing if the girl is not local and doesn’t know where it is that she is supposed to be going. In Britain you often end up in situations where both parties do a little dance at the doorway (‘you first… no you, no I insist…‘) and end up both diving in at the same time and become jammed in the doorframe. Guys: let her go first. It’s simpler. Girls: walk through the damn door already.
3/ Getting into a car. A well brought-up Polish man, who is kind to old ladies and brings his babcia flowers on a Sunday, should always open the passenger door for the young lady to get in. In theory, this is a simple action and should cause no particular problems. But. Guys: Ensure Car Alarm Is Disabled before unlocking passenger door. There is nothing romantic about waking up the whole neighbourhood on your way back from a candlelit dinner for two. And the girl will probably laugh at you. Girls: remember, in Poland they use left-hand drive. Do not assume the guy is opening his own door and do not try to get in on the other side. You may end up driving home, and I assure you you will regret it.
4/ Getting the bill. Now, I’m a modern, independent, professional woman, and in the UK it is customary to share the love where picking up the check is concerned. Not that I think you should always go Dutch down to the last penny, simply that if a guy gets you dinner one night then you treat him to beer and football the next and so on. My round, your round – fair’s fair.
Things are slightly different here. Guys: you are expected to pay. It’s your round, permanently. The lady is a princess: do not forget this (on pain of beating administered by babcia). Girls: forget the feminist stuff. Real Men get the bill, and if you buy dinner for a Polish guy there’s a real chance you’ll be insulting his masculinity. The waiter will assume he has no balls. At least I think that’s how it works. Let it go, and enjoy the ride. With guys you know pretty well it may be possible to form some kind of mutual arrangement, but it makes them very uncomfortable. If you want, for effect, you can offer to pay and explain that this is customary in your uncivilised radically-feminised home country. They will think this is cute.*
5/Coat-holding. My pet hate. Maybe I just have extra-long arms or something, but I can never carry out this manoeuvre without getting into some kind of undignified tangle a la Doctor Doctor. The theory is that, when a Polish lejdi is leaving a party, restaurant, bar, or other locality, a real Polish dżentelmen should hold out her coat for her to slip her arms into. This doesn’t just apply to dates, by the way. If a girl is (rarely) unaccompanied, one of her male friends should do the honours.
Although this looks like a pretty gesture, in practice it’s extremely awkward, particularly if you’re not used to it. Which sleeve to start with, for example? Do you go for both at the same time, for a clean, graceful finish? Or should you start the move with one arm and cunningly slip the second in when the first is halfway down the sleeve, with a neat twist to round off the performance? What happens if one hand gets stuck? And, when your poor trapped hand is flailing about trying to find the end of the sleeve, how do you avoid smacking the unfortunate coat-holder in the groin?
I wonder if Polish girls have special sports classes to teach them the ins and outs of this particular move…
I say that we foreigners should draw the line on this one. Girls: just say no. Guys: unfortunately you don’t have a lot of choice. Remember babcia’s umbrella and do your best.
Well, I think that’s it. Go forth and navigate the complex tangles of Polish social etiquette! Good luck…
- Gulp. Pinolona realises that in writing this post she is divulging trade secrets and will never again be treated to dinner in Poland…