How to have a Polish party

All the world loves a party. In Iceland they splash around in hot springs eating whale-blubber-on-a-stick and getting giggly on Viking vodka, the Igbo people of Nigeria chow down on antelope haunches and wave sanity goodbye through the bottom of a bottle of palm wine, while the Falkland Islanders get through the long cold nights with bottles of Argentinian wine and left over British Army general service ration packs. The Poles have their own way, as is right and proper, but it’s not the way I grew up with.

When I was a young whippersnapper living in London more years ago than I care to count the procedure for organizing a partly went something like this.

1. Mention casually to friends in the pub that you’re having a party. In extreme cases phone people (and dealers). Try to avoid inviting ex-girlfriends, current girlfriends, and possible future girlfriends to the same event, unless bored with life.

2. Do nothing in particular until designated party night.

3. Buy sack of beer on the way home and have party. Phone pizza / Indian takeaway or nip out to the local garage for barbeque charcoal as required. Wake up next morning in Barons Court with a vague sense of foreboding.

If this is your memory of what ‘party’ means and you’ve not been in Poland long, beware, this probably isn’t the kind of thing Polish people mean when they say they’re having a party. Every Polish party I’ve been to has resembled a wedding feast far more than a proper sit-around-talking-crap-and-getting-wasted English style party. I won’t say Polish people don’t know how to have fun, but it does seem to take an inordinate amount of effort to get to the fun part:

1. Badger people senseless by phone, fax, email, sms, and carrier pigeon message until they agree to come to your party.

2. Buy a new house / flat to have the party in, or at least produce a baby or two.

3. Raid local branch of Ikea for 64 new wine glasses, 104 candles, three and a half thousand new matching plates, and enough doilies and tablecloths to outfit a royal garden party.

4. Start cooking at least six months before party is due to begin.

5. Acquire two bottles of Cinzano, one bottle of vodka, and 64 liters of Sprite, no matter how many people are coming. You know it’s not enough alcohol, but Jesus would be angry if you bought the right amount of alcohol beforehand rather than rushing out mid-party to buy more as god intended.

6. Have a nervous breakdown in your kitchen about an hour after the first guests arrive.

7. Wake up in Poland with a vague sense of foreboding.

Of course it’s all down to the Polish obsession with ‘hospitality.’ It’s not enough to invite people round to your house and get them too Michael Fished to drive home (which they do anyway) you’ve also got to feed the buggers fit to bust.

When I arrive at a party I like to hang out in the kitchen, maybe slump in the odd chair, take the girlfriend upstairs for a quick snog (is that word still allowed), or fiddle around with the host’s hi-fi until I break something. Arrive at a Polish party and you’re sat down at a table groaning with sliced meats, mayonnaise-drowned salads and cake… yes, cake and salad at the same time. The booze is well hidden. Immediately I feel like I’m at an ‘event’ not a party and my entire store of bonhomie drains away to be replaced by a tension headache.

And while we’re on the subject I was under the impression that cheese-and-pineapple on a stick had been banned by international treaty, along with prawn cocktails, early in the 1980s. Apparently not.

This rant has been brought to you by the Association of Sour Twisted Old Expats “Enjoy, soon you’ll be dead!

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15 thoughts on “How to have a Polish party

  1. I’ve actually attended a party (for this person’s co-workers) where there was far, far, far too much food and alcohol. The magic wasn’t happening and everyone, at one point, literally just decided to leave. The few stragglers left shortly after that. My wife and I were invited after all this to do something about the food and alcohol.

    Normally though I think it is usual for Poles to forget how much they can drink, thus the mid-party dash. At a good party, it’s not difficult for one person to down 500ml of vodka. So you need that much OJ or tonic or whatever to go along with it. Plus the “extra” vodka. Gin, too, and some rum because variety is the spice of life. Also, tequila and cointreau because then you can make Long Island Iced Teas and show the Poles what it’s like to be run over by a bus filled with naked girls.

    As a side note, I just got back from two weeks on a Norwegian island. They stop selling beer at 8pm and we never even saw the official liquor store. Oh, and beer is even expensive by their standards: about 12 PLN for a 500ml can of beer. It’s double that (25-30 PLN) at a bar. We were told that most Norwegians will get a bit drunk at home and then go to a bar if they’re bound and determined to party at a bar. They’ve got great cider (apple, pear) there but we found the beer to be, how do I put this delicately?, rubbish.

  2. darthsida says:

    Before I jump to conclusions (read: liqours), a nitpicker’s raid:
    Dear Author, you misspelt litres :)

  3. michael farris says:

    Back at the states at the university my procedure was :
    xerox a bunch of flyer ‘invitations’ out of old professional wrestling magazines and mexican fotonovelas two weeks ahead of time, pin them up in the department and hand them out to anyone with an interesting haircut.

    Clear the furniture out of the front/living room. Get a keg for the porch. Make sure I know where the James Brown and Cumbia records are. Set a fire on the sidewalk in front of the house.

    Wait for 200 people you don’t know to arrive.

    Be nice to the police when they arrive, they’re just doing their job.

    Wake up hungover to hatred of neighbors.

  4. anglopole says:

    This is so true, Island! :) Last year I organized a b’day party for my, then three-year-old, son and I did it the Polish way (well, there was no alcohol, though, as it was for kids mainly)! Needless to say it was the last time I threw a Polish party in England! I so wanted to introduce the moms of Jasper’s friends to some Polish tastes, customs…, etc. the response was rather apathetic and I ended up with the proverbial migraine and lots of wasted food… Oh, praised be simplicity! Next time it’ll be pizza, cup cakes, some veggie sticks with a dip, a b’day cake and soft drink! That’s it! :))

  5. scatts says:

    The best thing you can do to a party is to just leave it alone! The more you try to engineer a good party, the less chance there is that you’ll have one. Pick the right day, pick the right people and then relax and enjoy yourself. (you try telling that to my wife!)

    The best parties I ever had were two, well really one with a reprise, that were held in the late 70’s at my parent’s house in London while they were away on holiday. It was the summer waiting for ‘A’ level exam results so I suppose we were all 18 years old. I’m ashamed to speak of the damage we did – my parent’s bed was soaking (never did find out why), there was vomit in places there shouldn’t be vomit, the house smelled like a distillery for weeks afterwards, for at least 6 months we were finding peanuts everywhere, the newly sanded and polished floorboards in the lounge were ruined by stiletto heels – but BOY did we have fun! The parties were the stuff of legends, surprised there isn’t a www site devoted to them in fact.

    If I recall correctly, my mates and I attempted to clean as best we could (you can imagine how good 18 yr old guys can clean) and then went on holiday to the Isle of Wight shortly before my parent’s got back from their holiday. There then followed that awkward phone call where my parent’s got to explain that not only had I trashed their house but I had also managed to fail all my exams!!

    I think that was probably the low point in my career as #1 son!
    :)

  6. michael farris says:

    I can’t speak for Brits, but the biggest difference between American and Polish attitudes towards parties is as follows: Americans want to meet new people at parties and Polish people want to socialize with people they already know. I think all the other differences come from that.

  7. yellerbelly says:

    I’m afraid if we put on a ‘party’ in Warszawa and invite Poles to it, I’m very Brit about it all. This means copious amounts of beer, crisps, peanuts, more crisps and pizza late on – with a splattering of Polish chocolate for the guests if I’m in a ‘big spender’ mood.

    Of course you’re right – nobody touches this stuff; they all eat my wife’s salad and sernik.

    The night usually ends with me dancing on my own in the middle of the room in an intoxicated trance to my choice of music with everyone sat miserably watching me.

    But I have fun! :) But really – it’s the only way I can stay sane…!

    I sober up on sernik in the morning.

  8. Most people (not just Poles) are somewhat insulated and the suspicion is a bit ingrained. Most are not very eager to try something new so you have to work at it pretty hard if you want them to broaden their horizons a bit.

    I personally find that, in particular, seafood and spicy food (or any combination thereof e.g. Jambalaya) go over a bit on the rough side when it comes to Poles. However they do seem to be open to new mixed drinks. Left on their own, though, it’s probably vodka and juice (orange).

    I prefer to let someone else organize the party, as long as I have my say as to when (Saturday, 8pm) and where (preferably outside in a garden with a big picnic table or at a friend’s nice flat with a big plasma tv). Then all the tedious inviting and food is left to someone else. Plus I can still bring my favorite brain detergents and maybe introduce someone to the joys of mixing tequila and champagne.

  9. island1 says:

    Been a bit slow to respond here, mainly because I don’t disagree with anybody (how tedious).

    Still, I think Micheal made the golden point. A Polish party is a clique.

    And I’m still convinced that Poles pretend they’re going to drink far less than they actually are. I’ve never been to a Polish party that hasn’t run out of alcohol before it’s run out of steam (these two fact may not be entirely unconnected).

  10. Jarek A. says:

    Obviously you haven’t been to parties thrown (I don’t dare say ‘organized’) in student dorms :)

    That would take you back to your whippersnapper times fo’ sho’!

  11. […] on “how to have a Polish party” – at Polandian: “4. Start cooking at least six months before party is due to […]

  12. […] on “how to have a Polish party” – at Polandian: “4. Start cooking at least six months before party is due to […]

  13. Sylwia says:

    While not claiming it’s not true that we might think we drink less, the miscalculation of the amounts of alcohol (that I tend to do myself) comes from several factors. First, it’s difficult to know what everyone is going to drink. Some prefer beer, some wine, some vodka. I used to (mistakenly) think that women would drink wine rather than anything else. Wrong! Many women choose vodka, especially at an overnight party. Second, we buy less because guests usually bring some alcohol as well. However, neither we know what they’re going to bring, nor they drink what they brought. Usually we’re left with some bottles of wine after a party, even though we didn’t buy them. And third, people bring some other people with them, who weren’t calculated in advance, and whose drinking preferences are an enigma.

    And, of course, every time I think I know someone well enough to foresee what they’re going to drink, and I present them with their supposed favourite liquor proudly, they say: You know, yes, I used to love it, but the last time I went to a party I had such a good fun on… You can’t win!

    I think it’s true that a Polish party is a clique. It’s not that we don’t like meeting new people, but rather that we want those people to come about whom we know we’re going to have fun with. And then if they bring new people, and the new ones mix with the present company well and add to everyone’s fun, they’re going to be put on the guests list the next time, or even might be added to one of the guests’ own guests list. Generally, Poles think that the right people make for a good party, so they don’t necessarily follow the rule the more the merrier.

  14. island1 says:

    Sylwia: Left with bottles of wine after a party? Sounds like a good scam to me, I’ll have to try it. You sound like a highly enlightened host and are therefore exempted from my rude comments :)

  15. Ed@gmail.com says:

    I love Polish party! Erasmus here is the best thing in my live :) project x every day

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