10 Curiosities: Polish But True, or Close Enough


Can life in Poland be…demanding?

If you are alive, that is.

Well, should a Polish pensioner reside abroad, some authorities may be asked to confirm the person has not died yet, away from homeland. Documents such as this Slovene-Polish pdf (see Page 2) make sense: “This is to confirm that pensioner [name, surname, particulars] remains alive” — Why pay the dead?

Powers That Insure can go further. Polish ZUS wants to cut red tape even more effectively! Maybe its own red tape in fact. Why have heftily-paid office workers confirm that some pensioners live? Pensioners know better whether they are alive or not – so can fill in documents themselves, right? Grab this pdf while it’s not removed yet. Or simply read: “Me, the undersigned […] hereby I declare that I live and reside at the above mentioned address”


Life is not certain, no. But taxes are.

Some people could have the annually recurrent problem of choosing the right tax return form. If you were employed AND had some temporarily suspended business activity (a curio itself, the instrument of “suspension” can be recognised by tax authorities [US] – though won’t be accepted by social insurance authorities [ZUS]), meaning – if you had no turnover, no profits or losses, no trade as your business is dormant PIT 37 form should seem to be the right choice – comprising any and all sources of your income (employment, period).

Despite a substantial difference between the meanings of “to run a business” and “to draw income from a business”, the tax office would insist that you fill in PIT 36 for business activists. Your business is dormant, not run, you hardly even walk it, nonetheless you would be asked to write in a few zeros into PIT36. Zero income is some income too, tax office will try to reason.

And why? — The software designed for handling tax data can’t process the difference.


The basic way to calculate fiscal dues is by means of some calculating machine. Surely many people have seen one HP calculator or more. But if Jan Lukasiewicz had not suggested POLISH NOTATION, later re-turned into REVERSE POLISH NOTATION – they would not be so efficient. Moreover, no model among them could be called “first desktop computer“.


Another way to get away with taxes is pay whatever the leeches want from us, no calculating. If only they should let us use superbucks. So, what do you reckon this is?…

…This is not a 100 American dollar bill. This is a 100 dollar superbill. Back in the late 90s (if my memory is correct), the USA would ponder whether acts of forging their notes form enough of casus belli to go to, hmm, North Korea to spread democracy (and oil companies or whatever manifest destiny USA would hold for them) there. In the process of US Secret Service search, some of world’s best counterfeit hunners were found in Poland. They were recognized as fake only because they’d been prepared more carefully than the usual greenback would be.

Given the deep falling rates of US Dollar or British Pound against Polish Zloty, it is not improbable we’ll live to see the times the Polish currency will be chosen often by money copyists (and Andrew Eldritch will prove himself a visionary).


But let’s drive on.

Brits have Robin Hood (on foot). Americans have Green Arrow (left). Poles have green arrow (right).

Green arrows in Poland have been meant to improve traffic flow. But not everywhere. In some cities they survived, in others they did not — after a minister’s call for Greenland Clearances, to remove the arrows (or, more economically, just blind with any non translucent wrapping, or drown in dark plastic bags). Today they seem to have regained favours with Polish streets. [But anyone seen them abroad? Do they blink? Are they painted? Fixed for good?]


Arrows come and go. Unlike the national church of Poland. However, anyone seriously cross with the ‘men in black’ may choose to become apostate. There are a few websites in Poland yet with model documents, the first step on the way outside Roman Catholicism, domestic variety.


Arrows or no arrows, the road to church or the road to perdition – when you have a vehicle, kids may happen.

Browsing the net for any statistics concerning “babies conceived in cars”, I found several American mentions – stress put on specific car brands in lieu of broader analyses. So, talk to me about the whole Model T-Ford’s backseat generation? Or was it the backseat of 1985 Camaro (at a Springsteen concert)? What about 1969 Cutlass Supreme (at an AC/DC show)? What is the meaning of 1957 black Chevrolet convertible in Paris Hilton’s life? Where are 1962 Bug babies gone? Or 1971 Plymouth babies? Hmm, that kind of stuff.

When Polish would-be parents are not against marriage – actually if they are all about marriage – it is possible to “request” or “kindly request” that 30 days of the statutory waiting at the public registrar’s be shortened to its shotgun minimum. The fiancé will have to put down some justification (“I hereby declare my fiancée is pregnant”, add “we hereby declare we would like our baby to be born within wedlock”), the couple will have to sign the application – and pay some 40 zloty to cover stamp duty. [Specimen documents in Polish here (USC/05) or there or googlewhere.] The registrar may take the applicants’ word for the fact about pregnancy.

Article 4 of “Kodeks rodzinny i opiekuńczy” (Polish Family and Guardianship Code) that covers the issue of the 30 days long waiting before the ceremony is not all clear to me. Why wait?

Why to shorten the waiting seems more obvious. The Code dates back to 1964, the time when ‘family’ stood firmly for the ‘basic social unit’, the core of the healthy tissue of the healthy society, and illegitimate babies were just three of seven bits less unwelcome than, say, the unemployed, or prostitutes or drug addicts.


But there’s something worth any sacrifice to the bureaucratic.

The wedding. The drinking.

While breathalysers scale usually ends with BAC of 0.40%, lethal dose for every second human — the urban legend has it that Poles and Russians often defy the scale, the tall tale the proud sons of the two nations would be happy to oblige. Despite the accusations (?) that Poles “have been using alcohol for only fifteen hundred years“. For maybe it’s attitude that counts most? “Poles […] tend to drink for the sake of drinking“. Idealists, one might say.

So, there was that idealist from Poland, who scored BAC 0.70% – and survived out of his burnt down car:

And there was a Bulgarian who scored over 0.90. (Bulgarians are kinda Poles, huh?)


Then, just when someone could start thinking scornfully than Poland can’t sober up, the proof of reason is found in the building. And the building is in Szymbark. A local saying will go: “My emoh is my eltsac”, I assume. The thing is Europeanly unique, dwellable, and Lech Walesa cut the ribbon.

To your health!


Let’s call it:

Reverse Polish Narration.

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16 thoughts on “10 Curiosities: Polish But True, or Close Enough

  1. DC says:

    In response to your question in #5, right turn arrows are not widely seen in North America because most places allow a right turn at a red light after stopping (NY City is a notable exception). I have one in my neighborhood to protect a heavily-used pedestrian crossing, but it’s a complete set: red, yellow, and green arrows.

    Apparently the DDR was big on them:


    As for #9, the edition I have of “Lonely Planet: Poland” warns “Never try to outdrink a Pole.” :-)


  2. simon says:

    The green arrow is a typical example of Polish official mentality – “if it’s not expressly allowed, it’s forbidden”. I’m not optimistic about this ever changing, either.

  3. Hugo says:

    7. that exists in Belgium too, about 2 weeks waiting period I think and no exception that I know of, if you’re having sex outside of marriage you can have a baby outside of marriage ;-)
    In Belgium during that waiting period the city puts up a paper outside it’s office so that everyone can see that so and so are planning to wed, I’ve always been told that it is against polygamy or to give other people the time to object, I guess Belgium being so close to France has/had a problem with such things ;-)

  4. scatts says:

    I think the green arrow system is wonderful and should be installed wherever possible. It is a positive contribution to smooth traffic flow and why anyone should have a problem with it is beyond me.

    Of course, it’s a little messed up by the positioning of pedestrian crossings immediately round the corner, but it’s still better than the plastic bag treatment.

  5. darthsida says:

    Thanks for all your link and comments!
    Have I got it right that it is only in Poland that the green arrow system is made of lamps / lights (and not of occasional written signs, boards etc.)?

    => Dave

    Does / do the author(s) of ‘Lonely Planet: Poland’ happen to be Polish?

    => Simon

    It’s minister Marek Pol who gave the order to remove green arrows (was it in 2003?). I believe he claimed his prime reason was (another) “need to become consistent with EU standards”. The need later appeared to be less actual. My fear is worse: Polish ministers can’t read law.

    => Hugo

    Two weeks being the banns, sort of? Perhaps, in Belgium. I am afraid the Polish office needs 30 days most of all to shuffle papers. (Effectively long. Official business must not be dealt with quickly. Acting quickly could hurt the grave authority of the state behind, above and within the office worker.)

    => Scatts
    It makes two of us – who like the system. (Not that I can imagine the green light system working with Warsaw junctions blocked the way you described in your other post.)

  6. scatts says:

    It wouldn’t, of course.

    Just remembered one downside of the green arrow is that whole ‘beeping’ thing that goes on if you have ended up in the green arrow lane but want to go straight on and some “@#$%^&*” comes up behind you who wants to turn right – and of course feels that he ‘has the right’ to do that immediately no matter how you came to be in ‘his’ lane. :D

  7. island1 says:

    Excellent stuff. I’m gonna get me a whole set of counterfactual documents:

    Yes, I am not dead.
    Yes, I am not a Dutchman.
    Yes, I do not have a document collecting fetish.

  8. island1 says:

    10. I’m getting a recursive headache

  9. darthsida says:

    who spends no timespace on “document collecting fetish”

    Man, I hope you’ll never cross your paths too seriously with US. Even more with ZUS (You are expected to hold any and all your documents, receipts, statements, slips for 10 years of their limitation period. Or indefinitely more, just in case. Or large valise.)

    Some 1,5 years ago I was ordered to come to my local ZUS centre to explain an error I made in a document of 1999. The error turned out to be all due to ZUS technology. (I had written some “110” properly, whereas ZUS scanners read it as “170” or “710” which would not compute.) The ZUS worker commited “110” back to paper (but to be sent for scanning again)! An hour of queue and 5 minutes of talk older, I was foolish to ask:
    – Can ZUS scanners malfunction again and mistake 1 for 7?
    And was answered:
    – Yes, sir, any time.

  10. darthsida says:

    The quicker the merrier, the faster the marrier (or not):

    Scotland seems to have kicked all their famous on-the-spot knot-tyers out of Gretna Green. So, is there a 15 days minimum in the land?

    England and Wales:
    This says 15, this say 16 days in waiting.

    Ireland, why?!
    “each person marrying in the State must either attend (by appointment only) at the office of a Registrar in person togive at least three months notification of intention to marry”

    On the other hand, with religious ceremony in plans, see Hongkongese guidelines II-3-g:
    “The following are some serious grounds that warrant the delay of a marriage: […] Either or both parties not entering marriage freely (e.g. due to pre-marital pregnancy, family pressures, etc.). “

  11. Reason says:

    I like the traffic lights in Poland:

    1 Bereft of left turn signals
    2 Green means go
    3Orange means go faster
    4 Red means go like hell

  12. scatts says:

    Darth – England, Wales & Scotland have no religion worth worrying about. Ireland is very Catholic. And you ask why?

  13. darthsida says:

    => Reason
    I like blinking oranges best: everyone thinks they got the right of way.

    => Scatts
    It is a civil service, and not just for the Irish, a 7 days residence gives you a go. So yes, I do ask why.

    A lexical issue:
    The Irish page describes “the procedures for solemnising and registering marriages in the Republic”. Does it mean that marriages ‘exist’ before their proper ceremonies – they are not in a state of ‘solemnity’ then, and surely they are not ‘registered’, but still they are there – in the eyes of god[s] or what?. — I can’t figure out how to render “solemnise a marriage” in Polish.

  14. island1 says:

    I’m still waiting for Jolanta’s info about traffic lights. Turns out we have a golden source for such:


    What!? No more Gretna Green marriages? That’s my matrimonial plans down the pan.

  15. darthsida says:

    Hunting for a juicy news, I confused “six times the legal limit” with “six times the lethal limit”. Anyway, no handicapped people there.

  16. […] life, PRL, RCC, RPN, shotgun wedding, Szymbark, TSOM, US, USC, USD, USSS, ZUS 10 Curiosities: Polish But True, or Close Enough Ten of them, countdown starts, don’t ask what happens at zero […]

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