Brad is back!

Polish is, as everyone knows, a foreign language.  Despite my efforts to speak louder, use simple words and sometimes point the fact remains that some people don’t speak English.  It’s all well and good to tut about how poor everyone’s English seems to have gotten lately but, as more or less permanent residents of Poland, we foreign interlopers must eventually bow to the crushing pressure and learn Polish–and more than just the curse words!  It’s a matter of respect you see.

Respect is what this is about.  Polish–and Poles–demand it.  In English, and in the US in particular, it’s fairly simple:  If you are low on the food chain, everyone above you is “sir”, “ma’am” or “miss”.  Anyone with a gun or a badge or dressed in judge’s robes is always addressed as formally as the speaker knows how (“Your honor”, “Officer” or “His Holiness” usually suffice).  If you are high on the food chain, everyone you speak to can be addressed as “mister”, “miss” or, more likely, just by name.  As in: “Hey Brad, I know it’s 4:55 pm but I need this report by 8 am.  I hope they pay you for the overtime.”


Respect: unlikely

In Polish, it’s not quite so simple.  The general rule of thumb is that, if you don’t know someone, then it’s pan (mister) or pani (miss (I will use “pani” throughout for simplicity)).  Simple, right?

But… when I asked my wife why I couldn’t address the girl at the restaurant we’ve gone to, literally, 50 or more times as “you” (as in “Czy masz [popular menu item] dziesaj?”) I was emphatically told “No. You don’t know her and she’s never said you could address her as ‘you'”.  This threw me a bit because where I come from the opposite would be considered a bit standoffish or even rude.  Regulars know each other… don’t they?  Also… you have to be given permission?  Really?  Pan Jesus H. Christ.

This got me thinking.  How do you address children?  My wife answered “you” but noted that when she was still quite young, just 15, she was working *and* going to school.  At work she was “pani” however, this reverted back to “you” when she was a student.  Apparently at around 14-16 years of age it switches from “you” to “pani” and stays that way until you die.  University students are “pani”.  Okay… so what are you called when you die?  My wife’s co-worker says “Sacred Memory” (as in “Swietej Pamieci Paulina Zimmerman”).  Fair enough.  I’ll respect the dead… as long as I can remember how.

Then I asked about the Polish wife of another guest-writer – I’ve just met her and don’t know her THAT well so is she still pani or you?  “You”, my wife said – she introduced herself by name.  Ok.  What about people at stores with nametags?  “Pani [name]”.  Okaaay… what about people at work?  “You” she said, adding that it’s company policy not to be too formal.  Ok… but by this point my head was becoming fairly full with the various situations and rules. The last time I ever said “sir” was to the VP of our company and I don’t think I’ve used “mister” in a decade or more.

arethaR-E-S-P-E-C-T: almost certainly

My head was swimming a bit so, around this point, my wife decided to muddy the waters by noting that when you address a woman (or girl illegally working at her dad’s video rental store) as “pani” then their name, no matter what the last letter is (which for girls always an ‘a’ (guys don’t have a similar rule)) now ends with “o” not “a”.  As in, “Paulino” (not Paulina), “Barbaro” (not Barbara), and so on.  Guys get a “u” added to the end of their name.  Bartoszu, Andrzeju, etc.  So now I need to remember their names (tough, I barely remember mine) and to change it to something else before it gets outta my mouth.  By now I’m wondering how the hell anything ever gets done here and, being cynical, noting that things never happen quickly and wondering if correlation means causation.

My wife wrapped this all up by noting that despite all the respect it can often be skin-deep in Poland.  She mentioned that earlier in the day one of her co-workers had been called by the police because one of her (the co-worker’s) asshole neighbors had nuisance-called the cops saying her car was illegally parked.  The co-worker said it was in one of those many “grey area” parking spots – a spot the neighbor happens to covet – but nonetheless had to leave work early and take a taxi home.  Due to force of habit, I’m guessing the conversation between the neighbor and co-worker started with the respectful forms of “Pan/Pani” but likely went rapidly downhill into disrespectful territory.  Still, one must remember the niceties.

Tagged , , ,

60 thoughts on “Respect

  1. Brad Zimmerman says:

    Just to head off the p/trolls, may I point out how I’m a disrespectful, poorly-educated foreigner that is clearly unable to grasp the elegant subtleties of Polish and, due to the aforementioned failings, I should promptly go home? Also that English sucks.

    There! Now that that’s outta the way, feel free to have a go at me and don’t forget: it’s MISTER or SIR to y’all. :)

  2. island1 says:

    Hey mister! You suck!

  3. DeCoy says:

    Prosze Pan – No respect for people on that monkey-island of yours!

  4. DeCoy says:

    I have a theory on this topic, by the way…

    I think that this requirement to know someone quite well before breaking the ‘respect’ barrier actually means that you have to make the effort to get to know people before being in a situation where you can forget all the rules mentioned above.

    It’s all actually a devious plan for you to get to know more Polish people better!

  5. odrzut says:

    In Polish you can perfectly well tell sbd “Fuck you, Sir”, and it wouldn’t feel out of place.

    Anyway – it is quite simple – for grown ups default is Pan/Pani, for kids it is “you”.

    Exceptions are for people that allowed you to address them by “you”, and when you both work in institution, that has policy about this – you must conform (at least when the boss hears you:)).

    BTW – at university students address each other by “you”, and teachers address students by Pani/Pan – it is funny when some student starts to teach in the university he graduated – he has to readjust himself to addres teachers “you”, and to address students Pani/Pan.

  6. Astoria says:

    in the US in particular, it’s fairly simple: If you are low on the food chain, everyone above you is “sir”

    Actually, the opposite is true. You call “sir” someone who’s performing a personal service for you – a doorman, cabdriver, waiter, plumber, etc. I suppose out of respect for his job. But he will not call you “sir” no matter what your social status might be.

    Here’s an imagined scene in New York:

    Jack Hill, 50, CEO of Citicorp, ordered food on line from a Chinese place called Golden Dragon. The food is delivered to the Citicorp Building by Yao Ming, 35. Jack gets off the elevator and approaches a bunch of delivery people waiting in the lobby.

    Jack: Golden Dragon?!

    Ming: (Reading from the invoice) Jack?

    Jack: Yeah, it’s me.

    Ming: 10 dollars and 50 cents.

    Jack: (Hands him 20) Gimme 5.

    Ming: (Hands him change and food) 5.

    Jack: Thank you, sir.

    Ming: You’re welcome, Jack.

    As to Polish honorifics “Pan”, “Pani”, I have a feeling you can avoid them most of the time without resorting to “ty” and still be polite to strangers. Look at contemporary Polish films (not period pieces) with well-written dialogues. You don’t hear them often there. “Pan”, “Pani” are usually unnecessary and often used as speach “fillers”.

  7. Astoria says:


  8. Bartek says:

    cultural differences translate into linguistic confusion. What in Polish is ty or pan / pani is in English “you” and what Poles tend to misconstrue is that English “you” doesn’t mean ty.

    If I met you Brad, I’d address you “you” and English, because I don’t think there’s such a gap between us to address you “Mister” or “sir”, but in Polish since you’re much older and we’d meet for the first time it’d be natural to use pan.

    There’s no parallel, but you should dive into Polish customs a bit more to understand it, it’s not the matter of language only.

  9. Basia z Szwecji says:

    I was brought up by Polish parents, but still have huge problems with this. I feel like I’m always making some mistake when adressing people. :) When calling a friend of a friend (that I have not met before) for Pani, I got an amused smile and “Oh, please, let’s not be formal”. Apparently we were young (20’s) and as belonging to the same close group of friends she immidietly had included me in the “know you well” group.

    I also have problems with adressing relatives. In Sweden we don’t always say “aunt” or “granny”, we usually just use the name. So whenever I am in Poland I find it amusing with all these “Ciociu”, “Wujku”, and “Babciu”. I remember beeing around 12 – 13, and there was some child of a cousing or similar that I technically was an aunt for. To my horror this boy in my age politely called me “Ciocia Basia”. :-D

  10. Basia z Szwecji says:

    “Child of a cousin”, it should be. Sorry, need to proofread better…

  11. Pawel says:

    It’s a tough one I suppose :/ I was trying to lay down the rules of this Pan/Pani/Ty in my mind but I got bored after a while. It is something that has been sinking into you since childhood and at some point it becomes natural and clear what honorific to use, yet somewhat foggy when you need to explain the rules. Good luck though :)

  12. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    Three rules of thumb:
    1. Children are always “ty” (even if they are strangers).
    2. Total strangers are always “Pan/Pani” (unless they are children).
    3. Family is a special case (see below).

    You stop being a “child” around the age of 18, but the transition is fuzzy. Adolescents are adressed as either “ty” or “Pan/Pani” depending on their social role of the moment. A 17-year old waitress is “Pani”, because “waitress” is an “adult” role (it’s a job). The same girl is still “ty” in her highschool, because “highschool student” is a “non-adult” role (unlike “university student” – you can begin studies at any age).

    Switching from “Pan/Pani” to “ty” essentially means entering that person’s “inner circle”. The inner circle is a kind of someone’s “virtual house”. You cannot enter on you own, because that would be a break in. Conversely, using “Pan/i” indiscriminately amounts to potentially rejecting someone’s invitation into their “house”. In order to enter, you need to either get an invitation (e.g. “let’s not be formal”) or use a public entrance.

    Public entrances are formed by social circumstances. Rule of thumb: if a set of people forms some kind of fellowship (e.g. students of the same school), or a group of mutual interest (e.g. a team at work), usually every person within that group is entitled to being “ty” to each other. In other words, you’re “ty” to your tribespeople. Your family is a “tribe”, too. Do note that just because you see someone every day or in an informal situation, doesn’t mean they’re part of your “tribe”.

    For instance, in your friend’s birthday party, your friend’s friends belong to the same tribe as you, but your friend’s parents probably do not.

    In other words, any given person typically belongs to several “tribes” that may or may not overlap. The “tribe” that contains your friend and your friend’s parents is not the same as the one that contains your friend and your friend’s friends (and you).

    What constitutes a “tribe” changes from generation to generation. 50 years ago, adressing your coworkers as “ty” would be impolite, and now it’s expected in many cases. These days, common “public entrances” are:
    – learning together in some kind of school or university,
    – working together,
    – having a close friend in common.
    But these can also be created arbitrarily, e.g. I know a bar where everyone is expected to address everyone else as “ty” as a kind of house rule.

    Typical “tribe borders” are:
    – being a total stranger (e.g. a person passes you at work and you have no idea who that is, nor does any of your coworkers);
    – your teacher is almost never “ty” to you, even if they call you “ty” (in the past, any kind of formal superiority used to be a “tribe border”, but now it’s only common in schools);
    – people much older than you are not part of your tribe if they don’t want to (i.e. if they could be your parents, you need an invitation);
    – in large institutions, people from different departments are sometimes considered strangers;

    Once you’ve entered someone’s tribe, the “ty” status is generally not revokable, particularly after you’ve actually talked to that person using “ty” and they didn’t complain. Switching back to “Pan/i’ marks a major offence, with one important exception (see below).

    In most cases, invitations are implicit. If someone:
    – calls you “ty”, or
    – introduces themselves using first name only,
    It usually means you’re invited.

    You get to issue your own invitation to someone when they’re much younger, or when you’re in a role of a “host” (e.g. a waiter in a bar, a clerk in a shop, an employee at a company, a resident of the neighbourhood you’ve just moved into etc.). People may be reluctant about it when they feel it leads to a conflict of interest (e.g. it’s hard to be someone’s customer and “znajomy” at the same time).

    Two special cases I’ve already mentioned are the family, and conflicting social situations.

    First, a necessary bit of grammar. Informally, you address someone in second person, e.g. “jak [ty] się nazywasz” = “how are you called” (i.e. what’s your name). Formally, you use the third person, e.g. “jak się Pan nazywa” – also what’s you name, but the verb “nazywać się” is in different form. This is a grammatical mechanism called inflection. There’s only a bit of it in English, but in Polish it’s at the core of pretty much everything language-related. The nasty bit of this particular case is that nouns have a separate inflective form just for addressing someone in second person (hence “ciociu”, “Paulino” etc.).

    Emotionally, whether you speak to someone in 2nd or 3rd person is more important than whether you call them by name. In case of family, you generally speak in 2nd person, even if using a “title” (e.g. “how are you [, aunt]” is “jak się [ty] masz, ciociu” rather than “jak się ciocia ma”). Those generic nouns – mama, babcia, “ciocia Basia” – are not formal. They’re affectionate, and all three are actually diminutives (they’re also strictly customary, so don’t take them very seriously).

    [A piece of trivia: “diminutives” are not binary in Polish; “mać”, “matka”, “mama”, “mamusia” all mean “mother” with varying degrees of “diminutiveness”, the word “mać” actually having a sort of negative value. “Basia” and “Baśka” are two informal ways of calling someone whose name is “Barbara”, but “Basia” is someone you could give flowers to, and “Baśka” is someone you could have a beer with.]

    People from your family who are from your generation or younger, are “ty” to you. People from older generations than yours are addressed using generic nouns, which change sligthtly from region to region. A house rule decides whether your parent’s friends are “ty”, “Pan/Pani” or “wujek/ciocia”.

    The last bit is the issue of conflicting social situations. Imagine you go to a bar, and the waitress is a 17-year old girl who also happens to be your daughter. Obviously, it depends on a thousand little details of your relations, but you may actually want to address her formally. The way you address her signifies which social norm takes precedence in a given situation. Using “Pani” means “I came here as a customer”. Using “ty” means “I came here as your father” (probably to make sure you’re doing a good job you little brat).

  13. That’s really weird. Where I come from – the west coast, specifically Oregon – we don’t even have many doormen. Loads of waiters and other people but again, I don’t think I’ve ever called a waiter “sir”. Maybe if it was an *extremely* fancy restaurant but then it would be because I would clearly be out of my element. The waiter, knowing the difference between two obscure types of wine, would be superior to me, the idiot consumer. “Sir” would apply there.

  14. Jacek, your comment was about as long as my article. With much respect and sincerity, I say: awesome. :)

  15. Great job, Author :) You actually got everything right.
    And really there’s no need to be too detailed. Everyone knows that Americans always use first names, so I guess people aren’t surprised if you do.

  16. Hello again, it me from ooo – cry – eee – na !

    I like visit this interesting Blog everyday, no offence to its host but I would much prefer actually visit Poland, little matter of visit to Consulate – Visa Application – Strong possibility of rejection I just need to get over first [all suggestions gratefully received] so, ‘Polandian’ it is for me for now :-)

    Now, this the interesting topic, and you know much the same here regarding language rules, matters of respect etc. I understand it confusing to foreigners, although when I studied English at Institute I too had the head press about this language on certain matters; ‘looking at’ – ‘looking for’ – ‘looking in’ I remember these very good !!! Also ‘island’ there is no s present when speak this word, so, why it there, just to confuse learners of English, like me :-)
    And ‘thought’ where did the ugh come from ? thort is much better, to my mind.

    Just having fun with language, now, learning Japanese, that WOULD be interesting ! Oh, and where did ul come from in ‘would’ :-)

    Rivne – Ukraine.

  17. Basia z Szwecji says:

    Jacku, what a well written and comprehensive post. I especially like:
    “but “Basia” is someone you could give flowers to” ;-)

    Joking apart, it the best description I’ve seen.

  18. odrzut says:

    Written English is funny, because it uses letters only as building blocks for words, not as guide how given word should sound like.

    Words have pronunciation, letters does not. Why do you (mis)use letters in such way, I can’t understand, but to each its own :)

  19. Anonymous says:


    the words ‘thought’, ‘night’, ‘daughter’ and others with ‘gh’ reflect the old pronunciation (at some point in history, English lost the voiced h sound).
    So, they have basically been spelt this way for centuries but the ways they are pronounced have changed.
    Compare these pairs of German and English words:
    Nacht – Night
    Recht – Right
    Tochter – Daughter
    Dachte – Thought

    The same goes for other words with the so called silent letters. Knee, knife, salmon, would and many many others were written this way because that’s how people used to talk.

  20. zarazek says:

    The comment above was posted by me :)

  21. zarazek says:

    Well done! That’s an interesting article.
    I remember the fist day at work in England when I was about 20, I asked my middle-aged colleague: sir, could you tell me how to do this and that? to which he answered back if I was taking a piss out of him by addressing him ‘sir’ :)

  22. Chris McG says:

    In my line of work how you address people is serious business.
    I once called my Sergeant Major “mate” by accident. He then messed up his nice shiny drill boot on my bottom and parted my hair with his pace stick. ;-x

  23. Astoria says:


    I’m not saying that waiters in NY are always called “sir”. Far from it. But you can hear “Thank you, sir” when the waiter brings the beer. We have loads of doormen, and they obviously open the door for you, so you say “Thanks”, “Thank you, sir”, or you say nothing.

    I hear you don’t jaywalk in the Pacific North West, but patiently wait for the light to turn green even if no car is passing. In NY, we do.

  24. Scatts says:

    Hang on, I’m still working my way through Happy Jack’s comment……….

    Oh yes. I think Poles are very forgiving about this with anyone who’s clearly not Polish, like me and you.

    I had a funny one when introducing my father-in-law to a pretty relaxed Pole and I said “..and this is Fred, my father-in-law” and he jumped in with “Pan Kowalski (or whatever)!!”. So, the forgiveness does have its limitations.

  25. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    Sorry about the length, I tend to get carried away. The short version is that how you address someone is not regulated by the degree of your respect for them, as much as the degree of familiarity between you. You’re “ty” with people you have something in common with.

  26. adthelad says:

    With respect to Jacek Wesołowski’s post, however comprehensive it may seem, another second person personal pronoun used to address someone is the word ‘wy’. Why it is deemed to be derogatory and why it was used prolifically as as formal form of address in PRL by government officials may well be connected, but I have heard it used, in the same way as Pan, together with a plural form of verb, without any derogatory intent. Perhaps very similarly to the way the French use “tu’ and ‘vous’.
    As for the English, well it’s pretty simple

    This whole business of Pan and Pani is a very sensitive subject to me. Having been brought up by Polish parents in the UK, as a youngster I had , on the one hand, to walk the minefield of Polish propriety, never being able to address my Polish elders ‘directly’ by you yet being able to do so with my English elders. This used to piss me off no end and can still get my goat here in Poland when I meet the odd hoity toity or aloof twat. I have been told by some Poles that there is a sense or remnant of historical inferiority from which all Poles want to be the Pan/ Pani. I’ve even been told that this convention is connected to the way that pedestrians are still treated as incidental to this day (harking back to when the peasant would move aside for the coach driven or horse mounted nobility doffing his cap in the process).

    My method for dealing with the those who piss me off from the word go is to not address them per Pan/ Pani. If any affront is taken I explain I was brought up in the UK where, with respect, the pronoun You is used. Naturally I add that I am most happy to respect their convention and will not be affronted by their use of Pan and reasonably expect them to respect my convention and not be affronted by my use of You (Ty or Wy depends on my mood) ;)

  27. Brad Zimmerman says:

    Jaywalking in the PNW… we do it but we feel guilty about it. :)

  28. Brad Zimmerman says:

    Don’t be sorry! I just thought I was the king of absurdly long comments but now see there is a contender. :)

  29. Brad Zimmerman says:

    Chris: people with real power and/or guns, as I said in my article, should always be addressed properly. I can assure you, I address cops as “officer(s)”, doctors as “doctor” and military people as “sir”. They’ve earned it – but I don’t know about everyone else.

  30. Brad Zimmerman says:

    Ok, I’ve finally read this all the way through and here’s my conclusion(s):

    #1: Poles care about this stuff WAY more than Americans do. WAY, WAY, WAY more. As in “this is well and truly FOREIGN”.

    #2: My personal opinion is that Poles care way too much about this sort of thing. No offence, really, but if there’s a whole chapter on how to address someone then in my opinion you’re wasting time – being overly officious and such.

    #3: The POV of the average Pole on when someone is (or should be) “familiar” (ty) and when they aren’t is also different. As I mentioned in my article, I personally feel that after visiting a restaurant and talking to the same 3-4 waitresses more times than I can remember, we should be at the “you” stage. I understand this is completely arbitrary, completely a matter of opinion and quite thoroughly down a combination of where I’m from and how I was raised (“a farm, well outside of the biggest city in Oregon (which ain’t saying much), in the US” and “to be respectful of the rules and such within reason but more or less informally).

    Ironically, with all this officiousness and politeness I have repeatedly observed Polish table manners that, if I exhibited them at home as a child, would most likely get me a sharp rebuke and or a firm slap on the hand. Again, that’s as much to do with my personal upbringing as the country I grew up in but it is something I’ve noticed.

    Do I sense a thesis paper? “Juxtaposition of Pan/Pani/Dude/Dudette vs. Die mnie ziemniaki/Pass the potatoes, please: A sociological overview and understanding of Polish titles and table manners as compared to their American counterparts.”

  31. Astoria says:

    Some years ago Mayor Giuliani ordered the police to write tickets for jaywalking in NYC. Only one was issued because the police refused to make idiots of themselves :)

  32. Jubal says:


    Well, Poland and the US are completely different countries; and the US culture is even more foreign to me because of its highly superficial similarity to the vague cloud of different European cultures.

    For example: I would never imagine, that asking a police officer ‘what’s going on’ might be a just cause for being beaten, thrown to ground, being pepper-sprayed and at the end being found guilty of a felony (obstructing a lawful order).

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist; pontificating about cultural differences in the way you do makes me cranky)

  33. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    “Wy” as a form of politeness is almost extinct now. I’ve only met one person who still uses it in the last 10 years (he’s my neighbour and he’s over eighty).

    In most cases, when someone says “wy”, they literally mean a group of people. For instance, when talking to an employee (as a customer or a contractor), “wy” usually refers to the entire company, rather than just the employee you’re taking to at the moment. Two representatives of different companies may hold an entire conversation in plural for that reason.

    As for the frustration factor – well, yes, it can be frustrating, because it’s a completely different thing. I know how you feel, because after all those years, I still haven’t fully grasped the usage of “a/an/the” in English. :-) In case of “Pan/Pani”, it’s doubly frustrating, because your honest mistake may lead to someone feeling you’re doing it on purpose (i.e. insulting them). People will gladly forgive you the harsh pronounciation, the mangled suffixes and the odd word sequence, but when it comes to addressing others, it suddenly becomes important to jump to a much higher level of proficiency. Which, of course, is a very hard thing to do. I mean, come on, there’s inflection in it. Scary!

    If it’s of any consolation, just because someone suddenly starts giving you hints on proper usage in the middle of a conversation, doesn’t have to mean they’re taking offence. They’re probably just trying to spare you from future trouble. Like Scatts said, foreigners are excused. :-)

  34. Grze$ko says:

    Well, you are lucky you are learning Polish.
    Think of Herr, Herr Doktor, Herr Doktor Shultz, Herr Redaktor Zimmerman Brad…
    Germany, that’s where the real fun starts!

    Aside from that, cultural differences are just that – differences. I like the article, it reads well and is quite funny.
    Some of the comments on the other hand, especially from those “having a problem” with the Pan/Pani/Ty issue, are plain silly and seem a bit patronising. This the cultural norm in Poland and I guess it should be accepted if one choses to live there.
    I am sure that no one is going to be offended if addressed “incorrectly” by someone learning Polish.

    On the cultural differences, my favourite one is the “friend” situation.
    In Poland we are lucky to have more that one friend, in English speaking countries it seems that if you buy a paper from the same guy two days in a row you refer to them as a friend. We have the word “znajomy” – a good, perfectly working word and a concept. Acquaintance just doesn’t quite cut it, does it? So what’s left? A guy I know…

  35. that’s messing with the fam. Very brave.

  36. Marta says:

    Even Poles often fall into the trap of Pan/ty. I remember when my tutor (“promotor”) said to me just when I was starting to work on my thesis – “Why don’t you call me ‘ty’?”. Oh, how awkward that was! Yeah, the guy was only about 10 years older than me but still. I couldn’t say no, obviously, but for the rest of the year I carefully avoided calling him “ty” when possible.

  37. Pistefka says:

    I remember coming across something a little similar to “wy” as an alternative to Panstwo etc. while in Cieszyn. A younger girl saying goodbye to a group of older people (who were all on friendly terms) used to say “Czesc wam”.
    Quite possibly it was a dialect form – but that doesn’t make it “wrong” before anyone starts.
    The Cieszyn dialect is great, and just over the border in zaolzie they have an even better accent/dialect. (“Jo bylom na bahnhofie, kaj jezdzie ten autobus” etc etc.)
    I also liked the way women at the market used to greet people with a “‘dobry” (which is nice and ambiguous – is it dzien dobry or dobry den?)

    The Hungaians have their own version of “znajomy” too, and use it a lot – even quite harshly it seems to me at times – (Why isn’t she a friend? Only an “ismerös”?)

  38. odrzut says:

    “Cześć Wam’ is quite often used where I live (Lubelskie) as informal and sometimes tongue-in-cheek way of saying “Goodbye” to group of people you know well.

    “Dobry” is also common in my village, esp. among old people – it’s just shortcut, like “Pochwalony”.

    PS. sbd shold write post about usage of “sorry” and “przepraszam” in Polish. When I was in primary school “sorry” was very cool, and it is still sometimes used as less serious version of “przepraszam”. I think “pardon” must have been used in this way when the French was in the English place.

  39. Meduza says:

    Those are simply the rules in Poland to which(if you live here)you should switch. Every country has its own rules. But as for me… it is not such a big problem and for my family neither. Once my friend called my uncle simply “Wojtek”. . Perhaps he forgot about Polish rules and it is understandable!:)

  40. adthelad says:

    “In (the) case of “Pan/Pani”, it’s doubly frustrating, because your honest mistake may lead to someone feeling you’re doing it on purpose (i.e. insulting them)”.

    You hit the nail on the head! It’s considered insulting not to use the ‘polite’ form yet children can be addressed in the ‘insulting’ form by anyone who so pleases. A more ingrained form of cultural condescention I’ve yet to come across. The French love it too. Pseudo civility. You’re not part of an inner tribe, are not allowed to talk to the real person and have to do so through the intermediary of an imaginary ‘Pan’ or ‘Pani’.
    Fortunately I’ve spoken Polish all my life, it was my first language, so I have no problem in seeing the ‘culurally based’ mutual apprehension and matter of fact condescention around me all the time under the guise of politeness. The fact that it has remained a cultural norm, as in France, and that most people are oblivious to its consequences, speaks volumes. That many younger Poles find it awkward, and are now much more happy to go to ‘Ty’ straight away also does. I DO NOT wonder if this has something to do with the poignant word used to title this particular Polandian blog :)

  41. adthelad says:

    I would just add that your octaganarian friend has is totally right, which underlines that the ‘Pan’ form more cultural than language dependent. One day perhaps we may find ‘Panie Kowalski, co ty o tym myślisz’ – what a breath of fresh air that will be (in my dreams).

  42. Szczurek says:

    Polish usage with respect to Pan/Pani and Ty differs little from other Indo-European languages such as French or German. It is English which is the odd man out!

    In any case the main hazard facing non-Poles this Easter will be the Polish Kissing Protocols. Follow the link for guidance:

  43. adthelad says:

    Ok – well perhaps someone can tell me what is it with this practice of adding the suffix ‘du’ to Pan or Pani before addressing someone you meet for the first time but who happens to be shorter than you? Is it a hangover from Napolean times?

  44. adthelad says:

    Ofcourse I meant prefix not suffix – silly me.

  45. Peter says:

    I have never heard anyone add du as a prefix to pan/pani. Where do they do this?

  46. Stefan says:

    Traditionally Polish, as many European languages, had plural ‘you’ (wy) as a polite way of addressing people, which sounded very much like in French or Russian. “Pan/Pani” indicated nobility but still it was like “Wy, Panie” (You, my Lord). One of my grandpas used plural ‘you’ in contacts with people of his age in his village. With strangers, however, it was always ‘pan/pani’. The plural ‘you’ was later seized by left-wing parties, including communists and after WWII was used by members of the ruling party. That’s why common people, if using plural ‘you’ in day-to-day conversation did so to indicate a humorous register, kind of parody.

    What makes Polish unique among other languages is the third person singular addressing interlocutors. The problem is quite complex and differs from group to group.

    Twenty years ago I worked for “Construction in Process” in Łódź as an assistant to a group of American artists. One of my responsibilities was to interpret their negotiations with theatre managers (the Americans performed on different Łódź stages). What was surprising even to me was that in one theatre everyone was on ‘ty’ terms with the colleagues, regardless of their age, whereas in another they called each other “Pan”+ first name with no exceptions!

    I was really surprised hearing my wife addressing her parents in third person, though without ‘pan/pani’. To me it sounded very anachronistic and pretentious! On the other hand, I learned to talk to them the same way and in this way our relations are somewhat reserved (which is good, as far as I’m concerned).

  47. Stefan says:

    As for ‘sir’ in English I heard once an English guy yelling at a clerk at Stansted. His every other word was ‘sir’ and I thought it was a sort of insult ;)

  48. guest says:

    watch this

    12min until the end.

  49. Stefan says:

    The part around 20 min is a bit strange. The guys who didn’t have a newspaper shouldn’t have been so strict about the ‘Państwo’ form. Actually if you enter a shop, an office or any other institution you may well address people ‘Państwo’ even if there are men/women only. Anyway respect to that guy’s linguistic skills and thorough knowledge of languages!

  50. januhhh says:

    “Pan Jesus H. Christ.”

    You may laugh all you want, but it is actually very common to hear people refer to PAN JEZUS in Poland! That’s why Borat made me laugh twice as much talking about “his friend, Mr Jesus”.

  51. adthelad says:

    Well Borat is just plain silly – if you understand the word. The Pan in Pan Jesus is Lord Jesus – Pan being originally used to address nobility – hence my comment way back re all Poles wanting to be a Pan or Pani.

    Peter – the prefix ‘du’ is used everywhere in Poland (but only on April 1st :)

  52. malaysian says:

    Amusing! Isn’t Pan “Mr”, in which case it should be Mr. Christ.

    Malaysian language is without tenses and gender. Hence, the construction is fairly straight forward as you only need to focus more on learning the vocabs.

    As for addressing other people, it’s always Mr/Madam/Ms. You never address an elder (no matter position/period of acquiantance) with his/her first name. However, relatives are always addressed according to their relation to you : Uncle, Aunt, Elder Brother, Elder Sister, etc.

  53. januhhh says:

    Borat made me laugh myself silly, yes ;).
    I am aware of the actual connotations to the Pan in Pan Jezus, but I would also like to observe that it seems most commonly used by children and elderly bigots – thus giving it an infantile sort of feel.

  54. Pistefka says:

    Stefan claims:
    What makes Polish unique among other languages is the third person singular addressing interlocutors

    Not true – Hungarian does the same with “Ön” or “Maga” – also used in the third person SINGULAR with anyone who isn’t family or close friends.

    Incidentally the Hungarians also quite often claim that “xxxxx is unqiuely Hungarian” when it patently isn’t. I recently heard one saying that boys splashing women with water on Easter Monday was a unique Hungarian thing. Which of course we know isn’t.

  55. januhhh says:

    Spanish also has just that: the 3rd person singular form ‘usted’.

  56. Stefan says:

    You’ve got me, Pistefka. I have no clue about Hungarian but I should have remembered about the Spanish ‘usted’ (Januhhh’s remark!). I love your posts because you make me aware how much we Eastern Europeans have in common even though we love claiming how unique each of our nations is! Best wishes!

  57. Waldemar says:

    Idź Pan w chuj. A Pani niech lepiej spierdala.

    ty ziom, masz jeszcze jakieś problemy, ziom?

    there is almost no rule, except from those of a thumb mentioned before, i.e. usual courtesy to elderly people, people older than you or doing function, or someone we find greater than us – Panie Prezydencie, Panie profesorze…

    The only tricky area is with people at your age and a bit younger (not kids already), where “Pan/Pani” means a respectful distance and neutrality. At this moment going from Pan/Pani to “ty” (Zosiu, Basiu etc.) is really empathic, and means a bit more friendlier relation on a “znajomy” term (a man I know, I like, but take no responsibility for).

    Nonetheless, I think that foreigners worry too much about eventual consequences after doing a mistake in “ty/Pani/Pan” on one hand, and on the other if it worries you, then you can safely stay on “Pan/Pani” ground signalizing nothing more than a neutrality (however it could be read by a neurotic average pole ;-).

    Dont bother. Object A influences object B as much as the other way. Try this, try that, see what happens. Not much bad i think. ;-).

  58. Jubal says:

    That’s possible in all languages. As in:

    “Honorable: Afflicted with an impediment in one’s reach. In legislative bodies, it is customary to mention all members as honorable; as, /the honorable gentleman is a scurvy cur./”

  59. KosmoPolak says:

    We are not wasting time, Brad. It is a part of our culture and is learned subconciously. Nobody, except foreigners, ever bothers to think about it. It is as natural as walking and breathing.

    It is not only us, by the way, check German or French for very similar structures.

    Albert Einstein said: “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler”. English seems to be oversimplified in that aspect.

  60. Tomek Andrzejewski says:

    Funny that I never thought how complex is this system. For natives it’s kinda intuitive which form to use.
    My advice: when speaking with strangers simply use “proszę Pana/proszę Pani” instead of “Pani Paulino/Panie Bartoszu”, it’s more natural since names in the vocative case usually sound awkward and you can get away with forgetting the names themselves.
    If you feel confused by all this but don’t want to break etiquette you may simply ask a straightforward question what’s their preference, how they’d like you to call them. If there’s a problem simply remind them that you’re a foreigner and that you don’t understand the rules yet.

    Also keep in mind that if someone feels offended by “you” while knowing you’re a foreigner, chances are you’re talking to a stuck-up idiot, and you can’t help that someone’s a stuck-up idiot. Best not to care and go about your business.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s