There are 195 different countries in the world, each differs in culture, traditions, customs, and beliefs. Something that feels completely normal to you, somewhere else can be interpreted in a completely different way. Some of the customs may seem funny or weird to people who do not live in a certain country on a daily basis.
In France, people always greet each other with a kiss. Pointing with your index finger in Malaysia is extremely rude, while in Japan, tipping in a restaurant is seen as insulting. But what makes Poland special? In this article, we will take a closer look at Poland and its customs that may seem strange or even funny to foreigners.
1. Killing dolls every spring
You’ve read this and you think to yourself: what’s wrong with you Poles? Actually, this custom comes from pagan culture. Marzanna is the name of the doll the Poles literally drown in a river. It’s a symbol of a Slavic goddess, usually associated with death and the revival of nature. When it comes to the end of the winter, burning or drowning the Marzanna (or both) is a symbol of the start of spring and the birth of new life.
A whole event has a deeper meaning. Kids accompanied by their parents, friends or even school teachers join a procession led by a person carrying handmade Marzanna. When the crowd reaches the nearest river or lake, people throw the doll, symbolizing the Slavic goddess, into the water and they set it on fire. During the assembly, people sing and enjoy spending time together, saying goodbye to the cold winter and welcoming warmer months.
2. Russian pierogies are not Russian at all!
No doubt that all Poles love dumplings. And we do not mean dim sum or samosas. Dumplings, called pierogies are one of the most popular dishes in this country. For that reason, if you decide to visit Poland, you should definitely give them a try! Traditionally, Poles are especially eager to eat them during Christmas.
The dish can be called differently depending on the dumplings’ filling. The “Russian pierogies” contain cooked potatoes, cottage cheese, onion, salt, and pepper. However, even if they are called Russian, they do not come from Russia. Moreover, they are not even common in the neighboring country! So why are they called like that?
The legend behind this name states that this kind of pierogies was very popular among Poles living in Ruthenia – the Ruthenian voivodeship, later a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. That’s why you shouldn’t expect to eat Russian pierogies in Russia. They may even look at you strangely if you try to ask for them.
If you love celebrating your birthday, you may be surprised your Polish friends may not exactly do the same. Even if most millennials love to party when it comes to their birthday, most Poles, especially from generation X prefer to celebrate their name day. This custom is popular among Catholics because on the day you actually celebrate your patron saint, whose name you are using and whose help you are blessed with. Therefore, if someone says that it’s his aunt’s name day, don’t you dare trying to compete with this event. It is also the most popular excuse in the country when it comes to canceling someone’s plans.
4. You may become a knight for a day
If you’ve ever dreamed about fighting and wearing a panoply, you should definitely visit Wrocław. Every year a medieval festival is being held in this beautiful city. You research it online by searching “St. Hedwig’s Fair”. This event is devoted to Saint Hedwig, who spent a few years in a local castle. As a part of an audience, you are going to experience medieval music, food, and culture. Moreover, you can take part in medieval competitions, craft presentations, and celebrations. If you’re a fan of history and you want to have some fun while fighting with swords, visit Wrocław!
5. Nickname: potato
Every part of Poland is different. Traveling from one city to another within 200 kilometers you can enjoy a wide variety of experiences – doesn’t matter if it’s about food, customs or even language. The whole country is divided into 16 voivodeships and each of them has its own slang, sayings, and customs. For example, there’s a high possibility that Polish citizens who are traveling from central Poland to the southern part of the country will not understand 50% of what southerners are saying to them!
Speaking of slang, if someone you know from Poland comes from the Greater Poland Voivodeship (which is placed in the western part of the country) you can go ahead and call this person “potato”. Yes, you’ve read it right. That’s because the inhabitants of this area are considered potato lovers. Even their local delicacy is potatoes with cottage cheese. Have we mentioned that they even call a “potato” differently than the rest of the country? You’re welcome. If you’re still wondering about your new online game nickname, we may have a solution for you.
6. Even Poles speak Polish wrong
What is the most famous thing about Poland? You may be the only foreigner in the room, but still not be the only person who speaks Polish wrong. Among the most difficult languages in the world, Polish is in third place, right behind Arabic and Chinese. And it’s not only about the pronunciation. Poles also struggle with correct writing. Sounds ridiculous?
It’s even funnier when it comes to a distinction between spelling rules which is not logically justified. Let’s have a look at the letters “h” and “u” for example. If you want to write a word that consists of one of these letters, sometimes you have to write it with “h” alone and sometimes you have to use “ch”. And you know what? It sounds the same, no matter how you write it or where in the word the sound is placed. Same with “u” – if you see the letter “ó” instead, the pronunciation is the exact same. The inventors of Polish grammar are just trying to make life a bit more difficult for all of us.
7. Delicious Gingerbread
There is something special about gingerbread cookies. If you are a fan of this delicious snack, you would most likely enjoy a visit to Toruń. This Polish city is not only known for being the hometown of the famous astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, but also for its legendary “toruńskie pierniki”. One of its many charming attractions is “Żywe Muzeum Piernika” where you can see original gingerbread-making machinery from the 19th century as well as make your own gingerbreads with the help of an expert. According to the museum’s website, the oldest known recipe for “toruński piernik” dates back to 1725.
8. Mushroom Hunting
While on the topic of food, Poland might be the country most obsessed with mushroom hunting. It is a long-running tradition that had started centuries ago out of necessity and eventually turned into a nationwide hobby.
Why did people start mushroom hunting? They were simply one of the few things peasants could afford in times of food shortages. After all, they could be found in the local forests and did not cost anything. On top of that, they were good for more than just being eaten. Certain types of mushrooms could be used for killing insects, healing, or as kindling. Many people also associated them with the afterlife, since they grew in mysterious forests. It is believed to be the reason why, even nowadays, mushrooms are often eaten by Poles during Christmas – they were supposed to symbolize the family’s willingness to open their home for the ghosts of ancestors.
Scrolling through Facebook between late summer to mid-autumn, many Poles are not surprised when they see pictures of their friends proudly holding a basket of mushrooms. Nevertheless, if you ever decide to try mushroom hunting yourself, it’s good to learn which ones are safe to pick beforehand, since some of them can be poisonous or protected by the law.
9. Wax and divination, a.k.a. Andrzejki
Andrzejki is the Polish variation of Saint’s Anderew’s day. It takes place on the night between 29th and 30th November. In the past, the holiday revolved mostly around the desire to learn about one’s future love life through divination. Some rituals are still popular today since they are considered a fun way to interact with tradition, especially for children.
For many Poles, the first thought that comes to mind when they hear the word “Andrzejki” is pouring hot wax through the hole of a special key and then trying to figure out the meaning of the shape. It is one of many ways in which one can celebrate. The element of surprise and magical atmosphere make Andrzejki a unique holiday that you should definitely consider participating in if you happen to visit Poland and get an invitation to such an event.
10. Christians and their superstitions
Despite the fact that Poland is one of the most Christian countries in Europe, people tend to believe in many pagan superstitions. Polish people often hear from their grandparents that they should, for example, pull one of their ears when they do something for the very first time or that they should not say “thank you” when someone wishes them luck. That sounds crazy, but that’s the Polish reality.
Another thing that Poles believe in is that when a child is born, the mother should tie a red bow, thread, or ribbon to a pram or child’s hat to prevent a bad spell. “It’s a kind of magic”, says one of the popular songs. Red is associated with blood, but the reason for this superstition is, that it is also the first color that we notice in the environment. The red color is supposed to draw attention away from the child, preventing an attempt to cast a curse.
11. Don’t put your purse on a floor
Don’t you dare put your purse on the floor! Well, unless you want to be poor and bankrupt. In Poland, people will tell you that if you put your bag on the floor while visiting someone or sitting next to the table, the money you have will go away more easily. So next time you spend too much money on a new pair of shoes, tell your friends that it’s because you’ve put your bag on the floor and it just happened. What a perfect excuse.
12. You can call your kid Monitor
If you’re a fan of technology (well, not a fan, but rather a freak) you can call your newborn “Monitor”. This will show what a die-hard electronics enthusiast you are. However, before doing this, consider if you really want to ruin your kid’s life before it’s even born…
13. Parents keep the umbilical cord of their child
That’s completely disgusting. Although many people find it strange to hold a dried umbilical cord, Polish mothers are delighted with this idea and are happy to publish photos of their own souvenirs. For some it is strange and disgusting, for others it is beautiful and “magical” – this is how you can describe the latest trend among young mothers. It is called “umbilical art” which basically means making souvenirs from a dried umbilical cord.
The words “love”, hearts, amulets, or dream catchers – the shape of the umbilical cord depends solely on the creativity of the parents. Are we the only ones who shiver just thinking about it? When the umbilical cord is still soft and flexible, it forms the desired shape – most often an inscription or a heart. The souvenir prepared in this way should be slowly dried in the low temperature in the oven.
14. A single city epidemic
There was a terrible epidemic in Poland… but only in one city. The smallpox epidemic in Wrocław (the same city where the medieval festival takes place) that broke out in the summer of 1963 was brought to Poland by one of the officers of the Security Service, returning from exotic countries. Later, it turned out that in the next 47 days the virus attacked the city of 400,000 people and areas around it. Wrocław was surrounded by a sanitary cordon. A total of 99 people fell ill and 7 died. More than 8 million people nationwide were vaccinated. The end of the epidemic affecting only one city was announced on September 19, 1963.
15. From a TV tale to being a president
That’s how to create your career path as a child. There was a Polish children’s film “The Two Who Stole the Moon” based on a tale of Polish writer, Kornel Makuszyński. This movie was created in 1962, and the roles of the two main characters were played by the Kaczyński twins, Polish future political leaders. This is a story about two naughty brothers – Jacek and Placek, who consider working the most horrible thing to do. They are voracious, lazy, and cruel to all other inhabitants of the small city called Zapiecek. One day the brothers come up with an idea brilliant in its simplicity – they decide to steal the moon and sell the shiny orb to get some money. Nowadays, both twins are considered one of the most important personalities in contemporary Polish politics.
Interested in visiting Poland yet?
Did you know about these facts before? If not, we’re truly happy that we could feed your brain with a few curiosities that you can boast about during a family dinner. It all may sound crazy, but keep in mind that, despite all these weird and funny customs, Poles are in fact extremely welcoming people. So if you’re ever planning to come to Poland, you will likely feel treated like a member of the family.