8 Typically Polish Traits
We all know that the French are superb at making wine, the Brits are great sailors and that nobody can play football quite as spectacularly as the Brazilians (save for one Argentinian who plays in a league of his own). But what is it that makes Poles Polish?
According to a recent report by the European Committee Poles are Europe’s second hardest working nation. The report shows that professionally active Poles spend on average 42.5 hours per week working. 'No work, no cake' goes the old Polish saying, and indeed nowadays Poles stand out because of their remarkable work ethic.
Another Polish saying goes: a guest in the house, God in the house. Hospitality plays a crucial role in Polish culture. Poles often choose to entertain guests in their households, which on many occasions involves the preparation of a proper, home-cooked meal by the hosts. A spectacular display of Polish hospitality takes place during the Christmas and Easter celebrations when people invite numerous relatives and friends over for meals that often feature a whole array of home-made dishes.
We believe in democracy
Poland is sometimes called a young democracy, but ironically Polish democracy in fact dates back to the 14th century, when the first state-wide Polish parliamentary gatherings occurred. Poles struggled for freedom and self-determination throughout the 20th century, and as a result democratic values are considered especially precious.
We never admit defeat
Some might consider calling Poles indomitable surprising since Poland was once partitioned for over a century. Nevertheless Poles were perceived as such, for instance, by the great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. There are a number of good reasons to share his view. Whenever Poland fell to foreign powers, Poles would rebel over and over again. Admittedly, most of our uprisings turned out to be crushing defeats, but that didn’t break our spirit ‒ we would simply prepare for the next rebellion. In the end here we are, free and prosperous.
Poland was the first nation to stand up to Nazi Germany when Hitler invaded in 1939. Shortly after this attack Poland was also invaded by the Soviet Union and for some time battled against the two great powers at once, showing tremendous courage. During World War II, the penalty for lending assistance to Jews was death. Nevertheless Poles are the most numerous national group among the Righteous Among the Nations, people decorated by Israel’s Yad Vashem Institute for rescuing Jews from the Holocaust.
In the 1940s the Soviet Union imposed communism on Poland. This system led to many absurdities such as food stores having nothing but vinegar in stock. These realities forced Poles to become resourceful. For example, the so-called line committee was a solution for those who needed to wait in line for a very long time. It was possible to register your place in the line with a committee formed by a group of volunteers, and therefore leave the line without losing your spot.
After the fall of communism in Poland in 1989 the average Pole gained the freedom to run a private business. That’s when it became clear that we are a highly entrepreneurial nation. Back then very many people founded their own small businesses, taking advantage of the possibilities offered by the new capitalist system instituted in Poland. Today, several Polish firms opened after 1989, such as the bus and tram manufacturer Solaris or the video game company CD Projekt ‒ creators of the Witcher series ‒ are among the most respected companies in the world.
We’re in touch with nature
Lately an acquaintance of mine from abroad visited Poland and was startled to discover that, during the summer, you can get wild bilberries and blueberries for a few zlotys on every street corner. In his home country wild-grown produce is a great and pricey rarity. Meanwhile Poles will often pick their own wild-grown fruit as well as many different kinds of edible forest mushrooms. Pretty cool considering that, coming straight from mother nature, these things are as healthy as it gets.
Written by Marek Kępa, August 2015