by David Roche
Within the main tourist locations, you will get away with speaking English most of the time but outside of the main tourist hotspots, being able to speak a few words or phrases in Polish will really come in handy.
Unfortunately, the Polish language is particularly difficult for us Brits to master and attempting to do so can often result in a Homer Simpson moment e.g. putting your foot right in it! We're also really good at making other embarassing but often funny mistakes as well as finding ourselves on the wrong side of the law because we simply do not understand Polish laws or culture.
Hopefully this section will help you to avoid the most common blunders. Below you will find a list of things not to do or say whilst in Poland as well as some other observations about behaviour.
1. The language: there are a few English words that unfortunately also mean something quite rude in Polish. Avoid the word 'cheaper' at all costs because this word is a (not very nice) way of referring to a female's private parts. Other classics to avoid are 'Hoy" as in when you are trying to gain someone's attention. This word is a (not very nice) way of referring to a male's private parts and also happens to be very insulting to Polish men! If a certain Olympic cyclist from Scotland came to Poland he would probably want to use a different name! These are the worst 2 but there are others! Don't worry! Go to our Polish Language section for some help.
2. Driving: if you are going to drive in Poland (especially Warsaw) forget trying to drive like you do back home. Being courteous at a roundabout for example will result in you being there a very long time. Remember how you drove when you were 17 years old? That's what you need to do again. There are only 2 speeds which are very fast and stop and both should be accompanied with a squealing of tyre rubber! When approaching a zebra crossing, increase your speed significantly otherwise a pedestrian may attempt to cross the road and then you will have to stop! On a serious note, it is Polish law to drive with your headlights ON AT ALL TIMES regardless of what time it is or how dark it might not be! Just remember that Polish drivers like to drive fast and Polish Police like to give out tickets.
3. Public Transport: Using Public Transport in Warsaw is a sensible way of getting around and is not expensive (notice how I did not say that it's 'cheaper'). The Metro is particular good, always on time and really fast! If you are in Warsaw for the week, then purchase a weekly ticket, which enables you to travel on all forms of Public Transport for around 30 złoty (7 quid). Don't try and avoid buying a ticket because you will probably be captured and given a hefty fine! Those of you staying a little longer may choose to purchase a monthly ticket at around 80 złoty. This comes in the form of a credit card with signature strip. DO MAKE SURE that you sign it otherwise it is deemed not valid and comes with a fine of 170 złoty!
4. Behaviour: Arriving in a cultured country such as Poland with a stag and hen mentality is not going to help you get on with the locals. The locals like a drink too but do not end up half dressed and puking in the street at 3 o' clock in the morning! The locals are generally tolerant of tourists and want you to be here but there are some establishments who do not welcome the English. The Police are definately not tolerant and if you make a nuisance of yourself, a night in a cell is where you will end up combined with a hefty fine.
5. Tramps & Beggars: In Warsaw particularly, you will be surprised at how many tramps and beggars there are in comparison to a major British city such as London. In the main, you will not be hassled by these people and if you help them, you will receive a genuine thank you and smile most of the time. The Polish state do provide shelter for the homeless; however many do not take the offer as it comes with terms and conditions such as not being able to drink alcohol. At times, these people can be very humourous, just yesterday my friend was approached by a man with half bottle of vodka in hand who stated that should my friend purchase him some more vodka, this man would vote for my friend in the next election! During the Winter months, Poland is not a good place to be homeless and at the end of the day, you will not miss a few złoty which in Poland can actually purchase a hot meal.
6. Vodka: There are so many types of vodka available in Poland that it can be difficult deciding which one to drink first (and that's the problem!). Many a Brit thinking that they are hardened drinkers fall foul of the Vodka kick (the sudden inability to talk or walk) which hits you very suddenly and without warning! There's a simple message here which is be very careful if you drink Vodka with Polish people because they are used to it! It might seem like a good idea at the time but the Polish Vodka is very different to the Vodka shots you drink back in England. Be careful with the beer too!
7. Politics, Religion & the War: Simple advice here which applies even back home in Britain. Avoid conversations about Politics, Religion and World War 2. Discussing any of these with your newly-found Polish best mates will just land you in a heap of trouble. Contrary to what many Brits believe, the Polish race do not thank us for declaring war on Germany and they certainly do not thank us for handing Poland to Russia on a silver plate at the end of the war! There's so much to discuss with your new friends, it shouldn't be too difficult to avoid these? Also remember that an increasing number of Polish people are returning from the UK where many did not have a good experience and were not made welcome by the British.
8. General Advice: Don't use the Bureaux de Change in the town centre to change money unless you want a really bad exchange rate? If a toilet is marked with a circle or triangle instead of the usual man and woman, it's the circle for the Ladies and the triangle for the Gents! Don't hail a taxi in the street as it will cost you 30% more, always ring one first!
9. Do your Homework: Always a good idea before visiting a new place! Have a good read through this site where you will find everything you will need to know about visiting Warsaw. if you have time, check out Polish Forums where you will find (amongst the usual garbage you find on forums) some very good information about Poland, the language and the customs.
10. Be Happy, Don't Worry!: Poland is a fantastic country full of culture and traditions and history and we know that you are going to love it here! Take a while to read up on the place you are visiting and learn a few phrases in Polish and you will make the most of your visit. Have a great time and don't forget to check out Warsaw and Krakow!