Having recently experienced my first Christmas in Poland I was treated to a hospitality experience which in my opinion is unparalleled by other nations.
Modern life is accelerating, and it would seem with it many nations old traditions and customs are losing their heart and meaning. In Poland, especially in the rural areas, these traditions are seemingly very deep rooted and have been maintained with a huge amount of pride.
The Polish it would seem are very creative at finding any excuse for a good party where they can celebrate with plenty of eating drinking and dancing. Whether it be a birthday, name day, anniversary or religious holiday you are witness to the warm and heartfelt atmosphere of Polish hospitality.
Here are a few polish traditions and customs which I have recently experienced on my visits.
Arriving and greeting, always make sure you arrive on time. No matter what the purpose of your visit may be , a polish host will always prepare food for you and it is most likely to be a warm dish, and many of them. Feeding guests is a central pillar of Polish hospitality and it is very rare if you leave with an empty stomach. Similarly if you invite a pole to your home they will most likely expect food.. so be prepared.
On arrival it is important to respect the house rules. After you are greeted you are often obliged to take off your shoes. This I'm told does vary from home to home, but it is very important to ask. This is a relic of communist etiquette to expect visitors to take off their shoes and give them a pair of slippers. This is becoming expected less and less so unless your shoes are caked in mud its usually fine to keep them on.
As with visiting most places in the world it is seen as being very polite to use a few polish words as an ice breaker. This is the case in Poland as many poles consider their language the hardest to learn on earth so if you can impress with a few words its a good way to start. They do however like to show their own skills in their second language which is most likely English, a very lucky thing for most visitors, including me!
It is a certainty that if you attend a dinner in Poland you will be offered some alcohol. It's not obligatory but if you don't want to drink you should come prepared with a very good excuse.. pregnancy,driving or pancreatitis perhaps! Drinking is a big staple of Polish get togethers and an important bonding experience in social gatherings, therefore it can be treated as am unwillingness to bond with your hosts so why not have a shot or two of their lovely fruity homemade vodka?? May even help you speak a bit of Polish with more confidence.
Bringing small gifts are very welcome. They don't have to be expensive as it is more a symbolic gift not an act of giving something valuable to the host. If you bring flowers, make sure that they are always an odd number as even numbers are seen as bad luck.
When sitting down for dinner is it considered rude to start eating before the host says "Smacznego" (polish for "enjoy your meal"). Don’t ever start eating before your host; it is considered very poor etiquette.
Trying at least a bite of all the dishes is highly recommended (or forced upon you by your girlfriend whether you like it or not). Praising the hosts food is obligatory, no matter whether you like it or not. Asking for second helping is a sure way to getting invited again, this will make your Polish host understandably happy and proud of what they have produced. Tip: be very careful with not eating too much too soon, the Poles have plenty of courses and desert can offer up a large array of sweets stuff. Typically at Christmas you will be offered 12 different dishes.
When you have finished your meal you will usually be asked to rest in the sitting room. Here you will be offered coffee, tea or another alcoholic drink (often shots of flavoured homemade vodka). LIke in most cultures it is considered rude to leave the table before everyone has finished. Also be aware that most of the proper catching up happens after the meal so don't make plans straight after a polish meal. Dinner is just a starter to most gatherings. Hosts will most likely want you to stay quite a while longer and have at least one more drink or possibly more food.
By the end of what is typically quite a boozey affair at a Polish gathering saying goodbye to your hosts in usually pretty informal. It is not unusual for hugs to be offered and received.. if there is one good thing about all the alcohol it definitely makes everyone more friendly towards each other at the end!
What have I learnt from my time in Poland and the Polish hospitality: the Poles are an extremely generous and loving nation with a huge interest in others. They are an incredibly proud nation who are eager to explain all the intricacies of the Polish way of life, history and language.
When visiting their homes you will experience a generosity which is rarely seen.. just make sure you don't ever go with a full stomach!!
Titus Gormley – Recruitment Manager
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