Never heard of Poland before? That's right Poland, not Holland. Oh yes, now you remember - Walesa, pirozki and vodka. Perhaps you've even visited Poland, but the only thing you could recall the following day was the fact that booze in Cracow was terribly cheap. Here's your chance to learn something more about those strange folks squeezed in between Germany and the former Soviet Union.Smashing stereotypes
Contrary to common belief, we don't actually live anywhere near the North Pole. It's not always cold in Poland and most of us have never seen a polar bear. We even have a tropical palm standing in the center of Warsaw! That we all live in Chicago and south-west London is also a gross misconception - some of us have stayed behind in our homeland, and they're not only the old and the crippled.
If you've ever seen our politicians, you'll be surprised to hear the next few facts. We like the Germans, we have bank accounts and drivers' licenses, and we don't get pissed when visiting Ukrainians (not every time anyway). Most males don't wear a moustache, some of us are homosexual, some even speak foreign languages! Having said that, there is a fair bit of truth in the old saying - 'where there's two Poles, there's three political parties'.
Surprisingly, we're not all catholic. Sure, a lot of people pray to the - now gone - Polish Pope ('Our Papa', as they affectionately call him), but one of our former prime ministers was protestant. There's quite a lot of orthodox Christians in the east of Poland and we've had a Muslim minority long before Western Europe admitted its first immigrants from the Middle East.
To shock you even more, we don't all smoke cigarettes and we drink far more beer than vodka. We find it hard to understand Russian and most of us actually use sunscreen. Finally, we eat neither pigeons nor swans!Identity and culture
It seems that what mostly shapes our identity is our past - over a thousand years of history on the crossroads of East and West. Always aspiring to be European and scared of being thought of as Oriental left a deep mark on our national mentality.
On one hand we consider ourselves the 'Martyr of Nations'. Constantly under threat from powerful neighbors, finally partitioned and left without our own country for a 123 years. Later made to watch Nazis performing Holocaust on our land, and our allies handing us over to Stalin. Even the very creation of our country coincided with stamping out of our ancient culture and faith by Christianity (forcefully imported from Germany).
On the other hand, we dream our dreams of past glories. When we were the biggest country in Europe, when we colonized the East, when we saved the continent from the Turks, when we were 'the funniest barrack in the socialist camp', when we founded Solidarity.
We like to argue, we love to complain. We can't go without discussing politics for any longer than about 5 minutes. We get extremely excited about our sportsmen - if they're successful that is. When our ski jumper Malysz dominated the competition, we considered ski jumping the most important sport in the world. When our F1 driver Kubica recently won the qualifiers for a GP race, we thought that - quite clearly - pole position is where a Pole belongs.
We call Marie Curie "Sklodowska-Curie", so that the French know where she had come from. We produced Copernicus, Kosciuszko, Chopin, Conrad, Witkiewicz, Milosz, Szymborska, Wajda, Kieslowski, Polanski, Brzezinski, Kapuscinski, Penderecki and Boniek - not to mention Walesa and the Pope. On top of all that, the world's strongest man is Polish too!Food and drink
We don't like our cabbage fresh. Instead, we wait until it's fermented before adding some meat, mushrooms and herbs to it, and boiling the whole thing in a big pot for a few hours. This is how we make bigos
- our national dish. When it's ready, we refrain (with great difficulty) from eating it right away, because it actually tastes best when it's a few days old and has been reheated a couple of times.Bigos
caused us some trouble at the time we were joining the European Union. It turned out that EU directives ban reheated food from being served in restaurants! Fortunately, the bureaucrats in Brussels granted our national dish an exemption from this rule, because otherwise we would have unanimously chosen bigos
Other than fermented cabbage, we also eat beetroot soup (barszcz
), and we have a bigger choice of sausages than Germans and Danes taken together. Our digestive systems aren't suited for toast bread, which is the main reason why Polish shops keep popping up all over the UK and Ireland.
Whatever the Russians might think about this, it was us who invented vodka. We drink it straight, no ice, from shot glasses. After we've had one, we enjoy a bite of marinated herring - this is because, according to an old Polish saying - 'a fish likes to swim'.
Because grapes grown in our climate are quite sour, we've invented a revolutionary way of making wine - from apples and cherries. It also works out well economically, the brand name for this remarkable product being 'cheap wine'. As a matter of fact one of our most active MPs made a fortune selling 'cheap wine'. Some say it also helped him become a politician - apparently people who voted him in were all drunk.How to find out more?
If you're in Europe, you're unlikely to be more than a 100 euros and a two hour flight away from Poland. Come and try bigos
, drink some vodka, argue about politics and get schooled on our history. If you like music, listen to some of the world's best jazz (yes, we are very musical too) in the cosy bars of Warsaw, Cracow, Gdansk, Wroclaw or Poznan. If you're a nature freak, check out our lakes, forests and mountains - there's a good reason why our country is called 'the lungs of Europe'.
Alternatively, go to your local library or Amazon and treat yourself to some fine Polish literature or film. Make sure you watch all ski jumping and strongman events on TV, and of course keep an eye out for more articles from W24!Words that may be difficultbooze
- intoxicating drink; especially:hard liquorcontrary
- in this particular case: being not in conformity with what is usual or expectedmisconception
- word similar in meaning to "misunderstanding"affectionately
- having affection or warm regard: loving or motivated by affectionaffection
- a moderate feeling or emotionsunscreen
- a preparation (as a lotion) applied to the skin to prevent sunburn (as by chemically absorbing ultraviolet radiation); also: its active ingredient (as benzophenone)swan
- any of various large heavy-bodied long-necked mostly pure white aquatic birds (family Anatidae, especially genus Cygnus) that have webbed feet and are related to but larger than the geese; Polish: łabędźrefrain
- to keep oneself from doing, feeling, or indulging in something and especially from following a passing impulseherring
- Polish: śledźsour
causing or characterized by the one of the four basic taste sensations that is produced chiefly by acids