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Poland Customs & Etiquettes


Poland is pretty much ethnically homogeneous. Ukrainian, Belarusian, Slovakian and Lithuanian minorities reside along the borders. A German minority is concentrated near the southwest city of Opole. The capital and other cities are experiencing some inward migration from foreigners.

Religion plays an important role in the Polish society and is deeply intertwined with Polish culture. Religious holidays are considered national holidays when most businesses are closed. The most important holiday is Christmas and celebrations last two and a half days. Poles practise "dzielenie oplatkiem", which is the breaking and sharing of a thin white wafer (oplatek) with all family members. While sharing the wafer, individuals express wishes of good heath and prosperity for the coming year. This is also commonly practised at work Christmas parties and is very much a part of Polish culture.

Another religious holiday of note is All Saints’ Day which takes place on November 1st. On this day Poles visit cemeteries to honour their loved ones who have passed away.

Catholicism is the most widely practised religion. Life’s milestones such as weddings, baptisms, funerals, first communion and confirmation are influenced by the religion.

The family is the centre of the social structure. One’s obligation is to the family first and foremost. Extended families are still the norm and really form an individual’s social network.

Poles draw a line between their inner circle and outsiders. Family members are naturally part of the inner circle along with close friends, usually “family friends”. Poles will interact differently with their inner circle and outsiders. The inner circle forms the basis of a person's social and business network. The people from the inner circle can be relied upon to: offer advice, help find a job, cut through bureaucracy, or even rent an apartment. There is an elaborate etiquette of extending favours and using contacts to get things done.

It is advisable to refer to Poland (as well as to some other countries like Czech Republic, Slovakia or Hungary) as Central Europe, and not Eastern Europe. Although not very offensive, if used, it may reflect foreigners' ignorance and certain disrespect on the history and clearly Latin cultural heritage of the countries from the region. Poles themselves refer to the "old" EU west of its borders as "Zachód" (West), and to the states created after the break-up of the USSR as "Wschód" (East).

It is customary to hold doors and chairs for women. Poles are generally old-fashioned about gender etiquette.

Men should not wear hats indoors. Most restaurants, museums and other public buildings have a cloakroom, and people are expected to leave bags and outerwear there.

Meeting & Greeting

Greetings are generally reserved yet courteous. When greeting someone a good handshake, direct eye contact, a smile and the appropriate greeting for that time of day will suffice. Good morning/afternoon is "dzien dobry" and good evening is "dobry wieczor".

Some men, particularly older men, may kiss a woman's hand when greeting or saying goodbye. Kissing a woman's hand is considered to be chivalrous, but you will not go wrong shaking hands. For a more heartfelt greeting or goodbye, close friends of either sex will kiss three times, alternating cheeks.

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