Mieszka w Polsce: Most Amusing Differences Between Polish and Northern Irish Culture

“Kocham cię jak Irlandię” – Kobranocka. (“I love you like Ireland”)

In my series Mieszkam w Polsce, I try to write about situations that arise in my normal life as an immigrant living in Poland. I have a plethora of posts still unwritten in this series, as I will simply never get the time to write them all. But today, I’m writing about some of the unusual differences I have noticed in Polish culture, compared with the culture in my country of birth, Northern Ireland. This is only a small selection of the differences as I have found many more than this.

“We let love get lost in anger; chasing yesterday” – Noel Gallagher.

Mieszkam w Polsce: Differences Between Northern Irish and Polish culture

Mieszkam w Polsce: Differences Between Northern Irish and Polish culture – Belfast, 2004

Before I start though, this article is not about saying who is right or wrong, as both are right in their own cultures, norms, traits and ways. It’s the way the world is. I am not trying to criticise Polish culture or Northern Irish culture here. These are just some cultural differences I have noticed from spending time living in Poland (three years and counting) and with Polish people down the years compared with my time living in Northern Ireland with Northern Irish people. It’s more a bit of fun if anything!!

I took a photo of my Northern Irish heroes that night: the moment that changed your life, but you didn't know it then.

Poland v. Northern Ireland in Warszawa – my first week in Poland (March 30th, 2005)

I’ve lived in a few different countries around the world (Hong Kong, Australia, England, Kyrgyzstan…) and had to adapt to change a few times in my life. But life first introduced me to Polish people in 2004, then it took me to Poland in 2005. And by 2016, I was living here. These are some of my personal observations of differences between the two cultures. This list does not include food, football, language, politics, religion etc., they are everyday culture differences that I experience.

Nothing wrong about this…oh Polish girls how you pump a heartful beat.

Also – football fans, I have done this as a football match for fun, with a winner at the end. Who will win?? Poland?? Or Northern Ireland?? Let the match begin…

1.The Way The Windows Open

In five of the six places I have lived in Poland (3 in Gdańsk, 3 in Warszawa), the windows in the rooms have always opened inwards! This made me furious at the start as I couldn’t set anything on my bedroom or kitchen windowsills and expect to open it!! They would fall into the room. I found it crazy at the start!!

Wait, the windows open INWARD? Wacaday!

In Northern Ireland, every window in houses or flats I’ve lived in or seen, opens outwards. I’d put things on my inner windowsill and not worry about it. Now, that option is gone, so no items on the inner windowsill, and I won’t put things on the outer windowsill instead, due to theft, weather erosion or decay.

I cannot put my Lonely Planet books here!!

I still don’t know the reason why the two countries do this differently. Some people say it’s easier to clean (cleaning from the outside is easier and prevents dirt from falling into the room), others say it prevents burglars (harder to open inwards as jars will crash and fall), others say it means you don’t hit someone outside by mistake, others say it lowers suicide and death rate from high rise buildings!

I want to open my windows outward like in Northern Ireland!!

Neither are wrong but I still laugh about it.

Which do I prefer?
I definitely like my home country’s style here.

Poland 0-1 Northern Ireland

2.Bathroom Lights NOT in the bathroom

There is no way that anywhere in Northern Ireland would have bathroom light switches OUTSIDE the bathroom.😂 Your mate would come over when you’re doing a lumpy shit and turn the light off for the banter. For sure!!

Bathroom lights OUTSIDE the bathroom!! Are you serious?

Even most of the bars, hotels and restaurants in Poland have the outside toilet / bathroom switch!! What is the reason why?

Which do I prefer?

The Northern Irish one for sure. I want control of the lights from the room I’m in, not risk someone else blacking me out!!

Poland 0-2 Northern Ireland

3.Fresh Cold Water Taps are gone!

Growing up in Northern Ireland, I could drink water from the tap. The (separate) cold tap has drinkable fresh water. The hot tap, we cannot drink from, it’s not healthy. They are different taps, different temperatures and different pipes. The era seems to have passed us by…

Where did our double tapped (and drinkable blue tap) go?

In Poland (but also in many other countries), I realised I couldn’t really trust drinking tap water as both taps were connected into ONE tap. Did it mean the hot water was on the same system in Poland? Was the cold water direct from the reservoir? I’m not a plumber so I have no idea. Or was it the British idea? And were the British being stupid about it? Or was it a simple fact of those taps not poisoning us by drinking the warm/luke warm water?

Some people say the Polish system is cheaper and more international, and that is true. Some Polish people even laugh at the Northern Irish system as they don’t understand the reason we have separate pipes to save money on hot water usage and to drink cold water. Polish people living in England also wanted both water in the same tap, not caring whether they could drink it or not, and made these online memes!

Polish tactic when based in England (or Northern Ireland)

But I miss having my cold tap only option, which always saves money as you don’t need to use the hot tap and pay the extra bills, plus you get fresher water.

However, I’ve gotten used to the Polish system now but I still miss my pure and fresh cold only tap.

I’ll call this one a draw so a point each, as recently I started to drink the Polish tap water (but only by moving the switch to cold).

Poland 1-3 Northern Ireland

4.Crossing the Road

Waiting for the green man, or walking whenever you like? For me, it’s all about safety first, respect and waiting so I like and admire the Polish system for this.

You cannot just cross here…no zebra crossing or green man.

In Northern Ireland, cars don’t stop at zebra crossings, they’re not obliged to – it’s at the driver’s discretion. Most of the time, the cars don’t bother. In Poland, the cars almost always stop for the pedestrian. I like that. It’s a real mutual respect.

And besides, it’s bad for children to cross when there’s a red light. I prefer to wait for the green light to cross. Much safer.

Which do I prefer?

The comeback is on.

Poland 2-3 Northern Ireland

5.Doors on a Bus

I still love it that almost every bus in Northern Ireland only has one door!! It makes it hard to dodge a fare, get on without the driver seeing or get off quickly if you made it to your stop.

Polish bus system is much better than the Northern Irish one.

In Poland, some buses even have 3sets of doors. But it’s a much quicker and easier system here in Poland, even if I do miss the odd double decker bus ride. Overall, the Polish bus system is just better than the Northern Irish one.

Kokoszkowy bus timetable

The Polish bus system is better…

Which do I prefer?

A shock but deserved equaliser!

Poland 3-3 Northern Ireland

6.Talking About Money / Work

Probably my favourite thing about my Polish friends is that we never ever discuss money or work, as it’s totally irrelevant in friendships. In Northern Ireland, I find that people are more nosey.

Polish money

They want to know how much you earn, what you work as etc. Some of my best friends in Poland, I don’t even know their job titles or the companies they work for or where exactly they work, or how much they earn. They also don’t know what online websites I have partnered with, written for or what businesses I teach English to, or any of my private clients for teaching, writing or editing. We don’t need to know, nor should we care.

“Work is the curse of the drinking classes” – Oscar Wilde.

Work is the curse of the drinking classes

Northern Irish people love to know, so these days, I don’t tell them. I don’t need or want to tell them.

Which do I prefer?
Poland have fought back to take the lead!!

Poland 4-3 Northern Ireland

7.Saying no to Vodka

My stomach can’t handle vodka. I vomit all the time on it. I hate the smell of vodka and the taste of it. It definitely doesn’t enhance my life.

“Too much pressure, pushing down on me” – Freddie Mercury.

Vodka time at the wedding in Milanowska Wólka – ANOTHER shot lads?

So I hate how in Polish culture, people take offence to me refusing vodka. Especially when I have a marvellous ice cold beer in front of me!!

Wacky shots in Czupito

In Northern Ireland, our tipple spirit of choice is whiskey. Best enjoyed over ice and drank slowly. 15 shots of vodka on a night for what reason? Not for me at all, although I make exceptions for weddings, pępkowe, kawalerski And other special occasions.

My Polish friend Rafal making his own choice whether to have whiskey in Northern Ireland, or not.

We don’t force the Polish to drink whiskey on ice when visiting Northern Ireland, so please do the same with me.

Which do I prefer?

Clear equaliser here for my home country! Stop forcing me to drink vodka as I don’t force you to drink whiskey in Northern Ireland!

Poland 4-4 Northern Ireland

8.Switches on Plug Sockets

In Poland, you just put the plug into the socket and it’s already on! What? Yes, often there isn’t even a switch! Madness! Electric shock loyal!

No switches in Poland – it’s on immediately!

I am convinced the Polish system means we waste more electricity, waste more money and cause a danger for children and animals. But I am not an electrician so I really don’t know…

Which do I prefer?

The Northern Irish system here. I like to control if the power is going into the lead or not.

Poland 4-5 Northern Ireland

9. Sharing a Toilet with Yer Mate

Call me crazy, but I like to do a poo poo in peace in my own! I don’t want my mate whacking his sizzler out to urinate yellow liquid next to me. I’m also sure my mate doesn’t want to hear, see or smell my excrement!! It is even worse when it says Unisex! Girl gets sprinkled on her way past with a willy glimpse before pulling her own kinckers off and letting out last night’s kebab rolada with frytki!

The confusing double toilet, even worse if it is unisex!

Polish people have tried to justify the double toilet to me by saying “it gives you a choice” and “you can lock the door”. But that’s ludicrous, what a waste of space, money and time then, especially in busy bars!

The odd toilets

But no, I don’t want the choice. I use a urinal for a piss and a standard toilet for a shit. I want a barrier in between. And if you’re going to the trouble of wasting money on two toilets, then it’s an even bigger waste of money to add a lock and prevent me and my mate doing side by side shits, as much as it disgusts me.

Which do I prefer?

I really should add two goals to Northern Ireland for this one, but I’ll be kinder…

Poland 4-6 Northern Ireland

10.Calling Your Kids What You Want

It still shocks me how few first (given, Christian) names there actually are in Poland. I guarantee anyone to meet 50 Polish girls at random and not to find at least 2 Anias, Magdalenas, Monikas etc. In Northern Ireland, we have so many more choices of names, you can call your child Dishwasher, Goat, Dave, whatever you want. There are no rules and there is no list. Polish culture also doesn’t seem to invent new names. It’s almost like they have a list and you are forced to pick one.

Polish girls/dziewczynny in Browar, all typical names ending with “a”. Paulina, Marta, Ola!

Also on this point, all the Polish girls called Ola, Ania, Gosia etc. that I met are not actually called that!! Their official names are Aleksandra, Anna, Malgorzata etc. But in Northern Ireland, a Dave or a Jim is a Dave or a Jim, it does not have to be a shortened version of David, Davey, Jimmy or James. My own name is an example. I am not John, Jon, Johnny, Johnston, Johnathon etc. I am Jonny. It is my given name, my birth certificate name, my name.

I definitely prefer the Northern Irish freedom here – call your kids what YOU want. They are YOUR kids.

Which do I prefer?

As much as I enjoy the thrill of asking a Polish girl her name in anticipation of it, I prefer the bigger variety and creativity of my homeland. Sorry, Ania, Ola, Marta, Julia etcetera!

Poland 4-7 Northern Ireland

11.Kissing Female Friends, Shaking Hands in General (pre-COVID-19/coronavirus era)

  • this was written in 2019 – before the COVID-19 / coronavirus era)

For some reason, in Northern Ireland, when a man meets a lady, there is not the same bond and polite welcome. Growing up we were not taught to kiss warmly on the cheek of every girl we meet. There was a cold handshake at most, and some discomfort.

“I gotta lotta things to learn” – Noel Gallagher.

You can kiss but you cannot touch…

In Poland – none of that – it is much friendlier and sincere. People greet everyone in a closer way here. Handshakes for every new person to the bar/party, the same when saying goodbye. Kisses on the cheek for ladies we previously met, often a hat-trick for kindness. More sincerity. Oh Northern Ireland, we have a lot to learn.

Which do I prefer?

Poland for sure here and so much so, I’m giving Poland an extra goal…

Poland 6-7 Northern Ireland

Final Score at Culture Street: Poland 6-7 Northern Ireland

Away win for Northern Ireland, but only just and a bit of fun!

So that concludes my first article of this kind. I know there are many other cultural differences that I encounter day on day. I try to fit in, to not be outside the crowd. I try to look like I belong in Poland.

Maybe, after all, I don’t belong in Northern Ireland anymore…

Cheers from Warszawa with a Belfast Beer

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