“Nigdy nie widziałem Warszawy tak pięknej, jak dzisiejszego wieczoru” – King Zygmunt told us to think this way.
(“I never saw Warszawa as beautiful as I saw her tonight”)
As my 16th month living in Poland approaches, the country is soon to overtake Australia and become the fourth longest country I have lived in in my life (Hong Kong, England and Northern Ireland will still be ahead). I have learnt a lot living here, in Gdańsk and Warszawa, but some of it I learnt when I simply backpacked here four times before settling. I have just two Polish provinces left to visit on my conquest (follow my map) and I aim to backpack them before the 31st December 2017. But what have I really learned and what should YOU know before visiting Poland? This is no golden bible, there is no masterplan but this is my opinion. That’s all. These are my top 5 things to respect about Polish culture when living in this beautiful country and I hope to promote the country more and more as it grows on me day by day.
1.They are GERMAN DEATH CAMPS, there are NO Polish Death Camps
International idiots (Barack Obama included) need an education still, otherwise the next generation will hear the history books wrongly. Poland did nothing wrong here. Poland was relaxing, enjoying a cool life when the Germans invaded, took over, annexed the land, set up DEATH CAMPS and killed innocent people. These are facts. A lot of these GERMAN DEATH CAMPS were located in Poland, but none of them are POLISH. The Germans claimed the land and set up the death camps. The death camps are written in German (Do you think a Polish person would write “Arbeit Macht frei?”), they were run by Germans, managed by Germans. They were German, NOT Polish. It was mostly Polish and Jewish people “living” (dying) in these camps. They are German Death Camps.
So NEVER refer to them as Polish, it is horrible that people still don’t understand the history here. And even the words “concentration camp” sound wrong (and though I sometimes also use that term), “death camps” is more accurate. Everyone that came through the doors never had a proper life again so they weren’t really “concentrating”, they were dying. It is horrendous. I have so far visited 4 of these German Death Camps, 3 Historical War related flashpoints and 2 War Museums in Poland. More will come as I aim to educate. Also the use of the word “Nazi” is contemporarily inaccurate as Nazi doesn’t exist. They were Germans (and Austrians). There is no Nazi language, culture or country. Hash tag the beast until people know the horrible truth. #germandeathcamps
Touring Majdanek German Death Camp
Touring Westerplatte, Gdańsk
Touring Most Tczewski where World War II began
Touring the Polish Post Office in Gdańsk
Touring Auschwitz German Death Camp
Touring Stutthof German Death Camp
2.Learn Some Polish
It still annoys me that some tourists simply demand and order things in English in this country. The country is Poland and guess what their language is gorgeous! It’s also one of the easier languages to learn for English speakers, as the alphabet is quite similar, with just three letters omitted (x, q, v) and a few extra added such as ł, ż, ś, ą, ę. I can understand English speaking tourists visiting Israel and not speaking Hebrew, India and not speaking Hindu, Saudi Arabia and not speaking Arabic and China and neglecting Chinese. But Polish is much more understandable and cool.
Still not convinced? What do these Polish words mean in English? Too easy…
Normalne – Normal
Tramwaj – Tram
Mleko – Milk
Kawa – Coffee
Wino – Wine
Budynek – Building
Cukier – Sugar
Stacja – Station
Ogorek – Gherkin
Komputer – Computer
Alkohol – Alcohol
To samo – The same
Not hard to work out, hardly like learning Chinese is it? So get some basic words learnt and impress the Polish people you meet. And yes, endings of words and some words are complicated in Polish too, but you get the idea – lots of Polish words are easy to work out.
I recommend learning Polish at:
3.Respect the Church and Pope John Paul II
I might be biased here as I go to church and believe in Catholicism and Protestantism these days in equal measures having grown up in a country (Northern Ireland) of both faiths. But the highest building in most small towns and villages remains the church for a reason. It is a Catholic country. It is vitally important here. Know it.
Pope John Paul II is a hero to many here, a true man of honour and respect. Do not say anything bad about him and do not disrespect the church. In fact, go on holy pilgrimages, as I twice did on my first year here – once to Holy Pelplin to Pope John Paul II’s Hill, the home of the only Guttenberg Bible in Poland and my tour to Częstochowa, a truly inspiring and holy city.
4.Eat Tons of Pierogi
Instagram this stuff like there is no tomorrow. Despite hailing from Northern Ireland and having a love for Mexican food as well as my beloved Ulster Fry and some Italian pizza, there is no doubt about the number 3 cuisine from my travels now. It is pierogi. I have become addicted to it and I’ll try any filling except mushroom. I need pierogi at least once a week now to survive.
“Woah, it’s a passion, I can feel it in the air” – Snap (rhythm is a dancer)
5.Know the Polish Sporting Gods
Poland is a proud nationalistic country. Robert Lewandowski is a God here. So is Zbigniew Boniek. So is Robert Kubica. So is Kazik Deyna. So is Lato, top goalscorer of the 1974 World Cup when Poland finished third. Poland also finished third in the 1982 World Cup. Also did you know that Poland once beat Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Sweden, Yugoslavia and Haiti in the same World Cup and still didn’t win it??!! It’s true – in 1974, inspired by Kazimierz Deyna, they won 6 out of 7 matches, scoring 16 goals, Lato being top goalscorer with 7 goals. Their only defeat was a late 1-0 loss to West Germany who were the winners in the end.
And with those five parts of Polish culture to respect, you should fit in nicely. Remember, this is a short and cherished life my friends. Enjoy it. And if you can, visit Poland and Northern Ireland during your lifetime.
“We live in a beautiful world” – Coldplay.