Polish language and culture in a nutshell – a lexicon of cultural connotation: C – Constitution

Castel in Warsaw - celebration of the May 3 Constitution st

photo by Matteo De Tomasi – www.matteodetomasi.it „

The 3 of May is a national holiday in Poland. It is a celebration of the anniversary of the proclamation of the constitution in 1791. It was the first constitution in Europe, the second one in the world – after the American. The idea of the constitution was to reconstruct and strength the state by introducing   democratical way of  governing the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth  and  give more rights to the citizens, and develop  special program to protect peasants.

Unfortunately   the reformates’ could enjoy the victim of  the constitution  over the conservative groups only for 14 months. Under the pretext of defense the previous system and support the conservative opposition, Poland was attacked by a Russian Army in 1792. A desperate struggle to defend the constitution  has failed.  Poland fell under the rule of three neighboring countries (Prussia, Austria and Russia) despite of the Kościuszko insurrection (1794). Eventually Poland  lost independents  for over 100 years.  However the spirit of the ideas of the constitution , the memory of the insurrection, a  strong desire  for freedom   has never disappeared and  after  several uprisings and military activities  during the First World War   Poland regain its independence in 1918.

photo by Matteo De Tomasi - www.matteodetomasi.it "

photo by Matteo De Tomasi – www.matteodetomasi.it „

The May 3  was celebrated  officially on 1972.  Later on it was banned by the occupants, but unofficial celebration has been continued to keep alive Polish aspirations for freedom. It was again made an official Polish holiday in April 1919 under the Second Polish Republic.  During the communist time it was removed from the list of national holidays  and in 1990, after the fail of the regime, the 3 May  was restored again and became the most important civil holiday. For Poles  the celebration of the May 3 Constitution  is considered as a  symbol of the best tradition of  the history of the state and Polish culture.


Opublikowano Inne | 86 komentarzy

Polish language and culture in a nutshell – a lexicon of cultural connotatio: B – bocian

B – bocian  ‘stork’

photo by Magda Maliborska

photo by Magda Maliborska

Is a symbol of a spring, good luck  and prosperity for the cottage the bird  make their  nest on. That is why it was  considered a serious singe to spoil the nest or make a harm to a stork.

The birds are leaving Poland for the winter period and come back with the spring to the same place. If it happened that the stork is sick and cannot join the flock to take the journey over the ocean, the “hosts” take care of it during the winter.

Each year they are expected by the  villagers and mostly welcome. People often  install  a wheel  on the roof of the barn to encourage the stork to build a nest.  In some regions there is a tradition to bake a special cookies  (like a stork’s foot) to bring them back, in case of delay of their arrival. It is also a magical  practice to bring the  spring.


phot. Magda Modlibowska

Opublikowano Polish in cultural context, Polish language, Polish Tradition | Otagowano , | 38 komentarzy

Polish language and culture in a nutshell – a lexicon of cultural connotation

A – alphabet

In contrary to the most Slavic languages (East and South), Poland use the Latin alphabet – introduced together with Christianity in 966, when Polish prince Mieszko got married with a Czech princesses Dąbrawa.
Receiving Christianity from the Czech Kingdom Poland has been included to the Western Christian Church, while most of the Slaves belong to the Byzantium circle.
The Roman Church and the Latin alphabet was the door to the written heritage of the West European Culture. As Latin alphabet wasn’t sufficient to illustrate Polish phonetics, the diacritical signs has been introduced, like ą, ę (the nasal vowels) or a letter combination (such as: sz, cz, dź, dż, ch, like English sh, ch, th). Foreigners often complain about it, but the rules of using them are very regular, so it is easy to learn it, and it is very helpful to know the pronunciation.

Despite of belonging to the Roman circle, Poland hasn’t lost the contacts with the rest of the Slavic world. Especially the folk culture preserves the pre-Christian Slavic heredity. The echo of the ancient believes is still reflected in the traditional folk rituals and magical practices.

I will be pleased to present you some disappearing remains of the old believes, symbols and behavior as an alphabet of Polish thoughts. If you are interested, follow the blog. You are welcome to comment!
966 _

Opublikowano Cultural diversity, Inne, Linguistic diversity, Polish Tradition | Otagowano , , , | 32 komentarzy

Cultural shock – fun or confusion?

Every foreigner living or working abroad is exposed to cultural shock.  Whether it will be a really painful experience, fun or just confusion depends on the individual’s ability to adapt to the new environment.

Do you think you have ever been touched by the effects of cultural shock?

Whenever you think that the local community is strange or is behaving in a weird way, it is a classical symptom of experiencing cultural difference, which in effect could lead towards a real shock.   It is an alarm bell proclaiming that you are different.

If an Englishman who is living abroad tried to drive on the left side of the road as is the custom in his country, it would be a disaster and no doubt lead to a serious accident.

A cultural system like a language is a  social product and is assimilated from our environment while we are growing up.  It means that our lifestyle, our way of thinking, our value system, our communication strategy are assimilated as our natural codes from living in society.  Usually, we are not even aware of it although it is the foundation of our identity.

Only the confrontation with a different social or ethnic group makes us conscious of the differences.  It is natural that behavior different from our rules is considered strange.  While it is strange for us, it is equally strange for the other side.  While living among foreigners, we have the opportunity to conceptualize the differences and compare them with our system.  Awareness of the differences is the first step of adaptation.  The next one is to learn and understand the new system.  The final step is to adopt it and to follow it up.

If you have problems with team building in Poland or with developing proper relationships with your Polish staff or colleagues, I will be pleased to help.  However, in order to discuss the problem, I will need some information from you about your negative experiences.  What caused the difficulties in communication?  What kind of situation made you confused?  What do you find most irritating in the behavior of Polish people?  If you would like to share your experiences, I will try to explain the differences in the comments on my blog.

Opublikowano Cultural diversity, cultural shock, intercultural communication | Otagowano , , , | 220 komentarzy

Kissing Day – 28 December or 6 July?

romantic kissA kiss is primarily an expression of love, but also reverence, submission, respect and well wishes. It is the oldest way of communication, body language, overgrown rich symbolism. Kiss in Polish ‘całować’ is  semantically associated with whole ‘cały’.  This means not only the unity  but also survival pol. ‘ocalić’ .

The kiss, which farewell a  knight or a hunter, was kind wishes and blessings  ‘come back untouched ‘cały’. It was exchanged both by  men and men and woman and men and has nothing to do with sexuality.

Sex free was also the kiss of respect. Kissing pop’s  or bishop ring  was the singe of  reverence given to God. Kissing the national flag, sword blades, the Constitution belong to the gestures to show reverence to symbols.

In some countries it was also a gesture of courtesy – like in Poland kissing lady’s hand in greeting and farewell. The custom is getting old fashion, but you can meet it even between young people.

The way of communication by a kiss is as old as mankind. It has been developing its meaning – direct and symbolic – with a culture of each language.Whatever  it symbolize,  the fundamental meaning of this gesture is expressing love with  a strong sexual character and that is why it is still celebrated as an international  holiday. Why there are two different dates? It really doesn’t matter. Let’s kiss in the end and in the middle of the year!

Love triumph

Opublikowano body language, Cultural diversity, intercultural communication, Linguistic diversity, non verbal communication, Polish Tradition | Otagowano , , , , , , , | 51 komentarzy

The mystery of Christmas Eve


The Mystery of Christmas Eve in Poland

‘Silent  night, Holy night,

All is calm, All is bright…”

The night of 24th to 25th December was celebrated long before Christ in all civilisations of the solar cult. The mystery of the night consists of elements of ancient agricultural rituals, All Souls Day celebrations, and Christian religion practices.

Christmas Eve night, in Polish  Wigilia, opens a new period in nature, coming as it does around the winter solstice, and announces the birth of the ‘sun’ in the Christian religion – the son of justice, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

In Poland Wigilia is celebrated especially solemnly. The mystery of the night appears in all aspects: time, place, food and people’s behaviour.

The signal to start the Wigilia supper is not dictated by the clock, but rather by the appearance of the first star in the sky, which reminds us of the comet  that appeared over Bethlehem to announce the birth of Christ and guide the shepherds and the three kings to the stable.

The celebration takes place at home, where all the members of the family meet for the Wigilia supper. The ceremony starts with the opłatek, a thin white wafer, the symbol of the holy bread. Each member of the family – and guests, of course – takes a wafer, and they offer it to each other one by one, each breaking off a small piece and exchanging special best wishes for the coming year. The breaking of the symbolic bread is meant to bring peace to the whole house and provide the family with enough bread for the coming year to share with others. The wafer is even given to pets and animals at the farms, as they were present at Christ’s birth. There is an old belief that animals are able to speak at midnight.

After the opłatek, the solemn supper begins. This supper is unique. Firstly, it is meatless (a tradition connected with the ancient celebration of All Souls Day). Next, the menu is very specific. It must consist of something from the garden (vegetable salads and a special dessert from poppy seeds); from the field (potatoes, grain i.e. bread); from the orchard (fruit, nuts); from the forest (mushrooms, honey, cranberries); and something from the water (fish, especially carp and herring). There are thirteen traditional dishes on the table, as there were twelve apostles and Christ.

The table is covered with a white tablecloth under which is put some hay to remind us that Christ was born in the stable in poverty. There must always be one spare place at the table for an unexpected guest, a custom connected with the old belief that the souls of the dead members of the family might visit home that evening.

The traditional menu varies according to the region and family customs, but usually for starters there is herring prepared in several ways, a vegetable salad and cold fish. Then soup is served – mushroom soup or red barszcz  (borscht) with traditional uszka (small, baked pierogi with mushroom stuffing). For the second course there is usually fried or baked fish prepared in several ways: with a wine sauce, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, and so on, and served with potatoes and a dish of cabbage with mushrooms, or in some regions simply many kinds of pierogi.

There are two traditional Christmas cakes: makowiec, a strudel with poppy seeds, and piernik, a cake made from honey with spices, cinnamon and ginger. There is also a dessert made out of ground poppy seeds with fresh cream, eggs, honey, raisins and almonds served with cookies. There should be also a cranberry kisiel (a kind of jelly) and compote made from sun-dried fruits such as plums, pears (and sometimes with figs).

Although the Christmas Eve supper is meatless it must be very rich. The abundance of food on the table should bring the family prosperity for the coming year. The dishes made from poppy seeds, especially, symbolise plenty, bringing abundance and wealth.

After the dessert there is time for singing carols and receiving Christmas presents. If there are children at the family they await the arrival of Święta Mikołaj (St Nicolas or Father Christmas) bearing presents. If there are no children the presents are put under the Christmas tree.

The Christmas tree decorations are powerfully symbolic. The lights bring God’s blessing on the house. The bright and colourful glass balls are to protect the house against evil, and bring joy and happiness. The colourful chains are for strengthening family relations. The pierniki cookie decorations provide abundance, while apples bring health and beauty to the girls and women of the family. If you eat a nut from the Christmas tree, it has the magical power of bringing love to you.

The ceremonial Wigilia supper, the Christmas tree lights and the carol singing together create the very special joyful climate of the holy night. The ceremony lasts till midnight when the whole family goes to church to Christmas Mass.

The next two days of Christmas are also very special but don’t have this unique and magic charm of the Polish Christmas Eve.

What is your Christmas ?

The Holly Family

Christmas in Poland

Opublikowano Cultural diversity, Polish Tradition | Otagowano , , | 111 komentarzy

Stereotypes lives in language

Stereotypes are the social product. In spite of being „politicly incorrect”, they exist and  mirrors all hidden emotions and attitudes towards others.  Also they discover  how the „others” are  evaluated. The comparison between ‚selfportrait’ and the pictures of the other nations is very instructive. The diversity is based on the point of view and perspective.The mentality of the social group creating the stereotypes  is expressed by the language in many ways: in common opinion, jokes, nicknames, etc.  The way we talk about other nations says a lot about us.

Have a look at the mapping stereotypes by alphadesigner.  Were  you surprised by he way your country was viewed by the others? I think the author has fantastic sense of humour.

Personal art project by visual artist, graphic designer and illustrator Yanko Tsvetkov

Opublikowano Cultural diversity, Linguistic diversity | 45 komentarzy

Andrzejki – St Andrew’s Day celebration in Poland

andrzejkowe swiece

Andrzejkowe wróżby

The St Andrew Day –

Young girls hope and pray…”

29/30 November in Poland is the day of mysterious parties with the candles and future telling games, called Andrzejki  (St Andrew Day)– the same as in the very past, but nowadays treated as a fun.

There are hundreds of ideas of  how to find out about the future, namely  the  marriage, lucky or unlucky  love  and   prosperous or poor   perspectives.  The most popular practices are wax pouring and shoes competition.

The most spectacular is   pouring   liquid wax into water. The shape which formed as the wax solidified is then illuminated  to throw it’s shadow on the wall. The shape of the shadow    gives the opportunity for unlimited interpretation, which is fun for all participants.

The shoes competition is reserved for the girls only. All of them took off their left shoes and put them in a  line one after the other.  Then  this line of  shoes “walk” to the door, the last  moving to the front on by one, thus walking forward.  The girl who’s  shoe reach the door first, would be  the first to get married.

Isn’t it a contradiction St Andrew’s Day  and telling the future?

What Saint Andrew has to  do with all the magical practices  well known by young girls in all regions in Poland and  in Central and West Europe like Germany, Slovakia, Czech, Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Hungary, Rumania, Lithuania and  even in Greece. Why  this particular day  gives young girls the opportunity   to discover  the name of  their  future husbands, their chance for marriage in the near future, and all possible matrimonial details.

The ancient roots of the tradition

The worldwide extend of the custom   proves  its ancient provenance.  Its roots go much deeper then Christianity back to  a pagan times,  when the time of the changing  of the seasons was looked upon  as particularly powerful,  presenting the chance of special contact between the real and the spiritual worlds. It is significant that  during this period as autumn starts to move into winter, that All Souls Day is celebrated.  People believed in special  contact  with the “other world”  in this particular time.

When autumn moves into winter…

The  spiritual character of this period was appreciated by the Christianity and St Andrew’s Day coincides  with the start of Advent in the Catholic Church . Advent, lasting until Christmas, is the time of reflection, and prayer to  develop spiritual contact with God.

St Andrew’s Eve was  traditionally  the last day when dancing parties were permitted and so it  became the  ideal time for telling the future. Naturally St Andrew became a patron  of young girls as a confidant  of  their hopes and prayer for getting married. The tradition of Andrzejki fortune  telling was noted  in 16th century and is still known and practised in all regions in Poland., although nowadays  the ceremony has lost  a lot of it’s  magical and serious character and has been transformed   into  fun and games during  St Andrew parties arranged by young people.

Ways of forecasting marriage

There were several ways of forecasting marriage, depending of the region, invention of the participants – and  the faith in  it’s power.  The most popular methods  were those based on interpretation of the  magical signs, which could predict husband’s name, age, appearance, profession, the direction he is supposed to come from, the power of his love, and  fortunate or unhappy marriage, and so on.

Sweet dreams

One of the way of discovering the future husband was to interpret the girl’s dream from the night preceding the St Andrew’s Day . After the intensive praying to St Andrew they expected to be shown their future husband during the night  dream. The man they could see during the dream was the one they would soon merry.

Wax into   water

The favorite  way of future telling was  for a group of girls to pour  liquid wax into water. The shape of the solidified wax  would tell   what the future husband would look like, what would be his profession, and so on..

Who is the first to get married?

During the girls St Andrew’s Eve gathering  they wanted to know for whom the church bells would ring first.  The  answer  was the result of  the shoes competition. The owner of the  shoe which reached the door first, would be  the lucky one -  the  first to leave the house i.e. get married.

From which direction  will he arrive?

To know from which direction  the boy would arrive, the girls would leave the house for a wile to  listen to  dogs barking. From the direction  the dog was barking, the boyfriend was expected to arrive.

What is his name?

Before getting to bed the girls would  put  pieces of papers with the  men’s name on under their pillow.  In the morning the first piece taken out of the pillow was the name of the future husband. There were hundreds of ideas of  how to find out about the marriage. Many of these disappeared or had only local character.

St Catherine׳s Day  for bachelor׳s  – St Adrew’s for girls

In the past the only participants of the St Andrew’s Eve could be young girls, usually of a similar age. Married woman and  men were not accepted. There was another day for bachelors, 24 November,  the night preceding  St Catherine’s Day,  one week before St Andrews Day on 29 November.

Andrzejki today

Although the  tradition is not as strong as in the past, and many practices are completely forgotten,  it has to preserve something of it’s spiritual character  if  at least a few of those practices are still celebrated (such as pouring wax, shoes competition). Nowadays  young people celebrate the traditional meeting together on St Andrew’s Eve. The  remains of  the believe of a magical power of that night lend a special mysterious  character for the parties, with the candles and future telling practices.

Today the traditions provide an excellent reason for entertaining social gatherings. Try to avoid planning to business do on that day, as you will be risking that your potential guests will rather be attending a private party organized by their colleague Andrzej.

wróżby miłosne

The secret book

Let’s pull the wax into the water

We will see what will   be

Opublikowano Polish Tradition | Otagowano , , , , | 136 komentarzy

Halloween and All Souls Day

All Souls Day on You Tube

In spite of the differences of the celebration there is something in common  as it has been developed on the believes in the spiritual continuation of the life after a physical depth. In the very past people believed in the influence of the souls on their life. That is why the celebrations were kind of   sacrificial feast.

In numerous  Christian countries, especially in those belonging to the Eastern  Church, there is still a custom of having a feast on the ancestor’s graves. Some of the food is left for the souls.

In Mexico there is a similar  habit, but the ceremony became a big colourful festival. There is something similar in  the way Halloween is  celebrated  in USA and in many other West European countries as  it is focused on fun – like the festival.

In contrary to Halloween, in Poland  it is a day of nostalgy and  memory of those who have left. All people visits  the cemeteries with flowers and candles. In the evening millions of the flames enlightens the cemeteries and there are still a lot of people there.    The TV and Radio programs are devoted into the memory of the famous people who have already left. This year we have unusually big number of victims.

Intercultural contacts change the situation. Young people also arrange Halloween parties, but  the next day they spend visiting the cemeteries  like their parents. The tradition is very strong in Poland.

Opublikowano Cultural diversity | Otagowano , , | 35 komentarzy

Linguistic diversity in Europe

The European Day of Languages was the celebration of linguistic diversity.  Why?

As a first -  to remind  the  Europeans that  there are about  225 spoken indigenous languages in Europe.

As a second – to make us aware that in majority of  Western European capitals there are 100-200 languages spoken, in London it   reached the level about 300.

The Council of Europe and European Union – the initiator of  the EDL celebration  – are convinced that: “ linguistic diversity is a tool for achieving greater intercultural understanding and a key element in the rich cultural heritage of our continent, the Council of Europe promotes plurilingualism in the whole of Europe”.

Thanks to the celebration the  attitude towards diversity of languages and of cultures is increasingly changing into more and more visible acceptation. Participants and organizers of the language celebration events  makes us aware that  each  language reflects  its own way of seeing the world, individual identity and value and is the product of its own particular culture and  history. From this perspective all languages  are equally adequate as modes of expression for the people who use them. It is proved by the  comparisons of the rates at which children learn to speak, that no language is intrinsically more difficult than any other language.

The main purpose of the  celebration of   European Day of languages is to encourage 800 million Europeans to learn more languages, at any age, in or  out of school.

As 225 European  languages is a big choice, it will be  easier to find the appropriate language to learn, if we see   how they relate to each other.  Most of the languages of Europe have common origins  and belong to   the large Indo-European language family. Due to  the most member-languages and the most speakers   they are grouped into three  main  families:  Germanic, Romance, and Slavic.   However there are  numerous languages in  Europe with a different origin.

  • Languages with Indo-European origin:

The Germanic language family has a northern branch with Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic and Faroese, as well as a western branch with German, Dutch, Frisian, English and Yiddish as its members.

The Romance language family has as its members Romanian, Italian, Corsican, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Occitan, French, Romansh, Ladin and Sardinian.

To the Slavic language family belong languages such as Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, representing the eastern branch,  Polish, Czech, Slovak  form a western branch,  and to the south branch  belong Sorbian, Slovenian, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian and Bulgarian.

  • Apart of the three main groups there are smaller ones  within the languages with Indo-European origin:

Celtic family consists of Irish, Scots Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton, with revival movements under way for Cornish and Manx.

To the Baltic family belong Latvian and Lithuanian.

Separate families with only one member are Greek, Albanian and Armenian.

Basque is an exceptional case, because it does not belong to the Indo-European family and its origins are unknown.

  • Other language families, with no Indo-European origin  also have members in Europe:

In the North we have the Uralic languages: Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian;

We find  several Sámi languages, as well as other small languages in the northern parts of the Russian Federation such as Ingrian or Karelian.

The Altaic language family has representatives in the Southeast , notably Turkish and Azerbaijani.

The Caucasian family is spoken in a relatively small and compact area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, and comprises also about 40 members, among them Georgian, and Abkhaz.

The Afro-Asiatic family includes Maltese, Hebrew and Berber.

All these languages use a small number of alphabetic scripts. Most languages use the Roman (or Latin) alphabet. Russian and some other Slavic languages use Cyrillic. Greek, Yiddish, Armenian and Georgian each have their own script. Non-European languages widely used on European territory include Arabic, Chinese and Hindi, each with its own writing system.

Polish language belongs to the Slavic group and represents its western branch like  Czech and Slovak. All those languages use the Roman (Latin) alphabet.

(on the basis of Council of Europe resourses: http://edl.ecml.at

Opublikowano Inne | Otagowano , , , , , | 201 komentarzy