Polish for Expats

Lexicon of Polish cultural connotation: A – St. Andrew’s Day

2010/12/01 17:14:00 Written by 

“ 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 shoe competition.

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

The shoe 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 Central and West Europe like Germany, Slovakia, Czech, Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Hungary, Rumania, Lithuania and even in Greece. Why this particular day allows young girls to discover the name of their future husbands, their chance for marriage soon, 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 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. All Souls Day is celebrated.  People believed in special contact with the “other world” at this particular time.

When autumn moves into winter…

Christianity appreciated the spiritual character of this period 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 the 16th century and is still known and practised in all regions in Poland., although nowadays the ceremony has lost a lot of it’s a 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 on the region, the invention of the participants – and the faith in its 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 be soon merry.

Wax into   water

The favourite 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 girl’s St Andrew’s Eve gathering, they wanted to know for whom the church bells would ring first.  The answer was the result of the shoe competition. The owner of the shoe which reached the door first would be the lucky one –  the first to leave the house, i.e. to 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 while 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 a local character.

St Catherine׳s Day  for bachelor׳s  – St Andrew’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

Let’s pull the wax into the water.
We will see what will   be

Although the tradition is not as strong as in the past, and many practices are completely forgotten,  it has to preserve something of its spiritual character if at least a few of those practices are still celebrated (such as pouring wax, shoe competition). Nowadays young people celebrate the traditional meeting together on St Andrew’s Eve. The remains of the belief 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.

Lexicon of Polish cultural connotation: S – All Souls Day vs Halloween

2010/11/03 17:11:00 Written by 

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.

Linguistic diversity in Europe

2010/10/02 17:09:00 Written by 

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 the 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 cultures are increasingly changing into more and more visible acceptation. Participants and organizers of the language celebration events make 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 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 from the three main groups, there are smaller ones  within the languages with Indo-European origin:

The 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 also comprises 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.

(based on Council of Europe resources: http://edl.ecml.at

„Stranger in the town….”

2010/09/30 9:53:00 Written by 

Stranger in the town…” – I do understand this feeling. I experienced it during my first trip abroad.  The first western European country I have visited was the UK.  Despite having English lessons beforehand, I was shocked at the airport, when I couldn’t understand even the shortest communicates.  Later on, it was even worse. I didn’t realise that the English I have heard at school were so different from the language the native speakers used.

I went to visit my English boyfriend,  so for the rest of my „holidays”, I was surrounded by the English language only. My boyfriend realised that my stay might cause difficulties and took me on a fantastic trip around the country. I was assimilating the language with the climate of the country, its history, arts, architecture, landscape and cuisine.  During one month I learned more than during 3 years of studying English at school!  During my trip, I discovered the secrets of successful learning a foreign language:

1. It must be thought in the country the people use it as a native language.   So if you are in Poland to it is an adventure of a lifetime.

2. Motivation. If you don’t want to feel like a „stranger” –  blind,  deaf and mute – and have a strong need for communication, it is enough to open your eyes, ears and mouth.

3. Attraction. The best way is to discover the language and the country at the same time. If you use the chance to associate language with landscape, taste, smell,  the town you live now,  people you like, the language will be absorbed together with the air you breathe.

4. Cultural context. Each language has its cultural code, which has been developed by generations, it’s history and social structure, so it is unique and invisible from the first glance. That is why most foreigners suffer from cultural shock.  The situations of misunderstanding are sometimes funny but might be painful and confusing as well.

As I still remember the feeling of being a stranger, I would like to be your guide on your way in discovering Poland and invite you to share your experience.    I believe that understanding is the only way to force the Babel Tower and break down the cultural and language barrier.

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