20 Surprising Facts about Poland
Traveling and getting to know foreign countries is always full of surprises. What’s surprising about Poland, you may wonder? When we started creating this list, our aim was to write ten facts, but before we even noticed, we already had twenty on it. And it seems like it’s only the tip of an iceberg!
1. The Polish language is said to be difficult to learn. At least if you’re not a native speaker of another Slavic language. Our grammar and spelling are full of exceptions, and exceptions from exceptions. Fortunately, many people here speak English, so don’t be afraid of traveling to Poland. But in case you need a short Polish lesson before you come, try our Learn to Speak Polish in Just Five Minutes tutorial.
2. The Polish alphabet consists of 32 letters. Yup, that’s right. Not 26, 32. We like adding dots and tails to our letters. That’s why we have a handful of beauties such as ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ź, ż. On the other hand, we don’t find q, v or x useful, so we don’t include them in our alphabet.
3. We like clustering consonants in words. Like in bezwzględny (ruthless) or mgła (fog). This tendency is present even in place names. You can catch a plane to unpronounceable places, such as Bydgoszcz, Szczecin or Rzeszów.
4. Poles are well-educated. 90% of people in Poland have completed at least secondary education. Actually, our teenagers rank high in the international PISA tests. Good job, kids!
5. One third of Poles live abroad. The population of Poland is about 40 million people, but another 20 million live outside of the country. That’s a result of our complicated history.
6. Courteous hand kissing is still popular in Poland, especially among the older generation. On the other hand (pun intended), young Polish women like underlining gender equality. While the English language has gone from policeman and policewoman to police officer and from fireman and firewoman to fire fighter, the tendency in the Polish language is quite the opposite: we’re actually inventing new female words for job names that have the masculine grammatical gender, even though they used to denote both men and women performing the job.
7. Traditional Polish last names have different endings depending on your sex. We have -ski and -cki suffixes for males and -ska or -cka for females. The most common Polish last name is Kowalski. Mr. Kowalski’s wife is Mrs. Kowalska.
8. Poles are very religious. While in other parts of Europe people turn churches into restaurants, hotels or even clubs, in Poland new churches pop up like mushrooms after the rain.
9. We celebrate our name days. A name days is a day commemorating the saint one is named after. Name days are listed in all calendars, so it’s almost impossible to miss them. Actually, they often become more important than birthdays. Especially once you start having trouble keeping track of how old you are – or at least don’t want to keep track of it any more.
10. We burn dolls made of straw and drown them in rivers. Why? To chase winter away and make spring come sooner. The Marzanna drowning stems from a pagan tradition, although nowadays no one really believes it helps anything else than busting one’s creativity during the process of making the doll.
11. In Poland we put an extra plate on the Christmas table. It’s for an unexpected guest. We have this Polish saying, Gość w dom, Bóg w dom, which is the essence of Polish hospitality. It means that a guest in the house is God’s blessing. And we believe no one should be left alone on Christmas.
WHEN YOU VISIT POLAND
12. The 1st floor is called floor “0” or parter. If you want to go to the 2nd floor when you’re in Poland, remember to press number 1 on the lift.
13. We serve pizza with ketchup or garlic sauce. Sometimes even with the Thousand Islands dressing. And we are surprised it comes as a surprise to foreigners.
14. We use voiceover on tv instead of subtitles or dubbing. Watching a foreign film on Polish television can be quite a hilarious experience. We have a lector, usually male, who reads the entire translation out loud, while the original soundtrack is played in the background.
15. Wearing a hat or cap indoors is considered to be rude. When you enter a Polish home, remember to take it off.
16. Giving a Polish person an even number of flowers is a huge faux pas. Even numbers of flowers are reserved only for funerals.
SIGHTSEEING IN POLAND
17. 15 of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites are in Poland, including the Old Town in Warsaw and in Kraków. What is more, Kraków was one of the the first sites in the world to appear on the list. It was added to the list as early as in 1978.
18. Europe’s last ancient forest is in Poland. The Białowieża Primeval Forest is home to Europe’s heaviest animals, the European bisons.
19. The world’s biggest castle is in Poland. The Malbork castle, a 13th century Teutonic castle, takes the tourists’ breath away. That’s why no tour of Poland is complete without visiting Malbork.
20. Poland is the biggest amber exporter in the world. The gold of the Baltic sea is probably the best souvenir from Poland. So when you’re in Gdańsk or anywhere else at the seaside, just shop away!
Naturally, this list in incomplete. We could go on and on, but let’s leave room for your own observations when you visit Poland. We wonder what you’ll add to it. Who knows, maybe you’ll surprise us with things we haven’t thought of?