Every country has to deal with national stereotypes, and Poland is no exception.
Despite the many years that have passed from the fall of the communist regime and Poland’s entry in the European Union, many nations around the world still consider the country a reclusive Eastern European corner where people eat pierogi, fight the Soviet state, and go to church every Sunday.
While some of these stereotypical ideas about Poland still hold true (pierogi are just as delicious as ever), many things have changed and Poles would like others to acknowledge them.
But changing a country’s reputation takes a lot of time and effort:
We’re talking years of promoting all things Polish.
As the image of Poland slowly changes, we get to appreciate the discrepancies between what the Polish wish their country was known for and what are the actual common associations that other nations have when they hear about Poland.
Here are 7 things that the Polish would like to be famous for and what they’re actually famous for.
Table of Contents
1. Beautiful women
Poles like to believe that other nations are quick to appreciate the Slavic beauty type of Polish women.
And they have a point:
On average, while wandering around a Polish city you’re far more likely to stumble upon a beautiful woman rather than a handsome man.
But the legendary beauty of Polish women is overshadowed by something far more well-known: the utter lack of style among the male part of the nation.
The ever-present sandals and socks combo tops the list of fashion sins committed by Polish men. But the list runs long.
Beer bellies barely hidden from sight by fishnet tank tops, walking around the city topless, or golden chains adorning hairy chests – that’s the kind of image other nations enjoy when they spot a Pole on summer vacation.
And the image certainly sticks.
2. Delicious food
It’s hard to compete with other European nations like Italy or France for the title of the best cuisine on the continent. But most of the time, the Polish are convinced that pierogi are just as delicious as tortellini, and deserve to be appreciated by foodies.
Unfortunately, when asked about the Polish cuisine, most people are likely to recall pierogi, potatoes, or sauerkraut. Not a very attractive set, is it?
But there’s so much more to Polish cuisine than this. In fact, regional delicacies often remain hidden from sight.
Even though Poles like their local cuisine, Polish dishes take hours to prepare and only the most patriotic Poles out there show the determination required to organize a real Polish dinner for their friends.
And that’s why Poland remains known as the country of pierogi and potatoes.
And nobody even appreciates the creativity that goes behind creating the myriad potato dishes Poland is famous for! Whether they’re baked and topped with a creamy mushroom sauce, or made into side dishes like kopytka, pyzy, and countless other dumplings, potatoes are just the best – and that’s what every Pole knows deep in their heart.
3. Different drinking culture
If you meet a Pole abroad and ask them how much vodka they’ve had the last weekend, they will probably try to convince you that the drinking culture has changed in their country and looks nothing like during the Soviet times.
They’ll try to convince you that the Polish now prefer to have a pint of hipster artisan beer or a glass of expensive French wine.
But don’t be fooled.
Poles might not start their day with a shot of vodka for breakfast, but when it comes to drinking, they still pick vodka over other kinds of alcoholic beverages. And no wonder – Polish vodka is very good and very cheap.
Poles might claim that they drink only when the occasion calls for it. But any occasion is a good occasion for a drink in Poland.
The Polish don’t want to be famous for their drinking habits, but they actually are. And once you get into their inner circle, you’ll see that their fame is well-deserved. Keeping up with the Polish when they party is challenging, especially since Poles like to brag about how much alcohol they can hold and how little it affects them.
If you want to make some real friends in Poland, you simply need to go out drinking together. That’s how Poles get to really know each other – your best friends are usually the people who have seen you wasted.
4. Poland = a modern democracy
Poles would like to be known as a progressive nation that managed to come out of the 2008 economic crisis relatively unscathed and can now be proud of its steady economic growth.
Moreover, the Polish want others to know that their communist past is behind them and today Poland stands strong as a modern democratic country.
Unfortunately, many people believe that Poland still somehow remains under the Russian influence and the remnants of the communist regime are very much present in the Polish culture.
There’s no denying that the communist architecture style dominates over many Polish cityscapes, but just in case you missed out on that moment – it’s been more than 25 years since Poland became an independent democratic country.
Many Poles suffered the consequences of the Soviet rule and remember the communist regime very well, but if you ask anyone in their early 30s and younger, you’ll only get blank stares.
This generation grew up surrounded by Western influences that exploded in the country during the 1990s and has no memories at all of communist Poland. To young Poles, PRL times feel like ancient history.
5. Amazing football team
Poles simply love football. They’re easily the most passionate football enthusiasts out there. And they really, really want you to know that Poland has an amazing football team that just somehow never got around to winning a championship.
Well, that one is quite obvious.
While Polish players provide their talents to many different teams all over over the world, the Polish national football team hasn’t realized that common dream many Poles share yet.
Instead of being known for a great team of football players, the Polish have to accept the fact that their country will never be famous for figures like Robert Lewandowski, but always associated with Lech Walesa (the founder of the Solidarity movement that contributed to the fall of the Iron Curtain) and Pope John Paul II.
The association is so widespread that it sometimes makes most Poles cringe with irritation. Sure, both these figures played an important role in local and global history, but to have their names shouted at you every time you mention that you come from Poland gets old after a while.
Poland was invaded and fought for freedom 43 times from 1600 till 1945, but the Polish don’t want to be constantly reminded of their tragic history. Instead, they want to look toward the future and have their country associated with someone modern and exciting.
Maybe Cristiano Ronaldo would provide little help in overthrowing the communist regime, but the Polish wouldn’t mind bragging about someone like him to other people.
6. Quality music
The Polish share one dream. They just want others to finally realize that Frederic Chopin was Polish. That’s right, Polish. Not French.
Even if he spent a lot of time in France, Chopin was a Pole. He was born and grew up in Poland, and left the country only because of the tumultuous political situation and the uprising that shook the partitioned territory of Poland in 1830.
Many Poles would like to be associated with the sophisticated piano nocturnes of Chopin, but the reality is quite different.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear someone mention ‘Polish music’?
9 times out of 10, you’ll think about disco polo. Disco polo stars attract huge crowds both in Poland and abroad, especially in places where you find large gatherings of Polish expatriates. Even if they secretly like it, most Poles don’t want other nations to instantly associate them with this less-than-sophisticated type of music.
That’s what other nations consider as Polish music and there’s no way Chopin could beat that.
But the truth is that we have a lot of talented musicians that plays all round the world. Just to say; Leszek Możdżer, Czesław Niemen, Krzysztof Penderecki, Tomasz Stańko, Wojciech Kilar and many many others.
The Polish will tell you that you may expect people to speak English if you travel to Poland.
It’s common to learn one or two foreign languages in Polish schools, and when you consider that 90% of the Polish population completed at least secondary education, it makes sense that communicative English is commonplace.
But travel to the Polish countryside and you’ll find out that one might get along better with some Russian instead. And don’t forget about a shot of vodka to accompany your conversation!
Are the Polish frustrated with Poland’s image?
Many of them would definitely like to change a lot in Poland’s reputation.
The Polish don’t want their country to be known as a place where people still suffer in the throes of tragic history, eat kotlet schabowy every weekend at their grandma’s, and politely head over to their local church each Sunday. And keep the picture of Pope John Paul II on their bedside table.
Needless to say, it will take several more generations of Poles to convince other nations that there’s more to Poland than pierogi and uprisings.