Working with the Polish as a Brit

I have spent quite a lot of time in Krakow, Poland, working with tech firms. I’ve been really lucky and made some amazing friends (and some annoying friends too, you know who you are). I like to think I’ve learned some things, and I hope they will be of interest and of use to others working across the UK-Poland cultural divide.

As part of this post, I’m going to make some hugely sweeping generalisations on national sentiment. These are just what I feel from the people I’ve met in Britain and Poland, and in the interest of brevity I’m not caveating that in each case. Feedback is welcome!

Don’t mention the war

  • The British feel like they entered the war because of Poland, so the Polish should feel some affinity for Britain.
  • The Polish feel like Britain didn’t enter the war until France was invaded. Betrayal may be an appropriate term. (Honestly, I’m probably more in the Polish camp now. Read Churchill’s History of World War Two and try not to be annoyed or frustrated at the “Twilight War” chapters.)
  • Pro tip: Do your research before weighing in on historical events.

Humour

  • Humour. The British know their humour is weird, and think others should enjoy it too by repeated exposure. Jokes are often woven into the fabric of work conversation.
  • The Polish sense of humour seems mixed, to an outsider. Some people like to keep work serious, and then joke when they are not working. Some like to blend work and joking. Universally though, no-one understands British humour except the British.
  • Pro tip: Keep jokes more “Big Bang Theory” than “Monty Python”

Greetings

  • British introductions go something like:
    • A: “Hi, how are you?” B: “Hi, how are you?”
  • Polish introductions go something like:
    • A: “Hi, how are you?” B: “Everything is terrible, I had a lousy weekend and I wish I was still asleep, I’ve got a bit of a cold and my mum made the porridge too dry this morning. How are you?”
  • Pro tip: I personally now prefer the more honest and descriptive Polish way. Maybe give it a go! Perhaps less negative than the Poles often describe themselves, though.

 

IM “noises”

These, it turns out, as with animal sounds, are not universal. Saying “oh” or “ah” may not convey the information or expression you were expecting. Just be careful. I had intended to make a table of these and might do that later if there is any interest.

This article is written with thanks to the many Polish and British people who encouraged my silly inquisitiveness. If I’ve got anything wrong, or if I’ve missed anything interesting, I’d really appreciate you letting me know either in the comments below or email.