Like all countries, Poland has its own customs, protocols and etiquette to follow. To help you, we’ve put together a list to help you settle into Polish life, so you don’t accidentally offend someone or make a social faux-pas. This includes how to politely meet and greet people, give gifts and be a considerate guest when invited for dinner.
Meeting and Greeting
Greetings are generally reserved yet courteous. Don’t be offended if this manner seems more distanced then you’re used to, as Polish people are usually quite formal when meeting someone for the first time.
To politely greet someone, follow the tips below:
- When greeting someone a good handshake, direct eye contact, a smile and the appropriate greeting for that time of day will suffice.
- Good morning/afternoon is „dzień dobry” and good evening is „dobry wieczór”
- Address people by their honorific title, “Pan” for a man and “Pani” for a woman, and their surname.
- Do not use first names until invited to. Moving from the use of formal to the informal names is such an important step that there is a ritual to acknowledge the changed status and your inclusion in their ‘inner circle’.
- At parties or other social gatherings, your hosts will introduce you, usually starting with the women and then moving on to the men.
Gift Giving Etiquette
The usual times for giving presents are during birthdays, name days (which is the birth date of the saint after whom they are named), and Christmas.
Here are some general gift giving guidelines:
- Do not give gifts that are overly expensive, as this may embarrass the recipient.
- Employees bring cake and champagne to the office to celebrate their name day.
- At Christmas, it is common to give small gifts to service workers such as postal workers, refuse collectors, etc.
- If invited to a Pole’s home for dinner, it is polite to bring wine, flowers, pastries or sweets for the hostess.
- Give an odd number of flowers, as even numbers are reserved for grieving and funerals.
- For the same reason, do not give yellow chrysanthemums as they are used for funerals. Do not give red or white flowers, especially carnations and lilies.
After your impeccable greeting and gift giving manners, you’ve scored a dinner invite!
If you are invited to a Pole’s house:
- Be punctual.
- You may be expected to take off your shoes but check to see if your host is wearing slippers.
- Dress conservatively.
- Offer to help the hostess with the preparation or clearing up after a meal is served. This will usually be turned down out of politeness but is still considered good manners to offer.
- Do not ask for a tour of the house.
- Wait for the hostess to invite you to start eating.
- Take small amounts of food initially so you can accept second helpings.
- Try a bit of everything.
- Toasts are only made with hard liquor (generally vodka).
- You should reciprocate with your own toast later in the meal.
- Alcohol is served in small glasses so you can swallow in one gulp.
If you want gain Polish citizenship and put your Polish social skills to the test, check your citizenship eligibility here.