Poland is pretty much ethnically homogeneous. Ukrainian, Belorussian, Slovakian, and Lithuanian minorities reside along the borders. A German minority is concentrated near the southwest city of Opole. The capital and other cities are experiencing some inward migration from foreigners.
Religion plays an important role in the Polish society and is deeply intertwined with Polish culture.
Religious holidays are considered national holidays when most businesses are closed. The most important holiday is Christmas and celebrations last two and a half days. Another religious holiday of note is All Saints’ Day which takes place on November 1st. On this day Poles visit cemeteries to honour their loved ones who have passed away.
Catholicism is the most widely practiced religion. Life’s milestones such as weddings, baptisms, funerals, first communion and confirmation are influenced by the religion.
The family is the center of the social structure. One’s obligation is to the family first and foremost. Extended families are still the norm and really form an individual’s social network.
Poles draw a line between their inner circle and outsiders. Family members are naturally part of the inner circle along with close friends, usually “family friends”. Poles will interact differently with their inner circle and outsiders. The inner circle forms the basis of a person's social and business network. The people from the inner circle can be relied upon to: offer advice, help find a job, cut through bureaucracy, or even rent an apartment. There is an elaborate etiquette of extending favours and using contacts to get things done.
Social Etiquette, Customs and Protocol
- Greetings are generally reserved yet courteous.
- When greeting someone a good handshake, direct eye contact, a smile and the appropriate greeting for that time of day will suffice.
- 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.
The usual times for present giving are birthdays, name days (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; 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, bring wine, flowers, pastries or sweets for the hostess.
- Give an odd numbers of flowers.
- Do not give yellow chrysanthemums as they are used for funerals. Do not give red or white flowers, especially carnations and lilies.
- Gifts are generally opened when received.
If you are invited to a Pole's house:
- Be punctual.
- You may be expected to take off your shoes. (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 is good manners. This will more often that not be turned down out of politeness.
- Do not ask for a tour of the house.
- Table manners are Continental, i.e. hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
- Wait for the hostess to invite you to start eating.
- Most meals are served family-style.
- Take small amounts of food initially so you can accept second helpings.
- Try a bit of everything.
- Expect frequent toasting throughout the meal. The host offers the first toast.
- 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.