Culture and Traditions in Poland
Horse-drawn carriage rides are popular with tourists in Cracow as well as Zakopane and other tourist centres of Poland. Get an overview of Old Town Cracow in style.
Cracow has an inordinate number of churches but also pubs, clubs and restaurants.
Poland is a strongly Roman Catholic country - you will see religious processions through streets on feast days. One really nice tradition is that of a competition for the best nativity scene or szopka. These resemble Russian palaces more than our traditional crib and manger but can be viewed in the Main square in the Old Town during the weeks approaching Christmas, where you will also find a most atmospheric Christmas Market with traditional glass baubles and gingerbread for sale.
Different people - different customs
Each time I visit Poland I discover more differences between the way Poles and Brits behave although certain social changes are now widespread across Europe.
For example, young people no longer give up seats to the elderly in buses in either Poland or Britain.
- Poles celebrate name days rather than birthdays. Poles are named after saints at baptism, every day is a saint's day.
- There are various feast days and festivals, for example Women's Day on the 8th of March when men give the women in their life flowers.
Greeting people in Poland
- Relatives in a Polish family and friends kiss 3 times on the cheek on meeting,
- Older men may still kiss the back of a ladies hand.
- When meeting strangers Poles will address you in a formal way compared to someone they are familiar with. Anyone over about 16 is addressed as either Pan (Mr) or Pani (Mrs), it takes a joint agreement to get on to first name terms.
- Polish people dislike loud or loutish behaviour.
- Communication is different in Poland - it is not acceptable to ask people you don't know very well personal questions. This is very different from countries like Greece where a question of a total stranger about their income does not offend. Sometimes the Poles curiousity overcomes their manners and they will talk to strangers - then apologise later.
- Families often welcome their relatives arriving at the airport with flowers.
- Poles do not use side plates, not even in the best restaurants
- It is common to remove ones shoes before entering carpeted rooms in people's homes, you may even find an array of carpet slippers ready and waiting.
- Physical displays of affection such as passionate kissing in public are frowned upon - older people especially dislike loutish and immodest behaviour - it's a very conservative society in Poland.
- Beware when using zebra crossings in Poland - it's not obligatory to stop and most cars don't. You need to wait for a gap in the traffic.
- Poles are passionate about mushroom picking. Everyone from the youngest to oldest member of the family goes mushroom picking in the autumn. You could say it was traditional.
- As a Roman Catholic country, Poles celebrate various dates in the church calendar such as Pentecost by going to church and enjoying a day off. It's a bank holiday and the shops are closed.
- On the 2nd of November, the majority of Poles troop off to cemetaries to light candles and commemorate their friends and family who have died. Polish cemetaries are incredibly well-maintained and people diligently light candles every eveining.
- Even beggars (rarely seen) often display a religious placard - sometimes even whilst kneeling in the street. See honest beggar and amusing moments.
- It's traditional for parents to offer their children getting married some bread and salt before entering the reception. They also take a drink and smash the glass by throwing it over their shoulder. If it does not smash first time, it's crunched underfoot for good luck. Naturally the tradtional drink at weddings is vodka. A pair of doves is sometimes released when the newly married couple leave the church.
Traditional events are held on certain dates in the Polish calendar. Find out more about Andrzejki, Fat Thursday and similar Polish annual traditional events.
Click here to read about Traditional Polish food
Take a look at a self-catering holiday let in Poland for weekly holidays any time of year.