Six Social Dos and Don’ts – by Justyna

8 Jul

Recently I had a ‘talk’ with Michal about the things each one of us does regarding Kazek. Michal pointed out that I am injecting into Kazek the idea that my word does not mean much at all. For example when Kazek comes to our room in the morning to wake us up, I usually respond by saying “alright alright, I’m getting up”. And then I don’t. I lie there for as long as possible and the little dude is forced to come in and out a few times trying to peel his mother out of bed. This has made me think of late about the things that I say I’ll do but then don’t. Like keeping my word to the other Flingers of Far Flung Four to post every week. Clearly I haven’t being doing this of late. I need major sock up-pulling. This was a topic of conversation last night with Titka, who also made a valid point that once you start breaking your word to others, it’s a slippery slope with regards to your own self. And this is so bloody true too! How many times have I said to myself that tonight I’d screen print that diesel engine for the wall? About 234 times. Have I done it? No. Anyway…

Ok so here in the spirit of saying I’ll post every week and not actually doing it, I will, once again try to save face by posting another double banger. Six social behaviours that are either utterly unacceptable in Poland or are the norm. Either way, some still amuse me, others continue to really trouble me. I haven’t had the writing steam to come up with much lately. So this will be just left in point form.

Splitting the Bill to the Last Zloty: Not on. It is considered extremely tight and anti-social to sit there with a bill and calculate who owes who what and who had the steak and who had the steamed broccoli. Things come full circle mentality and all that. I find this form of bill sharing easy and comfortable. There are never awkward moments or grimaces when the evening comes to a close.

Shoes Off: Considered rude to assume you can keep your shoes on when visiting someone’s home. This is hardly news-breaking but what is socially acceptable is for the host to bang on at you to put on some guest slippers should you decide to walk around bare footed. I still find this hilarious. Recently we were visiting Michal’s uncle who informed me, after I refused the slippers, that if I walk around bare footed on the kitchen tiles I will stuff up my joints. It was 37 degrees outside. Michal’s mother still cannot stomach my, and now Kazek’s, bare feet. I have had to sit through many lectures re lack of slippers. I guess Poles must really hate their feet.

The Birthday Flip: When it’s your birthday in Poland you do all the shouting. You’re shouting the drinks in the pub, you’re shouting the dinner for the friends you choose to invite, you pay for the accommodation for your guests should you decide to celebrate by having a birthday away. It’s the whole “Poles are Awesome Hosts” thing they’ve got going on here. Again the full circle concept comes into play. You invite and then you get invited. And so it goes.

No Questions Asked: This is a social norm I really cannot handle. People here don’t ask one another questions. Friends do not ask their friends questions. As bizarre as it may sound, it really is a social norm. It’s as if people are generally disinterested in one another. Six years I’ve been here and there is seriously about a handful of people combined whom I can claim as solid initiators of questions about my life, work, opinions, family etc. It is totally acceptable to offer information about your own life, experiences, share anecdotes, but direct questions or general show of interest in your friend are rare gems indeed. It is amazingly refreshing to meet new people who ask things about you or meet with friends who are genuinely interested in how your week has panned out. I find that I usually have a bag of knowledge about the people I have come to know here, but when it comes to me, my friends here know very little about me. Sad really. We had some friends come for dinner the other weekend. Incredibly intelligent, witty, hilarious anecdotes, live in Warsaw and have interesting jobs in governmental ministries. Throughout the entire evening both Michal and I were asked two questions. Combined! We hadn’t seen them in over a year. Often Michal and I after such evenings feel frustrated and baffled. Curiosity is meant to be a natural state for the human mind, yes? And how can true friendships be formed? With difficulty.

Cake Away: When you’re invited to someone’s house for dinner and you bring the wine or the beer, and the alcohol is not fully drunk, the host will never tell you to take the untouched bottle home. Ever. The host would be looked upon as a freak. I know because I have been that freak. When suggesting once to some friends that they take the unopened wine bottle back with them after we had had dinner at our place, I was met with a burst of troubled laughter like I was suggesting I would come back to their place and clean their bathroom. I remember Michal yelling out “Krzywa, what the hell are you doing?? No need for your mong tendencies here!!”. What is weird though that offering your guests some of the cake to take home that they brought with them is completely fine. Go figure. No alcohol back but cake defo. So who is the mong?

Telly On: In most Polish homes I have been to the television has always been on in the background. It is not necessarily being watched by the tenants of that home, but it is nonetheless on. Like a radio. Everyone goes on about their business to the muffled sounds of the television. I have been to official family gatherings like the name day of an aunt or Easter Sunday breakfast, with a massive spread of food and a stretched out table, everyone sitting around it, chatting, eating, and the television will be there not-so-silently on, watching us all. Maybe someone one day will explain to me why this is socially acceptable.


7 Responses to “Six Social Dos and Don’ts – by Justyna”

  1. Michal July 9, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    Very entertaining post!
    I would add one more “do” to the list. Do make sure you look for change when you pay your bill in a shop. When you see a person who just got a 16.40 PLN bill, gave out a 20PLN note and is not dribbling through the coins to find 1.40 PLN to be given back 5 PLN you have 2 possible options:
    1. it is an arrogant knob who does not want to cooperate with a shop assistance in her difficult task of manging her coin supply
    2. it is a foreigner who just does not know this game

    Either No.1 or No.2 will be challanged with a prompting question: “Do you have 1.40 change?!” It comes out with a tone of the most obvious question on Earth. If the answer is “no” within seconds you as a client will be made feel responsible for an extra work you loaded on a poor shop assistant who now has to go through her cash box and look for coins. Further you have just deprived her of precious change she may need for her next clients. And what if everybody else did the same thing? She would simply run out of change after first 2 hours! You are thoughtless and disrespectful!

    You may find it difficult to believe it is often the case that a shop assistant would make you wait until she gets a change from the neighbours. Variation for the youngsters – you will be asked to go have a look around yourself or you can have your change paid with 2 bannanas and a pack of chewing gum. That`d be just right, wouldn`t it?!

    • Justyna July 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

      Yet men still are able to keep with the universal rule of not actually carrying around any coins. How does that work?

  2. Tabitha July 9, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Don’t go beating yourself up too much, now! But I know exactly how you feel though. I always think if I TELL someone I’m going to do something, it will make me more likely to do it, but no. It just makes me feel more guilty and embarrassed when I don’t.

    As for your Dos and Don’ts, very entertaining, and educational. I can confirm that Michal’s addition about the OBSESSION with exact change is rife in France too. I remember being refused service on a number of occasions for trying to buy something like a one-Euro baguette with a five-Euro note. Unthinkable. It’s as if the customers are expected to be walking around with more change on them than a shopkeeper.

    I love the way you write about Poland. So lovingly frustrated. Crikey had an Australian expat blogging from Poland for a while, which maybe you’d find interesting, or possibly just really annoying. Anywhere, here’s the link:

    Regarding the tendency to not ask questions of social companions, I wish I could say this was a trait limited to Poland. I think this is most people generally. I used to play a little game when visiting Australia to see how many conversations I could have with people where the word “Vietnam” was not even mentioned. We’d be probing the minutiae of people’s daily lives, without a single question about, you know, anything to do with our entire life. Curiosity is a rare thing, it seems.

    • Justyna July 10, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

      Really Tabs?? I was clinging to the ideal that all my Australian friends are such awesome question askereres! Or was it just my closest circle (read you) that set the rules of the game so high? I keep convincing myself that it is just Poles. Don’t break my bubble dude, of the perfect world I have made of the land in the southern hemisphere.

      Will look at the expat blog.

    • Beth July 11, 2012 at 6:40 am #

      Great post!!

      I’m going to make a rash generalisation! Conversations in general aren’t as good as they used to be! Conversations deserve a post all of their own. They’re a dying art maybe?

      And, I’m totally with you on the not following through. When I ask Leo if he wants to do something he often says either “not right now, I’m busy” or “sure! In a minute!” and then gets back to what he was doing and ignores me… where’s he heard those ones before I wonder?!

  3. KT July 9, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    Love the cultural contrast post! Here in Argentina there are blogs written specifically to discuss things which a non-Argentine will never understand… The change situation is similar although most likely they’ll just give you 4 pesos back and forget about the centavos all together. Pretty relaxed attitude despite its economy going down the toilet. Also they count their change backward (than what I’m used to), which is addition as supposed to deduction. It works. The birthday boy/girl shouting everyone is also true here. Hence I’ve not celebrated birthdays with anyone other than Eze.

    And other things: never will you find pepper on the table in a regular restaurant. Dulce de leche isn’t even Argentine but they love this sickeningly sweet caramel to bits! And when you give them a piece of cake that’s not your usual Italian-French-German-Spain-conglomerate of dessert, then it’s TOO sweet!? On footpaths no one gives a stuff about right of way, and if someone walks directly into you, it’s normal for them to stop and wait for you to move your ass out of their way. Football is a religion, fans kill each other and injure their own club players, this is normal. They sweep the dog crap and garbage away from their front door so that it stays on the floor in front of their neighbour’s door… which means when the wind is strong, everything gets blown back! Okay, not so much the heavy poo. Family is everything, nice. To the exclusion of all others, not so nice. Dinner party starts at 10pm and nobody shows up until 11pm and we don’t start eating until midnight. To organise the dinner party, you do that on the afternoon of the same date. Pre-planning is just not cool. I can go on…

    Tabitha, I was just about to mention Vietnam when I saw your comment… hehe. We’re planning to visit next year when I drag the future hubby to meet the family in Taiwan, then we’ll go to Cambodia, get to Vietnam then by train up north, then to Laos and then home. Can’t wait!!!

    • Justyna July 10, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

      I love the dinner party schedule. Hardcore. The exclusion of others reeks here too. They’re getting their shit together as to, well, dog shit. Which is nice. Hope the wedding preps are well under way!

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