During the 18th century, internal disorders weakened the nation, and in a series of agreements between 1772 and 1795, Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland among themselves. Poland regained its independence in 1918 only to be overrun by Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. It became a Soviet satellite state following the war, but its government was comparatively tolerant and progressive. Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" that over time became a political force with over 10 million members. Free elections in 1989 and 1990 won Solidarity control of the parliament and the presidency, bringing the communist era to a close. A "shock therapy" program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe. With its transformation to a democratic, market-oriented country largely completed and with large investments in defense, energy, and other infrastructure, Poland is an increasingly active member of Euro-Atlantic organizations.
The country’s name comes from the Polans, a West Slavic tribe that inhabited the area around the 9th century and were known as field dwellers. Polan is the Proto-Slavic word "pole" which means field or open area.
Poland has the second oldest University in Europe, the Jagiellonian University, founded by King Casimir III the Great in 1364. Well-known people like Nicolaus Copernicus and Pope John Paul II are among its graduates.
Marie Curie, who discovered radium and polonium and championed the use of radiation in medicine, was born in Poland. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, and the only person to win in two scientific categories.
Polish children celebrate the first day of Spring by drowning a straw and cardboard doll representing the bad, long winter—Marzanna—in the river.
Religion and Ethnic Groups
Catholic 85.9%, Orthodox 1.3% (almost all are Polish Autocephalous Orthodox), Protestant 0.4%, other 0.4%, unspecified 12.1% (2017 est.)
Polish 96.9%, Silesian 1.1%, German 0.2%, Ukrainian 0.1%, other and unspecified 1.7% (2011 est.)
- Poland is one of the most devout Catholic countries on the continent. Avoid talking about religion.
- The common greeting is to shake hands while holding direct eye contact. People usually shake women’s hands first before addressing any men present.
- When visiting a Polish home, it’s customary to take off your shoes upon entering.
- It’s also typical to bring a small gift such as flowers, pastries, or wine. If you bring flowers, avoid yellow chrysanthemums, since they are only used for funerals. Also avoid red or white flowers, especially lilies and carnations.
- When talking to someone, it’s considered rude to keep your hands in your pockets.
- Be on time in both professional and social situations.
- Don’t sit with one ankle resting on the other knee.
- When pointing use the whole hand instead of a single finger. Don’t point directly at someone’s forehead.
- Lunch is the main meal of the day and may consist of multiple courses. It’s usually eater between 2 and 3 p.m. Dinner is typically a light meal.
- Before the meal, wait to see if someone will say a prayer of thanks prior to eating.
- It is traditional Polish hospitality to offer alcohol with meals, but it is often not drunk until the host has proposed a toast. If your host stands when proposing a toast, so should you. If you propose a toast it is important to maintain eye contact.
Poland’s good roads and extensive public transport system that includes a system of intercity trains and buses make it easy to get around.
Trains are the quickest and best way to travel between big cities and for long distances. Intercity, EuroCity and express trains serve larger cities, and regional and local trains have stops in small towns and villages. Buses cover areas that are not serviced by train.
Taxis are a reasonable mode of transport. Legitimate taxi companies are required to have meters and give passengers a receipt for the fare. In major cities you can use apps such as Uber and Taxify to secure rides.
Driving in Poland can be a frustrating experience because most highways are two-lanes and clogged with trucks, buses, tractors. Plan on at least two hours of driving time per 100km (62 miles).
Polish law requires drivers to have their headlights on at all times, even during the day. Use fog lights only when there is fog or heavy rain.
When walking, follow pedestrian rules which include waiting for the green man before you cross the street. You can incur a hefty fine if you don’t.
Hello: Cześć (informal) You can also use Cześć to say “bye”; Dzień dobry (formal) This means “good day.”
How are you doing: Jak sie masz?
Good, thank you: Dobrze dziękuje
Good evening: Dobry wieczór
Goodbye: Do widzenia
Thank you: Dziękuje
You’re welcome: Nie ma za co
Excuse me/ I am sorry: Przepraszam
What is your name?: Jak się nazywasz?
Cheers/Bless you: Na zdowie. This literally means “to your health” and is used when you toast someone or when someone sneezes.
I don’t understand: Nie rozumiem
I can’t speak Polish very well: Nie potrafię dobrze mówić polsku
If you travel to Eastern Europe, you might notice the prevalence of one beverage in particular.…