25 wrz 2010

Polish modesty

Modesty - sometimes lovely but normally a very irritating feature.

1) Poles don't brag


Probably you will never hear what is somebody's greatest accomplishment or a recent success. We just don't like to be considered as conceited so we prefer to be silent. Children are trained from early childhood - bad behaviour is punished but good is normal so you don't deserve an award. At school teachers don't like to praise pupils, nobody gained his/her self-confidence during school education (many lost).

It leads to absurd - you have to teach people how to speak about their strong points. During one of the workshops in which I took part the most stressful exercise was to speak 1 minute in the most positive way about yourself. Assertiveness is still an unknown word for many.

In Polish there wasn't a word meaning "success", so we borrowed it and now have sukces. But still there is no adjective like "successful". You can only say "człowiek sukcesu" - "a man of success". In this context I prefer American style – talking openly and positively about yourself. Of course I don’t recommend exaggeration.


2) Poles want to be seen as poor


In Poland you shouldn't show off about what you own or how much money you make. Salary is a taboo comparable to masturbation. Poles prefer to hear that everybody live a "normal" life with no extravagance. Of course it’s a kind of a social game, we prefer to hide the truth.


3) Poles don't know what to do with compliments


Compliment Poles and analyze their reaction:) Typical Polish answers are:

- You look perfect in this dress! Wyglądasz fantastycznie w tej sukience!
+ It was a real occasion, 50% discount. To była prawdziwa okazja, przecena 50%.

- You made a delicious dinner. Zrobiłaś pyszną kolację.
+ The meat wasn’t enough salty and I should have baked potatoes a bit longer. Mięso nie było wystarczająco słone, powinnam dłużej piec ziemniaki.

- Your work impressed our clients. Twoja praca zrobiła wrażenie na naszych klientach.
+ All the team worked hard. Cały zespół ciężko pracował.


And what should you hear? Thank you – dziękuję. I also like the idea of agreeing “I think in the same way about myself”, “Też tak o sobie myślę”.


These types of behaviour are strongest among women than men. Women are still taught to be nice, quiet, concentrated on others' needs and to stand in the shadows. Step by step it will change. More and more people invent in their personal development, read self-help books and learn how to think and speak positively about themselves. Trainers and psychologists have a lot to do.

4 komentarze:

  1. Very well observed - talking about salaries (or one's business revenues) has become something you don't talk about at all, and compliments are rarely made and accepted with mistrust (what's he/she after?).

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  2. Thank you, Steffen Moeller inspired me to write about it. It's easier to have such observations from outside.

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  3. Thank you very much for this Paulina, it was a revelation. I know far too few people well enough to know about general Polish reactions, but I would have predicted something more like the following.

    On meeting a woman with a new dress and having got through the welcomes:
    "How do you like my dress? It's beautiful isn't it?" "Yes, lovely". "I got it at [name of expensive shop]. Look at the price tag: it was originally XXX zloties, but it was half price. Cheap isn't it." Well, no. It's still expensive." "Well, maybe," (big smile) "but it was a great bargain. Its always best to go to good shops."

    I compliment people on meals, but all I get is repeated commands to eat more.

    I would have thought the standard response to "your work impressed our clients" would be: "we must 'co-operate' more. We have this plan to ...".

    As for women being less assertive - being nice, quiet, concentrated on others' needs and standing in the shadows, I have successively met the wrong women and watched the wrong TV programmes. Most Polish men seem quiet and laid back whilst many Polish women are tough and domineering.

    As I said, I am not questioning your wider knowledge, but I am not sure it paints the whole picture.

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  4. Sure, it was my generalization. I didn't want to write here a thesis, just give some ideas. Of course I also know different men and women. Yes, many women are strong but I'm not sure they are taught to be like this. Life forces them to fight.

    Your dialogue is also true and it's quite universal - when you want to get rid of the remorse you will comfort yourself like this;)

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