At some point in the first few months of being married, after the honeymoon excitement had transitioned into the logistics of combining two lives and possessions in a 1-bedroom condo, I googled “Being married to a Brazilian”. I can’t find the exact article now, which is a shame, as I’d love to thank the author for setting off numerous lightbulbs in my head. All of sudden, I understood:
-Why my husband takes a few showers a day
-Why he eats pizza with a fork and knife, and snacks with napkins
-Why saying “we should get together” to someone we met signals absolutely no intention of definite social plans, and there was no need for me to tug at his sleeve in desperation whispering that the next month was completely booked
-Why avocados need to be sweetened with sugar (actually, I still don’t understand that one).
So, in a spirit of gratitude, I offer to the internets the ultimate guide to
What it’s like to marry a Polish person
Polish people are quite pessimistic. We like to think it’s realism and that our eyes are wide-open, but really, we just always expect the worst to happen and are only slightly relieved when it doesn’t. Case in point: the Polish team’s performance at this World Cup. Did we get excited? Yes, but not over(t)ly. We knew they were going to fail us anyway. (side note: one of the most entertaining scenes from our honeymoon was when my hubby was watching Poland play in the Euro cup during a train trip from Gdansk to Warsaw. He jumped up in joy upon the scoring of a goal. As he sat down, he asked, visibly perturbed “What happened? Did people not notice the goal?”, not fathoming that he had actually witnessed a Polish-style exuberant celebration expressed in everyone just blinking their eyes and mouthing the word “No.” As in, “Exactly.” Or, “To be expected”.)
Polish people are very critical and complaining. Yes, Polish people complain and criticize. You ask a Polish person “How are you?” at your own risk, and within a few minutes your optimism will be drowned in a litany of complaints against the weather, the government, the EU, and the Polish national soccer team. Complaining used to be the only weapon against the relentless invaders (other than romantic insurrections), and it still plays a unifying role in Polish society. Whatever is happening, there is always something that you can complain about together. I even read an article in a Polish psychological journal that proved the psychological and emotional benefits of mass complaining.
And yet, are unflinchingly loyal to the people/things that they criticize. Voice your outsider’s disapproval of the Polish weather, the Polish government, or any other Polish thing, and you will be instantly attacked.
Polish people have a special pair of ‘guest slippers’ in the house that guests are expected to change into once they cross the threshold of a Polish apartment. Unhygienic? We think it’s more unhygienic to walk around the apartment in shoes that were on the street, or – horror of horrors – in socks that were inside the shoes that were on the street. Summer does nothing to lessen the horrors of slipper-less feet.
Polish people are proud of not having much money. This is still a bit odd to me, having grown up in the US. But the reality is, in the communist Poland of my parents, having money meant that you were somehow colluding with the government. Sure, everyone was employed, but they had measly salaries and could only buy whatever was currently on offer in the store (for an extreme version of that system, look to modern-day Venezuela). So in a way it became a badge of honor to say of someone that ‘he worked so many years, and he has not set aside anything!” (tyle lat pracowal, a nic sie nie dorobil).
Polish people sing Sto Lat (“May you live a hundred years”) at every wedding, birthday party, and nameday celebration, but fully expect to be dead before reaching 100.
Polish people are hospitable beyond measure – following the maxim “Gość w dom, Bóg w dom” (a guest in the house is God in the house), Polish people tend to be very welcoming, and the amount of their affection toward you will be correlated with the amount of food that you are offered (usually, it’s overwhelming).
A Polish Babcia (grandma) will not let you leave the table until you are unable to get up. But then, isn’t this characteristic of grandmas the world over?
Polish people like dubbing. And by dubbing I mean a voice-over so that no matter what you are watching, from a Western starring John Wayne to Fresh Prince of Belair, everything anyone says another language is read in Polish by a deadpan, older male voice. I believe there are only a handful of men who are given the impressive title of ‘lektor’ and allowed to implacably read the entire script of a show while the original voices shriek, laugh, giggle, groan, mutter, and curse in the background. Here are some extreme examples of this.
Polish people don’t like sugar. Sure, our pastries are very sweet, but American cakes are too sweet for us, and you’d never find us putting sugar on an avocado (most likely because we couldn’t find an avocado in our decidedly Northern country).
Polish people forage. Picking mushrooms in forests, snacking on some berries from a bush in a park, or cooking up ‘weeds’ such as purslane for dinner are not atypical actions of Poles, even when transplanted to the US. We hate things to go to waste just because other people are ignorant of their many and varied uses. The same principle stands behind scavenging furniture or unwanted items from the curb on bulky pickup days.
Polish people don’t go out to eat. This is gradually changing, as Poland is the midst of a culinary revival scene, however, traditionally families would gather at grandma’s house for a Sunday midday meal: a “kotlet schabowy” (breaded pork chop) with potatoes and ever-present dill and salad. Eating out – going out to a restaurant to eat – was a rarity and in less affluent families might happen once every few years (for such an event as a First Comunnion celebration), or when travelling.
Polish people like yellow cheese. In Poland, we have two kinds of cheese: biały (white) and żółty (yellow). The white cheese is sort of an intermediate phase between cottage cheese and farmers’ cheese, and most often is made into a paste called twarożek, and is delicious. Yellow cheese is any other kind of cheese that is yellow and has holes in it – we don’t discriminate. They all tend to taste the same anyway.
Polish older ladies often dye their hair an unnatural purple/orange hue once they turn 60. I have been unable to find any explanation as to this phenomenon, but it exists, and my husband has photographic proof.
All categorical and definite oversimplifications in this past are entirely my own and based simply on 30+ years of foraging for mushrooms and berries with Polish people, picking up discarded bikes from the sidewalk with Polish people, arbitrarily requesting 40 dekagrams of that yellow cheese over there please from Polish shop people, requesting that guests wear guest slippers, being a thoroughly Polish person and loving my thoroughly Polish family and friends. So there.