“Bureaucratic, chivalrous, unhelpful, charming, unreliable, hardworking”. These are some of the conflicting adjectives applied to Poles.
Polish bureaucracy is founded on identification – visitors must carry their passport/visa/residence card at all times and this can be a shock to some foreigners. Poles believe stamps give authority to everything, along with sworn translations of documents and the widespread use of notaries. The ladies who work in the various governmental departments and agencies can be very unhelpful and brusque.
In terms of business culture, visitors may notice a certain “communist” hangover in Polish attitudes to authority, customer service (you are privileged to be in their shop), working hours and time off. The concept of ”family” is still refreshingly important and family ties are still strong: Grandparents help bring up children, while children often care for their parents at home in old age. Many employees still value a good work/life balance.
It is common for telephone calls not to be returned and receptionists can be brusque and unhelpful. Some employees have a reputation for passing the buck and keeping their heads down. Few will alert you to a problem – their instinct is to hope the problem goes away without being noticed.
Small talk – Poles like to indulge in pleasantries before settling down to business. Heated arguments (including arm waving and shouting) do not rule out concluding a successful business deal.
Drinking is a part of Polish culture and tradition, with beer and vodka the most common drinks. Wine is growing in popularity in the cities. It is common to see drunken men walking down the middle of the road in the middle of the day in the countryside. However, in the cities drinking has become a largely social affair, restricted to evenings and parties. Gone are the days when each business meeting was accompanied by shots of vodka.
Chivalry is still very much alive. Hand-kissing and door-opening combines with an automatic respect for elders. Polish teenagers will offer you seats and ladies go first, with their bags carried for them.
Children are very important and Poland is very child-friendly. But, any Pole feels entitled to comment on your failure, in their view, to dress/feed/bring up your child properly.
Poles give flowers for all occasions, birthdays, Christmas, dinner or parties.
Polish hospitality is legendary. Persuading your hosts you have eaten/drunk enough is difficult – saying ‘goodbye’, even more so. Poles normally say goodbye before putting their coats on (allegedly it is more polite – in practice it means you can say goodbye repeatedly while you dress).