Monthly Archives: November 2010

Are you celebrating Andrzejki?

You probably are if you live in Scotland. It’s called St Andrew’s Day. But in Poland it’s not so much about the saint, it’s more about predictions and parties.

Andrzejki, how the day is referred to (from Andrzej, which is the Polish equivalent of Andrew), is when everybody predicts their future by observing some fun customs like pouring hot wax on cold water or moving girls’ shoes from one end of the room to the door. Why wax and why the shoes, you ask? Let me explain.

Traditionally, single girls used the day to predict when they would get married or what they could expect in the coming months. With time, this tradition was adopted by men too and for decades now Andrzejki has simply been a good excuse for a party (even mid-week).

The most popular and the most traditional way of predicting the future on Andrzejki is by melting a lot of wax and then pouring it (ideally through an old-fashioned key) onto cold water. This needs to be done carefully so that the wax forms one solid ‘shape’. You then remove the ‘shape’ from the water (once the wax has solidified, that is) and – using a strong source of light – look at the shadow it throws on the wall.

And this is when you need to use your imagination. You need to ‘read’ the shadow. Is it a man? Is it a pig? Is it a baby? Is it a monster? Whatever it is, this is your future (apparently).

Another custom involves single girls only. They each need to take a shoe off and place it in a row, starting by the wall opposite the main door. Then the last shoe is brought to the front and then the next one and so on. The owner of the shoe which reaches the door first will definitely get married next year. Guaranteed. Or your money back.

Whatever the future holds, tonight is the night. Have a ball!

Image by bildungsr0man via Flickr, Creative Commons licence

Polak potrafi. Or how to bypass the smoking ban.

I wrote about the newly-introduced smoking ban a few days ago and a couple of my readers commented saying they remained sceptical about the effectiveness of the ban.  (Being sceptical is prerequisite to being Polish ;)

Turns out, they were right.

A cafe owner in Katowice in the south of Poland bypassed the ban by turning his cafe into a club (I assume it must be some kind of members’ club, not just ANY club for this to be effective) and issuing special ‘passes’ to those who want to smoke. The mind boggles.

As a result, the place is full of smokers who see it as their safe haven. One of the customers, a non-smoker, told TVN24 that he enjoys the place and the smoke doesn’t bother him at all. Another one said she goes there because she likes the place and knows she can puff away on her cigarette.

The ownes himself claims the new law is aburd as it

“prohibits our customers from deciding about their own health”.

The cafe – sorry, club – might be full of customers, but it obviously creates controversy. Poland’s former health minister, Boleslaw Piecha told TVN24 that

“human stupidity knows no boundaries. If one of his staff gets sick, they might take them to court, as was the case with many tobacco companies. And the compensation is huge”.

I’ve read similar reports about people in Krakow blatantly ignoring the ban and I’m sure the same thing is happening all over Poland.

It’s obviously early days and it takes time to get used to any new law (and for lawmakers to become more rigorous in implementing their acts).

But on the other hand, there’s the famous Polish saying “Polak potrafi”. Usually used in a slightly ironic, sometimes critical, but often also proud way.

It means “a Pole is able [to do anything]”.  He is indeed…

Image by miss_blackbutterfly via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons licence

Poznan: Eastern energy, Western style

Another Polish city is about to pump some serious money into an international TV campaign to promote itself.

Poznan, one of the oldest Polish cities, for decades recognised as an important trade centre favoured by many Polish entrepreneurs, will be showing a series of ads across a number of TV channels in Britain and elsewhere.

Those behind the “Eastern energy, Western style” campaign want to make the city more recognisable abroad. But also, presumably, they want to present it as an important acedemic and cultural hub, on a par with Warsaw, Krakow or Gdansk.

And it is an important city, after all this is where Mieszko I, the first Polish ruler, was linked to Poznan and the first Polish cathedral was built here ten centuries ago. Poznan has always been seen as a dynamic, successful city and last year it launched a new logo and a new promotional slogan: “POZnan: the city of know-how”. (The capitalised POZ is how the city is recognised internationally in aviation).

The city’s mayor, Ryszard Grobelny, said the slogan reflected the character of the city’s inhabitants, their ability to do things skillfully and professionally.

The newest campaign is supported by a 3-minute long video shot by Xawery Zulawski, the son of Wojciech Zulawski, the famous Polish director, and his wife, Malgorzata Braunek, an actress.

You can watch the full version above, while shorter versions will be shown on Sky News, Sky Sports and CNBC in the UK, CNN internationally and on various channels in Germany, Spain and other countries.

Oh and if you ever wonder how to pronounce Poznan – or any other major Polish city – you know where to look for help ;)

Zakaz palenia

Here’s a new Polish phrase for you: “zakaz palenia”. Or “smoking prohibited”.

From today, most public spaces in Poland become smoke-free zones. Smoking is now banned in bars, clubs, restaurants, schools, hospitals, bus stops and many other public places.

Roughly a quarter of all Poles smoke regularly and probably won’t be happy with the ban, which also extends to work places. Although, according to, over 31% of Poles support the ban.

A crafty fag in a non-smoking place can now cost you 500PLN (just over £100 or $170), but the penalties are even more severe if you fail to inform your customers about the newly introduced ban. Places which fail to display information about the ban can pay up to 2000 PLN (around £430/ $700).

I guess it’ll take a while for people to get used to the ban and I honestly never thought it would happen in Poland.

The people behind the Polska bez dymu (Poland with no smoke) campaign must be really happy today.

Henryk Górecki dies

Sad news this morning – Polish composer, Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki, best known for his “Third Symphony”, died in Poland at the age of 76.

Born in Silesia, he spent most of his life working and teaching in Katowice, the heart of the most industrialised region in Poland. Until early 1990s he remained largerly unknown, even in Poland. But his “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”, also known as the “Third Symphony”, composed in the late 70s and released in 1992 to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, made his name famous in Poland and abroad.

Here is how the New York Times described the symphony’s – and Gorecki’s – rise to fame in 1994:

As Communism in Poland crumbled during 1989, so Gorecki’s music spread. By 1990, Symphony No. 3 was being premiered with big orchestras from Brooklyn to Sydney, and several recordings were made. But not until the smooth voice of the soprano Dawn Upshaw, combined with the full sound of the London Sinfonietta under David Zinman on the Elektra Nonesuch label did all the fuss start.

Released in May 1992, the 52-minute recording moved the symphony from a respected piece in the modern repertory to a universally popular work. The recording held the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s classical chart for 37 weeks and has sat in the top 25 for 93 weeks. It peaked at No. 6 on the British pop chart. Worldwide sales of the Nonesuch recording were over 600,000 by the end of the year. Orchestras rushed to perform the work as a way of keeping up with their audiences. Naturally, this renown didn’t escape the movie makers. The director Peter Weir chose the first movement of the symphony for the climactic scene in his movie “Fearless.”

Another great Polish composer is gone. But his music, inspired by the beauty and the soul of the Tatra Mountains remains: