Category Archives: fact or myth?

Getting the facts about Poland straight

Fact or myth? You need small change to go for a wee in Poland

Or do you? It’s a commonn misconception that you need to pay to use the loo in Poland. Yes, maybe in some places, but not everywhere.

In the past, most places, including restaurants and bars, would have toilet attendants who’d charge you a small set fee to enter the loo (and in some cases provide you with some toilet paper too). The attendants would most likely be female pensioners, hence their nickname, “babcia klozetowa” (literally: “toilet grandma”). But they were there not just to charge you money. They kept the place clean, provided a sense of security and often became, inadvertently of course, a source of entertainment. They’d sit there with their tiny AM radios, crocheting or knitting, loudly gossipping away, keeping an eye on their customers and often telling them off if they broke any of their golden loo rules.

Obviously they are not – and have never been – a typical Polish phenomenon. And neither has been the custom of charging for the toilet. But somehow many people still think that unless you have some lose change in your pocket, your only option when you’re desperate for the loo in Poland is the nearest park.

Chargeable toilets and toilet attendants are probably still present in some places – mainly, I would suspect, railway stations and other busy public transport hubs. But over the past several years I have not encountered them in any of the shopping centres, cinemas, restaurants or bars I have visited in Poland.

But I’m glad they have been immortalised in popular Polish culture.

I’m also glad we got thir particular subject out of the way.

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Image © Iwona Kellie, used under the Creative Commons licence

Fact or myth? Poles are leaving the UK

I’ve been asked several times recently whether it’s true that Poles in the UK are going back home for good. The simplest answer is: I don’t know.

To start with, it’s never been clear how many Poles have actually settled in the UK since Poland joined the EU. I remember reporting on the influx of Polish workers in 2004/2005 and there was no reliable source of any accurate statistical data to back up any claims. So all estimates back then – whether greatly exaggerated or diplomatically lowered – were just that – estimates.

Anecdotal evidence would suggest that yes, some Poles, particularly those who were employed in the construction industry or agriculture have gone back.

But the same anecdotal evidence would suggest that many have stayed put.

What’s your view on that? Have your Polish friends gone back home? Are there fewer Polish baristas in London? Post a comment below and let me – and my readers know and maybe together we’ll find an answer…

Fact or myth? Polish music charts – and singles – never existed

cassette tape

Poland has never embraced a music single in the way the Western world did. There have always been singles, but mainly as songs on the radio – those that were available in shops, if at all, were never popular. Therefore Poland has never had ‘proper’ charts based on record sales.

With piracy in Poland in the 80s and 90s – and even now – reaching record levels, nobody would probably bother buying singles even if they were available. (In many towns and smaller cities they simply weren’t.) You could record all songs from the radio, uninterrupted by ads or DJs.

It actually seems like a crazy idea now, but DJs in the 80s would play ENTIRE records for people to record at home; for a majority of Poles this would be the only source of new music from the West. Most of those records would be privately owned by the DJs themselves, who mostly brought them from their trips to London, Berlin or anywhere with a properly functioning record store. (Quite often they would time their foreign trips to make sure they get a particular CD on the day it is released and quite often they would play it on the very same day in the evening on one of the 3 national public FM stations we used to have back then; and a whole nation of music enthusiasts would wait with baited breath, a blank C-90 tape and their collective finger on their hi-fi’s RECORD button).

So if the records sold in the shops were not the ones people wanted to listen to, no wonder nobody even thought of collecting any sales figures and collating lists.

But in April 1982 a DJ called Marek Niedźwiecki started what later became a cult show on Polish Radio, a weekly chart show called “Lista Przebojów Programu Trzeciego” (Radio Three’s Chart Show – radio Three being the public broadcaster’s youth-oriented station).

Until 1996 when they introduced online voting, the only way to decide the position of a song on the chart was by sending a postcard with the title of the song you liked. AND it was only possible to vote on the songs played on that particular station. And as Marek was responsible for music there – and it was the most popular show in Poland, playing the most popular hits Marek liked – no wonder some Poles in their 30s and 40s have a particularly soft spot for rock ballads, power ballads and, er, Celine Dion in particular….

Luckily, the rest of us also listened to Radio Two, which played everything else – from jazz to alternative.

In 2009 the Chart Show is still going strong, there are hundreds of other charts everywhere – from the smallest commercial radio stations to the biggest music dowload sites. Nowadays they might reflect the number of downloads and CD sales.

But the humble music single has never been loved in Poland. Fact.

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Image © Erica Marshall via Flickr, used under CC licence

Fact or myth? Poles share papers and magazines on trains

Polish train compartment‘So what?’, I hear you say. After all, all Londoners share free evening papers all the time.

Yes, but they are free. You wouldn’t share your Economist or Marie Claire with the same carelessness and ease, would you?

Polish InterCity and EuroCity trains still often have compartments – with six seats in the first class and eight in second. That means spending two, three or six hours cooped up in a relatively confined space with a few total strangers.

In such circumstances it is not uncommon for people to have a few magazines and newspapers with them (unless they’re on their laptops, of course). Then you also have those who don’t have any or have finished reading whatever they had with them.

They will ask to borrow yours. Don’t be surprised. Don’t be defensive. Its normal. Annoying at times, yes, but relatively common and accepted.

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Image © CorinthianGulf via Flickr used under CC licence

Fact or myth? Polish winters are harsh

I wrote about it some time ago here, so I won’t be repeating myself. The short answer is: they can be, but in general nowadays they are only slightly colder than their British equivalents.

Anyway, all this is just a lame excuse to share this video with you. Enjoy.


Kraków in winter

Fact or myth? Poles prefer name days to birthdays


Yes, it would seem that – although we still celebrate birthdays – we seem to enjoy our name days a lot.

Quite often people will throw a party on their name day and they’d expect flowers and even gifts from family, friends and/or colleagues.

But what exactly is a name day? It’s a custom which goes back to the Middle Ages and whose origins are associated with the Catholic (at least in Poland it’s Catholic) calendar of saints. If you are named after a saint, you would celebrate that saint’s day. Nowadays the tradition is mostly secular and – although many people are named after saints (Jan – John, Tomasz – Thomas, etc.) – many people with non-Christian names also celebrate name days.

It’s actually a clever thing. You can ‘celebrate yourself’ twice a year (or if your saint is particularly popular, several times a year) Or, like me, vary the times when you celebrate (my birthday is in the middle of summer, when I was a kid everyone was on holiday then, so I started celebrating my name day which is on 29th September).

Every day most radio stations in Poland (and even those in Britain which broadcast in Polish) at the top of the hour will tell you what day it is and who celebrates their imieniny (name day in Polish). Some TV stations and news programmes will remind you who you should give flowers to, you can see the names printed in daily papers and on calendars. Can’t escape it really.

Some name days are more popular than others, for example Andrzej’s name day (Andrew) can be actually celebrated on fifteen (!) different days, but the most popular one of the all is on 30 November and it’s called Andrzejki. This is the day to party big time! The Andrzejki parties are usually a good excuse to do some predictions and get properly plastered.

Today (9th January) if you know any Poles named Antoni (Anthony) or Julian/Julianna (Julianne), you can wish them STO LAT.

Trust me, they’ll love it.

Image © iheartlinen via Flickr used under CC licence

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