Cultural lesson #2: It’s a trap!

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You have already used Warsaw public transport, tackled the elderly, and successfully moved from point A to B. Let’s say point B is your Polish friend or colleague’s house and you were invited to dinner. You will experience famous Polish hospitality, but beware, it is riddled with traps. Our own cultural psychology expert, Maja* will walk you through, with some illustrated help by the ever so talented Mo**.

For starters, remember about buying some flowers and/or a good bottle of wine. It’s rude to make a visit with your hands empty. Flowers might sound easy but the additional requirement is not to come with chrysanthemum or red roses in your hands. The first is a funeral party favor, reserved for the dead, while the latter may indicate that you’re trying to hook up the host/hostess which their significant other might object to. The last floristic hint: you should buy an odd number of flowers.

Now that you’ve done your shopping and arrived at your Polish host’s door, you ring the bell, the doors open. You shake your friend’s hand, but remember: never do it while on the other side of the doorstep! Poles tend to be superstitious and it’s believed to bring bad luck (don’t ask, we heard it has something to do with the burial of the dead). First enter, then shake hands with the male host, give the flowers to the female head of the house (ah, gender roles…) and prepare yourself for another surprise.

Times change, but it’s still likely you might be offered slippers. If you hear: “Oh, maybe you’d like some slippers?” remember: it’s not a question, it’s an order. Basically hosts are trying to say: take off your shoes, we love our linoleum more than any of our guests. Even if sleepers are not on offer, remember to ask if you should take off your shoes. Next thing you know, the hosts will probably offer you their slippers. There’s no way to win.

Aside from the passion for linoleum there is an alternative explanation to this strange Polish tradition. Slippers are usually warm, comfortable and soft to the touch. By offering them to you, your hosts may be trying to communicate: make yourself at home. We are ceremonial and might even say it out loud. On the plus side, having negotiated the traps, you will be regaled with delicious and never ending dinner. Enjoy your meal and remember to taste each dish and eat everything you have on your plate. Order a taxi home, as you won’t be able to move afterwards.

Welcome by Mo

*Maja is currently working on her PhD in cultural psychology, teaching, taking photos, and preparing to become a coach.

**Mo Mularczyk is a freelance illustrator, working between Warsaw, Poland and Birmingham, UK. For more Mo check our her facebook page.

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