Being a guest in Poland

Written by Olga Vaschenko September 2012. Posted in Being a guest, Int. Skills

Being a guest in Poland

This old Polish proverb reflects perfectly the traditional Polish view of hospitality. When going on a business trip to a foreign country, a number of different business skills need to be taken into consideration. Knowing the proper business etiquette and customs when visiting a counterpart’s house is always important, especially during a business trip to Poland. Relationships are essential for doing business there, and on a personal level too. Poles are not used to doing business with someone they do not trust, and to win their trust it is recommended that business people also meet outside the office.

During a business trip to Poland your Polish counterpart might invite you for a dinner at his/her house. There, you will need to take a number of things into consideration in order not to harm the relationship, but to make it stronger. First, the aspect of time management. It is considered polite to be 10 to 15 minutes late, so the host or hostess will have enough time to be ready to receive you. Second, it could be that traditional Polish customs will vary significantly from those of your country of origin. Upon arrival you might be asked to take off your shoes, but in that case the hostess might offer you a pair of slippers. Third, the communication style might be different. As mentioned before, Poland is a quite traditional and hierarchical country, so it is not recommended to use first names without having been invited to do so. Shaking hands is a normal practice when greeting people. Furthermore, both when greeting and talking to people, having eye contact is essential. If you do not make proper eye contact, people will have difficulty trusting you.

Poles will do everything to make you feel comfortable and welcome in their home, however, you will have to “prove” yourself in order to stay in their inner circle. Some fundamental things need to be taken into consideration for that. It is expected that you will wear conservative, modest clothing. In addition, it is strongly recommended to avoid wearing excessive jewelry. The Polish people are not in favor of showing off. When invited to the table, you should sit in such a way that your hands can always be seen, as holding your hands under a table is considered extremely rude. Furthermore, you should always wait till the host invites everybody to start with the meal. The host is usually also the first to give a toast. After that, you are also expected to propose at least one toast during the dinner. If the host did this standing up you also should do that.

Poles are very proud of their cuisine, so there will be a great variety of dishes on the table. The way of serving food is different in Poland. First, there will be a lot of small dishes served. It is recommended that you try everything in order not to offend the hostess, but you should not eat too much, as the main dish is served later. The dining etiquette is continental, which means that you should always hold the fork in your left and the knife in your right hand. While in some countries it is polite to empty the plate, in Poland, that means that you are asking for more, so if you do not wish to have more, you should leave some food on the plate. After the dinner you can volunteer to help with cleaning up. The proposal will be refused, but the intention will be appreciated.

Gift giving is another important matter. If you are not aware of what to give and how to do it, that can ruin the relationship in the few first moments. When going to a dinner at a Polish house, you should take a small present with you. Something from your country or region will be appreciated, but make sure it is without the logo of your company. A bottle of wine or other spirit or a bouquet of flowers would be appreciated as well. Concerning wine or other alcohol, you should try to give a bottle of spirits that is not widely available in Poland. For flowers too, there is quite an interesting ritual. They need to be given unwrapped and the bouquet always needs to consist of an odd number of flowers. Furthermore, yellow chrysanthemums should be avoided, because in Poland these flowers are associated with funerals. In addition, you should always avoid expensive presents in order not to put the host in an uncomfortable situation. In return, you might also receive a small present, and in that case it needs to be opened immediately. The next day it is common to send a handwritten card, out of politeness to the host and the hostess, thanking them for their time and hospitality.