Fun Facts about Poland

Years ago I met an American guy, whose family came from Poland to settle in the US, because Europe had gotten all Hitlery. The guy grew up in a family that only wanted to assimilate, so he didn’t know a thing about Polish culture, and grew up hearing a million Polish jokes on the playground, poking fun at his heritage. That’s all he knew of his home country.

Zamość, Poland
Zamość, a tiny little town with an adorable little town square.

Needless to say, I proceeded to drunkenly extoll the many and varied virtues of Polish culture, food, architecture, and alcohol. Goddamn do they know how to do their alcohol. I mean really.

Poland is a ridiculously underrated travel destination, and although I expected it to become increasingly popular over the years, it still appears to be criminally undiscovered.

And thus, I have chosen to dig up some interesting, fun facts about Poland to get people enthused about this particular part of the world. I have some ancestry here too, so there’s some “it’s kinda my country, sort of,” pride in there as well. Onward we go!

Mildly amusing points

Poland has a number of cities that are clearly just comic book sound effects. Observe:

  • Gdansk: The sound of a long wooden board hitting the ground vertically, then falling to a horizontal position.
  • Krakow: Made famous by Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes fame, as the noise a spaceship makes when firing laser guns at the enemy.

Okay, onward to more serious issues, I promise. Sort of.

Polish History

  • The name of the country is thought to have come from the tribe of Polans (Polanie in Polish), around the time of the 8th or 9th centuries, when several parts of Poland were united. It comes from the word “field” or “plain,” which constitutes quite a bit of the country’s landscape.
  • Poland was the 2nd country in the world to adopt a modern constitution, after the United States, in 1791. Unfortunately, just a few short years later, Poland was partitioned between Prussia, the Austrian Empire, and Russia, and ceased to exist as its own country for 123 years.
  • Warsaw’s old town was rebuilt literally from scratch from the ashes of World War II. Fun fact: It’s awesome.
  • Speaking of World War II, Poland was literally moved to the west after the war was over. Territory was given from Poland to the Soviet Union, while others were taken from Germany and given to Poland. Big swathes of territory.
  • Krakow and Warsaw have both been the capital at various times throughout the country’s history.
  • Poland and Lithuania teamed up for a long time as one big country, called the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth.
Warsaw old town, Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw’s old town, which is technically the new town.

Polish Culture

  • Polish name days are actually more celebrated than birthdays in Poland. At least for now. The country is still rather homogenous, so there aren’t that many names, but birthday celebrations are becoming increasingly popular.
  • Poland is the most Catholic country in Europe, with 91% of the population being a part of the Catholic Church, which is even more than Ireland. Religion is thus quite important to the country, and it was probably quite a big deal when John Paul II, one of their own, was the Pope. There’s even a Pope channel on TV (or, more accurately, it’s a channel financed by religious institutions).
  • The oldest restaurant in Europe, Piwnica Swidnicka, dates back to 1275, and can be found in Wrocław.
  • The Polish language is the 2nd most widely spoken Slavic language, after Russian.
  • Restaurants serve pizza with a bottle of ketchup, which is poured over the top of a pizza.
  • A traditional smoked cheese, called oscypek, is made exclusively in the Tatra mountains, and carved into elaborate patterns. It’s a common sight all over southern Poland, such as Zakopane.
  • Poland is home to the world’s largest brick castle: Malbork, near Gdansk.
  • Poles eat bananas from the opposite direction, rather than breaking them open from the stem.
St. Mary's Basilica, interior, Krakow, Poland
The interior of St. Mary’s Basilica, the church on the main square of Krakow.

Polish People

  • The Polish Diaspora is one of the most significant in the world, with 20 million people of Polish descent living outside of Poland. To put that into perspective, only about 40 million people live inside Poland, meaning 1/3 of the entire population are expats. This has been due to Poland’s harsh history under communist rule, Soviet occupation, Nazi occupation, and, further back in history, when it simply didn’t exist on the map. Though its economy has come a long way, it’s still a very popular option to move abroad for work.
  • Though the country does have other ethnic groups, the population is extremely homogenous at about 94% Polish. Other groups include Ukrainians, Germans, and Belorussians, as well as Silesians and Kashubians, who are sometimes considered a subgroup of Poles, and sometimes not, depending on who’s counting.
  • Poland has accumulated 17 Nobel Prizes, which is more than Japan, China, India, or Australia.
Gdansk old town, Gdansk, Poland
Old town Gdansk is pretty great too.

Wacky Polish Holidays

  • Wrocław hosts a massive medieval LARPing festival, complete with jousting, archery, and other fun stuff.
  • Marzenna commemorates the beginning of spring, when Polish people make dolls and throw them into the river. Yup.
  • Krakow holds a dachshund festival, where everybody brings their dachshund to the main square. Many of them are dressed in costumes, from superheroes to pirates to whatever. It’s amazing.
  • During Wianki, Poles float candles on wreaths down the river, and jump over fires. Fun times!
Krakow, Poland
These are all the people that showed up to Krakow to celebrate the dachshund festival. Really.

Famous Poles

  • Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness, was originally named Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski. Despite his fame as one of the most famous authors of the English language, he always considered himself a Pole, and didn’t even learn to speak English until his 20s.
  • Frédéric Chopin is one of the world’s most famous classical composers, despite his relatively brief 39 years at the craft.
  • Marie Curie is perhaps the world’s most famous female scientist, and the world’s first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She’s known for her work on radioactivity, and even named the chemical element Polonium after her homeland.
  • Pope John Paul II was Polish, and due to the country’s strong Roman Catholic heritage, he was quite a popular religious leader. His home town is now a religious pilgrimage site, and, as mentioned, he has his own TV channel.
  • Nicolaus Copernicus managed to figure out that the Earth goes around the Sun. Religious authorities weren’t too pleased that they had been wrong that whole time, so they weren’t fans of his.
  • Not exactly a famous Pole, but the explorer Paweł Strzelecki climbed Australia’s tallest mountain in 1840, and named it Mount Kosciuszko, after Kosciuszko Mound in Krakow, which was originally built to commemorate the famous Polish leader of the same name.
  • Though not particularly famous at all, Marian Rejewski and his two buddies cracked the “uncrackable” secret code machine used by the Nazis during World War II, called the Enigma machine. The Allies knew every step the Germans were going to take, vastly shortening the length of the war, and we have this plucky team of three Poles to thank for it.
Lublin, Poland
Artsy photo shoot in Lublin. So it’s blurry. Shush.

So this was merely a list of fun facts about Poland, and hopefully you’ve learned a thing or two, but this really just scratches the surface of what the country has to offer. Despite the fact that it’s not as well known as a tourist destination as other countries, it only ever leaves visitors thoroughly delighted. And it’s only partly because of how great their vodka is.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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23 Comments on “Fun Facts about Poland”

  1. “Poland has a number of cities that are clearly just comic book sound effects.” – This made me laugh out loud. I’ll be saving this quote for future use.

    I’ll be heading to Poland next summer. Loved this post!

    1. There’s another city that’s pronounced “woodge” but I couldn’t think of what sound effect that would describe. Moving furniture, maybe?

      1. That’s mean! But, gotta admit, it is funny. Łodz means boat by the way and the sound effect could very well be moving furniture.

        1. Łódź means ‘boat’ (or ‘a Boat City’) and its name sounds hilarious even to the Poles. There are no lakes or bigger rivers around, and the nearest beach is a good five-hour drive from here.

  2. Some of these remarks are false like that polish people open their bananas upside down. I used to live in Poland and I don’t know anybody that opens a banana upside down. Same thing with the sauce. Pizza is made normally you have a choice of putting a sauce on top of it just like in Pizza Hut or anywhere else. And Poland’s cities are not sound effects. The name Krakow comes from a Polish myth of a fierce dragon living there and the person that defeated it was named Krak. And above “woodge” is actually Lodz which can mean ‘boat’.

    1. My mom opens bananas upside down and I get your point with the sauce, he must have been running out of ideas… But some cities do sound like sound effects. But then again, to Polish people (if they haven’t learnt it) English sounds as though a person but a bunch of pasta(cooked) in their mouth.

      1. If enough people say it’s incorrect I’ll remove it…I’ve just read that from several sources and found no contradiction.

  3. As a Pole I have no idea what you mean by the Pope’s TV channel ;) There’s a kind of Catholic TV channel but has no relation to the Pope ;) Do you know the name of the one you meant?

    Regarding bananas, need to admit I do it upside down… Damn.

    The restaurants which serve ketchup with pizza are only the bad ones!

    And Catholicism – Poles are Catholics mainly on paper. Although over 90% officially claims they are ones, in practice very few of them goes to church (or follows any religious rules). On the other hand, the religion shaped our culture in many aspects so e.g. we all celebrate Christmast or Easter.

      1. Yeah, I thougut it was this one ;) It’s actually owned by a foundation and a priest is its president, but that is still not Pope’s TV channel ;)

        Anyways, that’s a really cool article with many good insights! :)

  4. Dziekuje!
    I really enjoyed your posts on Poland, the people and the culture.
    I was born in Warsaw and visited it countless times, and just recently fell in deep love with Krakow. Glad someone expressed my reasons for loving Polska for me!

  5. THERE IS NO Pope Chanel on TV! I’m 76, lived in Poland all my life and there’s no such chanel! It’s a stupid rumour tourists made up :).

  6. Another weird holiday/tradition is Śmigus-dyngus where people pour water over each other on Easter Monday (especially guys over girls). The English Wikipedia entry even mentions spanking with willow tree branches altough I’ve never heard of that!

    I like the idea of sound effects :-)

  7. Pretty nice article! :)
    You do know a lot about Poland.
    There is just one thing, “Polanie” literally means ‘people of the fields’ not fields itself.

  8. “Poland is home to the world’s largest brick castle: Malbork, near Gdansk”
    Poland is home to:
    the largest main market square in medieval Europe (Cracow);
    the longest main market square in medieval Europe (Pułtusk);
    the largest (cubature) church in medieval Europe (St. Mary church in Gdańsk)

    It’s not a gigantomania, just Polish cities developped mostly in late Middle Ages, when West European cities were alteady formed up

  9. My home town (zamość) is not THAT small but i have to agree- it is in fact very charming. I can’t agree with ketchup-over-the-pizza thing and the banana thing. Completly wrong haha

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