6 big Polish stereotypes that are kinda silly

6 big Polish stereotypes

You know what’s weird? Sometimes ignorance is informative. Case in point: I never knew any Polish stereotypes growing up. It was only years after I went to Poland that I heard a Polish joke for the first time, and before that, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I was so ignorant of the stereotypes that I was incapable of stereotyping. Yay!

Krakow old town, Poland
“Why would you go to Poland? Isn’t it all grey and boring?” HA! Krakow’s old town votes no.

But then I found out there’s a massive treasure trove of, admittedly, hilarious Polish jokes. Few if any having anything to do with Polish people, of course, but that’s just how it works out. They somehow got stereotyped as being dumb, and people ran with it because they had fun coming up with clever jokes. And plenty of them are awesome.

But that just leads into another question. Are all the Polish stereotypes really true? Are they just a bunch of religious zealots who get blitzed off vodka all day every day? Are they all just unsmiling communist fanatics that want to destroy the bourgeoisie and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat? ARE THEY?!?!

Allow me to share a few points.

Polish stereotypes that aren’t (quite) true

1) Aren’t they all dumb?

Countries by IQ
IQ comparison by country, according to IQ and the Wealth of Nations.

This is a good place to get started, right? This is where all those Polish jokes come from, after all.

Well, turns out it’s bullshit. International IQ tests give varying numbers, with Poland scoring almost equal toor ahead of…the United States.

Sorry, guys. Turns out you’re just making fun of Poland because you’re dumb.

It probably has to do with the fact that most Poles in the US came over during times of horrible Hitler-related awkwardness and were poor, uneducated, and could barely speak English. Of course difficulties will ensue.

But this has nothing to do with smart or dumb, but simple language differences and socioeconomic challenges. Take anyone from anywhere on the planet in a similar position, and you’re likely to get the same result.

Oh, and they’re also responsible for Nicolaus Copernicus, Marie Curie, and Marian Rejewski. Take that.

2) Aren’t they all big drinkers?

Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka
Zubrowka, a must-try vodka, that’s pretty much ONLY found in Poland and nearby. Photo by Jojo.

So Polish people just guzzle vodka all day long and stumble around haphazardly all the time, right?

Kind of.

Poles make some absolutely spectacular vodka, so clearly they should be getting trashed all the time, but somehow they’re able to hold themselves back so much that they’re currently only the 20th biggest drinkers in the world.

They’re losing out to supposedly civilized countries like Denmark, the UK, France, and Ireland. And that’s to say nothing of their fellow Eastern European neighbors, like Hungary or the Czech Republic, who are totally leaving them behind in their sober dust.

It tends to be concentrated on the male side, though. As with many other countries, particularly those in Eastern Europe, the men (especially those with lower incomes) are doing most of the drinking, and as you might imagine, they can get pretty drunk. A small subsection of the population is doing all the heavy lifting.

But still, as a country, they’re more sober than the UK.

3) Aren’t they all religious zealots?

St. Mary's Basilica, Krakow, Poland
St. Mary’s Basilica, on the main square of Krakow. Spiky!

This one is a little nuanced. Yes, Poland is quite a religious country, with over 90% describing themselves as Catholic, and the former Pope, who was Polish, even has his own TV channel. Oh, and Poland built the world’s tallest statue of Jesus. How’s that for religious?

But on the other hand, it’s not entirely clear how “religious” they are, with one survey showing that only 7% of the population are “strong believers.” Much of the 90% Catholic statistic would thus have more to do with culture than belief.

Public opinion is also rather split on controversial issues such as abortion, with a pro-life majority and restrictive legislation, but nearly half the country expressing support for expanded legalization. So while it’s true that religion plays a significant role in society, it’s not quite as monolithic as you might expect. It’s not much different from Ireland or the US, for example.

4) Don’t they never smile?

Wieliczka Salt Mines, Poland
You’d be upset if you had to work in the salt mines and got turned to stone too.

This is something of an issue all over Eastern Europe. Stony-faced people never crack a smile no matter how adorable you think you are. In fact they’ll look at you being all smiley and think you’re ridiculous.

I’ve heard two competing theories on this one, perhaps both of which are true; first of all, in many Slavic countries, smiling doesn’t mean hello. Smiling means laughter. If someone’s smiling at you, it means he’s laughing at you.

This makes more than enough sense to me, but I’ve heard this about Eastern Europe in general (particularly in former Soviet countries, especially Russia), rather than Poland specifically, so I can only offer it as a potential explanation.

The other answer is that decades of communist rule put the country into a collective bad mood. Bureaucracy, foreign influence, food shortages, and other (un)fun stuff was quite a lot to handle, and it went on for over 50 years. And even after all that was over, with an open economy and eventual EU membership, life could still be difficult.

That’s probably the reason for the perceived grumpiness and pessimism as well. It’s tough to be happy-go-lucky all the time with all the Hitler they had to put up with.

I’ve only ever found that beneath whatever perceived stony exterior, most Eastern Europeans are happy to go out of their way to help, whether it’s to offer directions, recommend a restaurant, or give you a bottle of vodka. Perhaps several. Maybe it’s just my dashingly handsome good looks and charm, but I prefer to place my faith in humanity as well.

5) Aren’t they all communists?

Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw, Poland
Signs of communism remain, though. This used to be called the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science. They took his name off, though.


Stalin basically took over the country by installing loyal communist agents in major government positions, and rigged all the elections to get the rest. Not exactly a warm welcome with open arms.

And besides, Poland took down communism from the inside through the Solidarność movement, which led the way for other Eastern Bloc countries to do the same. There was even talk of banning the communist party altogether. How’that for communist?

Just to put it into perspective, the successor party of the former communists managed to get 8.24% of the vote in the 2011 election, whereas an American poll taken in the same year puts the approval of a communist takeover of the United States at 11%.

That’s right. America is more communist than Poland. HA!

6) Aren’t they all anti-Semitic?

Auschwitz, Poland
Visiting Auschwitz.

This is a major sticking point for me, because I’ve spent my whole life listening to people say “Many Poles aided the Nazis in the Holocaust.” You know what else they did? Saved Jews from the Holocaust. In numbers greater than any other country on the planet.

And that’s not all. Poland was the only country in Nazi-occupied Europe in which the penalty for helping Jews was capital punishment for the entire family. The whole family. And they did it anyway.

50,000 Poles were executed for helping Jews. And these were just the ones that got caught. All in all, Poles risked their lives to save at least 450,000 Jews from the Holocaust.

Doesn’t sound so anti-Semitic now, does it?

It’s quite a problem for me, because I’ve been exposed to some pretty harsh anti-Polish sentiment, including an older Jewish man that said he refused to visit Poland because it was “bathed in the blood of the Jews.” Well, yeah, but it was also bathed in the blood of Poles saving Jews. And not a single person ever mentioned this while I was growing up. Not once.

As for today? Well, there’s actually stronger anti-Semitic sentiment in Poland than other Western European countries, though it’s often mere stereotyping rather than acts of violence. In fact the desecration of Jewish cemeteries is statistically lower in Poland than other European countries.

And you know what? Of course anti-Semitic sentiment in Poland is alive. Remember what they did with the other ones?

Yeah. No wonder there are so few of them.

So what have we learned?

So hopefully this’ll clear up at least a few Polish stereotypes that might have gotten stuck in the minds of people way off on the other side of the planet that have never visited Poland, or at least give some perspectives on how they got started, or why they might be sorta true in some cases.

Lublin castle, Poland
The road to understanding is long and winding. Yay photo-assisted metaphors! Hanging out in Lublin.

It’s interesting to see things change, actually. Now that most Polish-American immigrants have all but assimilated, the jokes will likely disappear as soon as the older generation fades away, whereas blonde jokes will probably stick around forever. And Poland’s economy continues to improve, which means less and less Poles will feel the need to immigrate for better labor markets, like in the UK.

Chances are that in the future, Polish stereotypes will look quite a bit different than just the picture of the working-class immigrants that have provided most of the material. And since Poland is full of fun things to do (with a few quirky attractions worth seeking out) they’ll actually go have fun there and learn a thing or two first-hand.

Over vodka, of course. Na zdrowie!

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 or Twitter.

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96 Comments on “6 big Polish stereotypes that are kinda silly”

  1. Gr8 article Man. As a Polish Guy who knows how people from other countries see us, I want to thank You for this one.

  2. That’s nice to read something this positive about Poles, thanks :)

    I think I might get some other idea about smile and humor in general – long years of communist regime forced Polish people to think and talk in ‘undercover’, ambiguous way, to use irony because of censorship. Even now we’re used to irony and sarcasm, rather heavy joke, and finding second meaning everywhere :D so people used to smiling and more direct jokes may be confused.

    And by the way, we sometimes joke about ‘Nordic smile’, which means no smile :)

  3. Okay, I have two remarks on the topic:

    1. There is no norm in the culture or behaviour. Poles are non-smily *in comparison* with Americans. It also mean that Americans smile like crazy *in comparison* with Poles. Also, I’ve heard that being spontaneous, loud, open, laughing a lot, is more common in the countries when the climate is warm, because it doesn’t take as much energetic effort, comparing to the countries where the climate is cold. So yeah, I just wanted to point out that there is no “point zero” and you can say that someone is more x or more y, only comparing him to some other nation.

    2. I didn’t like this sentence: “Remember what they did with the other ones?” [With other Jews, that is]. I have no idea how did the stereotype of the jewsh-blood-thirsty Pole emerged. For some reason America prefers to believe that Germans invaded us and we said “Yay, you are invading us, so cool, let us help you with killing Jews!”. Gawd, war is the war and people are identically greedy and evil in hardcore situations. Some are just stupid. In my grandma’s stories there is no hatred nor love towards Jews. Before the war they just were around, they had their own schools and temples, sometimes one was doing buisnesses with them, or buying stuff, but there was no cordial friendship, nor huge hatred. When the war came, everyone was trying to save their own ass (which in Poland was kinda more difficult than in other countries). The same thing would have happen in Japan, Mexico or Burkina Faso.

    1. 1. I agree completely. I think that if you look at it globally, Eastern European cultures smile less often than a lot of other cultures, although I’ve heard similar things about Scandinavia, so it might have something to do with the climate, rather than just the culture.

      2. When I said “remember what they did with the other ones” I was talking about what the Germans did to the Poles that supported Jews, not what the Poles did the Jews. I was pointing out that since the Germans killed as many Jew-loving Poles they could find, there weren’t many left afterwards, which is part of the reason anti-Semitism may have survived.

      1. The Poles that supported Jews during the Nazi occupation weren’t necessarily “Jew-loving”. They were just decent. There a huge difefference between disliking somebody and wishing them death or even letting them be killed.
        And another thing to remember – the antisemitism in post-war Poland and even today is in large part owed to the fact that many of the Jewish survivors allied with the Soviets and worked for the communist government, especially for the Security Service (UB, SB) and the Ministry of Public Safety (MBP).

  4. Great article man, I really really do appreciate foreigners making effort in understanding this stuff. I certainly agree with all of what you wrote.


  5. Poland is not a communist country. Education is higher, particu languages than especially the Mediterranean Rim and the USA.I was in Poland, and to say that Poles and Russians are two nations whose tradition is to drink vodka and despite the fact that they drink so much, do not get drunk as fast as the Danes and the British, after that first I hear that in Hungary drink vodka, beer sooner.I also know that for Poles smile is important, so do not do it all the time. I conclude that the Poles are really very helpful and friendly. You specify the name of the road, and then escort you to definitely hit. As for religion, it is still popular in Poland are dozhinki or Kupala night. I had the opportunity to participate in Kupala night. It was great, but a little scary, especially when they started talking about some Slavic demon in the lake.

    I recommend you visit in Poland Zakopane and Krakow. Greetings from Hungary, and sorry for my English. :)

  6. There’s another thing to all this smiling issue I think You can learn from looking more closely at what Poles thing about all-smiley Americans and other Westerners. When a total stranger approaches us with a huge smile on his/her face and act all friendly, we will either think they’re hitting on us, as smiling at someone unknown to you is considered flirting and many people will act colder then they usually do, because this is the way of saying ‘no’. But more then that it will simply scream FAKE very loudly to us. We do smile a lot around friends. We smile when we have fun. We just think that smiling is something You do when You have a reason. What some foreigners consider the ‘stony look’is what we see as neutral – not, happy, not sad. Face with no particular expression. Easily distinguished from actually grumpy or hostile as well, but I think it’s no news for someone who travels that no, facial expression are not universal at all, and you don’t need to go very far to misread mood and intentions of people around you.

    And OMG, what’s with the Pope Channel??? Sure, John Paul II is practically worshipped here, but there’s no such thing like Pope Channel! I think it must have been started by someone who visited Poland during some important incident when media were doing several hours long live coverage or something, because this happens like every few years. I can’t thing of other reason for such myth to start. Unless someone was trolling some tourist. Sure, we do that sometimes. Quite often actually. We do have 2 religion related channels, one I never watched, because it’s believed to be politically charged and other is TV Religia, which actually has interesting discussion panels and lot’s of awesome documentaries that could have easily air on historical channel instead.

  7. I live in a co-operative mostly populated by Polish people. Most of the stereotypes are true. But what’s interesting is that it mostly applies to first generation Polish Immigrants. the 2nd and third generations don’t seem to have quite the same stereotypes. This leads me to think that most of the stereotypes are culturally based, not race.

    1 – Dumb; Once again, the more “immigrant” they are, the dumber they are. The board of directors is composed of 5 Polish people; 4 first generation immigrants and one 2nd gen. The 4 first gens don’t even know anything about Canadian law and until recently didn’t even there’s such a thing called the “ontario co-operatives corporations act”. How can the Board of Directors be unaware of the laws that govern what they’re supposed to do? VERY DUMB!

    2 – Big drinkers; Hell yeah! Lots of drunk Polish people in our building. Liver problems are common with the elderly people in my building. They don’t drink wine or beer either, they all drink the hard liquor. Again, the 1st gens are heavy drinkers, the 3rd gens, in their 20s, not so much. They’re more canadianized.. ie: mild beer drinkers.

    3 – Religious Zealots? Hell yeah! Pictures of John Paul 2 are all over the building common areas. Not a single photo of our head of state, the queen, but John Paul 2 everywhere!

    4 – Never smile; YUP! Again, first gen polish immigrants almost never smile. They are stoned faced and unfriendly. You almost feel they don’t want to be bothered, even when you’re helping the handicapped ones into the elevator.

    5 – Communists? Not too sure, but they do have strong socialist leanings and constantly vote for the Liberal party no matter how wrong the Liberals may be. This is a co-operative building which is as close to communism you can experience in Canada.

    6 – Anti-Semitic? somewhat. I have noticed some anti-semitism but not much. What i have noticed is lots of racism though. They don’t like non-polish people. Period!

    Stereotypes are often based on factual observations. In the case of Polish people, they’re true. I’m surround by them 365 days/year for the last 12 years. As a 13th generation Canadian of French descent, my family arrived here in 1633, I’m in a good position to compare Polish immigrants vs. established Canadians.

    1. Chris ….. I see you don’t know one thing. Years ago (before II world war) was such big emigration – that you know – OK. but…. these people run away from Poland becouse they were pure ,mostly peasants who couldn’t ever read… Reach people , educated people.. stood in PL. One more thing – nazis had killed great nr of educated people (teachers, doctors,…), they wanted to mop up (if I can say so) smart people and leave all the rest as a workers (till their death) so – next emigration ofter II war was lumpish obviousness. That’s in polish historical books! Yes… you can find it ,but you can’t read in this language so… what can I say more.. :)

  8. “Just to put it into perspective, the successor party of the former communists managed to get 8.24% of the vote in the 2011 election, whereas an American poll taken in the same year puts the approval of a communist takeover of the United States at 11%.”
    That is a misleading comparison, the correct way to compare it would to also list the percentage of communists elected in the United States just as you did for Poland. It sure as hell isn’t 11%, nor even close to 8.24%.

    1. That’s true, which is why I didn’t want to say something like “support for communism was 8% vs 11%,” but specifically showed what those percentages were. Still, I think it’s pretty fun. People say they’re communist, but in the United States, there’s plenty of support for communism too.

  9. I am sure too late but hopefully my comment will be a bit helpful for someone.
    About this antisemitic thing: I believe that’s not all about stereotypes but some of us see how Jews behave visiting us. I used to work as a chambermaid in a hotel, in which they stayed during their tours and I must say, I have never seen more rude and messy people in my life. They do that mess on purpose because they disrespect Polish people. Especially women. Once again, they are messy, rude and look down to us.

    1. It’s unfortunate, because Polish and Jewish people had pretty good relations until World War II, but Poland was forced into a lot of things by Germany…but Jewish people only look at it as Poland doing horrible things to Jews, even though plenty of Polish people protected them. Sigh. I even met a Jewish guy who didn’t want to visit Poland because it was “bathed in the blood of the Jews.” Somehow he didn’t realize that it was the Nazis’ fault, not Poland’s…and pretty much everyone from that era is dead now anyway.

      1. I’ve once seen a document on youtube about anti-Semitism around the world, made by a jewish student from USA. It showed how in Israel they teach young people that Poland is one of the most anti-Semitic country in Europe (Nevermind that Nazists were responsable for the Holocaust during World War II). Specially before trip to Poland, they were warned not to trust anybody, and that everybody will be against them. Poland has people who are anti-Simites as much as the next country, but it’s not a major of population.
        In this document at one point some old silly man has started to talk to those foreign looking girls in polish. He asked, smiling, “where’re you from. are you from china?” and somehow they thought that he was calling them, quotation: “whores”.
        This document showed how much they create the atmosphere of hatred around them.
        Unfortunately I can’t remember the name or athour of it, and never found it again.
        I wish they could see Poland through not always clear history. It is sad they teach taht young people in school.

        1. I agree completely. I knew someone who said his kids weren’t allowed to go to Belarus, because “they hate Jews there.” But then I went there, and they don’t. So who was prejudiced?

  10. “And why don’t you call Me the Queen of Poland? It is the kingdom greatly loved by Me and great things for him I’m going to, because a peculiar love for Me burn in his sons…”

    We are Catholics! God bless the author of this article.
    Szczesc Boze!

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