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. As for the Poles being anti semitic the questions has to be asked were they natural born Poles or were they descendants from Germanic settlers that came over from the times of the Partition. Maybe feeling more of the inclination towards their home countries than their adoptive one. The Partition of Poland was an agreement between Prussia(Germany), Austro-Hungarian Empire & Russia where those three countries divided Poland between themselves and sent settlers to farm the rich land that Poland was known for.(Just a FYI for those who aren’t history geeks like myself) Poland as we know it only came into existance after World War 1 after the fall of Prussia & the Austro-hungarian Empire in 1914 with the Treaty of Versailles. There are many settlers that stayed even after Poland became Poland as we know it.

  2. The largest wave of Polish immigration to the U.S. took place between 1870 and 1914, not after WWII. At that time there was no real nation of Poland on the map; it had been partitioned into three parts, controlled by Austria, Prussian, and Russian. Prussia (now Germany) in particular wanted to eliminate Polish identity so German people could move in and dominate the Polish lands they controlled. Some people believe that dumb Polack jokes originated with Prussians justifying the colonization and Germanization of the region by implying that Polish people were too stupid to rule themselves.

  3. I am 53 my grandfather was the only one that came over on a boat I
    He was the only one that didn’t abuse me I had German grandmother and unclesThat was abusive and mean my grandfather died when I was 13 and I left home I am pretty lady so I was told by older people when I clean in a nursing home and I want to know about polish people this help my one wish is to go but that won’t happen but I want to thank you people reading this made my day

  4. 90% are baptised, which church states as Catholics. About 60% goes to church- so they’re practising Catholics. There are three other major religions (at least) and 10% states to be atheists.
    The pope doesn’t have His own tv channel, that it false, the Vatican stated that this Religious Television is no longer a valid Church Social Media, and had excluded the tv from being an actual catholic official spokes ppl.

    The rest – spot on!.

    1. Thanks for the clarifications. It’s always a little tricky with religion, because different people will have different criteria for what qualifies, and in some cases it’s because they want the answers to work in their favor.

  5. Great post! I have visited Poland for the first time last summer, and I didn’t really know what to expect before my trip. The only stereotype I have heard about Polish people is that they drink vodka all the time. So I went to Poland being sure that I will see drunk people everywhere. I was surprised (pleasantly), that it was a myth. Yes, Polish people drink, and they probably can drink more that other nationalities, but the opinion about Polish people drinking is very exaggerated. I loved Poland, especially Warsaw. There are so many great places there. And not every bar is with vodka only. For example I have been to a great champagne bar called Bubbles, with excellent champagnes and wines as well as delicious food. I wish I could visit this place more often. Poland is definitely worth visiting at least once!

    1. Definitely. I’ve heard Krakow has the highest number of bars per capita, either of anywhere in Europe, or the world. I heard it a while ago, so I don’t know if it’s still true, but it gives you an idea of how lively it is there. And there’s plenty more to see, from the architecture to the mountains. It’s really great. Far more interesting and colorful than most people’s impression of the drab, grey, former Soviet bloc.

  6. Did you hear about the Guy from Poland that thought His Wife was trying to kill Him? On a Table He saw a Bottle of ” Polish Remover “! What happens when they don’t Pay their Garbage Bill in Poland? They stop delivering! Why do Couples from Poland stop having Children after their 4rth Child? Because they read 1 in 5 Children Born in the World Today is Chinese! Did you hear about the Beauty Contestant from Poland who lost Her Job as an Elevator Operator? She was Fired because She couldn’t learn the Route!

  7. I must say that there is in fact most definitely some degree of truth to many cultural stereotypes. Both cultural and genetic physiological and psychological predispositions do in fact exist and are known to be as real as is simple math. To state otherwise is to hand someone your unknowing, albeit confirmed, ignorance on a silver platter. Here’s what you should not assume: Because of these typical, or “on average” stereotypical characteristics, all peoples of this or that genetically delineated cultural persuasion are stupid, smart, generous, greedy, untalented, geniuses, brave, cowardly, or any other generalized social overview of virtue or personal character flaws as being attributable to whomever of whatever culture/race. In all cases these matters are always beyond base traits and lend themselves to philosophical examining and are most often attributable to one form of influence or another.

    There is however no question that all races and cultures do in fact routinely exemplify specific strengths and weaknesses. Of course there will always be exceptions to any rule of averages, otherwise there would be no need for any such academic studies to be carried out in the first place.

    Polish people tend to place a very high emphasis or value on family, they are commonly extremely hard workers, exuberantly happy once you know them, extremely friendly, conservative, religious, stubborn, narrow, or “single” minded, and very loud talkers.

    1. That’s definitely true. Not everyone falls into any stereotype, so it’s better to get to know people as individuals, and only rely on what you’ve heard as maybe a general hint.

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