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Cultural Information - Poland

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Cultural Information

Answers to your intercultural questions from a Canadian and a local point of view.

Cultural Information - Conversations

Question:

I am meeting someone for the first time and I want to make a good impression. What would be good discussion topics?

Local Perspective:

The combination between being reserved and warm of Polish people varies between rural and urban Poland. People from the country tend to be very suspicious of strangers at first but if they warm to you their hospitality and friendliness is likely to overwhelm you. You can talk about how many siblings you have, what part of country you come from, what schools/universities you attended, what job you do etc. If one of your ancestors is Polish or someone related to you is (eg. Your cousin’s wife) this is always good topic for conversation.

Talking about the beauty of Poland (yes we like it when you tell us our country is lovely) is also a good topic of conversation. Be prepared for some false modesty. A hint: it is commonly accepted that all of Poland, with the exception of Warsaw, is pretty. However, it is not your place to tell them/us this Warsaw is not pretty.

Do not discuss religion with most Poles. Declarations about religion may not, in fact, be reflected in the way people lead they life. Other issues to avoid are abortion (which is practically illegal in Poland); gay rights, drugs.

For Poles a sense of humour is important. They will be cracking the jokes all the time and telling you jokes. The Polish sense of humour sits somewhere in between British (i.e sarcastic) and American ("sit-com" style). You may experience that otherwise polite and "politically correct" people will tell you jokes that similar people in your country would not tell you. This can include sexist jokes, jokes about racial/ethnic minorities, etc.

Canadian Perspective:

Insofar as the family unit plays an integral role in most Polish people’s lives (perhaps more so than the average North American), so too has the workplace in contemporary Poland. A good place to start a conversation would be either topic. Admiring things that are Polish are exceptional icebreakers, so too is an effort to speak Polish. As an admirable sign of respect, your attempts at speaking Polish will be very well received.

After four decades of Soviet domination, things Russian are still not popular. If you are of Russian ancestry it is best to keep it under wraps. In addition, be aware that several Polish and Russian words are somewhat similar in pronunciation. You could damage the good will you have established by biding your Polish counterpart dasvidanya (das-vidania [goodbye]) instead of do widzenia (do veed-zehnia) upon departing. Likewise if you bring a gift to your Polish associate, avoid bringing vodka. Give other liquors, gourmet coffee or perfume. Otherwise a uniquely "Canadian" item will do nicely. Flowers are the best choice if you are visiting a Polish home. Bring them unwrapped, odd in number and avoid red roses (lovers’ buds) and chrysanthemums (which are used at funerals).

In addition to Pope John Paul II (who is highly revered in this 95% Roman Catholic country), composer Frederic Chopin and poet Adam Mickiewicz are Polish national treasures and a source of great pride. Expressing a genuine appreciation of either individuals is a terrific icebreaker. Additionally, conversations about food, sports and the beauty of Poland are positive topics of discussion, while the Second World War, the Soviet occupation, sex and religion are not.

Semantic gymnastics aside, the Polish sense of humour is an acquired taste and takes some getting used to. Unlike the North American variant, the Polish one tends to accentuate the underlying irony or sarcasm of a situation, rather than an overt proverbial pie in the face. Since humour is often culture-dependent, the punch line might make no sense but we all want to be polite and look semi-intelligent.

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Cultural Information - Communication Styles

Question:

What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communications?

Local Perspective:

Acceptable distance when speaking to someone is probably slightly less then a stretched arm. Distance may not be respected everywhere. For example, if you are standing at a distance from others in a bank queue or at a window display, almost certainly somebody will push in front of you.

For eye contact it is definitely not recommended to insist on looking away as this will make you seem not very trustworthy, but you do not have to look every person you meet in the eye.

You should not touch people when you speak to them. Shake hands when you meet people. If you are a woman, some men (especially older ones) may try to kiss you on your hand. It is probably easier to let them, but to avoid it, offer your hand firmly. If you are a man, some women may give their hand to you in a very limp manner almost expecting you to kiss it; this is optional. When women become more acquainted (i.e become "friends") they will kiss each other on their cheeks (3 kisses); the same is true with men and women. Friends from work only kiss when they meet socially, never at work. Polish men may kiss their brothers, father, grandfathers, cousins etc., which can extend to the serious boyfriend of a family member. However, if this is your fate, it is probably better that you will wait for them to initiate it.

The same gestures that are offensive in Canada will be offensive in Poland. You can use your hands when talking but you don’t have to. Polish people do use their hands when talking but less than Italians, for example.

As far as tone of voice and directness are concerned you should be just "polite". If you are a woman, you may find that men talk to you less directly than to other men. Some men will feel obliged to shower you with complements before, during and after business conversation. They may also refrain from swearing in front of you because you are a lady.

Canadian Perspective:

Poles are not as sensitive about personal space as are Canadians. A newcomer to Poland might be taken aback at the lack of space between strangers. Canadians stand at least 18-24 inches from each other. Poles tend to stand closer to one another, although this is changing somewhat. How close you can get to someone is dictated by the social relationship. The more formal and less familiar the relationship, the bigger the zone. Some Canadians are unnerved by the Polish casual conversation zone which seems to be about two to four inches smaller than the Canadian variant—a short distance, but enough to make you want to pull back to a comfort zone.

As in many cultures, eye contact is essential. Speaking to someone while looking up at the ceiling or gazing off into space might be interpreted as a sign of disrespect and just plain bad manners. Building a solid rapport is crucial to any working relationship. Poles might take a little longer to build trust with a complete stranger, however, considering four decades of socialism, this should not be surprising. Yet, this "complex" tends to fade away quickly as a relationship evolves.

Poles tend to touch one another more than Canadians. It is not uncommon to see close friends greet each other with three consecutive kisses on alternate cheeks. Others stroll arm-in-arm, while Polish gentlemen offer women their arms with ease.

Placing one’s thumb between the index and forefinger is a gesture, which most Poles refer to as the "figa" or fig. Although it is considered rude, the gesture came about during Poland’s socialist past, and is meant to represent the notion of "nothing," since figs were so scarce during those times. Although pointing should be avoided in most cultures, indicating with an extended hand with the palm turned to the side or facing upwards can be commonly seen at places where large groups gather, i.e. guided tours, famous landmarks, museums, etc.

Rather than veering off to a safer topic, Poles often do not mind exchanging opinions. Instead, disagreements are treated as a natural part of discourse. Differences, however, do not threaten rapport; they kindle colourful conversation. Likewise, disagreements are not taken so personally. But there are limits. When civility is lost and a loud circular argument drags on, social acceptability plummets.

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Cultural Information - Display of Emotion

Question:

Are public displays of affection, anger or other emotions acceptable?

Local Perspective:

Polish people are quite emotional. At the same time, they are concerned with how people perceive them. People will argue in shops, various offices etc (eg: they may yell at a clerk at the post office and she is likely to yell back). People cry at funerals, weddings, and religious events and at the movies. Men are expected to stay calmer than women and be "strong" but women are expected to be more reserved and not show emotions, especially if they are directed towards the opposite sex. Again, these are only the rules and they are constantly broken. As a foreigner though, you won’t be really expected to know all them.

Canadian Perspective:

Poles are well known for their temperament (polski temperament) and tend to display more emotion publicly than their Canadian counterparts. However, this is a paradoxical aspect, since on the one hand, Poles tend to be passionate individuals, while on the other, Polish demeanour dictates good manners thus, public displays of affection are often curtailed by the level of civility of a given individual. Insofar as displaying emotion is concerned, showing affection is much more common and socially acceptable than showing anger.

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Cultural Information - Dress, Punctuality & Formality

Question:

What should I know about the workplace environment (deadlines, dress, formality, etc.)?

Local Perspective:

You should wear office clothes, which for men means a suit and tie. For women, business clothes are also expected. It is important to know that Polish office workers sometimes overdress; for example, a guy in a photocopy room who could wear casual clothes will wear suit and tie. Polish women have reputation for being very well groomed. To some foreigners it may seem that they are overdressed. Most female office workers wear high heals, quite a lot of make up, painted nails, etc; also, short skirts are common. If you are a man, you are expected to appreciate what women around you wear... but it is up to you if you do.

In most firms that employ foreigners, people are on first name basis. Poles know that this is the practice in the West and they have been quick to adopt it. However, there are numerous "howevers". Polish employees at your level will address their superiors as Pani/Pan (Mrs/Mr). Calling somebody Mr. Piotr (his first name) is more familiar that Mr. Nowak (his last name). It is generally safe to use people’s titles if they have them (eg. Doctors, professors) and advisable use Pani/Pan with strangers (except with children). If people introduce you to someone using the person’s first name, you can assume that doing the same is fine. You can ask to use a person’s first name, but the rule is that the superior is the one to suggest it. For men and women who are peers/colleagues, the woman should suggest it.

In foreign companies the approach to time is similar to those of the mother countries of the company. It is somewhat relaxed in Polish companies and in public institutions everything takes forever. Deadlines are generally observed but insuring that through gentle reminders is OK.

People are generally punctual. While people turn up to work on time, they leave exactly the second their eight hours of work are up. In some workplaces, there is a so-called ’pre-1989 work ethics’, where employees believe that they are paid just for being at work. Here the approach to punctuality, time lines, and absenteeism may be quite bad. However, this attitude is quickly disappearing, especially in work places that did not exist before 1989.

Canadian Perspective:

Proper dress is a must when working in Poland, meaning suit and tie for men and appropriate business attire for women. Greetings between business associates are Western in style with a dash of Polish flair. Exchanging business cards is a favourite pastime, so bring plenty and give them out freely. Shake hands when you meet, greet or take your leave of Poles. Men are particularly passionate hand shakers. Yet, a foreign man should wait for a woman to extend her hand before he follows suit. If he wishes to show additional respect he may make a short bow. Foreign businesswomen should not be surprised or offended if a Polish man (particularly an older gentleman) kisses their hand in greeting. It considered a sign of respect. It is not recommended nor are foreign businessmen expected to kiss hands, but if one is moved to try, he should bend at the waist and bow his head to her hand. The kiss is placed on the back of the hand, not the fingers.

Unless asked to do so, do not address your Polish business associate by his/her first name. The safest way to address a Pole is by using "pan" (pahn - sir) or "pani" (pahnee - madam) accompanied by their job title or last name. Using "panna" (pahnah - miss) for an unmarried woman is not recommended, use "pani" instead.

As a foreigner you will be expected to arrive on time for business meetings that may begin as early as 8:00 a.m. On the other hand, your Polish counterpart may be quite late. Poles are conservative in dress and demeanour. Furthermore, they rarely "blow their own horn" and if you do, you will seem arrogant and over-confident. Enter an office quietly, close the door gently, say, "Dzien dobry" (dzhen dobryi - good day) and wait to be asked your business.

If late, enter the room quietly, say, "pszepraszam" (psheprasham—excuse me) and be seated. Canadians usually just lip into the room discreetly in an attempt to not draw attention to the infraction.

Absenteeism and productivity are very similar to what would be expected of an employee in Canada. However, as one of the leading Central European "tiger economies," Poland has developed an energetic work ethic.

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Cultural Information - Preferred Managerial Qualities

Question:

What qualities are most highly regarded in a local superior/manager? How will I know how my staff view me?

Local Perspective:

Education is highly regarded in a manager/superior and more so than experience. Formal qualifications are usually required to hold professional posts. In fact, Polish people are quite concerned with certificates, diplomas etc. In terms of leadership, a superior/manager is a leader, full stop. They do not have to have any leadership skills and will expect their employees to follow their lead and obey them. In many work places, independent initiative is not welcomed. But as with everything, this can vary from work place to work place.

The same goes for being open to new ideas. Some managers may perceive new ideas (not invented by them) as a threat; so many workers do not expect their bosses to be open to new ideas. Being hard working is appreciated in a boss. The same qualities are appreciated in expats, although there is a perception among many Poles that Polish education system is at higher level than in other countries. What you may find is that Poles receive very academic (theoretical) training. People may also sometimes accuse you of not understanding the Polish context, so openness to ideas allowing you to understand this context is generally welcome.

Saying that you will know what your staff think of you from how well they work is not much help but unfortunately it is true. Evaluating your boss’ performance is not a tradition in Poland so he/she may have difficulty with direct feedback.

Canadian Perspective:

The stereotypical Polish business leader is usually strong-minded and expects to be listened to. He/she must also demonstrate the ability to make independent judgments, as well as quick and efficient decisions. The faster, the better.

This scenario might change if a superior is an expat, since foreigners—especially Western foreigners—are highly revered. However, the level of professionalism of a given staff member tends to influence the work environment more than the actual supervisors themselves.

A good overall benchmark on knowing how the staff perceives a supervisor is the level of approachability and personal/professional rapport established within the first few weeks/months.

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Cultural Information - Hierarchy and Decision-making

Question:

In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?

Local Perspective:

Traditionally, decisions are taken by the boss, although, for example, I currently work in totally Polish work place where the decisions are taken extremely democratically. Generation of ideas can happen at the bottom, but generally, it is likely that acceptance of your ideas will depend on how high in hierarchy you are. It is acceptable to go to your immediate supervisor for answers and feedback, especially if you want to ask them for permission to do something or emphasize that you seek their feedback because they are more experienced/powerful/educated than you.

Canadian Perspective:

Generally, decisions are made from the top down. When they are generated from the bottom up, the major dividends are usually siphoned off at the top.

In spite of the digital revolution, approaching one’s supervisor and "tugging at his/her arm" until you get their attention is still commonplace. The fact that someone could be held accountable with a piece of paper meant that documents and records were often the seeds of trouble in the past in Poland. Furthermore, at times it just happens to be faster and more effective to poke your head into an office to say something. However, this aspect is in flux. The answer would depend on the immediate supervisor and the given work environment.

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Cultural Information - Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender

Question:

Briefly describe the local culture’s attitudes regarding the following: Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace?

Local Perspective:

Gender: The approach to gender is peculiar in Poland. On one hand, women have been working outside home in huge numbers at least since the end of the Second World War. Even as early as the 19th century, they played important social roles and participated in decision-making on the family and community level, about economic matters. In today’s Poland, statistically, they are better educated than Polish men but they earn less money (the gender wage gap is about 30%) and they are discriminated at work place on basis of age, marital and parental status and appearance, despite the fact that it is illegal. At the same time, women are supposed to be (and in most cases are) treated with respect and there is a certain double standard of morality where women are expected to be behaving in a more moral way than men. Some women from other parts of the world feel that Polish man are constantly harassing women, while other perceive Polish men to be romantic, though quite traditional. So really you just have to be aware that gender relations in Poland are basically different to what they may appear to be.

Religion: Poland is predominantly a catholic country and you will feel it. On Sunday it seems like everybody is going to church. Also various religious holidays and traditions are observed. People will declare that they observe all the rules of the church. In practice, they will observe a lot of them but in most cases not as many as they declare. A lot of it is related to keeping appearances. It is safer to refrain from making unnecessary criticism of religion, the church and the Pope until you become more familiar with people. In public people tend to be very uncritical about the church and although in closer group of friends they may be more critical, they will still follow most of the traditions associated with the church.

People do not like to work or do work things on religious holidays partly because they are expected to participate in various family events; thus, organizing a work retreat during Easter break may not go down to well.

Class: Although Poland was communist for very long time compared to new world countries such as Canada or Australia it is very class-based, even if it is not just a simple division according to wealth of the individual. People tend to socialize very much with their own kind. Education is very important and it is unlikely that people with high education will socialize with those who are not educated. It is still quite uncommon for an educated man to marry a non- educated woman.

Your class it is also decided by your family’s status. People from the rural areas are generally perceived as lower class. In Warsaw, people are probably judged more on the basis of their own achievements and money. It may be important to notice that Poland had large population of nobility before the Second World War. However, most aristocrats were killed during the war, during the Stalinist area with the few survivors emigrating or marrying ordinary Poles.

Ethnicity: After the Second World War, Poland become very homogenous as far as ethnicity is concerned. This had two effects: lack of conditions in which ethnic tension can be born and at the same time, lack of knowledge and therefore understanding and appreciation of ethnic differences. As a result, ethnic differences may be noticed more in Poland than in more diverse countries. On Polish streets you do not see many people who do not look Polish. There are few Asians and even fewer black people and most live in the largest cities. So curiosity is not uncommon and you many feel uncomfortable at times with people looking at you if you are not Caucasian. Additionally, the notion of political correctness is not very popular in Poland. This means that Polish people may say things well behaved American or Canadian would not or may point to ethnic differences when talking about people.

Surprisingly, the above attitudes will have minimal impact on workplace. Maybe if people do not like someone and have no other argument they will point to the person’s religious, class or ethnic background. Mostly, this type of comment makes those saying such things look stupid.

At work, if you are accepted to be "one of the boys" (or girls), your background is no longer very relevant. Also, because you are a foreigner, you will be in class of your own.

Canadian Perspective:

Gender: This is a complex aspect since women range from orthodox homemakers and mothers to modern day businesswomen who support the household. That being said, Polish women can hold a dual role—balancing a challenging career, while at the same time being tough but highly effective homemakers. Men range from physical labourers (usually more conservative) to open minded liberal intellectuals. With strong Western influences at work, as well the fact that many women are now earning more than men, gender roles are in a state of flux.

Class: This remains as traditional as ever. Blue-collar workers are considered to be of the lower class. However, the concept of physical work does not only mean digging ditches. It may also refer to data entry.

Ethnicity: Poles in general are open to other ethnic minorities, however there are many which are stereotypically considered "inferior": Romanians, Russians, Ukrainians and Belarussians are often put in this category. On occasion, Asian and African guest workers are lumped in as well. However, there is no great sentiment for Germans either.

Americans and Canadians are usually the best accepted foreigners, while Poles still have a long standing "love affair" with the French (dating back to Napoleonic times). These nationalist identities, however, are in a state of flux.

The above-mentioned elements can play out in the scene at a given place of work on a case-by- case scenario.

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Cultural Information - Relationship-building

Question:

How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?

Local Perspective:

What you want to establish in Poland with clients (and maybe less so with colleagues) is "professional" closeness, which means that you may wine and dine them, but that you are not really friends. If you become too close they may expect favours, which will compromise you as a professional (eg: a price for a service at cost basis, or a lower price for the service but offering it directly and going around the company you are working for).

Similarly, with colleagues, especially those who are under you, you have to keep certain distance. It is the best to see how people at your level will behave towards staff under them and to behave similarly, adjusting without totally compromising your value system.

Inviting a staff member to your house will never be perceived as just casual, friendly and meaningless meeting. Going to an event given by an employee attended by others of similar rank or by many/most people from your office is fine but it may be tricky if you and your partner (if you have one) are invited to small dinner. It is the best to become acquainted with people at work before mixing your private and public life, which does not mean no mixing. I am just saying that you cannot be too casual, spontaneous or friendly right away.

Canadian Perspective:

This greatly depends on the setting. Poles show diverse patterns of behaviour, which can range from a close business relationship with open lines of communication, to partners or co-workers that do not speak at all.

Building trust and personal rapport is important in any business/work environment. Using one’s best judgment, some basic psychology and a little common sense, almost anyone can establish a solid working relationship as one would in Canada.

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Cultural Information - Privileges and Favouritism

Question:

Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship

Local Perspective:

Yes they would most definitely and would expect: pay increase, preferential treatment, or the hiring of friends and family. They good thing is that they would in most cases be very happy to do the same for you (eg: recommend good cleaner; find a teacher for your children; get you a good price for a car if you are buying it from their friend/family member; get a job for your husband/wife etc.). As a hangover from the previous system, people have a habit of "organizing" everything thorough personal contact and using your boss/colleagues/staff to get those things is just part of the game.

Canadian Perspective:

The old relationships based on nepotism are both dying and directly challenged. Special privileges help, particularly in the public sector, but they make less of an impact where results- based performance is significant. A good contact may get you through a rough spot, but performance will keep you with them in the long run. Negotiations may take months, particularly if the government is involved, or conclude quickly if you are dealing with one of the new aggressive entrepreneurs.

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Cultural Information - Conflicts in the Workplace

Question:

I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? Privately or publicly?

Local Perspective:

I don’t think that there are any culturally specific ways your colleagues will use to let you know that they have problem with you. Especially it they are inferior to you in work structures. They may be grumpy and refuse to tell you what is their problem but only some people use this method. Confronting them directly but in private is probably the best way of solving the problem. It is important to note that in Poland there is a very high rate of unemployment (now about 18% for men and 20% for women) so fear of losing work will affect how people communicate with you and what they do during such confrontation. They may be scared of you because, as a boss, you can deprive them of their job.

Canadian Perspective:

Public confrontations are neither the most popular, nor the most effective method of dealing with most work-related problems. It is best to address the party or parties in question in private and sort out the matter in a professional and positive way.

This is a complex issue with no single correct answer; however, if a problem arises, as in Canada, your Polish co-worker may avoid you or may not perform as well as he/she should on the job.

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Cultural Information - Motivating Local Colleagues

Question:

What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job?

Local Perspective:

Job satisfaction, commitment, money, good working conditions, and fear of failure are all motivating factors, as is fear of unemployment. It is traditional for Polish bosses to manage their staff through fear! Workers are meant to be scared of their bosses and therefore perform the best they can. In my experience and observing work places around me, in such conditions, people start playing a game with the boss where they do everything for him/her to think that they perform well while the actual performance is of secondary importance. Remember that until 1989 people used to have jobs for life so they are all still learning how to operate in new system of market economy and high unemployment. I think a nice compromise between Polish staff management through fear and more progressive methods focusing on encouraging and supporting your employees is the best answer.

Canadian Perspective:

There is a wide spectrum of motivational factors at the workplace in Poland. And, again, this would depend on a case-by-case scenario. However, wages, good working conditions and job satisfaction would be at the top of the list. Likewise, working for a foreign company is considered to be quite prestigious in Poland.

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Cultural Information - Recommended Books, Films & Foods

Question:

To help me learn more about the local culture(s), please recommend: books, films, television shows, foods and web sites.

Local Perspective:

Any book by Normal Davis would be good. In my opinion he is the only foreigner who really gets what Poland and Poles are all about and writes about it in an interesting, comprehensive and exciting manner. There is also an excellent book by Adam Podgorecki, Polish society, which was first written in English and only later in Polish and describes the way Polish society works, in an extremely easy to understand despite its quite academic manner. It has been written for the foreign audience so you should be able to get a lot out of it.

I would also recommend a Lonely Planet’s guidebook to Poland. It has been written by a well- travelled Pole who describes things in a way that is very useful for foreigners but at the same time assists you in immersing yourself in Polish experience.

Canadian Perspective:

A good book to start off would be Krzysztof Dydynski’s Lonely Planet Poland (4th Ed) (May 2002). 600 pages. (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/europe/poland). Likewise, Andzej Wajda’s remake of Adam Mickiewicz’s novel Pan Tadeusz (1999) (http://www.pantadeusz.com/) is an Oscar-winning film that should not be missed, regardless if one is traveling to Poland or not. Blanc (1993) directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski is a more contemporary, albeit somewhat dated film for helping one understand local culture.

There are several Polish language television programmes available in the Ottawa-Hull viewing area, including: Rozmaitosci, 6-8 pm OMNI 1(formerly CFMT), Saturdays; Polish Studio, 11am- noon City TV, Saturdays; and Polish radio programming, 6-7pm CKCU 93.1 FM, Wednesdays.

Lastly, there are a plethora of web sites one can visit in order to get better acquainted with Polish culture. First off, there is the largest English-language weekly, The Warsaw Voice (http://www.warsawvoice.pl/), which offers news and current information in English. Polish World (http://www.polishworld.com/) offers a wide array of information on issues ranging from arts and entertainment, culture to travel.

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Cultural Information - In-country Activities

Question:

When in this country, I want to learn more about the culture(s) and people. What activities can you recommend?

Local Perspective:

Watch Polish soap operas! By satellite you can probably get Polish TV channel called "Polonia" addressed to Poles leaving abroad. The soap operas such as "Zlotopolscy" or "Klan" provide a good and quite realistic picture (even if a bit over sweet) of the life of Polish families (Poland is very family centred!), their values and their problems.

If you come to Warsaw you can buy a monthly publication called, the "Insider", published especially for expats but also used by the locals. Insider provides reviews of cafes, restaurants and cultural events and explains them quite well to your average unsuspecting expat.

It is fine to ask someone at work to show you around city you live in. There is only three dangers: if you ask somebody of the opposite sex, they may assume that you are interested in them; they may try to show you the best aspects of Poland/the city you are in and you will not see real Poland; you end up just seeing people’s living rooms rather than exciting night life. You may find that Poles form families relatively early and so they don’t go out as much as people in other countries (this is particularly true for people over 30).

But what ever you do make sure that you will have some Polish friends and not just expats. Generally, it should not be difficult as foreigners are still considered a good addition to any social circle.

Canadian Perspective:

On summer Sundays free concerts are held under the Frederic Chopin Monument in Warsaw’s Lazienki Park and Palace. More formal concerts take place regularly throughout the city and his work is featured in every Polish pianist’s repertoire. The Warsaw Voice is available on the Internet and in print, and is available at most kiosks and bookstores around Poland.

When in Krakow, the Cabaret Piwnica pod Baranami was perhaps the first cabaret to be elevated to the rank and authority of a national institution. Since its birth in 1956, the Piwnica Pod Baranami in the cellar of the Pod Baranami at Rynek Glowny 27, has enjoyed a very special brand of high-brow entertainment: a literary variety show with poetic songs and humour.

One of the best "cultural interpreters" is the Polish National Tourist Office (http://www.polandtour.org/). Their web site is updated regularly and can answer just about any question on Poland, its people and its culture.

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Cultural Information - National Heroes

Question:

Who are this country's national heroes?

Local Perspective:

It is difficult to say. Every social group has its national heroes. I actually read recently an article about lack of national heroes in contemporary Poland. Adam Malysz (ski jumps) is probably closest to it. Most of people respect the Pope and expect everybody knows that he is Polish. Lech Walesa (of Solidarity) is no longer recognized as a hero by everyone. However, it is important that you know that Copernikus (Kopernik) and Kosciuszko were Polish and what they have done.

Canadian Perspective:

Pope John Paul II, Adam Mickiewicz, Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Kazimierz Pulaski are just a few of Poland’s national heroes. These patriots and lifelong apostles of Polish national freedom supported the struggle for Polish independence and statehood.

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Cultural Information - Shared Historical Events with Canada

Question:

Are there shared historical events between this country and Canada that could affect work or social relations?

Local Perspective:

If there are I have not hear about them. Poles may blame United Kingdom or the US for not helping Poland quickly enough during the World War II and than proceeding to "sell" us to Russians, and then exploiting Poland after 1989. Canadians are not viewed as responsible of any of our national tragedies and historical injustices. If anything, Canadians may be perceived as citizens of large, nice, wealthy, and peaceful while quite un-influential country in the world. You may find that people feel a certain connection with you because they have relatives or friends who emigrated to Canada.

Canadian Perspective:

No. Poland and Canada share a long and friendly history. Furthermore, Canada is home to a large and very active Polish diaspora.

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Cultural Information - Stereotypes

Question:

What stereotypes do Canadians have about the local culture that might be harmful to effective relations?

Local Perspective:

There are not many stereotypes about Canadians, as there are not that many Canadians in Poland. I guess that may be tendency that people will assume that Canadians are similar to Americans.

Canadian Perspective:

Some Canadians tend to lump all Central and Eastern European countries together, and perceive them as being one and the same. Not much holds the amorphous region together anymore. Countries that once lived on the same bloc today have little in common and, in some cases, little to do with each other. Poland has lost touch with its eastern cousins, and shed her Soviet skin more quickly than her stepsisters Belarus and Ukraine. Perhaps all that can be said of the countries in the region is that, after over a decade of transition, they are still changing. Poland is no exception to the rule.

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Cultural Information - About the Cultural Interpreters

Local Interpreter:

Your cultural interpreter was born in Poland the third of four children. She was raised in Krakow (Cracow) and as a teenager moved with her parents to Australia where she first completed her undergraduate degree and her PhD at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. She also worked in Melbourne in a variety of non-governmental organizations (predominantly ones focusing on women). She has also been working in academia, both in teaching and in a research capacity. As her PhD was focusing on Poland, she has travelled to Poland for research purposes at least once a year. Upon completing her thesis, she returned to Poland and now lives in Warsaw where she works predominantly in the non-governmental sector, lecturing occasionally at a local university.

Canadian Interpreter:

Your cultural interpreter was born in Ottawa, the youngest of five children. He was raised in Ottawa. He studied Political Science and Eastern European and Russian-Area Studies in Ottawa at Carleton University. His work sent him abroad for the first time in 1998 where he went on foreign assignment in Minsk, Belarus with the Atlantic Council of Canada (NATO). Afterwards, your cultural interpreter went to Poland, where he lived for 11 months. He is currently living in Canada, in Ottawa.

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Disclaimer

Country Insights - Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.

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