You may have noticed that I’m on a bit of a Polish love-spree right now. If you’re still here and reading about it, that means you haven’t tired of my meanderings into everything to do with Polish culture, food and art.
Because of the PB I’ve decided to learn the language. After all, the PB is a native speaker so it’s almost feasible to think that I could actually speak it one day. Polish is full of enjoyable quirks, poetry and adds a deeper meaning to my life in learning it and interacting with people.
When I was in Poland in 2016 I was sitting in the Dentist waiting for the PB to get his teeth examined and an old woman sat there staring at me with curiosity. She finally plucked up the courage to talk to me and I was trying really hard to explain where I was from and why I was there. She loved that I was trying. Everyone there is so down-to-earth and because the language is complex and convoluted, nobody expects foreigners to actually speak the language. So it’s always delightful to surprise people by pulling out all of these Polish words.
Polish people are patient with foreigners, and are genuinely pleased when foreigners try to speak Polish, so it’s well worth the effort to learn the language.
More English speakers should make the effort learn this very precise, emotionally charged and intense language. Here are some words with no English equivalent. (I didn’t know some of these words, I had to Google them, Im not that advanced yet).
Dozywocie: [dosch-VOCH] Many cultures share this concept, but Polish sums it up in a single word. “A parental contract with children guaranteeing life-long support”.
Smacznego: [Smatch-NEGO] Similar to the French Bon appétit!. Smacznego comes from the Polish word for tasty. It’s said before you start eating by polite waitresses everywhere.
Zalatwic: [Za-lat-vik] This means getting something done by whatever means necessary; either using legal or illegal methods such as bribes, political clout, connections, or simply personal charm. During the days of Communism in Poland, there was plenty of ‘zalatwic’ going on, but that’s all started to change now with the new Polish government introducing broad sweeping changes to laws left over from Communism. Recently the government abolished astonishingly large pensions left continuing indefinitely for people who were in positions of power, such as the Secret Police, during the Communist era.
Kamienica: [Kam-u-nitz-a] Some people translate ‘kamienica’ to mean an ordinary ‘building’. However a kamienica is anything but ordinary. It’s one of those gorgeous, colourful heritage buildings that tend to manage to find their way into all of the Instagram photos of Polish cities.
Examples of Kamienica in Wrocław
Pogodnie: [Po-god-nia] This is adjective meaning ‘good’. However ‘pogodnie’ comes from the word for weather (pogoda) and so in Polish when there’s a fine day you would literally say ‘pogodnie pogoda’, which literally translates to ‘The weather is weather’ or ‘The weather is weatherly’ – quirky.
Żal: [Zal] This word is often translated as ‘sadness’ or ‘grief’, but both words are too general, whereas ‘żal’ usually refers to sadness in very specific circumstances, with connotations of disappointment and betrayal – Polish culture is known for its melancholy.
Formacja: [Forma-cia] Used in academic circles and in colloquial speech sometimes. ‘Formacja’ can be described as a mind-set and a way of thinking that’s particular to a generation or era. The German word ‘zeitgeist’ comes close to this word.
Kilkanaście: [kil-ka-NAS-CHE] A weird little word which could be translated to the ‘umpteenth’ time. Although Kilkanaście implies a number between 12 and 19. No English word that does the same thing!