Phrases to Impress Your Polish Friends

While, for many, the easiest way to the heart is through the stomach, with Poles, it’s through their native language. They don’t expect anybody to speak it, so just sprinkle in a Polish word here and there and you’ll win them over in no time.

It all starts with a cześć and a smile, as the pronunciation of “ść,” when mastered, stretches your mouth into a grin. The natural follow-up question is, literally, “what’s there with you?” (co tam u ciebie?), not the classic “how are you” used by most foreigners or heard in the smash hit from the ’70s “Jak się masz, kochanie.” Once you’ve both confirmed that everything’s all right (wszystko dobrze), get ready for hearing “no” a lot.

But don’t worry: It’s not that Poles disagree about everything or refuse any offer. On the contrary! In a casual conversation, “no” (with an “o” like the English word “of”) mostly means yes; but it can also be a way of buying time or, if repeated and accompanied by a waggling finger, a warning. You can also use it as a listening noise (like the English “uh huh”), either alone or with other words. When you agree, it’s a no tak; when you’re shocked, it’s a no co ty; and when something bad happens, it’s best to reach for no nie (oh no) or the superlative no masakra. Luckily, there’s usually no carnage involved. Just as there’s no coffee in melanż (party) and no hotness in hajs (money)…

Or maybe there is? Watch out, because such false friends may “lead you into the raspberry [bushes]” (wpuścić w maliny) or even “make you a horse” (zrobić w konia) – both of which mean to deceive somebody. In such cases, the person deceived may get upset and therefore not be “in the sauce” (nie w sosie), saying angrily to the deceiver to “go stuff yourself with hay” (wypchaj się sianem!) – i.e., get lost.

Although learning Polish may seem like a “heavy piece of bread” (ciężki kawałek chleba) to some, it’s worth the effort. There’s no satisfaction like being able to pronounce surnames that bring out the famous “sounds of rustling leaves,” like Brzęczyszczykiewicz. Manage that, and no Pole can resist.

Katarzyna Makusz
Katarzyna was raised in Warsaw, moved to Vienna for university and to Madrid to fulfill one more of her dreams. A major in Mass Media and Communication Studies, she’s finishing her second degree in Transcultural Communication. When she’s not chasing stories, you can find her chatting over a cup of coffee, dancing salsa and bachata or planning her next journey.

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