Phrases to Impress Your Polish Friends

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.

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