Never Joke about the Pope, or Taboos in Poland


Writing about taboos is difficult because they are, yes, taboos! Unless one is a gossipmonger who really likes to raise questions everyone else tries to avoid and replace them with tactful silence. Not really belonging to this category (I’m getting old, you know) I feel a bit awkward having to write about things people don’t want to talk about. And it took me a while to think about taboos that would be specifically Polish. I guess we share our taboos with many other countries (especially European ones having similar culture and tradition).

A delicate question. Whereas young people talk about it all the time showing little or no inhibition, it’s still a difficult topic in an intergenerational environment. And there have been massive protests recently against Madonna’s upcoming concert, as she’s apparently too sexy and lascivious. She also questions our religious beliefs, which leads on smoothly to another contentious issue for the Polish:

The thing that makes Madonna’s concert even worse is that it’s supposed to take place on the 15th of August which is a big religious celebration of the Virgin Mary and a national holiday in Poland. Taking into consideration how Madonna used to treat Catholic religion, no wonder some conservative groups in Poland are outraged. So if you don’t want to cause consternation, avoid raising religious questions. And never ever make jokes about the late Pope, John Paul II. He’s sanctity to many in Poland.

Not a comfortable subject for the majority of Poles yet. It has become ‘trendy’ in Warsaw recently (to be gay or to have gay friends) but you still might want to avoid this topic when meeting people for the first time.

Abortion and euthanasia
These are two big issues and a recurring topic in the media. They are discussed a lot so they might not really be taboo, but I still advise to be careful when talking about them. Not a nice ice-breaker.

Don’t ask Polish people how much they make. Just don’t. It may be a normal question in some countries, but in Poland you are seen to be judging the person and estimating how much they earn. Most people have problems asking about money, even between really good friends.

‘Unfriendly honesty’
Go for the white lies. Poles might be open, friendly and direct but they don’t like to be criticized. If the truth is not essential (e.g. when at work) don’t say it or try not to sound judgmental. And if a friend asks you what she looks like in the new dress, just say ‘awesome’. Truth in such a situation will not be appreciated unless you’re really, really close.

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4 thoughts on “Never Joke about the Pope, or Taboos in Poland”

  1. Quote:
    [Go for the white lies. Poles might be open, …]

    yay! the Poles are open. let’s vote!

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  4. “Poles might be open, friendly and direct ”

    Have you ever been to Poland??? Direct…perhaps -Friendly… Rarely – OPEN…NEVER!!!

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