Thursday, July 30, 2015

Poland And Polish - Stereotypes & Other 'Truths'

Polish culture and cuisine are so reach and diverse - I have no idea why Poland, in the US, is mainly associated with two things: pierogi (especially the ones stuffed with potatoes and onion) and polka.

First of all, having lived in Poland so long, I never ate that kind of pierogi at my family home. Never had them at my friends' in Poland either. I first ate them when I came to Texas, and I did not like them. Maybe the potato and onion pierogi were most popular among the Polish immigrants in the States?

Pierogi ruskie - picture from

My favorite kind of pierogi are blueberry ones, served with cream and sugar. I also love so-called 'lazy pierogi' made by my mum. Sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar are heavenly delicious. They are quite different to the potato ones - they look different and taste totally different. Besides those,  I also quite like plum knedle (another kind of ball shaped pierogi). Neither of them seem to be very popular in America.

As for the polka. I have happened to hear (when I said I am from Poland): 'Ah Poland? Polka!'
Meaning the dance. OK. The word 'Polka' means 'Polish lady' in Polish. So yes, I am Polka. Maybe it is the beginning of the two words which causes the confusion - the three first letters which are the same in 'Poland' and 'polka'. Maybe that is why the latter one is commonly regarded here as Polish national dance. Well, it is not!
Poland has five national dances but polka is not one of them. Of course, polkas are played and danced by Polish folk bands/groups too - I remember one of them called 'Polka Tramblanka'. But polka is Czech national dance. Not Polish.
I do not know whether there is any point in explaining it to people, especially if some of them simply 'know better' or believe what typically Polish is, and, according to some, I am the one who has been misinformed.

Polonez - one of Polish national dances

Actually, during my stay in the States, I learned new things on what typically Polish means. Things which I did not know when I lived in Poland.

1. An American man (of some Polish roots) shared the info on the (typically Polish) way potato and onion pierogi (again :-) ) are served: according to him - with cream, oil and fried onion.

Let me explain:
  • Fruit pierogi are usually served (in Poland) with cream and/or sugar.
  • Other kinds of pierogi  are served with some hot oil, pieces of fried onion and, sometimes, with cracklings. 
  • The two ways are never mixed.
I have no problem with accepting and understanding that somebody may enjoy such a cream and oil mixture but my family, myself and most people I know in Poland, would find it gross. Maybe we are not typical Poles?

2. While I was looking through a catalogue of a popular American online store, I was pleased to find out that they also had earrings made in Poland on offer. The sterling silver earrings decorated with amber were quite nice. What really surprised me, was the information included in the item description. Reading it, I learned that products made of amber are a popular wedding gift given to a bride (in Poland of course) for good luck. Well, I come from that amber region, have attended quite a few weddings there and never had I heard about such an amber wedding good luck token, neither the brides I used to know. Too bad for us?

Jewellery and amber shop in Gdansk, Poland

3. Browsing another catalogue (a different online store), I have come across some (astonishing) info on another interesting  'Polish' thing. According to that, pictures depicting Virgin Mary standing at a washing line are popular in Poland. Where do they take such stories from? Luckily, in the later issues of catalogues by that company I did not see any other 'revelations' of that kind.

Not only non-Poles happen to be mistaken of course. One day, at a certain function, my husband and myself were wearing traditional folk costumes of the region I am from. Polish ladies of local Polonia community claimed, very strictly, that the outfits were not Polish. I found it sad - not only what they said but also the way they stated it, and how limited their knowledge was. And it was said to me by the Polish. What made it even sadder - a man of Oriental origin who saw us and our folk dress later (it was somewhere else), said: 'Oh, you represent Poland!' No, we were neither holding a sign with the name of the country nor had a Polish flag. He just knew it.

Well, stereotypes are most often based on lack of knowledge - on a certain topic. We tend to be very quick to make generalizations such as: 'all men are ......', 'all women are......', 'all (a nation) are/have ........'.
Personally, I try to avoid it, I am aware that generalization is an error of logical thinking. Besides, following stereotypes we can simply misjudge someone or misinterpret a life situation. Maybe it is part of human nature to believe stereotypes.
All in all, it is our decision whether we choose limitation or stay open to learning new things.
Stay open.


  1. This happens over and over. When I first came to the US, while working in a Polish deli, I was repeatedly asked for "kolacky". They were surprised I didn't know what they were talking about. Honestly, to this day I'm not sure what it is. I have seen ads of "Cheddar and jalapeño pierogies". Now that's a way to profane pierogi, don't you think? But I don't blame them. Stereotypes are as old as this world, and we are all its victims. When I see a person's genuine interest, I correct and explain more details, otherwise I just leave them alone. Pozdrawiam!

    1. To prawda :). Kolacky are Czech pastry - stuffed eg. with fruit. Of course very Polish :)).