Monday, June 13, 2011

The Polish Way to Ask Questions

One aspect of Polish culture is its rather indirectness.  They are rarely blunt and have an irritating way of asking questions that take a few moments' thought to figure out what exactly they are asking.  It's all in an attempt to play down awkwardness, but if you aren't used to it, you will find it infuriating.
Poles will be more likely to ask if "you don't need anything."  This, typically, would be seen as rather rude in many other cultures, implying that the one asking is hoping there no immediate needs as it would be a bother to him.  It's actually implying that the inquired-about is not helpless and can manage on his own, but it also leaves open a small polite door for the petition of assistance.  Another example is "Tell me about the girl/boyfriend you don't have."  This seems like a convoluted, illogical statement (and it is), but it's Polish for "Why are you single?"  Now, a direct "Why are you single?" is probably a faux pas in many cultures, and this is just how they skirt the issue.
I have found the best way to settle these throw-you-for-a-loop questions is to tackle them head-on.  When a Pole asks a stumper, just reply with a, "Are you asking what my father does?  He's a lawyer."  (NOTE:  The author's father is not in the legal profession.)  After being confronted with evidence of their sly mind-bending inquiries, the Pole will most likely look a little sheepish and say, "Yes, I am [asking that]."


Nom de Plume said...

Huh, a lot of the polish people I've spoken to seem a little abrupt and rude sometimes... I guess it's just an artefact of how they translate their language. :D cool.

Anonymous said...

To be honest I always thought that Polish are a lot more direct in asking questions than others, as Nom de Plume said, Polish people are often regarded as rude *because* of their directness. Maybe they are addressing you that way because you're a foreigner? Also, "Tell me about the girl/boyfriend you don't have."...uhmmm...and how would that be in Polish? Im a native Polish speaker and for the life of me I cant figure out how you would say that...

Paddy said...

I find Poles to be incredibly abrupt in asking things, in comparison to the evasive and defensive English speaking methods of asking things, e.g. "I wonder, if you would be so terribly kind, if it wouldn't be a problem, to take up some of your time by asking whether, if it's alright, you might just be able to do X or Y"

Christian said...

Very interesting, comments and the post itself

Alnair said...

Thank you for your insights. A lot of the polish people I've talked to online seemed a little blunt. Now I understand why.

PolishMeKnob said...

Some of us obviously have different experiences with Poles.

Anon, the boy/girlfriend question was directed to a friend of mine in English, not Polish.

I have always found Poles to be more indirect in their queries; online doesn't count because everyone is always pretty much way too direct online.

Greg said...

The: if "you don't need anything." is just completely misunderstood or misinterpreted by the author here.
The question "Czy czegoś nie potrzebujesz?" is a perfectly polite and logical question for anyone with a grasp of the language.
In a funny sort of way it is actually one of the most English-like (as in indirect) questions I can think of in Polish.
Your understanding and translation of it is incorrect. The correct way would be to translate it as "Don't you need something?"
The "I wonder if..." missing from the beginning of the question is simply implied as it often happens in Polish.