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Learning the Social and Business Customs of Poland

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Social Customs:

Poles are usually very religious, as you may notice by the various Jesus and Pope posters and statues all over the buildings and city streets. Make sure not to make fun of the Pope, and if you are atheist, try not to announce it. If you enter a church, remove your hat. On religious holidays, most businesses are closed. Christmas is taken very seriously and celebrated for two and a half days. Poles practice “dzielenie oplatkiem” during Christmas, where they break and share a white wafer among all members of the family, and everyone announces wishes for wealth and health during the upcoming year. Many Poles also do this at the workplace. Families are the basis of the social structure in Poland, and people acknowledge their extended families.

When greeting someone in Poland, you should use a good handshake, direct eye contact and a smile. You should greet the other person according to the time of day; “dzien dobry” is good morning or afternoon, and “dobry wieczor” is good evening. You should address people by their proper name; “Pan” is Mister and “Pani” is Miss, and follow this by their last name. First names are not used until you are comfortable with a person.

In terms of gift giving, it is appropriate to do this on birthdays, Christmas, as well as name days, which are the birthdays of the saints after which people are named. Do not give gifts that are extravagant or expensive. At the work place, employees often bring cake and champagne to the office to celebrate their name days.

If you are invited to a house for dinner, you should bring wine, flowers (avoid yellow chrysanthemums, red or white flowers) , pastries or sweets to the hostess. Arrive on time to dinner and dress conservatively. As a polite gesture, you should offer your hostess with preparation or clearing up. Wait to be invited to start eating. Most dinners are served family style, so try a small amount of everything. Poles tend to toast a lot during the meal, primarily with vodka.

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Business Customs:

When entering a meeting, it is custom to shake hands and make eye contact at the start and end of the meeting. When you give out your business card, try to have one side translated into Polish. At meetings, the most senior Pole will generally start and lead everything. A good deal of small talk is done at the beginning of the session, so people can get to know each other, as relationships are highly valued. People value directness and honesty. To further establish relationships, you may be invited to lunch or dinner afterwards.

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