Doing Business in Poland
Polish language is one of the most difficult languages on Earth. It is a Slavic language, and is second after Russian in the Slavic family of languages in usage. Due to the historical changes in Poland and various external influences it became quite complex. For foreign visitors the main problem is the spelling of words, since like in any other Slavic language words are full of consonants and obviously lacking vowels. The pronunciation is further complicated by the gender system existing in grammar.
Polish people are eager to use English, so do not worry about major communication problems. Nonetheless, Polish people are always delighted to hear a few greetings in their own language: Dzień Dobry! [jen dough brie] “Good Morning”, “Good Day” and “Good Afternoon”; Dobry Wieczór! [dough bre we etch or] “Good Evening” and when leaving: Do Widzenia! [dough vidz enya] “Good Bye” and Dobranoc! [dough bra nots] “Good Night”. It is also worth using Dziękuję! [jen queue yay] “Thank you”, Proszę! [pro se] “Please”, Przepraszam! [pshep pra sham] “Excuse me”.
Poles tend to maintain strong relationships, especially in business. In dealing with foreigners they may ask their acquaintances first about their opinion on foreign colleagues. The first meeting can be quite formal due to Poles having a careful approach towards the unknown. After breaking the ice, business meetings may become more casual. Maintaining good working relationships with all your business colleagues will be a key factor for future success. Having lots of contacts and connections may prove to be very helpful in future business dealings.
Generally, the working hours are from 8 am to 4 pm and no lunch break exists. Poles would have their main meal after work and in the case of business meetings this can be extended up to a few hours, when the main meal would be followed by different snacks and drinks afterwards. Although breakfast meetings are uncommon, business is often conducted at lunch and especially at dinners. Most entertaining is done in restaurants and invitations are hard to turn down, especially when you are told: "a guest in the house is God in the house".
Poles are conservative in dress. There is no such a statement as overdressing. Make sure you look smart at all costs. Polish people appreciate elegance no matter what the social background so in business life they also like to appear well-dressed. Women prefer natural make-up, with not too strong colours, but obviously perfect and very often expensive. For men white socks are unacceptable. Wearing hats and gloves is sign of sophistication and high standards. Bright colours are avoided, and the best choice of colour for suits is light blue and pink. Smoking has become decreasingly unpopular. In fact, it is seen as a weakness, rather than strength, in socialisation.
Polish people are very aware of body language; they study it early at school. They realize the importance of eye-contact, straight posture, open and relaxed position and a smile. While speaking they like to look into the listener's eyes, while listening they rather look at the speaking person's lips. Mistakes like playing with a pen during a speech are noticed immediately.
Shaking hands plays an important role in business. It is common everywhere, any time, regardless of gender or rank. You might notice that even colleagues in the office welcome each other with this gesture every single morning. A strong and confident handshake is a manifestation of trust, respect and politeness.
Poland is a Catholic country, in which feminism has only just begun to develop. Women are always allowed to enter a building or an office first. They also stand up first, initiate handshakes (unless they are in a lower position in a company) and usually count on having doors opened before them. Women expect men to carry their luggage and help them to get out of a car by supporting their arm.
Punctuality is a virtue, so Polish business people are never late. If they are, they communicate it with their business partners on time (via phone, assistant or another message). Traditionally, fifteen minutes are permissible if there is a suitable explanation. However, lateness is not accepted in business.
Managers are trained in giving presentations and lectures, so you will find them fully prepared and aware of their audience. They usually have no notes, because they have to know the topic perfectly. Managers’ good knowledge of English allows them to avoid any misunderstandings and helps them to use their sense of humour, which is a common thing in Poland. Nevertheless, you should be prepared for racist jokes and remarks sometimes. Political correctness is a new notion in Poland, and Poles like to make fun of themselves and other nations, religions and cultures openly.
Making notes during presentations may be disturbing, so avoid it. You will usually receive a handout with a summary of the discussed topic, which helps to remind you of any emerging questions. Eating during a meeting is very rare, although you will have access to small snacks, coffee, tea and other drinks. Coffee and tea will be served with milk in a separate container, since not everyone likes them white. Alcohol is not allowed in offices. Eating and drinking in public places, as well as in business life, requires basic politeness and culture. You can easily manage with British cultural behaviour, unless you start scratching the plate with your knife and fork, spit or burp after the meal.
Communication & Language
Polish business people both like and try to speak English. They are very happy and confident in using this language as a tool of communication, but might also want to impress you with their knowledge. In communicating ideas they are very strict, logical and precise. They do not like to repeat themselves, unless for the sake of common understanding. Asking questions is a sign of intelligence, but asking questions about obvious facts (already mentioned before) a sign of the opposite.
Good topics for conversation
Casual conversation is always welcomed. Poles would be flattered to hear about the late Pope John Paul II (who is highly revered in this 95% Roman Catholic country). Also composer Frederic Chopin is a Polish national treasure and a source of great pride. Expressing a genuine appreciation of his work is a terrific icebreaker. Additionally, conversations about food, sports and the beauty of Poland are positive topics of discussion, while anti-Semitism, sex and religion are not. Remember to never talk business over food unless the subject is brought by your Polish partners.
Gifts are very often used expressing respect. Traditionally, gifts are given at the end of the meeting and usually represent values or information about Poland, the company or people you work with (a guide book with lovely illustrations, photo album, special product of the area you are visiting, etc.). Nowadays people avoid giving wines or vodkas. Women still receive flowers.
Polish cuisine is based on traditional meals from Poland and neighbouring countries, so don't be surprised seeing German, Ukrainian and Slovakian food as well. Poles like soups and meats, though dressings are usually quite light. Polish people always eat a lot of salads and drink natural juices. Poland has a tradition of drinking beer and vodka. You might be lucky to avoid the stronger alcohol simply because it is usually an evening drink, but try to taste their beer. They drink it during meals as well, especially in summer. Women are always allowed to enter a restaurant, sit down and choose meals first. Often when they get up from the table the male companions stand up as well to show her their respect.
Poland is a Catholic country. Nevertheless only 60 % of the population goes to church each Sunday, which suggests that religiousness is of a rather traditional form – the most religious events are perhaps Christmas and Easter. People respect other religions, know their cultural backgrounds and quite often like to chat about this. They do not always like to talk about the situation of their Church in Poland (politically very involved), so try to avoid this topic.
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If you would like to know more about Poland, please visit our country profile page.
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