The 5 Levels of Being Polish

20160507_132246There’s roughly 60 million Polish people living on the planet, and we come in all shapes and sizes. You could say there are different “levels” of being Polish. Here are those levels the way I see them.

Level 1: The Prodigal Pole

In the Bible, there’s the story about the Prodigal son, who ran away from home and wasted his wealth and talent on meaningless pleasures before finally hitting rock bottom.

Prodigal Poles are those people of Polish descent who have “run away” from their nationality. They have no interest in learning about their Polish ancestors, language or culture. Some of them might even know Polish and have gone to Polish school, but refuse to ever speak it out of shame. If given the choice between a vacation in Poland or getting wasted with strangers in Indiana, they would probably choose the latter. The only hope is that, like the prodigal son in the Bible, the prodigal Pole will see the light and come back…

Level 2: The Developing Pole

Out of all five levels of being Polish, the developing Poles deserve the most respect. They may be several generations removed from a Polish ancestor but are nevertheless heavily invested in discovering their Polish past. From researching genealogy, to trying out Babcia’s recipes, to reading Crazy Polish Guy, these Poles desire to know everything they can about Poland.

Although many of them don’t speak a word of Polish and have never visited Poland, they are, perhaps, the purest Poles due to their genuine desire to learn about their nationality. Their motivation comes from the heart, and that’s what matters most.

Level 3: The Proud Pole

Proud Poles are typically those who grew up in a strong Polish household or have developed in their knowledge of Polish culture to the point of showcasing it whenever possible. They speak Polish when they can, listen to Polish music, attend Polish events, go to Polish Mass and generally make Poland a regular part of their lives.

Proud Poles typically celebrate all major Polish traditions with their families—from Wigilia to Fat Thursday. They treat their colds with AMOL, gorge on Kołaczkis and have probably seen the movie Sami Swoi at least twice. Through their undying love for Poland, proud Poles ensure that the old ways will carry on.

polish heroLevel 4: The Crazy Pole

Consumed by the Polish spirit, the crazy Pole cannot go a day without doing or saying something Polish-related. He’s a nutcase who annoys his friends by bringing Polish beer to EVERY SINGLE get-together and will ramble for hours about how the Poles saved Europe in 1683.

The crazy Pole is not satisfied to live out his Polish culture and let others be (unlike the proud Pole). He actively promotes it, disseminating information about Poland whenever possible so that others too may understand the glory of that blessed nation. He takes developing Poles under his wing and does what he can to bring prodigal Poles back into the fold. A word of caution before becoming a crazy Pole: you run the risk of people viewing you as Polish and little else. If you’re ok with that, then jump on in. The water’s fine.

Level 5: The Actual Pole

The highest level of being Polish…is actually BEING Polish. You were born in Poland and Polish is your native tongue. You don’t have to do any of the other stuff because you can just say “I was born in Poland.”

Of course, just because you were born in Poland, doesn’t mean you can’t be horrible at being Polish. Although you cannot change your blood and birthplace, you can choose to ignore it. It’s possible for an actual Pole to also be a prodigal Pole if he or she has chosen to forget where they came from—that’s probably level zero of being Polish.

I guess the highest level, then, would be a crazy Pole who was actually born in Poland. But is the world ready for that?


In Defense of Polish Heritage (The Gloves are Coming Off!)

polish american marchI have observed three basic types of Polish Americans, and the same probably goes for Poles living in other countries:

The first type are the crazies like me who literally obsess about Poland every single day and find every opportunity to share our heritage (and beer) with others, sometimes to the annoyance of our non-Polish friends. We’re the Polish Pep Squad.

The second type are the sane folks who have an interest in the Polish language and culture and actively seek out knowledge about their heritage. They preserve the traditions passed down by their parents and grandparents. The heart of Polonia, they ensure that Polish culture never dies. I call them the Culture Guardians.

Finally, there exists a large group of “Lost Poles” who are either indifferent, or sometimes even hostile, to their Polish background. Often, these are actually Polish-born people who, since moving from Poland, actively seek to repress their roots to appear more American and, in their minds, modern. Sadly, I have found many of them in the younger generation.

Since October is Polish American Heritage Month, I would like to make the case for preserving our common Polish heritage and perhaps regaining some of those “Lost Poles.” Whether we love it or hate it, Polish identity is something we share and should embrace as much as possible.

First, allow me to address and discredit a few reasons people may give for repressing their Polish identity:

Poland is not all rainbows and butterflies, Crazy Polish Guy…”

I was not born in Poland and therefore can never understand what it means to grow up there. Unemployment, corruption, pollution, lack of opportunity—all these are reasons that people leave Poland, and I get that.  I respect their desire to improve their lives. Someone who grew up amidst Poland’s daily realities may desire a completely fresh start abroad.

But let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. In other words, you cannot let Poland’s negative aspects eclipse the beauty of its culture, history and traditions. The United States has plenty of problems too—just turn on the news. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies here either, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling proud to be an American. I would never try to repress that.

If you were born in Poland, you can never change that. You can try to forget Polish, get a Bald Eagle tattoo and profess how much you love Bud Light (uggh), but you’re still Polish and people will know it, if by nothing else than your accent.  So wouldn’t you want them to associate your Polish heritage with something awesome? If you portray Poland as backward, primitive, or stupid, then that is how others will perceive you because you’re Polish. If, on the other hand, you portray Poland as a fascinating country with breathtaking natural beauty, glorious food, and rich traditions, then others will be fascinated in turn and respect you more.

“My life is HERE, not in Poland (grumble, grumble)”

No matter where “here” is, this excuse holds no water. It’s a medieval mindset of caring only about your most immediate locality and not expanding your horizons. By that logic, if you live in Cheyenne, Wyoming, then why should you care about the rest of the United States, or even the rest of Wyoming?

It’s not only close-minded, but also an extremely boring way to live. No one is asking you to “live” anywhere else. Just be proud of your heritage and try to understand it a little. It can add a little spice to an otherwise mundane existence. Besides, Polonia is never far! You don’t have to fly to Poland to enjoy pierogi!

Poland is a rural backwater full of babushka-wearing, potato-picking old ladies”

I have actually heard of Polish American kids not wanting to go visit their grandparents in Poland because “it’s boring and backwards.” To those kids I say, “Get your dupa over there and then talk!”

Unfortunately, these kids grow up and sometimes become college students who don’t want to help you start a Polish organization on campus (yes, this happened). Some people of Polish descent really do feel that their grandparents’ traditions are dumb and that they are so much more advanced with their Smart-phones and Selfie Sticks. Well, guess what: after visiting Poland recently, I can tell you that, technologically, there is virtually no difference.

Not that it’s a good thing. One of my criticisms of Poland is that it’s increasingly becoming as shallow as the West. As the Poles seek to adopt Western values and culture, they begin to chip away at their own identity. Ironically, the day may come when Polonia, and not Poland, will need to safeguard Polish culture.

The Future

In the beginning of this post, I mentioned three types of Polish Americans. Especially important for the preservation of Polish identity across the globe is that second group, which I call the Culture Guardians. You guys actively seek out your Polish genealogy, share your Babcia’s recipes on Facebook, and try to learn the Polish language. In some cases, you even maintain Polish traditions that are hardly even practiced in Poland anymore because you learned them directly from your grandparents!

In this sense, Polonia, be it in the U.S., Canada, U.K. or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, represents Poland in its purest, most beautiful form, without the political and economic problems weighing it down. By being an American of Polish Descent, a Briton of Polish descent, or anyone else of Polish descent, you can cherish and appreciate our ancestors’ traditions to the fullest extent possible.

This privilege comes with great responsibility, however. We must do our utmost to keep Poles from falling away. If you have children, introduce them to Polish culture from a young age. If you have apathetic Polish friends or relatives, take them out for a pierogi dinner or a Polish fest. Continue sharing that delicious recipe with others on the internet, discussing your ancestry and keeping tradition. You are Poland’s life blood, and as long as you keep pumping, Poland will never be lost. Marsz Marsz Polonia!

Strange Things Only Polish People Will Understand: Part 1

Growing up in a Polish-American household, I was exposed to a number of things that, though they seemed normal to me at the time, later turned out to be very abnormal, at least when it came to American society.

So I’m beginning a series here that will highlight some of these very weird things that only Poles, specifically Polish-Americans, may understand…

Hot Milk:

milk skin, boiling milk
The sight of boiling milk was a common one for me growing up.

I didn’t just drink warm milk for years, I often drank hot milk to the point that it actually coagulated in the mug, forming milk skin…All of my Polish family members thought this was normal. Maybe it was. But eating cereal in near-boiling milk most certainly was not. Yes, I essentially ate “cereal soup” for years. Oh well. Us Poles are big on our soup anyway.

Hot Soup in the Summer

Fresh Rosół
Rosół is amazing, even in the summer.

While we’re on the topic of soup, you should know that Polish people eat a lot of it. Soup is delicious. However, when it’s 95 degrees and humid outside, it’s not exactly your food of choice. Nevertheless, there was one consistency in all those hot summer days I spent in Poland as a kid: we had soup every single day. Most people need something cool to refresh themselves from the heat. Poles need something warm.

Wearing Socks in Your Sandals:

socks in sandals
The classic “socks in sandals” look.

I never actually did this, but I notice that many Polish people do. Isn’t the entire purpose of sandals to keep your feet cool when it’s warm? Doesn’t wearing socks in them defeat that purpose? I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with Polish grandmothers telling their grandchildren to dress warmly.


This is just the beginning of what is sure to be a long list. Please share your own Polish oddities in the comments section. I will include them in the blog.