The topic has been covered several times, but it undoubtfully arouses strong emotions every time when it is discussed on social sites. I can agree with some of stereotypes circulating about Poles, however I would argue with some of them. I warn you that some fragments of the article may insult somebody’s national pride; however, the article itself is not of a bad intention. Instead, I want the people who I write about to better understand their positive and negative sides. In different regions of the world people differently react for the word “Pole”. On the basis of opinions on the Internet, I guess that in Western Europe Poles, as a national community, are connoted with people of a second category. British people complain that the immigrants from the banks of the Vistula river have taken jobs of local people (but the employers assess their effectiveness as better than British!), in Holland Poles work for a “slavery” salary in such conditions that any Dutchman would not accept; Germans are sure that their eastern neighbours are thieves. From different sources of information I heard rumours that in the United States Poles have positive reputation, exactly opposite to opinions circulating on the Old Continent. Randomly chosen Americans asked about Poles in Chicago really often used such adjectives as “friendly”, “hardworking”, “family-oriented” or “truly believing in God”. Why far away the ocean the countrymen are angels, but on the home continent they are so insulted?
The opinion about Poles in China is rather neutral one with a tendency to be positive thanks to famous personalities: Chopin, Copernicus, Sklodowska-Curie, John Paul II, Walesa, Wajda and Polanski. Poland pose as a country in which the time flows really slowly and people like to have fun, which, compared to Chinese people perceiving themselves as hardworking, is almost laziness. Contrary to common prejudices, the country is known in China mainly because of music, high level of information technology, beautiful girls and alcoholic beverages. In China, Chopin is even more prestigious idol than Mozart or Beethoven. When groups of tourists from the Far East come to Poland they do not have to visit the Old Town or see the Palace of Science and Culture, but they must visit Kościół Świętego Krzyża. And here arises a question: how many Poles know what is that place? The answer: a few. In the church there is buried (as it is said so) the heart of the artist. It is a pilgrimage destination of Chinese tourists. They might do not know where Poland is located on the map of the world, but they know that Chopin was a Pole.
Polish women are perceived as really beautiful abroad. My grandfather enthusiastically was saying that Poland is a factory of beautiful women, even though he has not been in Poland before. In eighties one Chinese, after returning from Poland, wrote his opinion about Polish women in his book at the same time making them known in his country. He wrote that Polish women are the most beautiful women in the world and their beautifulness comes from the mystery. The mystery is a kind of nostalgy and sadness on their face and is so characteristic that it is recognizable in every place of the world. One day in New York in the metro I saw a middle aged woman, who had the same facial expression. I had an impression that I have already seen this kind of placement of eyebrows and lips and I felt that she is probably from Poland. Then her phone rang I her first words were “Hej, no cześć! [Hi, hello!].” My suspicion turned out to be the truth.
Smile, as a national feature of Poles, was one of the topics of Polish pavilion during Expo 2010 in Shanghai. I was both surprised and amused, because foreigners from outside the European continent, who have been living in Poland for relatively long time, do not recognize smile as a national feature of Poles or to be seen often on the streets. Contrastively, I think that Poles are sad and often they lack in self-confidence. The pedestrians do not look at each other on the street, or just ignore somebody’s gaze (which rarely are glowering ones), or they lower their heads in such a manner as they want to say „leave me alone!”. Guys, there is not any gold on the pavement – there is no sense in looking at your feet all the time!
However, it is important to mention that nevertheless smile is not often seen on the streets, Poles are open and polite nation. In contrast to circulating stereotypes, an average Pole can behave better than any other European. I have noticed that elderly people follow some basic social conventions; men are more polite towards women. In addition, when a stranger starts conversation with another man, the level of defensive instinct is an appropriate one to enable contact of two people at the same time not allowing to be exposed to danger. For comparison, the level of defensive instinct in China is so high that strangers do not talk to each other. The instinct is sometimes so strong that people often do not invite each other, do not talk about their travel plans or about their financial situation even to their friends. It is one of the reasons why in the Middle Kingdom it is often said that the western world is really open.
Coming back to the issue of appearance, I am sorry to say that the aesthetics of clothing among Poles in on a really middle level. Women strives to be beautiful and contrastively to opinion of Trinny and Susanna, the female part of the society, especially young ladies and elderly ladies, wear tasteful clothes following the world’s fashion. If the Central Office of Statistics (GUS) would give each Poles point for their personal appearance, the women between 20 and 40 would increase the country’s average, as teenagers and most of the men do not care about their private personal image. The country’s average is lowered especially by men, as I notice, because a huge percentage of them do not wash themselves, wear rags, they do not care whether they go out in a tracksuit or gloomy sloppy sweater. On the contrary – too excessively – I will call it by its name: metrosexually. I do not want to pay lips service and create myself on the background of nationalism so I must add that men in China also wear untasteful clothes. I suspect that lack of interest in their own appearance is a matter of laziness, not anthropological explanations that image is a women’s cup of tea. We do not live in times of industrial revolution, when the ordinary people had no access to better clothes. I personally think that we also have to care about our appearance, sometimes even more than women. According to gentleman’s code, the man should be dignified, elegant and show their power and pride. It is worth to invest some money in a better quality shirt and trousers, because it will be good for a longer time, and to look for different kinds of shoes than trainers.
I cannot agree with stereotypes that Poles are intolerant towards foreigners. As a Chinese I must admit that it is better to live in Poland than in some other cities in the world, especially in the Europe. In England you can often hear about mayhems in Chinese restaurants where victims were the owners of the restaurants, for example about three years ago everybody was speaking about a murder of few Chinese students in the Northern England; in France the president do not publicize his aversion to foreigners. What is more, in the second half of the 20th century in Australia Chinese immigrants were treated as citizens of a second category, but everything has changed for better thanks to tighter cultural exchange of ordinary citizens. It is a nonsense that in civilized parts of the world the native inhabitants are more tolerant towards foreigners and in Poland it is so bad. The difference is about more intensive acclimatization of foreigners in the Western institutions than in Polish ones.
I often hear people saying that stereotypes should be faced. However, I think that stereotypes are useful and we should not fight with them, because it is impossible to do away with them. The thing we should liquidate are negative characteristics of some social groups. For example, opinion about French people that they are romantic, well-educated or world-wide is not a stereotype which anybody wants to deform. Because of many reasons it is maniacally said that Poles are slobs, dunkers and thieves. But has anybody thought about the second opinion circulating abroad that it is a nation which is friendly, cheerful (i.e. they like to have fun), living without much stress, its cuisine is great, and clients keep their word of merchant? In conclusion, if I call drunkenness a national culture – for example in the context of beer culture in German, it will have a positive meaning, but isn’t it still a stereotype? In my opinion Poles should not be ashamed of anything. Once the provincial country, now is developing as a political player of a global range, but I do not understand why Poles still fell worst on the background of other nations. I think that creating an image of a nation living according to carpe diem rule, similarly to Danes, is the best option for the country.