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published: 19 Jan 2024 in People & relations

5 Polish Grandma Wisdoms. Timeless truths or modern myths?

Kamila Brzezińska
Kamila Brzezińska

Editor

In “The Information Age” we are living in, wisdom has become perhaps one of the rarest commodities on Earth. Therefore, with Grandmother’s Day approaching, let’s look into some of the most common pearls of wisdom offered by older generations in Poland, and ask ourselves: is there some truth to it or do they belong to a myth?

„Put your hat on!”

Pol. “Czapkę załóż!”

If you think of going outside, and the weather is so-so, those would be the parting words you'd hear from a Polish grandma. And all in all, it’s generally a good piece of advice. A hat will prevent the heat from escaping through your head – it's hard to dispute that. But the scale of this phenomenon might not be as grand as we were led to believe. Back in the day, my grandma claimed that as much as 40% of body heat was lost through the head.

Nowadays, we know this percentage to be something of a modern myth. Its origins can be traced back to the US Army survival manual from the 1970s. It has been since debunked by scientists, who pointed out that if that were to be true, you would be just as cold without a hat as if you went without a pair of pants!

Final verdict: 50% Truth / 50% Myth. Or perhaps: 100% true.*

Even though the head heat loss percentage is significantly lower than suspected, it’s still sound advice to wear a hat when it’s cold outside.

*The validity of this particular wisdom depends on technicalities, really. After all, if your Grandma never specified why you should put on a hat – then perhaps she just thought that you would look cute in it? In this case, it’s 100% true.


"Don't sit on the concrete, or you'll get a wolf."

Pol .„Nie siedź na betonie, bo wilka dostaniesz”

With a literal translation of this Grandma’s wisdom, you might be thinking: “Neat! I got to get a wolf? Like a wolf plushie or perhaps a real one, just like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones?”

Well, not quite. This phrase is a Polish equivalent to the old wives’ tale that sitting on cold surfaces gives you piles, aka hemorrhoids.

The good news is that there is little evidence that sitting on cold surfaces could contribute to this condition. The bad news? Hemorrhoids are a pretty common – some data estimates that as many as 50% of us will suffer from this disease at some point in our lives.

It seems that half of us will end up “getting a wolf” whether we wan't it or not. But unfortunately, it won’t be half as fun as we might have neem led to imagine by some fantasy series. And just whne you thought that “The Game of Thrones” couldn’t possibly disappoint you more.

Final verdict: 100% Myth*

* Sure, so cold doesn’t give you piles, but given the high odds of you getting it anyways, you can bet the first words out of your grandma’s mouth will be: “I told you so!”


"Sit quietly, or the licho will come..."

Pol. „Siedź cicho, bo przyjdzie licho…”

In Poland, you would hear this particular wisdom if your grandma was tired of your antics and wished to scare some sense into you.

And so, here is where the aforementioned licho comes into play. In the Slavic culture, licho is a mysterious, demonic creature, personifying misfortune and disease. It was said to rarely appear to humans, but when it did, it would take the form of a skeletal, one-eyed crone. If you were looking for a clearer graphic concept, googling this term would give you a creature not unlike a lovechild between a LOTR’s Nazgul and a Demogorgon from “The Stanger Things”.

Suffice to say – not exactly a fun perspective for a prospective kidnappee, is it?

Interestingly, alternative abductors a Polish grandma is likely to threaten one with aren’t much better.

They are usually invoked in the context of: “Be good, or a Baba Yaga will come and take you away!” Baba Yaga is, of course, another mythical creature - and another hideous, old witch, living deep in the woods in a hut on a chicken foot.

At this point, you might have noticed some similarities emerging. Apparently, elderly women in Poland just love to threaten children with other elderly women, from all the things.

A more perceptive kid could point out this fact: “Well, look who's talking. The pot calling the kettle black!”. But I, for one, wouldn't recommend it. Unless, of course, said perceptive kid is also adept at dodging frozen pierogi that will come flying his way – then, by all means, yap away.

Final verdict: 100% Myth

The odds of a demonic witch snatching the unruly kids are pretty low. I can attest to it from the experience of thirty-something years on this Earth, and having yet to encounter a Baba Yaga. Though, if understand society’s fear of aging correctly, it’s just a matter of time before I see one looking back at me in the mirror.

All in all, as much as the above mystical kidnappings belong to a myth, using them as a scare tactic against troublemaking children has a 100% success rate.


“It must be from hunger…”

Pol. “To pewnie z głodu”

If you were a Polish kid and complained to your grandma that you have a headache, odds are you would hear: “It must be from hunger” in response. Your mum would likely say it too. Frankly, when to Polish women, food seems to be the panacea to all ailments. Whether it’s a physical stomachache or an emotional heartbreak you’re experiencing, it’s nothing that can be solved with a healthy dose of Grandma Stefania’s Secret Stew*(patent would be pending, but then she would have to reveal her recipe, and that’s classified information).

Final verdict: 100% True

It’s well known that hunger can cause a myriad of symptoms, so the claim: “It must be from hunger…” can be quite on point. Of course, it’s equally possible that the aches you are experiencing have nothing to do with low blood sugar, but if your mouth is busy eating, it can’t continue complaining, so it’s a win-win situation, in a Polish grandma’s book.


"It's probably the (atmospheric) pressure."

Pol. „To pewnie ciśnienie…”

If you feel sleepy or unfocused, the odds are it's not the lack of sleep that is to blame - at least according to the diagnosis shared by many a Polish Grandma: "It's probably the atmospheric pressure."

Final verdict: 100% True

There is research that indicates that indeed, atmospheric pressure can impact our mood and even health.

It is just perhaps not as omnipotent as we think it to be.

So if you have a headache, it might be due to a medical reason, sure. But, as a Polish Grandma would feel obligated to point out, it's likely the weight of the very air you breathe squashing you against the surface of the Earth.


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