Life & work
Although the general rule is that a person of a lower status greets that on a higher professional level, it may change according to different circumstances. For instance, if you are walking into a room full of other people, you have to greet them first, regardless of their position. Even if your Polish is not your forte, try to learn how to pronounce Dzień dobry – without a doubt you will make a good impression on everyone.
Polish handshakes are not as firm as in some other Western countries, but they definitely serve the same purpose – show your respect and trust towards your colleague, boss or business partner. The rules of handshakes are quite simple – it is a person of a higher position who initiates the gesture. Therefore, a boss puts a hand forward to an employee, a host to a guest etc. Remember not to omit women while shaking hands – awkwardness arises when a man greets all of his male colleagues with this gesture, formerly associated with men only. When women are among them, they are simply left out. If you avoid making them feel this way, they will definitely appreciate that.
If you hesitate whether you should knock or not – simply knock. While many offices in Poland use the open space, there are still rooms with hard wooden door that seem a bit sacred to fresh employees, like those in an unexplored part of a building or a door leading to your boss’ office. People in Poland are not obsessed with privacy, but they definitely value it a great deal, and work environment is no different. However, when it comes to approaching e.g. glass doors leading to a room full of people, there is probably no need to knock.
Letting somebody pass in a doorway has been a staple in Polish culture for many years, if not centuries. While Western countries were systematically getting rid of this habit, it is still very much alive in day-to-day situations in Poland. How about norms at work? Here we have acquired some of the universal etiquette, which tells a subordinate person to let their supervisor go first, regardless of gender. Therefore, if you are a male manager, you have the right to go first in front of a group of your female workers. In practice however, many men prefer to let their female colleagues go through a door first if they are not in a hurry. It seems that foreigners will have to see for themselves how to apply the ladies first rule in their work environment and check what works through trial and error.
Small talk will be a big part of your days at work in Poland. How was your weekend? Did you manage to catch that bus yesterday? Are you flying home for Christmas? – these are some of the safest options you may het. However, if you are a foreigner, you may be shocked by the topics your colleagues will want to discuss with your over coffee breaks at work. Polish openness may sometimes be viewed as negativity, when in fact it is often pure realism. After a few days at work, your co-workers will want to engage you in a heated political debate while you just want to eat your schabowy in silence. Talks of untrustworthy politicians, high prices and other upsetting aspects of the world surrounding you may also surface. Even religion is not always a taboo, unlike many other countries. How can you get by? As a foreigner, you may get some preferential treatment and be spared from chatting about controversial issues (not knowing enough Polish is a good excuse). You can also go with the flow – Polish people agree to disagree all the time, so whatever results from your animated debates in a cafeteria, it will probably not influence your personal relations.
While conversations may be called food for thought, standard food can also be an issue at your new workplace. You should always remember to eat your meals in a space designed for that – a cafeteria, canteen or kitchenette of some sort. Eating at your desk will be frowned upon, as it is unprofessional and simply rude. Just think about your colleague who has been sitting in front of the computer all day, finishing an important report! Therefore, it is viewed as something friendly, when you share some small treats with your closest co-workers from time to time. Maybe a regional specialty of your country?
If you already work in Poland, feel free to share your experience with others. Are workplace manners really that different from those in your homeland?