You recently bought a new hat. It looks like this...
You aren't quite sure when you get it home whether or not the saleslady was telling the truth when she said you looked "absolutely fab" so you ask a couple dear friends to tell you the truth...
"What do you think?"
American friend: Oh my gosh, what an awesome hat! I would never have the guts to buy that, you are so crazy! But you know, will you even get a chance to wear it out of the house? I mean, it's pretty outrageous, and you're such a casual dresser. It would be a shame to pay all that money and then never wear it...
Polish friend: That hat is hideous.
You're on vacation with two of your best buds, one American and one Polish. You have brought along your new swimsuit that you bought on sale at the end of last Summer. Over the winter you have eaten one two many Santa Claus cookies and your new suit is a little snug. You look a little like this...
"What do you think about my new suit? It's been a year since I bought it, maybe it's too tight after all?"
American friend: Oh my goodness, that is adorable! You are so smart to shop when all the sales are going on, I always forget to do that. It might be a bit tight in a couple places but nothing that a cute beach cover up and a bit of a tan can't fix. If you're feeling really self-conscious you can throw this cute sundress over it and just take it off when you go in the water.
Polish friend: You look fat.
You decide to move to a new country. You tell your friends. You look a little like this...
|This is supposed to be "trepidation"|
American friend: How exciting! That will be such an amazing adventure for your family. I know there will be difficult moments but you can handle it! Good Luck!
Polish friend: You'll be back in a year.
All of my American friends are thinking, "wow, those Poles are mean jerks, why would you even want a Polish friend?" And my new (although might not want to be my friend (s) anymore) Polish friends are thinking, "hey, we're not that mean, we don't sound like that!"
The truth my friends is that Poles are not mean, I do like many Polish people, and yes, Poland, you do sound like that. Sorry, it's just the truth.*
Being raised in America means you are raised with American sensibilities. You learn from an early age that it is rude and can be hurtful to be blunt and upfront. You only say exactly what you mean at times of high emotion. Otherwise you do what I like to call, "padding". You pad your feelings and reactions with words that will ease the criticism or contradiction you are about to unleash. Americans know how to do this and, more importantly, they expect others to do this. America is a huge country. Most people will only encounter other cultures on vacation, if that. Americans are used to dealing with other Americans. We all know how this works. We are experts at, what I like to call, DIPLOMACY (see above for definition). And we expect this same kind of diplomacy in return.
Enter the Pole.
Poles tell you exactly what they mean and they say it exactly how it pops into their heads. There is no padding any where and quite often what they have to say will hit you like a ton of bricks.. This is just the way it is. It is not because they are mean. On the contrary, Poles, as a whole, are extremely welcoming and warm people. Incredibly helpful to foreigners and eager to make things easier for you when they realize you are new and out of your comfort zone. All that being said, they can sometimes come across as abrupt, abrasive, or at the very least, insensitive. It is not their intention I am sure. It just is the way they talk.
My only criticism being on both sides of this incredibly interesting difference between the two cultures is that they are somewhat incompatible... unless... they give each other the benefit of the doubt and assume the best of one another. (surely a lot of situations in the world would better if we all did this a bit more, but here we are). If I assume that every Pole that has ever said something to me in this unfiltered and sometimes harsh manner was trying to hurt me, or take their comment personally, I would never have been able to marry Martin, and I certainly wouldn't be living in this country. Now, when a comment or reaction comes quickly out of nowhere, I inwardly laugh. Oh, how this would sound to another American who hasn't had all the practice I have had over the past few years! You have no idea! And, most of the time, I just resume conversation and tuck that one (or two) comment away and ponder/laugh over it later. Likewise, Poles have to remember that Americans do expect this, so don't be too alarmed when they call you out on it and expect an explanation of your attitude, or at the very least, give you a cold shoulder now and then. You've hurt them. You don't know why, but trust me, it was probably something you said. Not what you said, but how you said it.
Neither way is better of course. Before I was seasoned I was sure that the Polish way of speaking was just incredibly forward and direct, sometimes even rude. Surely they know how that sounds to other people! But if you think about it, figuring out what Americans are trying to say half the time, and not knowing if you were actually just complimented or insulted, could be really frustrating for an outsider. Get to the point, America!
So, I offer a solution. When you are talking to an American, do them a favor and try not to be quite so... direct. It hurts our delicate sensibilities. And for us Americans... lighten up! It only stings the first couple of times. After that, you become immune. ;)
IRONY: *Disclaimer, to ease Martin's sensibilities... OBVIOUSLY, this is not true for EVERY Pole. Some Poles can beat around the bush just as well as an American, and I have heard from plenty of Americans who can't hold their tongue. Obviously it is not ALL, and EVERY, or any of that other such nonsense. Generalizations are...and that is Clash of Cultures.