World Travel Guide > Guides > Europe > Poland

Poland History, Language and Culture

History of Poland

The history of Poland begins in the Early Middle Ages with the migration of Slavs into the area, which by the 10th century had established a permanent settlement and founded the nascent Polish state. At its peak, it was one of the large nations in Europe, prospering under a commonwealth with Lithuania, but by the 18th century its territory had been reduced to little more than a buffer state between the three kingdoms of Austria, Prussia and Russia. Between 1772 and 1795, the country was carved up amongst the three countries and did not gain independence again until the end of WWI in 1918.

In 1926, a military regime under Józef Piłsudski ousted the civilian administration and governed Poland until the country was once again dismembered by its powerful neighbours, Germany and the Soviet Union, under the terms of their so-called Anti-Aggression Pact of 1939. Commitments by the UK to defend Polish sovereignty were ignored when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, starting World War II.

In 1941, the Germans drove the Soviet army out of Poland and were themselves ejected four years later. At the end of World War II, the Soviet-backed Polish Workers' Party formed a coalition government under Władysław Gomułka, until he was dismissed in 1948. In the same year, the Polish Workers' Party merged with the Polish Socialist Party to form the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR).

In 1956, Gomułka returned to power amidst growing unrest to implement a plan of gradual liberalisation of society and the economy. After disturbances in the industrial ports of Gdańsk, Gdynia and Szczecin in 1970, Gomułka was replaced as first secretary of the party by Edward Gierek.

In 1981, with the backing of Moscow, the former army chief of staff, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, replaced Kania and imposed martial law in response to the Solidarity labour movement, which was banned. The early 1980s saw a tense standoff between the state and the unions, which did not ease until the Gorbachev era.

In 1989, following the virtual collapse of the Polish economy and the falling of the Berlin Wall, the PZPR government opened genuine negotiations with Solidarity, which was legalised, paving the way for semi-free elections. In 1990, Solidarity's Wałesa became the first popularly elected president of Poland. Poland joined NATO in 1997 and the European Union in 2004.

Did you know?
• Poland was not a sovereign state from 1795 to 1918, but desire for a Polish nation burned fiercely unceasingly through the period.
• The Polish constitution was the first in Europe and the second in the world, after India.
• Roughly one third of Poles are thought to live abroad.

Poland Culture

Religion in Poland

More than 95% identify as Roman Catholic; Polish Autocephalous Orthodox (so-called Old Believers), Russian and Greek Orthodox, Protestants and Jews make up the other 5%.

Social Conventions in Poland

Poles are friendly, industrious people and foreigners are usually made very welcome. There are vast contrasts between urban and rural life and the Polish peasantry is very religious and conservative, maintaining a traditional lifestyle. Roman Catholicism plays an important role in daily life and criticism or jokes about religion are not appreciated, despite the general good humour of the people.

Shaking hands is the normal form of greeting; an older man will often kiss a woman’s hand. Normal courtesies are observed when visiting private homes, and it is customary to bring flowers, preferably in odd numbers. Fairly conservative casual wear is the most suitable attire, but dress should be formal when specified for entertaining in the evening or in a smart restaurant. Smoking is banned in public places, including railway stations, restaurants and bars.

Language in Poland

Polish is the official language. There are a few small German-speaking communities primarily in the southwest. English and, increasingly less so, Russian are also spoken. French is also popular.


  • Beer = Piwo

  • Closed = Zamknięte

  • Danger = Niebezpiecznie / Niebezpieczeństwo

  • Do you speak English? = Czy pan mówi pan po angielsku? (to a man) / Czy pani mówi po angielsku? (to a woman)

  • Doctor = Doktor

  • Eight = Osiem

  • Eighty = Osiemdziesiąt

  • Entrance = Wejście

  • Exit = Wyjście

  • Fifty = Pięćdziesiąt

  • Five = Pięć

  • Forty = Czterdzieści

  • Four = Cztery

  • Friday = Piątek

  • Goodbye = Do widzenia / Do zobaczenia

  • Hello = Dzień dobry

  • Hotel = Hotel

  • How are you? = Jak się masz? (informal) / Jak się pan ma? (formal)

  • How much does it cost? = Ile to kosztuje?

  • I'm very well = Bardzo dobrze/W porządku

  • I don't understand = Nie rozumiem

  • I feel ill = Jestem chory (male) / chora (female)

  • Menu = Jadłospis

  • Monday = Poniedziałek

  • My name is … = Nazywam się...

  • Nine = Dziewięć

  • Ninety = Dziewięćdziesiąt

  • No = Nie

  • One = Jeden

  • One Hundred = Sto

  • One Thousand = Tysiąc

  • Open = Otwarte

  • Please = Proszę

  • Restaurant = Restauracja

  • Saturday = Sobota

  • Seven = Siedem

  • Seventy = Siedemdziesiąt

  • Six = Sześć

  • Sixty = Sześćdziesiąt

  • Sunday = Niedziela

  • Ten = Dziesięć

  • Thank you = Dziękuję

  • Thirty = Trzydzieści

  • Three = Trzy

  • Thursday = Czwartek

  • Today = Dziś / Dzisiaj

  • Toilets = Toalety

  • Tomorrow = Jutro

  • Tuesday = Wtorek

  • Twenty = Dwadzieścia

  • Two = Dwa

  • Wednesday = Środa

  • Where is …? = Gdzie jest …?

  • Wine = Wino

  • Yes = Tak

A digital image at

Related Articles

City Highlight: Warsaw

Epic nightlife, rich history and fascinating culture make Warsaw, Poland’s capital, an exciting city to visit and explore

10 things to see and do in Wrocław

With a feast of baroque architecture and Poland's liveliest nightlife, Wrocław is a winning city for more intrepid travellers

Poland’s great outdoors

From glorious mountaintops to graceful waterways, Poland's virtually untouched countryside gives you ample opportunity to explore

Book a Hotel