So you might love pierogi, the complex Polish history or the challenging Slavic language, but what do you actually know about Poland and Poles? If you’re about to visit the country or planning to move here, you need more info than what the best vodka brands are or how to pronounce complicated consonant clusters.
Here are 10 facts about Poland that will help you to understand the country and its inhabitants better, and make your trip to Poland truly unforgettable.
1. Vodka was invented in Poland
That’s right! Even though people associate vodka with Eastern European countries, it’s not clear where vodka was exactly invented. Still, many people automatically assume that is a Russian thing. While in fact vodka as we know was invented in Poland. Today, you can choose from a wide variety of vodkas and they’re all delicious – try a shot accompanied by a small bite in one of Krakow’s vodka bars and you’ll know what I mean.
2. Poland has its own Anne Frank
Anne Frank is famous all over the world for her moving diary that documents the German occupation of the Netherlands. Not many people know, but Poland has a similar history.
Rutka Laskier was a Jewish girl who died in Auschwitz concentration camp when she was only 14. But she also wrote a diary that describes the experience of her family in Poland under the Nazi occupation. Her diary was only published in 2005 and ever since she’s known as the Polish Anne Frank.
3. Chopin asked for his heart to be buried in Poland
While it may not come as a surprise that the French-named Frederic Chopin was actually Polish, that story might put a new light on the famous pianist and composer.
When Chopin was on his deathbed, he asked that when he died, his body be cut open and his heart removed in order to be buried in his homeland, Poland. And that’s exactly what happened.
Upon his death, his sister smuggled the heart out of France and delivered it to be buried in the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. You can still see the commemorative plate in the church.
4. “Home Alone” is a Polish Christmas tradition
Unexpectedly for a country with such a huge Catholic population, the most common thing Poles do during Christmas is watching the Hollywood classic Home Alone. It’s practically a national tradition. And the history is quite interesting. This 1990 American film was one of the first Hollywood movies that reached a mass audience in Poland after the fall of the Poland People’s Republic in 1989.
Today, Polish TV airs it every Christmas and one third of Poles aged 16 to 49 watch it every year. When one network that owns the rights decided not to show Home Alone in 2010, there were national protests.
5. Poland’s border was once moved west – together with the people!
Believe it or not, but that’s what happened. Toward the end of the Second World War, the policy enforced by the Soviet Union resulted in massive population transfers as the country’s border was moved further west. And we’re talking about territories that today belong to three different countries: Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine!
6. Bisons still roam Polish forests
The spectacular Bialowieza Forest that stretches across Poland and Belarus is one of the largest remaining parts of the primeval forest that used to cover Europe. This amazing ecosystem is home to over 800 European bison, once extinct in the wild. Thanks to successful breeding and reintroduction programs, bisons are making a comeback and incidentally, providing inspiration to one of Poland’s most appreciated vodkas – Zubrowka.
7. Celebrating name days
In some parts of Poland, it is still uncommon to celebrate birthdays. Instead, people celebrate name days – days the dedicated to the patron saint the person has been named after. In fact, coworkers and family often choose to celebrate name days instead of birthdays. This tradition was even more widespread in the times of the Poland People’s Republic.
8. Poland commemorates its history like no other country
If you happen to be in Warsaw on August 1, at 5 o’clock in the afternoon you will see everyone stopping in their tracks and standing straight in silence for a minute. This is how Polish people pay tribute to the Warsaw Uprising, the largest rebellion during the Second World War that cost more than 200,000 lives, as well as the destruction of Poland’s capital.
9. The first day of spring is celebrated with drowning
Don’t worry, nobody dies during that day. The first day of spring is celebrated in Poland by either burning or, more popularly, drowning an effigy of Marzanna that symbolizes winter. The custom is widespread in Slavic countries and it’s easily the best way to get the spring started.
10. Poland has a crooked forest
The mysterious forest full of trees crooked in the exact same way makes an appearance on the Internet from time to time, but not many people know that this patch of trees grows in Poland. The 90° bend at the base of trees is a real mystery and until today nobody knows why the trees grow like this.
If you think you know Poland, better think twice.
The country is full of paradoxes, interesting facts, and mysteries that make up its unique character. That’s why it’s a great idea to visit various parts of Poland and learn more about the country’s complex history, unusual customs, and funny traditions.