I was asked this question during one of my recent follow up meetings with a British client named Michael: Why are the Poles so formal? Perhaps they do not trust me? Michael assumed that this was the case, but in the end it wasn’t, which costs a lot of time to find out and repair. What can you do in the future?
The Poles are generally more formal and reserved at the first meeting than other nations. When I was studying at University of Chester I was astonished when a professor of employment law was allowing students to address him per “you” or “Phil” which would be impossible back in Poland where you had to refer lecturers in a very formal manner.
In initial business contacts Polish people address each other quite formally as they use the person’s courtesy titles like Pan [Mr], Pani [Mrs] followed by a surname or first name. Usually, after two or three meetings, the use of first names is welcomed. Do not worry if this is not the case. Some people are just accustomed to using titles and do this routinely.
Formality is used to respect status
I suggest you use “Ty” [ You – informal ] with family, friends and children. However, use the formal “Pan”and “Pani” with everyone else.
The most difficult thing with this approach is to figure out who is a friend and who is not. The Polish word for “friend” describes a more intimate relationship than in other cultures.
Don’t assume that just because your Polish contact uses less formal language to address you gives you permission to use it to address him, especially if they’re older than you. Polish society is quite hierarchical and formality is used to respect status. Therefore, think of it this way – you have to call the King “Your Majesty”, but he can call you whatever he likes.
To sum up
In professional situations, the Poles are polite and formal, requiring the use of formal forms of address and certain forms of etiquette which should be respected for a first meeting. Do you want to learn more? Take a look at our courses or in specific our countrycourse about Poland
In the beginning they appear quite distant but if you are kind and open, relationships soon become warmer.
About the author: Wojciech Kolodziejczak
Wojciech’s mission is to promote cross-cultural networking and to educate professionals that building strong business relations can help them grow their careers, businesses and personal lives.
He is a business trainer specialised in cross-cultural communication, networking, and negotiation skills for British, Polish, and other international businesses. He is also a visiting lecturer on cross-cultural networking skills for the Federation of Small Businesses, London Metropolitan University and other organisations.
More info about Wojciech: www.lifenetworker.com