The Many Polish Greetings

Posted on 08. Jul, 2008 by in Culture

In all this excitement with grammar and country music, I totally forgot to tell you about the intricacies of Polish greetings. I realized that last night when a friend from Finland skyped me and very indirectly pointed out my oversight.

My friend is an older lady whose brand new daughter-in-law is Polish. The girl’s Polish parents came up to Finland for a visit, which brought up the subject of greetings in our conversation.

To be able to communicate with her daughter-in-law, Tiina (my friend) is busy learning Polish and understands most of the basic expressions. So I was very surprised when she said that the girl’s parents used a Polish greeting that she was not familiar with. Of course I wanted to know what it was that they said that so confused Tiina, but she didn’t remember and couldn’t ask them, because they didn’t speak any English, Finnish or Swedish.

Through the process of elimination, we determined that they didn’t say:

  • Dzień dobry – which basically means “good day” and can be used from morning to afternoon, because Polish does not have a greeting for mornings only. In the evening, “dzień dobry” morphs into:
  • Dobry wieczór – which means exactly “good evening”.

Those are the two most common all-purpose Polish greetings that 99% of the adult population uses. Tiina knows both phrases and was adamant the couple said something else.

Somehow I couldn’t imagine a nice Polish family visiting their daughter’s in-laws in a foreign land to come out and right off the bat say:

  • Cześć! – vaguely resembling English “hello” or “hi” is normally used to greet people you know, relatives, family, kids, etc. Much too informal for the sort of meeting we were talking about. But hey, maybe it was a very relaxed family? Tiina disagreed, and besides, she knew what “cześć” meant and how to use it
  • Witaj! or Witam! – even though technically meaning “welcome”, it can also be used by a person arriving at your house. It’s a bit less relaxed than “cześć” and depending on who says it and to whom, it can be either formal or not. But again, it wasn’t the greeting Tiina’s visitors had used.

I really doubted the couple had said something like:

  • Jak się masz? – similar to “how are you?”, or
  • Jak leci? – “what’s up?”, or
  • Co słychać? – “how are things?” or something of that sort.

Tiina knew all those expressions and she was sure the people had said something else. I desperation, I asked to speak to her Polish guests directly.
“You can’t. They went out.”
Just when I was about to berate my friend for being a lousy host and letting her guests prance alone in the Finnish countryside, she explained, “their daughter took them to church.”

It turned out that in a next town over, there’s a Polish priest running a local Catholic parish, and the guests being devout Catholics (as many Poles are) wanted to say “hello” to their countryman.

The lights finally came on in my head, and now I knew what they said to Tiina that so confused her. You see, some religious people in Poland, especially people from smaller towns and villages, still use the traditional religious greetings. Sometimes such greetings are reserved for special occasions, and sometimes they are used in everyday normal speech. It depends on how traditional, or pious, a person is.

An older devout couple from a small town in Poland could have very well said something like:

  • Pochwalony Jezus Chrystus – Praised Jesus Christ

Though a short version of simply “Pochwalony” is more common.

to which the proper answer is:

  • Na wieki wieków – meaning “forever and ever”, or – “for all eternity”.

So there you have it, a variety of Polish greetings for every taste and occasion, from secular to religious.

If you heard something else that you think could be yet another Polish greeting, leave a comment and share with everyone! And I’ll try to explain how and when it should be used, OK?

PS. I just spoke to the Polish couple, and they indeed said “Pochwalony“. They also re-educated me about a whole slew of other religion-inspired phrases and expressions that are used by people “outside the big cities”, as they said.

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19 Responses to “The Many Polish Greetings”

  1. Angharadz 9 July 2008 at 7:38 am #

    One of my new Polish friends says something that another translated as ‘may God bless you’ ?
    This was actually a goodbye phrase, if that makes a difference?
    It was a new one to me, and I’d love to see it written down, please? I am still in the very early stages of learning, and cannot begin to approximate what she said!
    Thank you

  2. Anna 9 July 2008 at 8:16 am #

    Hi there Angharadz!

    Your friend probably said “Zostań z Bogiem” or shortened “z Bogiem” (Stay with the Lord, or – May the Lord stay with you) which is a goodbye phrase you use when you are leaving. The person staying behind should answer “Idź z Bogiem” (go with the Lord) to the one leaving.

    Also, it could have been this – “szczęść Boże” which means “God bless you”, but it’s a very traditional, regional greeting in southern Poland mostly. I haven’t heard it in many years, so I didn’t include it in the main article.

  3. Margaret Phillips 9 July 2008 at 10:03 am #

    I suppose this is so obvious that I expect you and your friend have already discounted it but…
    Could it have been a variation on “Bardzo mi miło”?

    Margaret Phillips

  4. Margaret Phillips 9 July 2008 at 10:06 am #

    Having got to the comment site for the first time, I’ve just noticed the name of the first contributer. Is yours a genuine Polish name, Angharadz, or is it a nickname from the Welsh name Angharad? If it’s not a nickname, it’s the first time I’ve seen anything like the name outside of Wales. Margaret Phillips

  5. Anna 9 July 2008 at 10:19 am #

    Hi Margaret!

    Thanks for your comment! We discounted “Bardzo mi miło” as it’s more of a response to an introduction than a real greeting. I chatted with the Polish couple today, and they indeed said “Pochwalony”. They also reprimanded me for thinking that “szczęść Boże” is a regionalism and no longer used. Now I know it’s still very much in use by older generations in Silesia and elsewhere! But mainly in Silesia, they said. Lovely people, by the way. I really enjoyed talking to them! Now they want to know if I’ll set up a blog for Polish people to learn English! :)

  6. thomas westcott 9 July 2008 at 5:26 pm #

    how about ” hej ” ?

  7. Anna 9 July 2008 at 6:03 pm #

    “Hej!” Thomas! :)

    “Hej” would be in the same category as “cześć”, but even more informal, if that’s even at all possible. Borderline with trying to get someone’s attention. In other words – handle with care.

    My sister can greet me with “hej”, my friend of 20 years can greet me with “hej”, but if a stranger said that to me, I’d give him an odd look and think something along the lines of an uncouth oaf with no manners.

    In Swedish however, “hej” means “hello”.

  8. Grazyna 9 July 2008 at 6:32 pm #

    Lovely read again, Anna:)
    It’s worth mentioning that, like in any other language, Polish is going through changes inflicted by youngsters who can be very creative about their ways of expression;) You can hear greetings, like “siema” (this one associated strongly with Jurek Owsiak, a known charity worker) or “siemanko” = I’d say it’s a bit like “howdy”. Other slangish salutation would be “dziendoberek”, which is a softer/more informal version of “dzien dobry”; “serwus”=”hiya” or “czolem”, which has origins in the military and I’d compare it with “ay!”…

  9. Anna 10 July 2008 at 3:41 am #

    Hi G!
    You beat me to it! I was going to talk about slang and creative expressions in a follow up post, because it’s easier to keep the more “formal” language and the rest separate. You know, little bite size pieces work best ;)

  10. Grazyna 10 July 2008 at 4:43 am #

    Ohhh, oops….. sorry….! Didn’t mean to spoil your plans!:-( Will you forgive this my faux pas, Ann?

  11. SCG 18 July 2008 at 11:57 am #

    hey nice I didnt know this greeting but I think I will start using it hehehehehehe thanks dziekuje

  12. Vincent Kolenda 23 August 2008 at 1:12 pm #

    When I was young, and I was going to church, my mother told me to say “Go With God: in polish, and when I came home from church I had to say another greeting. Could you please tell me what the two greeting are in polish? Thank you.

  13. Wół 27 August 2008 at 11:42 am #

    Not sure if this a perversion of the above greetings, but my father and friends used to use “Pij z Bogiem” when drinking especially around the holidays. Wonder if this an American created slang expression?

  14. Anna 27 August 2008 at 1:59 pm #

    Hi Vincent!
    The first one would be: “Idź z Bogiem”, and when coming back from church most likely you’d have to say “Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus”.
    I hope that other readers will chime in with their ideas, my “Christian” greetings are very rusty, they were never used in my family.

  15. Matthew Kosciuk 26 June 2009 at 1:16 pm #

    Hi,

    Just found your website looking for a translation of “Prasie be Jesus Christ” we said when I went to Polish catholic school in NY in 1955-1960.

    I noticed no posts for almost a year. However, in the future if you add additional post can you give a phonetic pronnounciaation for those of us that are not fluent in Polish.

  16. David Raychek 24 July 2009 at 8:01 am #

    I remembered the beginning of a nightly prayer my father used to say. It began as my childhood memory goes; “Speezh Bogiem” As this is an ancient memory I finally searched is after all these years as “spis bogiem.” Eventually I came to this site, and knowing nothing of pronunciation, I question whether that would be a similar pronunciation to “z bogiem,” or perhaps even “Idz z,” or maybe even “szczęść.” Any help on the subject would be lovely. Thanks
    Dave

  17. KJ Palasz 31 July 2009 at 10:23 pm #

    David,
    My Dad would use the same phrase, along with other Polish phrases, and I too have often wondered about their meaning. He grew up in orphanages, as they wouldn’t let him speak Polish he didn’t remember much. Sorry I can’t help but I can share the conundrum. K

  18. Basia 5 August 2009 at 8:05 pm #

    I’ve read with interest comments re Polish sayings.

    I’m having a problem composing a dziekuje bardzo sa prezent and card letter. My Polish is not very good as English is my main language. Can someone help me compose a few words to convey thanks for an anniversary gift and card?

  19. Cindy 23 May 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    What is the polish name for a small tote you keep close to you that contains stuff you need? Is it ” posal” ? Also, what is the Polish word for keeping busy but not really accomplishing anything? Kind of a slang word, maybe? Thanks.


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