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.