Polish Language Blog

Kombinowanie continued Posted by on Nov 2, 2009 in Culture

So, let’s go back to the issue of kombinowanie for a few more minutes. Turns out that the person who claims that Poles are a cheating, scheming and otherwise dishonest bunch also reads this blog. Oh, hi! Small world, isn’t it? Thank you for providing us with such an interesting discussion topic!

And to another reader – thank you for pointing out the fact that I didn’t explain the really first thing first about this word. So, in order to rectify that oversight from the other day, here it is:

  • kombinowanie (noun, neuter, plural: kombinowania, though I don’t think many people would use the plural form) – and that’s the noun version of kombinować.
  • kombinować (verb, imperfective; the perfective form would be wykombinować) – wangle, maneuver, get things sorted out, cheat, scheme, arrange something, etc…

And here are some examples of kombinowanie that should be easy to grasp (even for my very honest American readers, wink wink).

Personally, I have seen tons and tons of kombinowanie in the US. Heck, you want to see kombinowanie as an artform the American way, then go to any jury selection process and see how people kombinują to get out of performing their civic duty.

Another example of kombinowanie is trying to get a reasonably priced sublet apartment in Manhattan. That’s when kombinowanie turns ruthless, even by Polish standards. Anything goes (short of murder, but then again, who knows?) – lying, cheating, scheming and bribe giving (and a few other things that I shouldn’t mention on a PG-13 blog).

But I think that basically kombinowanie starts in school, and that’s a proven fact the world over. Proven how? Show me a bunch of 13 or 14 or 15 year olds who are NOT trying to get out of some undesirable school activities by any means necessary and you’ll see a bunch of witless pushovers.

So, actually, I don’t think that the totalitarian regime of the communist days had much to do with the Polish kombinowanie way of life. If you read how those really ancient guys like Mieszko and Chrobry got to be princes and kings and otherwise mighty and powerful guys, then it’s obvious that kombinowanie (and this time definitely including murder) has been with us, Poles, for a lot longer than the last 50 or 60 years. In fact, you can even say it’s kept us alive through the centuries, it’s helped us survive wars and other calamities.

And what happened if we ended up stuck (no doubt of a result of kombinowanie of other powers) with a witless wonder of a ruler who couldn’t kombinować even if the very survival of his country depended on it and concentrated on building pretty palaces instead? Like Stanisław August Poniatowski, for example? Everybody knows.

So yes, kombinowanie may be our way of life, and I don’t think it’s more prevalent in Poland than in other countries (it seems to me that in Asia and South America it’s physically impossible to get anything done without some very skillful kombinowanie). We are just a lot more honest about admitting to actually doing it.

PS. Do you still see any goofy computer language in my posts on this blog? I am using a new computer and a new internet provider (microwave wireless something something) and I hope there will be no more glitches.

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  1. dks:

    Anna, thank you for explaining the difference between the noun and the verb.
    I just got an idea: maybe we can also mention an idiom that includes the word “kombinować” such as “kombinować jak koń pod górkę” ? 🙂 You use it often times while talking about the past, when you or someone were unnecessarily testing out different ways of achieving a goal but there was one simple method of doing it and the solution turned out to be easier than you thought. Does it sound about right?
    As in: Kombinowałam jak koń pod górkę making multiple phone calls and trying to figure out who could come over and help me put on a sari, but I completely forgot that my next door neighbor is Indian and she is always willing to help.

  2. Marta:

    You know, foreigners have always told me that “kombinować” has shady connotations, yet I’ve usually used it (or heard it used) in a positive way – as a description of figuring out an inventive solution to an unusual problem. Sort of like Macgyvering a solution: “I had to do something difficult/unusual and it was tough, but I _pokombinowałem_ and I did/finished/accomplished it.”

    Think of it this way: Polacy kombinują on their own, Americans have to resort to websites like lifehacker 😉

  3. dks:

    @Marta: That’s true! I guess I start thinking of the word kombinowac as a negative one mostly when foreigners ask me about it. It happens so because I know that they might have heard about its negative connotation. However, as the idiomatic expression mentioned above shows, the word doesn’t have to be completely negative. There, it is used in the context of figuring out a good (not necessarily shady) solution to a problem.