Polish Language Blog

Visiting – the rules Posted by on Mar 22, 2010 in Culture

Today Adam explains what to do and what to expect if you’re going to visit a Polish person in his/her natural habitat. Read on:

Continuing the topic of advice for travelers and the occasional foreigner living in Poland, this time I decided to follow your suggestions and cover visiting someone at home (iść w gości).

Rule number one is that there are (unfortunately) no rules. What I mean by that, is, that contrary to some cultures where some customs need to be observed, in Poland there is no strict code to follow. Things vary from region to region, from city to city and from home to home. You are on your own, and moving in the savoir vivre mist. The general trend is the change from a warm and hospitable “country of the East” into the cold and stiff “country of the North”.

For instance: you would like to visit someone, should you announce yourself in advance? First of all, contrary to popular stereotypes about hospitable Poles, some people would rather not receive guests at home. Going out is becoming increasingly popular in Poland, and causes less hassle. I am one of those who usually don’t receive guests, and therefore I seldom visit anyone else at home. I would rather wait for someone’s invitation. I can imagine asking someone if I could pop round, but that would have to be someone close. Many people, especially in central and eastern parts of the country, Warsaw, and rural areas would, on the other hand, be more likely to happily receive unannounced guests. It is therefore worth to know your friends’ preferences.

When you are visiting someone, should you bring anything with you? Generally you don’t have to, however it would be a nice touch if you did. Flowers and wine? These would apply to some rather formal dinner parties, and even then I wouldn’t really advise them. A good idea, unless your hosts are on a diet, would be a box of chocolates. And among all kinds of chocolates, I would advise to avoid the cheapest and the most expensive (and tiniest).

The best idea of all times is a box of Ptasie Mleczko (literally “bird’s milk”), chocolate covered milk souffle, a Polish favorite. A great idea would be to bring a small gift (also food or drink) connected with the place of your origin or residence.

Some people, again looking at stereotypes, would think about bringing wódka (vodka). If you do know your hosts well, and you are sure they will not take such a gift in wrong way, and you know you will be drinking hard liquor, you may consider it. Among people I know it is rather rare to entertain with alcohol, other than wine – and that still seldom.

What may surprise you is that some people may ask you to take your shoes off and wear guest slippers (kapcie dla gości). And people visiting you also may feel obliged to take shoes off and wear slippers. Think about it in advance. If you have no problem with it, than everyone is happy.

I never take my shoes off in someone’s house. But I do have a few of “emergency” disposable beauty-salon slippers, just in case. I just don’t like the idea of sharing footwear. I would take it with me when visiting someone who I know expects guests to take shoes off and is uncompromising. I would also offer it to those visiting me, who cannot be convinced it is alright for them to wear their shoes on my carpets. Consider getting a pair.

What can you expect during your visit? Some people, regardless if this was what was scheduled, will offer you a rich meal of many dishes, including cakes. This is the old-style hospitality that is becoming more and more rare. Sometimes, especially when there was no mention of a meal in the invitation, you can expect tea/coffee and cookies.

During a meal, you do not have to eat everything. It would be a good idea to at least try everything you are given, even if you anticipate it might not be to your taste. A note to Americans: people will be surprised to see you cut your meats before eating, but you can go ahead with it, it might begin an interesting conversation.

Try to leave when your hosts are still hungry for your presence. It is always better than to leave them feeling you stayed too long.

Anna’s comment – all of my Polish relatives cut their meat before eating, they say it’s easier that way. I never thought it was anything unusual until it was pointed out to me by an American (of all people)!

Tags: , , , , ,
Keep learning Polish with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it


  1. Jake:

    “I never take my shoes off in someone’s house.”

    This comment surprised me. Why on earth not? It is standard in most Polish houses to do this,and I would think it would seem rude not to.

  2. Renata:

    VERY STANDARD in most polish houses to take shoes off.. especially if asked… but mostly do it anyway.. especially if I see many shoes by doorway.. or many kapcie near the door.

    WODKA or wine or cake or chocolates.. is standard fare when w gosci…. am I too old? i am 33??? Live in America…

  3. Adam Blomberg:

    Maybe I should be more clear about this in this post. Actually it is rude to ask your guests to take their shoes off. Any Polish book on savoir-vivre will say this. But this is a custom in many homes anyway. It could be likened to wrapping a sofa in plastic, so it doesn’t get dirty. If someone is so afraid of guests making mess – don’t invite them! Go to a bar.

    I (almost) never take my shoes off, most people (say they) don’t mind. I prefer my comfort before someone else’s that is why I prefer to go out – and save myself the whole slippers business.

    Shoes are a part of guest’s attire, someone made an effort to complete the outfit for their visit.

  4. Paul Dzielinski:

    What do you mean by “cut your meat before eating it”? I imagine people sitting around the table with big hunks of roast whatever, chewing on them. I would be shocked and surprised if that’s what constitutes Polish table manners.

  5. russ:

    Wow. You seem in a very small minority about the shoes! In my experience Poles take their shoes off 99% of the time. (And as the following blog entry mentions, this is not unique to Poland but happens in many countries.) Maybe your social circle is different.

    I sure hope you at least take your shoes off in times of winter snow or rainy weather! Otherwise that’s an awful lot of mud you’re leaving all over the host’s floor… (And wiping your shoes on the mat first before entering doesn’t solve it.)

  6. Jarek:

    Shoes in the house must be an American thing.
    I live in Canada and it would be considered beyond rude to leave your shoes on in the house (yours or anyone else’s!) Similarly in Poland, I’ve never encountered shoe-wearing in private homes (usually you bring slippers). Then again, climate and lifestyle have a lot to do with it I imagine..