Today we’re talking about all things Polish. I’m really excited to be in Poland this weekend for my first proper trip. I’ve been a few times before, but somehow never for more than just the day, and usually as an excursion from Berlin. This time is still just flying visit though unfortunately, as I’ve come for the Polyglot Workshops with Richard Simcott and Michał Grześkowiak in Poznan tomorrow and Warsaw the day after, before I fly back on Monday.
So far I absolutely love everything I’ve seen and heard, and met some lovely Polish people on the crack of dawn train from Berlin this morning. Growing up in London I heard Polish everywhere for years, and have always had it earmarked as a one for the list. But as a Russian speaker now, it fascinates me even more.
Polish is so similar to Russian, but at the same time it’s a million miles away. You can just about follow a conversation, tune in to the melody, and hazard a guess at what people are talking about. But actually, chances are you’re totally wrong. Despite their common Slavic routes, Polish and Russian couldn’t be more different in some ways. They are full of false friends, and many of them have the potential to cause some quite unintended scenarios! Here are some examples of how knowing one language might leave you tongue tied in the other.
1. Pl: ‘zakaz’ / Ru: ‘заказ’
One of the first things you’ll see in Poland are the signs everywhere saying “Zakaz palenia”. These are obviously reminding you of the ban on smoking in force here, but might be interpreted completely different by Russians. While in Polish “zakaz” means “forbidden”, in Russian it means almost the opposite. The Russian word “заказ” means “order”, which means that these could easily be mistaken for “an order to smoke”!
The Russian word for a ban is “запрет” (zapret), while the Polish word for order is “zamówienie”.
2. Pl: ‘uroda’ / Ru: ‘урода’
Any Russians coming to Poland to find love are likely to have a shock when chatting up the love of their lives. Especially if they turn around and compliment them for their “uroda”. While in Polish the word “uroda” means “beauty”, if a Russian person says “урода” then what they’re actually saying is “freak”. That is certainly not a mistake you want to make lightly!
The Russian word for beauty is “красота” (krasota), while the Polish word for freak is “dziwak”.
3. Pl: ‘tania’ / Ru: ‘Танья’
“Танья” (Tanya) is a really popular name in Russian. It’s the shortened version of Татьяна (Tatiana), whose origins are found nearly 2000 years ago after King Tatius of the Sabines, a tribe that lived near ancient Rome. In Polish, however, it means “cheap”, with all the connotations you might imagine. Beware any Tanias visiting Poland in the future!
The Russian word for cheap is “дещёвая” (deshyovaya). Tatiana is – understandably – not a popular name in Poland.
4. Pl: ‘palaczka’ / Ru: ‘Полячка’
“Полячки” (Polyachki) in Russian is a word for Polish women (although nowadays “Полька” is more common). To a Polish person, however, ‘palaczka’ is a woman who chain smokes. Bear this in mind if you want to avoid offence!
The Polish word for a Polish woman is “polka”. The Russian for chain smoker is “куряга” (kuryaga).
5. Pl: ‘wróżka’ / Ru: ‘врушка’
Perhaps this is just a cultural difference, but this might also cause the greatest misunderstandings of all! In Poland a “wróżka” is a fortune teller, someone who typically needs a lot of trust and respect in their line of work. In Russian, though, exactly the same word “врушка” (vrushka) means a liar!
The Russian word for fortune teller is “гадалка” (gadalka), while the Polish for a liar is “kłamca“.