Friday, February 09, 2007

Yes but, no but

Why do Poles hate change?

I was at a meeting yesterday when the new boss announced that we are going to change the way we do something.

It was actually a very good idea, but the reaction in the room was predictable. People were not pleased.

You could see what was going on between their ears: thinking up a thousand different ways why THINGS SHOULD NOT CHANGE.

It’s a very typical Polish reaction – particularly among older Poles.

But there must have been an occasion in Polish history when a Pole was confronted by a new idea and said: “Yeah! Good idea! And we could do it like this, or maybe like that…”

But I have yet to see it. How does Polish society ever change when people are so change-phobic?

There is a character in the BBC Little Britain comedy series who has a verbal tic, where she starts each sentence: “Yes but, no but...”

That’s what comes to mind when watching Poles confronted by change.

“Yes, but, no but, we can’t do that because…well, how will we pay for it...who will do it…things were fine as they were, weren’t they...there must be an ulterior motive for them wanting to do this...yes but, no but...”


michael farris said...

Yeah but no, but yeah but no, but shut up! I ain't never done nuffing so shut up! And anyway everybody know this was Jacek's idea because Aga said she saw him and Tomek telling Gosia that he and Magda were doing shooters in the parking garage but everybody knows that Magda is a total slut! anyway and Aga said Tomek said he thought me and Jacek would make a wicked couple, but she's well out of order because she's such a total virgin except she isn't because Pani Ela the cleaning lady said she found semen stains on her desk but listen to her because once in the ladies room she opened the stall I was in 'by mistake' except it wasn't 'by mistake' 'cause I caught her trying to get a look at my bacon butty!

michael farris said...

Look up Geert Hofstede and 'uncertainty avoidance'.

On his scale, Poland has one of the highest ratings of uncertainty avoidance in the world.

Some of the classic indicators of high uncertainty avoidance:

- High level of subjective stress
- High level of alcohol use (alcohol relieves stress, afterall)
- Dislike of teenagers
- Reckless driving
- Emotional need for many and complex rules which are then ignored by as many people as can get away with it (who deplore other people who ignore the rules).

Sound familiar?

beatroot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
beatroot said...

O love the Tomek, Gosia and Aga thing! Brilliant! You know the program, I think...

Martin said...


Obviously you know Poland and the Poles better than I do; but there might be a very sound and sensible reason for such resistance.

Over the last 20 years the Poles have had to cope with far more change than most societies see in centuries. People get tired of constant change - they want to settle into a way of doing things for a while, to see if it workss and then change it - if necessary.

Resistance to change is a perfectly natural human instinct - the Poles have no monopoly on it. In my workplace, working practices can change not just from a day to day but hour to hour basis - even the most flexible worker gets tired of it.

Maybe the Poles need a wee bit more of a breathing space before being forced to deal with the demands of non-Polish working culture.

michael farris said...

"Over the last 20 years the Poles have had to cope with far more change than most societies see in centuries."

Actually, this brings up an important point about the Polish way of life that is often forgotten about or underestimated by outsiders.

Polish people expect occasional, massive, sweeping changes in the political landscape. This doesn't bother them, they mostly ignore it. If it's for the better there's plenty of time to take it in so no hurry to rush and get excited, if it's for the worse, you hunker down and wait it out, if it's not clear if it's for the better or worse you ignore it as long as possible.

What they don't ignore (and what does bother them) are smaller changes to the daily routine. A change in tram lines will cause confusion and missed appointments and angry comments toward the city's mass transit system for months on end. A relatively minor change in office procedure will generate heated tempers (and possibly sabotage) as relatively minor changes there can bring about important changes in the structure of alliances and adversarial relations.
A change in the overall structure of government is greeted with indifference and a shrug of the shoulders.

Anonymous said...

Why do drunken Brits love to go to overnight stags in Krakow, get drunk, act obnoxious, and puke all over?

beatroot said...

because that's what the Brits do. They do it in Krakow, they do it at home.

Us Brits always have had a drink (hic)'s something to do with puritanism and the lack of being able to enjoy one's self without getting stinking (hic) dwunk....

Next question?

Anonymous said...

And I always thought Brits were sober-minded and overly conscious of decorum. Civility and all that, wot?

It's hard for me to accept changing stereotypes.

Also, I didn't know about you Britz putting paintball right up there with yer darting penchant (I read paintballing is part of the itinerary for the Brit staggerers in K-kow).

Also, I asked it in the Sikorski thread below, but where does fart come in vis-a-vis a translation of plastus? I also noted that I found out that Plastus was a pudgy little modeling plastic clay character who lived in a pencil box in a Polish childrens' book.

luridtraversal said...

Michael Farris' 1st Comment is truly hilarious...I can just imagine a Polish "Vicky" doing something like that. Great post!!!

Anonymous said...

This blog entry smells of traditional UK expat sentiment as is not up to the usual standard of the site. And then someone has instantly chipped in with some pseudoscientific backing-as if that made it fact!

beatroot said...

OK. This is a serious issue, but fair comment as it is a generalization.

But ask Poles and they say that Poles will find twenty reasons NOT to do something before they find one TO do something.

And I stick by the observation. People here – particularly in the state services – have got used to being told what to do – not contributing to the process of change that is going on around them.

It happened again this morning, in fact. People were asked what they thought about something, and there was silence.

One of the many reasons for this is the ‘top down’ management that they have got used to and something that stems back to communist times. Management techniques are antiquated, to say the least.

But I think that in a country that has seen so much tumultuous change, keeping things the same is often seen as the best option.

I am sorry you think that this is ex-pat griping, but I believe it to be true…and it was an observation I checked with a few people before I did it.

Anonymous said...

As you probably know I am Pole.
All I can say is that 'martin' is right.

I am 32 y.o and I am already tired of this all.

To years ago I was visiting UK. I liked the way the life goes on there.... so slowly, everything is known and sometimes did not changed for ages. My mind desires the peace ('święty spokój') and order.


michael farris said...


I've known americans who thought the same thing about Poland after their first visit. Any foreign country is liable to seem more calm and idyllic than one's one for lots of reasons. The things that drive you crazy in your own culture aren't present (or less liable to drive you crazy because you can walk away at any time).

As for anonymous 4:39:
Real researchers who are experts in cultural comparisons say that Poland has a high degree of uncertainy avoidance. For the record, there's nothing wrong with that and no reason that that should change (even if it could be changed voluntarily) high uncertainty avoidance cultures have some definite strengths. They're generally very good at dealing better with real adversity and they have low overall levels of mental illness (for starters).

It is something that foreigners from low uncertainty avoidance cultures (like the UK and US) have to learn to deal with if they want to thrive in Poland.

beatroot said...

Poland has a high degree of uncertaany avoidance. For the record, there's nothing wrong with that\

But that is where I totally disagree. I think that is very bad FOR POLES.

Poles – certainly in the state sector – have got used to being in an environment where change comes from the top down. They don’t feel part of that change, they don’t feel they are being consulted (which they aren’t) they are not being encouraged to take part in the form that change takes, they are not being invited to contribute to ideas to affect that change…they have been disempowered.

So when they are presented with a change they immediately think negatively.

I think that is profoundly bad management. Western management techniques (of trying to utilize the talent you have) are in most places a distant reality here….

Communism has bred a culture where people don not think they can be part of the changes that are rapidly happening here.

And that is extinguishing creative thought and initiative.

There is, Mike, something deeply disturbing about an ‘anti risk’ culture.

michael farris said...

The top down thing is a separate issue, in the same theoretical model of cultural comparison it's called 'power distance' and has to do with how hierarchical a culture is. Polish culture is not so hierarchical by world standards but is very hierarchical by european standards (it has the same rating as France, though the specifics will of course vary).

If there's any single variable that can be associated with these two cultural features ('cause' is too strong a word) historically it would be catholocism and not communism.
Communism distilled certain parts of Polish culture, strengthened one or two and weakened some more. It didn't really create anything and is pretty far down on my list of things that cause problems in modern Poland.

beatroot said...

If there's any single variable that can be associated with these two cultural features ('cause' is too strong a word) historically it would be catholocism and not communism.

This where us westerners get things totally wrong, I think.

For that to be true then Polish culture would be like Italian. But Italy is very different from Poland. And if Poland had been allowed to develop as Italy has done (especially since the 1970s – or Spain since Franco) then it would not be as underdeveloped as it is now.

It’s not about religion – Poland would have secularized as Italy, Spain or Ireland has done if it were not for the fact that those countries did not have to suffer the madness of Stalinism as late as 1989….

michael farris said...

I didn't mean Catholocism as religion, I mean the Catholic church as a hierarchical, rule-oriented institution(in which some rules can be bent).
And note I wrote 'if there's a single variable associated with ('cause' is too strong a word)'.
Upon further reflection I might reword that as "among the many variables that can associated with the development of these features, one of the strongest is catholocism (the church as an institution and not as a religion per se)."

Italy has some cultural features in common with Poland and some big differences. I really doubt a non-communist Poland would have developed to be like Italy.

Poland is mostly secular with a moderate religious population (by world standards, which works out to 'very religious' by european standards and 'not so religious' by US standards).
Italy and Spain haven't 'secularized' - their native populations have mostly lost their collective faith in any form of religion.

Increasing prosperity may or may not weaken the church in Poland. Historically the church has not sided with repressive governments against the population (as it did in Italy or Spain which helped to discredit it) so it may maintain its standing.

beatroot said...

I really doubt a non-communist Poland would have developed to be like Italy.

Agreed. But it would have developed.

I know that this is the ‘secularization thesis’ but it’s generally correct: the more a country develops – economy, division of labour, wealth, religion, and hierarchy seems not so important.

Poland is still, in parts, a deeply traditional society. Hence traditional views. It would not be so backward – sorry to use that word but I am not a relativist – if

Anonymous said...

Seems that the Polish Church hierarchy may turn out to be it's own worst enemy, hastening the demise of it's secular influence on the faithful.

And I don't think that increasing prosperity is so much the key variable as increasing consumerist ethos.

As far as resistence to change is concerned, I see a lot of that in the US no matter how sociologists comparatively rate and measure it. I know I personally cringe at workplace change because more often than not it is a harbinger of layoffs and other smackdowns by new shitass (or cunty bollock if you will) bosses. Either that or new ideas that are replaced by equally bullshit new ideas in short order.

Anonymous said...

Mike wrote, "I really doubt a non-communist Poland would have developed to be like Italy"

As it stands Spain, a country that was poorer then Poland prior to communism, will likely overtake stagnant Italy in economic terms within the next 2-3 years. If Spain can do it why not Poland?

beatroot said...

I personally cringe at workplace change because more often than not it is a harbinger of layoffs and other smackdowns by new shitass (or cunty bollock if you will) bosses.

yep, the cunty bollocks are alive and well here too. Geez. And Poles are sick to death of layoffs too. And there is two ways you can confront this process – stand away from it, retreat, hide under the table and hope it all goes away – or you can try and hijack the process and try to affect it. And that takes a positive attitude to change to do that…if the cunty bollocks want change then that’s what they are gonna get…

Anonymous said...

People were asked what they thought about something, and there was silence.

Because everyone thought it was a stupid idea, but was hesistant to say it, because that could cost them a job.

Or, everyone thought it was a good idea, but was afraid of making a sycophant of himself in front of all the colleagues.

Besides, why is the manager asking them to do his job? He is paid for this, damnit!

I really doubt a non-communist Poland would have developed to be like Italy.

In 1945 Poland was a ruined country with economy based on agriculture. It has taken a massive leap in the early yeras of the communism, becoming an industrialized and urbanized nation. It was only possible because the communists didn't look at the costs and were pushing towards the indutrialized society.

The reason why Poland today is behind Spain is that, first, the communism has run out of steam and stagnated in 1970s, and second, the reforms of the early 1990s caused great losses to the economy, effectively setting us back a couple of years (e.g. the GDP of Poland reached its 1989 value in 1997).

Still without the communism, today Poland would look like numerous South American republics.

Anonymous said...

We'll I strongly disagree with your South American comment. You can industrialize and urbanize without communist coercion after all. And again, while far behind NW Europe regarding industrialization, we were a more industrialized country then the Southern European ones pre-WW2 (Northern Italy Excluded) and they wound up ok, far better then any Latin American country for which they surely have more cultural/structural affinities then Poland.

Anonymous said...

ok, I come late to this thread.....but, here is my take, for what its worth.

Poles seem very reluctant to change....passive about a lot of things actually. One of my first impressions here was the endless sigh, and shrug, and "nie wiem". Its a national symbol. I dont blame this on communism, because other former communist countries are not at all reluctant to change.

I think poles rank low on self esteem and, ergo, are very defensive. A recent Time or Newsweek piece asked why Poles are so angry? One part of the analysis was that they believe their own cultural stereotypes. Its strange, given the achievments of Poles and Poland over the years...but today's population seems highly passive and defensive and as michael says, given to uncertainty avoidance.

Also, I do think the Polish catholic church is a big part of this. Spain had Franco....and yet doesnt seem to suffer the same level of xenophobia and reactionary thinking. Something about the rigidity of the polish church would seem part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

BR wrote: And that takes a positive attitude to change to do that…

--> I dunno, there's always sabotage. Is that positive?

I like the idea of workers expropriating while running with change in their (our) own best interests. But as always and everywhere, the CBs will manage to brainwash and/or buy out enuff of the wc to fart over (????) the rest.

beatroot said...

CBs will manage to brainwash and/or buy out enuff of the wc to fart over (????) the rest.

maybe we should exappropriate their farts?...on second thoughts...

...unless one is a fartophiliac...

Martin said...

Nah, Beatroot.

You'd end up between two stools.

beatroot said...


Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, Poles are the most mobile nation in the EU. Because there is no more dramatic change than uprooting oneself from one's homeland and moving abroad, the claims that 'Poles hate change' and 'Poles show high levels of uncertainty avoidance' (whatever it is) seem far fetched no matter how you slice it. Besides, the question should be rephrased as ‘do Poles hate change?’. The ‘why Poles hate change?’ question assumes way too much a priori and leads the readers astray. Tomek’s and Kasia’s dislike of any changes should not be extrapolated to encompass 38 million people.

Anonymous said...

Are you crazy?? Poles love change. They change their laws all the time. They reform this, then they reform it back again, then they reform that and then they reform the other.... It's a wild, wild roller-coaster ride and if you have a friend in the ministry responsible for the latest overhaul you can cash in big.

beatroot said...

David Bowie!

How does the song go? Oh, yeah...

Ch-ch-ch-ch changes face the strain
Ch-ch-ch changes

Time can change me,
But I can't trace time...

Anonymous said...

check out this out

POLISH President Lech Kaczynski was last night described as ignorant and a disgrace to Europe after he suggested that widespread homosexuality would lead to the disappearance of the human race.

He made his remarks just hours before Justice Minister Michael McDowell said in a key Dail debate that Ireland cherished gay people as "equal citizens".

Speaking in Dublin yesterday on the last day of a three-day state visit, the Polish president shocked a large audience by saying "homosexual culture" and sexual orientation should not be promoted as an alternative.

His comments were condemned by gay-rights groups and politicians as "shocking", "inflammatory" and "ignorant".

After launching his tirade against gay culture, the president was treated to lunch by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and a civic reception hosted by Dublin Lord Mayor Vincent Jackson.

Cllr Jackson said he and Mr Ahern had been unaware of the president's comments but that Mr Kaczynski's views were from a "a bygone age".

Speaking at a Forum of Europe meeting in Dublin Castle, Mr Kaczynski, who flew home last night, was asked during a question and answer session about his attitudes to gay people.

To audible gasps, Mr Kaczynski said: "If that kind of approach to sexual life were to be promoted on a grand scale, the human race would disappear.

"Imagine what grand changes would occur in mores if the traditional links between men and women were set aside."


He was responding to Sinn Fein councillor Daithi Doolan who criticised Mr Kaczynski's decision to ban a gay march in Warsaw when he was mayor of the Polish capital in 2004.

Senator David Norris, who says he has been attacked by homophobic Poles here, said the president was a disgrace to the European Community.

"It is certainly completely inappropriate for the president of a friendly state to promote his own ignorance at the expense of Irish citizens who have fought very hard to establish their human and civil rights.

"His nonsense about the threat posed by homosexuality has shown his very limited intelligence and was a betrayal of decent Polish people."

President Kaczynski was grilled about his attitudes to gay people during the question and answer session at the Forum on Europe.

He stood over his decision to ban a gay rights march from Warsaw while mayor of the city in 2004 and rejected allegations that he was homophobic.

"Among my personal friends there are individuals affected by this different sexual orientation, or homosexuality, but they enjoy full rights, they are able to move forward in various spheres of life [in Poland].

"This is a tendency, an orientation that has always existed, I don't know why. I do not intend to combat it, to force them into therapy. But at the same time, I don't think it's appropriate that they should promote their sexual orientation."

The Gay, Lesbian and Equality Network (GLEN) said it was concerned about the "inflammatory" remarks. "There are huge risks to gay people around the world.

"Any kind of inflammatory language is dangerous and upsetting and needs to be monitored very carefully," said its chief executive Keith O'Malley.

Labour party senator Mary Henry said the president's argument was bizarre.

She said she had been shocked by his remarks. "I think his argument that it (homosexuality) would be the end of human kind was really bizarre."

"He kept on saying that the Poles and us were so alike. I'm not so sure about that."

It had been a good thing for people to hear with their own ears the president's "unbelievable views", she added.

Dublin's Lord Mayor Jackson said that while he and Mr Ahern had not been aware of the views expressed by President Kaczynski, he strongly rejected them.

"Those beliefs are of a bygone age. If you don't have a belief that all sections of society have a right to co-exist, you will have intolerance and xenophobia. That would be a tragedy for Poland, which has gone through so much with occupation from neighbours on both sides."

A spokesman for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Minister Michael McDowell said he would not be making any comment on the President's remarks. The Polish embassy in Dublin did not return a call seeking comment.

An idealist, a homophobe and a Eurosceptic
LECH Kaczynski has been praised for his campaign against corruption in Poland but criticised for almost everything else.

Since taking over as president in December 2005, the 57-year-old has set himself a task of promoting traditional family values and demoting those who collaborated with the old communist regime.

He and his identical twin brother Jaroslaw, who is Polish Prime Minister, have succeeded in closing down the country's lawless military intelligence service.

But while the twins' anti-corruption drive has attracted international praise, their attitude to the EU has become an embarrassment.

There have been a series of gaffes, such as President Kaczynski's withdrawal last year from a trilateral summit with France and Germany after a satirical article in a minor German daily newspaper.

The Kaczynskis seem to distrust all foreigners except Americans, and have reduced relations with Germany to a level of icy puzzlement unknown in Poland's recent history.

President Kaczynski tried to play this down yesterday. He said that Poland's opposition to the draft EU constitutional treaty was due to the country's troubled 20th century history, when it spent five years under German control and then more than 50 years under Russian influence.

His views on homosexuality will not cause surprise in Poland. But there are many who wish he had confined his comments to usual platitudes about the Irish economy and Polish-Irish relations.

Michael Brennan and Ciaran Byrne