It has been a while since we discussed small differences between Polish and American culture. I have to say at the outset that it seems like the worst of "culture shock" has passed for Ginger and I, although we still have our days. Here are a couple of interesting differences.
1.) Awkward Silence
-If you take a moment to think about it, we Americans hate those brief pauses in a conversation. Dead time is nerve racking, so much so that we will run ideas over in our mind before the conversation begins to avoid risking silence. Think about the last time you were at some type of dinner party sitting around a table with people you know and people you don't. When the food comes often the talking stops and what phrase always manages to get the conversation going again? Usually it's something to the tune of "boy it sure got quiet in here," or "the food must be good, because nobody's talking." For some of us, the fear of awkwars silence is so paralyzing that we'd rather stay home with a t.v. dinner than venture out to social events. Polish people are so not that way. On at least two occasions my landlord has come when I was the only one home. At this point in the language I only know how to put together brief sentences--so both times he walked in, I asked him how he was doing and then paid him the rent. After that he stood about 10 inches away from me and we just looked at eachother for a good thirty seconds and I mean a full thirty seconds. Take thirty seconds right now so you realize what a grueling eternity that was for me. For him and for most Polish people as well, it was no big deal. We see the same thing on Sundays when our church has open prayer times, sometimes as much as 30-45 seconds will pass before the next person prays. We just can't handle this in the states. On the one hand its nice to avoid awkward silence, but on the other hand one can easily see how this fear of silence could be viewed as insecurity by our Polish counterparts.
2.) Don't ask unless you really want to know
How are you doing? Fine, thanks--------this is how we greet acquaintances in the U.S. In fact, we spit that answer out like its second nature. Anyone who does otherwise comes off as a little odd to us. Its a pursposefully distant question--simply a courtesy. We don't want an honest answer, we don't have the time for it. In Poland however, if you ask the question be ready for the answer. Let me tell you, you can find out a lot about a person by asking that question in Poland, including whether or not they coughed up phlegm that morning, but that's a story for another day, or maybe not. I appreciate the fact that a simple greeting is not wasted in Poland, so when someone asks "how are you doing?"---they really want to know, at least in Poland.