In a previous post, I talked about some of the cultural norms of Poland. One cultural norm that is very different from in the US is the amount of silence.
Poles are very soft spoken and very quiet. When I say quiet, I mean Quiet with a capital Q.
I mean a library kind of quiet.
I can't speak for the private life of the Polish people, but when you sit on a bench on a street in the city that we're staying in, the street may have a lot of people, but it's just weirdly quiet.
In some ways it's very refreshing, but for a chatter box like me, it can also be unnerving.
My team and I are currently learning about Polish culture before we begin the work that we were called here to do. And one of the things that we are learning about is how to observe people and learn through observation. So one day, we spent an afternoon on the street in the city center just observing people. We were asked to observe things like:
It was really intriguing watching Poles and observing them. But the one thing that stood out the most was the silence.
People walking by themselves were silent.
Guys and girls walking hand in hand were silent.
Groups walking together were silent.
A father and his child were silent.
And if people were talking, it was very quiet.
In public, Poles are just a very quiet people.
Even walking into a store, (whether it was the H&M we visited, a chocolate store, or a book store) the shopkeepers or employees don't go up to consumers. They usually stay behind the counter, or they stock shelves. They might say hello, but they don't come up to shoppers and ask, "How can I help you? Do you need any help? What can I help you with? Can I get you anything?"
Our first time in a store, it was really weird not having someone come up to me and ask if I needed help. But after visiting another store, it was nice to just look around without having someone come up to me.
The thing too is that Poles are very polite and more than willing to help you if you have questions.
It's not bad. It's just different.
Anyways, stores are also very quiet here.
It takes a little getting used to, all of the silence. But what's nice is that it's perfectly acceptable to be sitting with friends and to just sit in silence. It's not awkward for them at all, which is really weird for someone like me with a silence-filler mentality.
At first all the silence felt stifling, but now it feels refreshing.
As I walked down the quiet street with my team, I realized that I was more thoughtful and discerning about what I said. In that, I had to think about my volume, if I wanted to share something that others might over-hear, and if I really needed to share anything at all. It reminded me a lot of James 1:19.
"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger."
I think that silence or quietness is something that we can struggle with in the US. It often feels stifling. Think about how most people handle being by themselves. They listen to music or put on a movie because they can't handle silence. But sometimes silence or quietness is needed.
So yes, people are pretty quiet here. And I struggle with being quiet or even soft-spoken. So it's been a challenge. But I'm getting used to it.
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