Interesting Facts About Poland

The Polish flag waving over Poland on a sunny dayI’m in my other homeland of Poland. While most of my family came from Ukraine, some of my family tree’s roots spread out into Poland (as well as Germany). Right now, I’m visiting Krakow, learning about its Jewish history, exploring salt mines, and drinking Polish vodka before heading up to Warsaw. Poland doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, so in order to spread the love, here are some interesting facts about this amazing country:

The most popular dog name in Poland is “Burek,” which means “brownish-grey color.”

Among the European Union, the people of Poland marry the youngest.

Seventeen Nobel Prize winners, including four peace prize winners and five in literature, were born in Poland.

Astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, the first person to theorize that the Earth is not the center of the universe, was Polish.

Saint John’s Kupala is a holiday that predates Christianity and has people jumping over fires.

Marzanna is the Slavic goddess of winter, death, and nightmares. At the end of winter, Poles make straw dolls of her and decorate them with ribbons. When the snow starts to melt, they throw the dolls into the river, symbolically “killing winter” and thus welcoming spring.

During the 14th through 16th century, the Polish empire spread over most of Central and Eastern Europe.

In Poland, bananas are peeled from the blossom end.

Poland was a communist country from 1945 to 1989.

Over 50% of the land in Poland is dedicated to farming.

There were over three million Jews in Poland before World War II. After the war, that number dropped to 300,000.

Poland is home to Auschwitz, the most famous of the Nazi death camps. It’s located outside Krakow.

Almost 90% of the population is Roman Catholic.

Pope John Paul II was Polish.

The biggest section of any bookstore here is on books about Pope John Paul II.

Gingerbread is a traditional Polish dessert.

In Poland, a person’s name day is considered more important than their birthday an important holiday. (This is actually quite common in northern Europe.) (Editor’s Note: Due to conflicting opinions about which holiday is more important, I’m changing the wording to simply “important.”)

When movies are dubbed for Polish TV, one man reads all the parts, even those of women and children.

Students make up twenty percent of the population of Krakow.

There’s a doctor on board every ambulance.

Warsaw is the capital city of Poland.

Rysy, in the Tatra Mountains, is the highest point in Poland at 2,499 meters.

The white-tailed eagle is the national symbol of Poland.

The highest mountain in Australia, Mount Kosciuszko, was named after Polish General Tadeusz Kosciuszko (1746-1817), who fought against the Russian Empire and in the American Revolutionary War.

The country’s first documented ruler of Poland was Mieszko I in the 10th century.

Famous musical composer Frederic Chopin was Polish.

So is famed director Roman Polanski.

Poland has seven separate neighbors: Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and Russia.

Central Europe’s only desert is located in Poland between Krakow and Czestochowa.

Polish military, police officers, and other uniformed services use a two-finger salute.

The name “Poland” comes from the Polans tribe, the former inhabitants of what is now western Poland.

  1. This is funny, just like the dubbed soap operas on Vietnamese TV’s ==>> When movies are dubbed for Polish TV, one man reads all the parts, even those of women and children.

    A friend of mine does this.. I found it weird.. => In Poland, bananas are peeled from the blossom end.

  2. Some very cool, interesting facts there. A few do raise additional questions though, like how do they open bananas at that end (yes, I’m into the important stuff) and why is Mount Kosciuszko named after a man who doesn’t appear to have any history connecting him to the country?

        • Martin

          Although this is an old thread, I just wanted to correct the fact that Mount Kosciuszko was actually climbed and named in 1840 while (Kosciuszko died in 1817), by Polish explorer Paul Edmund Strzeleck who named it Mount Kosciuszko because of the mountain’s resemblance to the Kosciuszko Mound in Krakow. So no, he didn’t name it after himself. :( Although that would be very cool.

    • I was wondering the same thing about the banana. I actually tried to open the banana from the blossom end and I got nothing. I had to cut off the tip before I could really get it going. Perhaps they do the same thing?

  3. Hmm, while I’m not an authority on Poland, I was born there and grew up in a Polish household.

    And these “facts” don’t make sense to me:

    “In Poland, a person’s name day is considered more important than their birthday. ” – While it is true that is celebrated I don’t think this is true. The birthday is more important. If importance is based on gifts and parties and all that ballyhoo anyway. So it depends on your definition of important.

    “In Poland, bananas are peeled from the blossom end.” – No. This is just silly.

    And I’m not sure about the gingerbread tradition either. Never had gingerbread growing up and have never had it fed to me at any of my family’s homes in Poland. But maybe we’re just weird. :)

    • NomadicMatt

      Well, we can argue about different degrees of “more” until the end of time so let’s just say they are both important!

      As for the other two, as someone mentions below, the gingerbread thing is just important around Christmas time, which considering it’s close to the end of the year, could be why people told me about it.

      Banana thing was told to me by a few people and as Hugh points out below, he’s seen it first hand.

  4. Hi Matt

    I hope you don’t mind if I correct a few of those statements, as they are not all correct:

    – 17 Nobel prizes – that’s not true. There were 6 of them:
    Maria Sk?odowska-Curie – chemistry and physics
    Henryk Sienkiewicz – literature
    W?adys?aw Reymont – literature
    Czes?aw Mi?osz – literature
    Lech Wa??sa – Peace Nobel Prize
    Wis?awa Szymborska – literature

    -gingerbread – it’s traditional dessert for Christmas only. Outside of Christmas it’s probably a cheesecake or poppy seeds cake that’s the most popular (however it will vary from region to region)

    • NomadicMatt

      For the Nobel Prize fact, I was counting those born in Poland, which doesn’t reflect that they were given to people who lived in Poland at the time of the award. For example, Andrew Schally was Polish born but fled at the outbreak of WW2 and lived in America when awarded the prize:

      Also former Isreali Prime Minister Shimon Peres was also born in Poland and he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

      I will change the wording though to make it a bit clearer though.

      As for the gingerbread thing, since it’s the end of the year, that could be why people keep telling me about gingerbread.

  5. It looks like the Polish letters in the names’ of the Nobel Prize winners got replaced with ? in my comment above. Those names should be:
    Maria Sklodowska-Curie – chemistry and physics
    Henryk Sienkiewicz – literature
    Wladyslaw Reymont – literature
    Czeslaw Milosz – literature
    Lech Walesa – Peace Nobel Prize
    Wislawa Szymborska – literature

  6. Funny thing about burek is that on Balkan and in Turkey it is a pastry that can be filled by cheese, vegetables and quite often – meat. It would be similar to calling a dog “meatloaf”.

  7. Don’t forget the ketchup pizzas. Poland was awesome, my favorite places were the Wieliczka Salt Mine and the cool basement jazz clubs. I stayed with a Polish family and I DID see the banana peeling thing on more than one occasion.

  8. Poland is very high on my to-visit list. I’m half Polish and I really want to go for the food and to visit where my family’s from. I tried learning some of the language, but it’s really difficult. I did learn that “Na zdrowie” is “cheers”, though. Enjoy the vodka!

    • Darrell

      Yes, used as “cheers” – technically tho it means ” to your health” (or perhaps even more technically, “for your health”…)

  9. I met with one of the tourism reps from Poland last week, and now I’m totally smitten with the country and can’t wait to visit! What I found most interesting is the fact that, in the southwest corner of the country, there are more castles than in all of the Czech Republic. Because Poland has changed hands so many times, there is such a diverse and eclectic history that is influenced by many of the surrounding countries.

  10. Jarek

    Regarding the 2-finger salute in the Polish military. It’s correct, only the index and middle fingers are used and one theory to this tradition is a wounded soldier in the Olszynka Grochowska battle (1831) who had lost several fingers in the battle saluted his superiors using the remaining two fingers. Others soldiers saluted with two fingers as a sign of sympathy and respect. The other theory is based on a comment made by Grand Duke Constantine (the Russian Tsar’s envoy). At the time Russia occupied large parts of Poland and brutally oppressed her people, the Duke allegedly said “Poles salute me with two fingers, while using the other two to hold a stone to throw at me”. When Poles heard about the comment the salute became very popular as the Russian occupies were very despised.

    Also, I’d like to revise one part of your facts as follows: “Auschwitz (pl- O?wi?cim), the most in-famous of the Nazi death camps was created and maintained by the Germans in the occupied Poland.. It is located outside Krakow.”

    Too many people nowadays believe Poles were somehow responsible for the camp when they hear “located in Poland.”

    Also – birthdays are FAR more important than name days, which is a leftover from the communist days.

    The banana comment is SILLY!!! Never heard of it before and have never seen anyone peel bananas that way. I was born and raised in Poland

    Otherwise a very interesting summary, take care,


    • NomadicMatt

      hmmm looks like the banana thing has conflicting reports. Some say yes, some say no. Maybe it’s a regional thing? I’m not sure but it apparently does happen.

      • Petri

        Maybe those folks just have watched National Geographic Channel or the polish equivalent and learnt that it’s much easier to open a banana from the blossom end.

        That’s how monkeys do it anyway.

  11. I visited Poland on a Jewish focused trip in college. While the concentration camps were obviously depressing, I left with an interesting view of the country. I loved Krakow’s feel and culture, but I was not a fan of Warsaw.

    Warsaw felt gloomy and cold while Krakow felt vibrant and exciting. The old marketplace and European cafes around the town felt much more modern that Warsaw, which was completed destroyed in World War II and rebuilt since.

    I also have family history in Poland, but seeing it through the experience I had (plus the rampant anti-Semitism) put it low on my list of places to return. I had a lot more fun in Ukraine, Prague, and Budapest that trip.

  12. Jarek

    Anti-semitism?? I’m Polish and I’m a Jew, not practicing but a Jew or ?yd nevertheless. I’ve lived in Krakow, Wroclaw and Szczecin (I’m now working in the US), I’m sorry but the anti-semitism comment is a typical “you see what you want to see” view. You obviously have a strong prejudice against Poles and therefore you saw what you hoped to see.

    In my 35 years in Poland I’ve only experienced anti-semitism a few times and it was crude jokes made by morons, what you’d call “rednecks” in the US. My parents and grandparents feel the same way. My grandparents experienced pogroms in the hands of the Russians and Ukrainians (they lived in Lwow/Lviv are at the time) but even then said that most Ukrainians and most Russians were good people. Thousands of Poles risked their lives and even more died for protecting people of my faith. Your comment is biased and hurtful but it’s ok. You’ll find morons and you’ll find xenophobia in each and every country. To single out an entire country based on your “a couple of weeks” experience is very narrow-minded.

  13. Wow.
    I have been to poland some years ago and you made me remind all the awesome moments i have enjoyed in Poland.

    This is one of the best place in the world to enjoy your life. :)

    Yes Poland has many interesting facts how ever you have not write about white bear here ?



  14. Dan

    Hey, I am Polish and I definitively have to contraddict the Banana peeling stuff!!! What an absurd idea! I’ve never seen anybody in my life in Poland doing it! What a weird joke!

  15. Gingerbread is NOT a traditional Polish dessert! it is in one city only – Toru?
    Of course you can buy gingerbread in other cities but it is not so popular.

  16. marron7

    Everyone is saying either the banana thing is not real or real but I have looked on many other sites and they all say the banana thing so it must be something they started doing not too long ago????

  17. Aggie

    That’s an interesting list :) I’m Polish and I guess there are certain things I would never point out, because I take them for granted. the banana thing makes me laugh, because that’s indeed how I peel a banana, haha :)

    You’ve already changed your statement about name day, this one really isn’t consistent all over the country, in some regions (like Silesia) birthday is the day, and in other parts name day is more important. I would also say, it’s changing with time. Our parents’ generation were celebrating name day much more, now with the world becoming more global, it’s more and more about the birthday, like everywhere else………

    Interesting thing is, we sing the same song regardless if it’s for birthday or name day. we don’t have “happy birthday” as such and sing “A hundred years, hundred years, May he (she) live, live with us.” which goes well for both occasions :)

  18. Monika

    Love your list and your blog in general 😉

    Just wanted to add that of course we all know that dogs are in general called Burek but I have never heard of any real dog called Burek 😉 it’s more a name to call a dog in general I guess.

    What do you think of Warsaw? I am related to Krakow more but started to like Warsaw recently and think it’s the most interesting of Polish cities at the moment.

  19. Darrell

    As someone else began, “I’m no authority on Poland, but…” I am Polish and I lived there for about half a year. Now this was a long time ago (1964) but I can say with certainty that in Gdansk at least, in 1964, the nameday was DEFINITELY more important that the birthday. Much more. Strange but also cool in a way – all the Jims and Barbaras celebrating their day together. Easier on the gift givers too – just think of all the Jims and/or Barbs you know on that day. Of course for people like me – who have no “Saint Darrell” it got a little trickier. I think in my case we celebrated my birthday, but that was long ago, and I think we celebrated it pretty “Polishly” (i.e. with lots of vodka) so the memory is a bit hazy. Also have no recollections on the great banana controversy, so I’ll have to pass on that one. It was quite a trip tho*, and shaped the rest of my life, since I got married on Wgilia (Christmas Eve). Also, fwiw, at that time at least, they celebrated three days of Christmas in Poland – so we had a real, old style three day wedding celebration, like I had heard my Babcia talk about. Long ago and far away, memories so dear it almost hurts to remember…

    *$408 round trip, ocean liner (Batory**) Montreal to Gdansk (and back)

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