PKP – Polish Kissing Protocols


Denis Thatcher greeting Nancy Reagan outside 10 Downing Street in 1988.
Photo White House Photos.

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P2E’s usual pitch is the horrors that can occur when translating Polish into English, but with the holiday just round the corner we thought we should dedicate today’s post to all our native English speaking readers who will find themselves in the company of Polish friends or family members this Easter.

The first pitfall is, what do you call your prospective mother-in-law, her sister and her sister’s husband and their children? The rules of when to use the formal Pan or Pani and when it would be more appropriate to use someone’s first name are well thrashed out in the 41 or so comments that follow Brad Zimmerman’s latest post on the Polandian blog. In fact if you just follow Jacek Wesołowski’s straightforward advice you won’t go far wrong.

Zimmerman himself takes the outlandish view that Poles care way too much about this sort of thing. No offence, really, but if there’s a whole chapter on how to address someone then in my opinion you’re wasting time – being overly officious and such. This blithe statement leapfrogs over the fact nearly all Indo-European languages, use the singular thou to express intimacy, familiarity, or even disrespect, and the plural you as a more formal form of address. The rules for when to use Sie and du in German or vous and tu in French are very similar. It is English that is the odd man out. Having all but abandoned the familiar thou form, English speakers go around calling each other by the second person plural pronoun equivalent to the Wy used in Poland during the communist era. How quaint!

Far more hazardous than the Pan / first name problem are the Polish Kissing Protocols. Get the first wrong and you will be forgiven. You are just another uneducated foreigner and that – with a little bit of effort – can be remedied. However, getting your PKPs wrong is another matter altogether; you are an uncultured country bumpkin and you will not be marrying sweet Marysia if mother has anything to do with it.

The good news is that unlike Russians, Polish men don’t kiss each other very much. There are three main exceptions:

  1. During the Przejdź my na Ty rite of passage when you mutually agree to stop using the Pan form.
  2. During the Easter sharing the świecone jajko ceremony. Just do what everybody else does.
  3. During the Christmas sharing the opłatek ceremony. Ditto.

So this guide will concentrate on the procedures to be adopted when men who are not Polish find themselves in circumstances when it would be appropriate to kiss a Polish woman. There are three main categories:

  1. Women you are being introduced to for the first time or with whom you use the Pani form. Traditionally you should kiss the lady’s hand, but these days some women may object and try to snatch their hand away. It is considered an art form to gently draw the lady’s hand to one’s lips and if encountering resistance to look wistfully at the lady and turn the gesture into a handshake.
  2. Women who include you in their group of friends or with whom you use the first name form. You should apply three kisses in rapid succession in the following order: right cheek, left cheek and right cheek.
  3. Women who you know quite well, but would like to know even better. Apply one chaste peck to the left cheek. This may sometimes be combined with (1) to good effect. Please note women who are trying to get to know you better may kiss you on the lips, but this should not be taken as a proposal of marriage, to which many heartbroken Englishmen will attest.

There is an advanced stage to the PKPs which are outside the scope of this blog.


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