The good news is that, as a traveler in Poland, you can manage in the cities without knowing Polish phrases. Restaurants will have English menus. Most people you’ll come in contact with will speak a little English. Some of them will be fluent, but they will still apologize for their English. It’s the Polish way. 😉 I have included my attempt at pronunciation here, which for those of you who speak Polish is sure to be good for a chuckle.
In spite of the fact that you can get by in English, it’s nice to know a few Polish phrases. Compared to American English, Polish conversation with strangers is more formal and polite. I’m adding a few familiar phrases, but don’t use them with people that you’re not very friendly with. They’ll come in handy if you have Polish friends or you want to use a little Polish with your traveling companions to add local flavor to your day.
Fortunately, I’m good at picking up on body language and visual cues, so I learned the first time I tried saying cześć to the lady in our local shop, that it was not appropriate. Even though she had been waiting on me several times a week for months, even though she knows I’m a foreigner and always invites me behind the counter to show her what I want rather than having me point, we now stick to dzień dobry.
Yes — Tak (tahk)
No — Nie (knee-a)
Please/you’re welcome/ here you go (when giving something to someone, such as your seat to an elderly person on the tram) — Proszę (PRO-sheh)
Thank you — Dziękuję (jen-KOO-yeh)
Thanks — Dzięki (JEN-key) informal!
I’m sorry or excuse me — Przepraszam (psheh-PRASH-am)
Good day (used morning and afternoon) — Dzień dobry (jen dobray)
Good evening (from 7 PM onward) — Dobry wieczór (DO-bray vee-A-tchure)
Good night — Dobranoc (do-BRAH-notes)
Hi or Bye — Cześć (cheshch) informal!
The bill, please — Rachunek, proszę (ra-HOON-ek PRO-sheh)
Cash or card (your waiter will ask this when it’s time to pay) — Gotówka lub karta (go-TOOV-ka lube KAR-ta)*
Price — Cena (TSAY-na)
Right/Left/Straight (on the rare occasion that you know where to go and the taxi driver doesn’t, these will come in helpful) — Prawo (PRA-vo)/Lewo (LAY-vo)/Prosto (PRO-stow)
Here — Tutaj (TWO-tie)
Street — Ulica (u-LEE-tsa)
Square — Plac (plahts)
Coffee — Kawa (KAH-va)
Tea — Herbata (hair-BA-ta)
Beer — Piwo (PEE-vo)
Cheers! — Na zdrowie (na SDRO-via)
Still water — Niegazowana (knee-a-gaso-VAHN-a)
Sparkling water — Gazowana (gaso-VAHN-a)
Big — Duży (DUZH-aye)
Small — Małe (MAH-way)
Very — Bardzo (BARD-zoe)
Polish words change depending on how they’re used, so if the beginning of a word looks something like what I’m seeking, I assume it’s correct. For example, coffee = kawa. So “let’s have a coffee at the coffee shop” becomes “niech się kawy w kawiarni.” kawa, kawy, kawiarni, close enough! *My use of cash and card probably falls into this category.
These are just some of the Polish phrases I’ve found most helpful, but it’s certainly not all inclusive. What would you add?
An accountant by trade and a food blogger since 2009, Lois Britton fell in love with Polish cuisine during the years she lived in Poznań, Poland. As the creator of PolishHousewife.com, she loves connecting readers with traditional Polish recipes. Lois has a graduate certificate in Food Writing and Photography from the University of South Florida. She is the author of The Polish Housewife Cookbook, available on Amazon and on her website.
Uwaga! That’s the only one that is important that is not on your list. I was sitting in the plaza by the train station in Krakow eating an ice cream cone and watching guys practice for a 3:3 basketball tournament. I probably looked down at my phone, anyway wasn’t looking at the players and suddenly heard, “Uwaga, uwaga, uwaga!” I knew someone yelling that three times was mot unusual — even the yelling part would be unusual in Poland without regard to what word it was.. I looked up and the basketball was now about 12 inches from my face. Raised my right hand and knocked it back and didn’t get hit in the face. If I hadn’t known about uwaga I think I would have been hit in the face.
Excellent point, Lori! I had occasion to use uwaga (look out) once and it worked!