Why the Polish language hinders business

I (Andrew Kinast) was brought up in England by Polish parents and spoke only Polish at home. When I started coming to Poland in 1990 it soon became obvious that my Polish lacked an awful lot of vocabulary of which I guess I had been aware. What came as a shock was the realisation that many words had changed their meaning and certainly did not mean what their direct translation into English means. And thus:

“Załatwić” in English means to sort something out or to deal with an issue whilst to most Poles this has the connotation of using connections and maybe bribery to get what you need.

“Znajomości” means literally people you know and who know you, and thus whom you trust, whilst in Poland there is an underlying implication of a secret clique seeking to use connections to further its own ends.

“Kompromis” does not mean a win win situation but one in which the parties to the compromise are compromised i.e. are seen to lose.

And so the list goes on with even the word for businessman, spell variously “biznesman” and any variation there of having an almost negative connotation and suggesting an Arthur Daley wide boy.

None of this helps anyone to run and grow a business in Poland. For most older Poles certainly, and many of the post fall of communism cohort, business is a dirty word and dirty business. That business is required to generate the taxes which pay for social services and other goodies given out by the state just does not register. And this builds on 45 years of communism and the Nazi occupation before that. In the 19th Century and the inter war period many businesses in Poland had both Polish and non Polish business partners. In turn this led to the Polonisation of German business vocabulary. And thus Polish is still not really a language which can support business.

Which I guess goes an awful long way to explain why many successfull Polish businesses, both large as well as SME’s are foreign owned. Having advised a large number of companies over the years I am more than fully aware of the frustration of conducting business in Polish. Not because I do not know the language but because compromise and seeking common ground is so difficult to achieve without the necessary linguistic tool box.

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