Business meals and after work in Poland

Business lunches, which usually take place in restaurants, are instrumental in the creation of a good partnership atmosphere in Polish business culture. It should be borne in mind especially that ›It’s not what you say, but how you say it.‹ Among the first topics of discussion will be subjects which allow you to get to know each other a little better, including your family situation, friends and interests.

Building trust

Your openness at the negotiating table will not be ashighly valued as your willingness to divulge something of yourself when eating. This is how the basis for building trust is created. Poles like doing business with people they like. When faced with similar offers, Poles will even forego financial benefits if the less lucrative business deal is offered by somebody they like. For this reason, you should be prepared to devote considerable quantities of time for your business lunches. A dinner can easily continue on well into the night.

Eat a lot!

Poles are very generous hosts and are very proud of their traditional Polish cuisine. During business lunches they will always make sure that their foreign guests can taste as many local delicacies as possible. The table will be full of food. This great hospitality will regard any “no, thank you” purely as an act of courtesy, and your plate will be replenished again and again. If you really can’t find room for another extra portion, you should explain this, otherwise your “No” will be understood as a polite “Yes”.

Na zdrowie!

At dinner many types of wine and beer may be served. During the course of the meal it is common for someone every now and then to raise their glass and offer a toast. Modern wine culture has established that toasts may be accompanied by a glass of wine as an alternative to the Polish national drink, a glass of vodka. It is important to have previously considered some appropriate words. Later in the evening, it is acceptable to refuse the drinks offered at any time.

The atmosphere of the business lunch can be made a little more convivial not only through the consumption of alcohol, but also by you daring to say a few words in Polish: “Dobry wieczór” (“Good evening”), ”Smacznego” (“Enjoy your meal”), “Na zdrowie” (“Cheers”) and “Dziękuję” (›Thanks‹) are a good start.

Paying the bill

The bill is paid at the end of the evening by the hosts as a matter of course. An exact division of the bill would be unacceptable in Poland and highly problematic. After eating everyone at the table offers a “Dziękuję”, regardless of who has paid the bill, as thanks not only for the delicious food, but for the good company too.

Private invitations

In Poland, it is common to mix business and private lives. You can assume that with the progress of your professional relationship, you will receive a private invitation to the home of a Polish business partner. You should not refuse such an invitation without good reason, as it is a sign of a trusting business atmosphere.

Under no circumstances should you arrive too early or even perfectly on time to a private meeting, as the preparations would still be in full swing. To be on the safe side, come ten to fifteen minutes late. For private occasions, being fashionably late is by no means seen as tardiness, but as punctuality. You can expect your Polish partner to welcome you with his family.

Presents for the entire family

In Poland the term “family” means the extended family, as often three generations live under one roof, or at least nearby. Therefore, it is advisable to ask who will be present at an informal dinner. With a bouquet of flowers for the wife of the host, a bottle of wine for the host himself, a box of chocolates for the other family members and, as the case may be, some sweets for the children, you can show that you genuinely appreciate the gesture of a private invitation and offer a small thank you in advance for the gathering. This supports the development of the relationship on a more personal level.

All the presents will be usually opened in your presence. Caution: it is not recommended to hand over a bottle of vodka as a gift because as it may easily be interpreted as intrusive. Your Polish host will pour vodka when he wants to get to know you more closely through drinking together to further intensify the relationship. At this point, the vodka glasses are emptied in one go and immediately refilled. A little caution is in order here, as your Polish host is used to a different drinking culture in which a bottle of vodka, once opened, rarely finds its way back to the cupboard.

Toasts will be firstly made by the host, then by the guests. It therefore makes sense to prepare in advance a nice text and to offer a thank you for the hospitability with a few words in Polish. A “Dziękuję za zaproszenie” – “Thank you for inviting me” comes across very well and your effort will be rewarded with smiles and compliments.

Lavish hospitality

“Gość w dom, Bóg w dom” – “Guest at home, God at home” expresses the euphoric attitude of Poles towards private guests. Poles are known for their great hospitality and your hosts will be happy if you at least try all the delicacies on the table. Other idioms such as “Czym chata bogata”‹ – “Everything we have is at your disposal” or “Zastaw się an postaw się” – “Lavish hospitality like there’s no tomorrow” from the era of Sarmatism (17th century to the first half of the 18th century), remain relevant in Poland today and show an additional aspect of Polish hospitality. The guest is so important that hosts regularly offer him more than their financial situation really allows. Quite often you will leave with a personal gift or at least with a large slice of cake.

Invite back

After an invitation to a private dinner you should thank your host again by phone or in writing for the hospitality. In return, you may want to invite your Polish host to eat at a restaurant. Also, do not forget to offer a return invitation to your house, whenever your Polish partner is on a business trip in your country.

Joanna Sell

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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