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A Polish Wedding….. All you need to know.

KRAKOW TOURS– Polish wedding season is almost upon us. More and more foreigners are marrying Poles or getting invited to Polish friend’s weddings and there are things these people need to know. In this definitive survival guide to Polish weddings I will cover every potential pitfall, misunderstanding and health risk I’ve uncovered. Comparisons are made with British Weddings, the rest of you will have to wing it.

1. Read your invitation carefully

In Poland it is quite possible to be invited to the wedding but not the wedding party. In fact it’s more common to be invited to the ceremony than to the party.

Many Poles are still attached to the quaint notion that the union of two people in holy matrimony is a significant event that people might want to witness rather than a slightly tedious prelude to a booze up. Shocking I know, but there it is. If your invitation mentions “ślub” that’s the tedious prelude part. If it mentions “ślub” and “wesele” put on your best drinking shoes and pat yourself on the back, you’re going to a party.

2. The missing groom

In a British wedding ceremony the groom arrives at the church first and waits at the altar with his best man for the bride to be escorted down the aisle by her father or nearest equivalent. It’s a tradition that allows for all kinds of hilarious church-based shenanigans such as the groom fainting from stress or the best man passing out from alcohol poisoning. It’s also frequently used as a dramatic device in the kind of movies where brides decide not to turn up at the last minute. In Poland the bride and groom arrive at the church at the same time and walk down the aisle together, sometimes in leg irons. If you’re waiting in the church and notice the groom is missing don’t get excited, he’s coming. Expectations of a thrilling ‘jilted-at-the-altar’ scenario are unlikely to be met.

3. Polish best man – the world’s easiest job

Expectations of the best man at a Polish wedding are not high. The ability to walk in a more-or-less straight line and hold some envelopes are sufficient qualifications. Polish best men do practically nothing. He walks behind the bride and groom down the aisle along with the bridesmaid and then sits down. That’s pretty much it. Best men are often also witnesses, but not always. In a British wedding it is the responsibility of the best man to bring the ring (note, only one ring) and hand it over at the appropriate moment, another tradition that provides limitless opportunities for humor. Not so in the Polish service – the rings are already there in a holy cubby hole of some kind.

If you’re ever asked to be best man at a Polish wedding do not hesitate. No responsibilities, no speeches (more on this later), a definite invitation to the party and a guaranteed woman to go with. You can’t lose.

4. Throwing money around and sealed brown envelopes

On exiting the church the happy couple are traditionally showered with handfuls of loose change. They are then expected to pick it all up. Starting out on married life groveling around on the pavement for pennies like bums is, apparently, lucky. If you ever find yourself in this position I suggest bringing an umbrella which you can smoothly invert to catch the bulk of the incoming coinage.

Immediately following this potentially painful and humiliating indoctrination into marital finances everybody lines up to pay their respects to the couple and hand them wads of cash. Three kisses on the cheek and flowers for the bride, a handshake and an envelope full of money to the groom. I’m told the going rate is about 200 zloty. The bride hands her flowers to her bridesmaid, who needs to have forearms like tree trunks, and the groom hands the envelopes full of money to the best man, who needs to have moderately large pockets (I told you this job was easy).

5. The salt and the bread

Off to the party, which might be in a wedding hall, a restaurant, or somebody’s back garden. On arrival everybody gets a drink and the bride and groom get salt and bread. Again, if you ever find yourself in this situation, don’t panic – it’s just symbolic, it doesn’t mean you’re only getting salt and bread for the rest of the evening. One or other of the parents who’s job it is to provide the bread and salt may make a short speech and start blubbing at this point.

6. Songs, songs, songs

Immediately following the salt and the bread business all Poles in the vicinity will break into song. The song is known as “Sto lat” (”100 years”) and is the same song you will hear sung at birthday parties, presidential inaugurations and, in extreme cases, the opening of a tin of sardines. Here are the words — you’re going to hear them a lot in the next few hours:

Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyje/żyją, żyje/żyją nam.
Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyje/żyją, żyje/żyją nam,
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz, niech żyje/żyją, żyje/żyją nam,
Niech żyje/żyją nam!

which translates roughly into English as:

A hundred years, a hundred years,
We want him/her/them to live.
A hundred years, a hundred years,
We want him/her/them to live,
Once again, once again, we want him/her/them to live,
We want him/her/them to live.

7. First dinner, first dance

Once the singing has died down everybody sits down to the first meal. Note my use of the word ‘first’ here. There may be additional singing in the form of traditional demands for the bride and groom to kiss like alien face-huggers, but there’s nothing important going on there that you need to worry about. Immediately following the first meal the newlyweds are invited to embarrass themselves horribly by performing the first dance.

8. A lot more dinners

I often advise people going to Polish weddings to beware of the amount of food they will be required to consume. “There will be a lot of food” I say “I mean, really a lot.” “Oh good” they say. I shake my head and hold my tongue. A few days later I see them again and they say “Why didn’t you tell us there would be so much!” “I did!” I say “I tried to warn you.” “My god” they say with the horror of recollection in their eyes “I didn’t know there was that much food…”

This is how it works. Immediately after the first toast you will sit down to an excellent meal of something roasted, with vegetables and potatoes and a side salad preceded by soup. You will eat this and then help yourself to the various cakes, cold meats, breads etc. scattered liberally about the table. At this point you will be completely stuffed and saying to yourself “Hey, that guy was right, there really was a lot of food, but I could handle it.” You will probably be quite satisfied with yourself and think me a moaning minnie with the food handling capacity of a small rodent. About an hour later the waiters will be bearing down on you with exactly the same thing all over again. An hour after that they will be back again. By now you’ll be feeling the fear. Fortunately there are only three or four more courses to go, each one the size of a hearty Sunday dinner. And then cake.

Do not attempt to eat everything served to you. You will die. You have to regard the food as symbolic. It’s a symbol of wealth and plenty, an overwhelming feast for the happy event, it’s not an actual meal.


9. The vodka situation

Vodka is a big deal at Polish weddings. Talk of who is going to buy the vodka and where they are going to get it begins at least six months before people start considering less significant details such as wedding dresses or who to marry. Presumably there was a time when vodka was in short supply or had to be manufactured in the woods because, as far as I can see, the entire problem can me solved in a ten minute trip to the local supermarket. However, I digress.

Assuming the vodka is there and, to be honest, the wedding would have been canceled if it wasn’t there are a few things you should know. Vodka is only drunk collectively. Glasses are filled, somebody proposes a toast, vodka is drunk, and glasses are refilled in readiness for the next toast. There’s no casual solitary sipping. It’s all or nothing every time. Sometimes it will be a special wedding vodka prepared according to a traditional recipe known only to 84-year-old uncle Bogdan. These are often sweet and pleasant tasting but can still kill an elephant at 20 paces. Do not be tempted to fill in the time between toasts with a beer or a glass of wine, that way lies very messy but dimly recalled madness.

10. Throwing bouquets and ties

The throwing of the bouquet will be familiar to British readers and it has the same function at a Polish wedding, except that it takes place at the party and not outside the church. The difference at a Polish wedding is that it is taken much more seriously. In the half an hour before the tossing of the bouquet is due you’ll notice a gradual but complete evacuation of the building by all unmarried females over the age of about 24. To be 25 or older and still in that circle around the bride is a powerful shame.

Unlike men at British weddings Polish men also get the chance to make utter fools of themselves scrambling after discarded clothing. The groom’s tie is the sought after item in this case. By this time of the night any male who is still able to stand, regardless of age, is considered a good catch.

11. Proper dancing

Dancing is also a big deal a Polish weddings. It’s the women’s vodka. The first time I went to a Polish wedding my girlfriend said “You know there will be dancing, don’t you?” “Well yes” I said “that’s normal.” I had in mind the vague individual flailing around that every self-respecting Brit regards as dancing. Not so. Proper dancing is expected. In pairs, with feet and everything. Dancing schools make a killing in Poland.

12. Midnight cake

The cake is cut and distributed to the groaning overstuffed guests at midnight. Or at some other random time. Then they wheel in an entire roasted cow just in case anybody is feeling peckish. Knocking off time will probably be sometime around 3 or 4 in the morning.

13. The two-day wedding

It is true that Polish weddings sometimes go on for two days. The second day is known as “poprawiny” and you’re most likely to come across it at a traditional village affair. At first the idea of a party that goes on for two days sounds quite appealing to the average Brit. By the fifth course of the first night the idea becomes less attractive. The first time I went to a two-day wedding I imagined a Bacchanalian blow-out that would literally go on for 48 hours. In fact the truth is less terrifying. On the first night everybody goes home in the early hours of the morning, sleeps for 10 hours, then comes back and does the whole thing all over again minus the tedious mucking about in church.

The second night is traditionally much more relaxed than the first. It’s a no-holds-barred party to celebrate the fact that the previous night’s party went well, or to rectify the fact if it didn’t. Boys are sorted from men.

Enjoy!

For a fantastic wedding photographer in Southern Poland have a look at Lukasz Lisiecki’s website.

March 11, 2015 Posted by | Events, Krakow Travel Advice, Recommendations, Tour Information | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Russia Blames Polish Pilot Error For Smolensk Crash.

Russia has blamed the Smolensk air crash which killed the Polish president and nearly 100 other people in April on Polish pilot error.

The Polish crew failed to heed bad weather warnings because they were afraid of displeasing President Lech Kaczynski, Russian investigators said.

The presence of Poland’s air force commander in the cockpit drove them to take “unjustified risk”, they said.

Poland’s prime minister has cut short a holiday in response to the report.

A government spokesman said Donald Tusk was returning to Poland for talks with Poland’s lead crash investigator, Jerzy Miller.

Last month, Mr Tusk sharply criticised a draft version of the Russian report.

Russia’s handling of the disaster had previously been widely commended.

President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, spanning the country’s military and political elite, were killed when their airliner came down in heavy fog near the western Russian city of Smolensk. There were no survivors.

They had been on their way to a memorial ceremony for Poles massacred by Stalin’s secret police at Katyn during World War II.

Tatyana Anodina, head of the Inter-state Aviation Committee (Mak) in Moscow, told reporters that the final report had been handed to Polish colleagues.

The Soviet-made Tu-154 plane, she said, had been in good condition when it took off from Warsaw en route to Smolensk’s Severny airport, and it suffered no engine or flight system failures.

The jet was piloted by Captain Arkadiusz Protasiuk (left) and Major Robert Grzywna

Before impact, there was no fire, explosion or other damage in the air, she continued.

The disaster resulted directly, she said, from the crew’s failure to heed weather warnings and land at a different airport.

“During the flight, the crew were repeatedly informed of inadequate weather conditions at the destination airport,” she said.

“Despite this, the crew of the Tu-154 did not take a decision to switch to a back-up airfield. This may be considered as the start of the extreme situation aboard the plane.”

The Russian investigation found “substantial deficiencies” in the training given to Captain Arkadiusz Protasiuk and his co-pilot, Major Robert Grzywna, Ms Anodina said.

The two men had feared a “negative reaction” from President Kaczynski if they switched to the other airfield, according to the Russian investigator.

“The main passenger’s expected negative reaction… placed psychological pressure on crew members and influenced the decision to continue the landing,” she said.

The jet’s flight recorder caught one of the crew saying “He’ll get mad”, in an apparent reference to the Polish president’s determination not to alter his schedule.

Poland’s air force commander, Gen Andrzej Blasik, added to the pressure by entering the flight deck, Ms Anodina noted.

“The presence of the Polish air force commander on the flight deck up to the aircraft’s impact with the ground put psychological pressure on the crew captain to decide on continuing descent in a situation of unjustified risk, dominated by the goal of making a landing at any cost,” she said.

According to pathology tests, alcohol was found in the blood of Gen Blasik in a concentration of 0.6 grams per litre – just above the drink-driving limit for most EU states.

Investigators found that a top Polish foreign ministry official, Mariusz Kazana, had also entered the flight deck at one point.

At the news conference in Moscow, they played back the flight recorder tape of the pilots’ final minutes, including conversations with Russian air traffic controllers.

Just before the recording ends, an automatic recorded message in English from the plane’s Terrain Awareness and Warning System can be heard exhorting the crew to “pull up, pull up”.

In December, Mr Tusk described a draft of the Russian report as “unacceptable”, saying some of its conclusions were unfounded.

Without revealing details, he said it did not comply fully with the Chicago Convention which regulates international air travel.

“This negligence and mistakes, or lack of positive reaction to what Poland has been asking for, all these things allow us to say that some of the report’s conclusions are without foundation,” he added.

On Wednesday, Mak official Alexei Morozov said his investigation had amended its report with regard to technical criticisms made by Polish investigators.

But other amendments suggested by the Poles relating to responsibility for the crash were not included in the report as they were non-technical, Mr Morozov said.

These amendments would, he added, be contained in an appendix to the report.

Lech Kaczynski’s twin brother, former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, recently said he doubted that the body entombed in a Polish cathedral last year was that of his brother.

“When I saw the body that was brought back in a coffin to Poland, that person did not look like my brother,” he told reporters last month.

BBC Full Report

January 12, 2011 Posted by | News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Teetotal weddings in Poland ???

KRAKOW TOURS – A traditional Polish wedding party includes a free flow of alcohol. But there is an increasing trend in Poland of newly weds deciding to have alcohol free wedding receptions, with one-in-ten being teetotal.

In 1986, Archbishop of Krakow Franciszek Macharski wrote a letter in which he condemned drunkenness at weddings calling it “a plague”. In response, Priest Wladyslaw Zazel from the south-eastern region of Podbeskidzie asked his parishioners to stop stocking vodka or other alcoholic beverages at weddings and funerals.

The priest also came up with the idea to encourage people to stay sober during important family events. He created a Book of Non-Alcoholic Weddings, which bares the names of newly weds who decided to organize a wedding reception without alcohol. And the practice seems to be catching on.

In 2009, every tenth wedding in Poland was alcohol free, reports Dziennik Polski.

On the first page of the book there is an entry by Pope John Paul II: “Such initiatives should not be ridiculed or played down. The stake here is too high. It is worth to go against the flow, against the social habit and shallow public opinion.”

Two famous Polish folk musicians from the Golec brothers band are included on the list containing 300 names.

Those who declare that they will organize a non-alcoholic wedding need to pay a deposit and if they fail to fulfill the promise they lose money to the benefit of the church. On the other hand, if they keep the promise the priest pays them twice the deposit.

Krakow Based Wedding Photographer

August 3, 2010 Posted by | News, Recommendations | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

English Vodka – Best in the world

KRAKOW TOURS – It is enough to make a patriotic Pole need a stiff drink to get over the shock – an English vodka has been voted the best in the world.

Chase Vodka has triumphed in the 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, beating 249 rivals from around the globe, including Russia and Poland’s finest.

Tasted under blind conditions (all the bottles were covered to maintain anonymity), Chase was preferred by a 30-strong panel of independent judges.

And instead of being produced by one of the global drink giants in a huge, automated distillery, Chase is made on a farm in Herefordshire – from potatoes.

The spuds are all grown in the farm’s own fields, before being added to water, fermented, and then distilled and bottled. It all takes place on site.

First produced in 2008, Chase is the brainchild of potato farmer William Chase, the man who founded posh crisp company Tyrrell’s.

When he sold Tyrrell’s to a private equity group that same year, Mr Chase realised he needed to find something else to do, and the vodka business was born.

Despite having no distilling experience, he decided to aim for the gourmet end of the vodka market and use his crops of traditional variety potatoes instead of the more usual wheat or rye grains.

Now making 1,000 bottles a week – a drop in the ocean compared with the best-known global vodka names – Mr Chase says demand is soaring in the US thanks to winning the San Francisco competition.

“Winning the award has been fantastic for us,” he says.

“It has really helped to build up the brand’s profile, which is vital. You can have the best product in the world, but it won’t sell if the brand isn’t strong.”

May 20, 2010 Posted by | News, Recommendations, Tour Information | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tatra Beer is big problem for the Slovakians – sorry I mean Bear

KRAKOW TOURS – A large bear is rampaging on the Polish-Slovakian border, in the Tatra National Park (TPN), and has already attacked some horses and two lumberjacks, one on either side of the border.

The Slovakians have apparently issued orders to shoot the animal if found on their side of the mountains, but the Poles have a more humane approach to the problem. Workers from the TPN have prepared a special cage which they hope to lure the aggressive mammal into.

“If he goes into the cage, we’ll put him to sleep for a while, carry out some genetic testing, establish its sex, age and weight, attach a collar and then wake him up and let him go. Then we’ll know from an online signal where the bear is to an accuracy of 5m,” park director Pawel Skawinski told reporters.

This will enable TPN workers to manage the animal and enable them to warn tourists and mountain walkers away from areas where the bear is active. In extreme circumstances, park officers are ready to use plastic bullets against the marauding beast. “He won’t be killed by us,” Skawinski guaranteed.

The park director has three hypotheses as to why the animal is behaving so aggressively: either the bear is injured, or it has been fed by people and no longer fears them, or – an extremely rare occurrence – the bear is a natural born killer.

April 30, 2010 Posted by | Krakow Travel Advice, News | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Guide to Polish Vodkas

KRAKOW TOURS – Proven masters of make-do with the potato as their primary resource, the Poles have been producing and drinking vodka since the early Middle Ages, distilling their skill into some of the best vodka blends available in the world, many of which date back centuries.

The two most highly regarded clear Polish vodka brands must be Belvedere and Chopin, both of which you’ll find in any alcohol shop. But you won’t find many tipplers throwing them back at the bar. While clear vodkas are generally reserved for giving away at weddings and mixing in cocktails, the real fun of Polish vodka sampling is the flavoured vodkas. Unlike beer with juice (regarded as highly emasculating), flavoured vodkas are embraced by both sexes and imbibed copiously.

Wiśniówka
Undoubtedl y the most common flavoured vodka, wiśniówka is a cheap, dangerously easy to drink, cherryflavoured variety. You’ll see students and pensioners alike buying trays of it at the bar, as well as toothless tramps sharing a bottle in corners of tenement courtyards. A splash of grapefruit juice is often added to cut the sweetness of this bright red monogamy cure.

Żołądkowa Gorzka
Due to its very name, which translates to something like ‘Bitter Stomach Vodka,’ Żołądkowa Gorzka gives even the most infirm of health an excuse to drink under the guise of its medicinal properties. An aged, amber-coloured vodka flavoured with herbs and spices, Żołądkowa has a unique aroma and sweet spiced taste unlike anything you’re likely to have tried before. Incredibly palatable, it’s best enjoyed when sipped on ice.

Krupnik
Popular in Poland and Lithuania, Krupnik is a sweet vodka made from honey and a multitude of herbs. Buy a bottle for Mum – drinking vodka doesn’t get any easier than this. In winter, hot krupnik is a popular personal defroster with hot water, lemon and mulling spices added.

Żubrówka
One of Poland’s most popular overseas vodka exports, Żubrówka has been produced in Eastern Poland since the 16th century. Flavoured with a type of grass specific to the primeval Białowieża Forest that straddles the border (a blade of which appears in each bottle), Żubrówka is faint yellow in colour, with a mild fragrance of mown hay and a subtle taste which has been described as ‘floral’ or having traces of almond or vanilla. Delightfully smooth as it is on its own, Żubrówka is most commonly combined with apple juice – a refreshing concoction called a ‘tatanka.’

Goldwasser
A celebrated Gdańsk tradition since 1598, Goldwasser is a unique alchemic elixir characterised by the 22 karat gold flakes floating in it. One of the oldest liqueurs in the world, Goldwasser’s secret recipe contains some 20 roots and herbs, combining to create a sweet, but spicy flavour with touches of anise, pepper and mint. While we thought turning the potato into vodka was an example of creative ingenuity, we’re not sure what sort of statement the practice of turning gold into vodka makes about Polish culture…

March 14, 2010 Posted by | Recommendations | , , , , | 1 Comment

Wedding Bells and Dirty Cells

KRAKOW TOURS – A groom ended up spending the first night of his honeymoon in a police cell after getting plastered at his own wedding.

36 year old Piotr Szymanski from Szczuka had been knocking back vodka at his reception, before deciding to drive his new wife back to the hotel.
After crashing into a pile of snow, he decided to try and flag down a passing car for help – unaware that it was a police car. Syzmanski was then arrested and his wife was taken to the hotel where she spent the night alone.

March 1, 2010 Posted by | News | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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