Hi, I’m Rob! Or Pan Rob? But Call Me Rob!

There was a time when my Polish was awful, but I was carefree and could confidently speak to anyone. That has all changed. Now my Polish is better, but I’m terrified when speaking to other people in Polish. I now wonder what my father-in-law’s impression was the first time we met…

Meeting and Greeting

Meeting your potential father-in-law for the first time is a stressful situation for anyone. Somewhat like taking your driving test – you have to tick all the right boxes and if you have a major fail, you may as well just walk out the house. Well, when I entered the house of my girlfriend (now wife), I saw her father, and with a friendly smile I put out my hand, shook it firmly and said, “Cześć!”


After my first year in Poland, I started to notice that very often when people were talking to me and to other people, a word would constantly crop up within speech: that word was ‘Pan’. Sometime later after paying extra careful attention to this peculiar phenomenon, I could hear ‘Pan’ a dozen times in a short exchange of dialogue. I realised that it replaced the word ‘you’. But ‘you’ was ‘ty’. So what was its function?

I remember growing up with such fictional characters such as Peter Pan. Now I find myself being Robert Pan or Pan Robert. I don’t think any Polish person will ever truly understand how strange this is for an Englishman. I remember after being in Poland for a few years, at a party my father-in-law’s brother asked me if I and my father-in-law were on you. On you? ‘Czy wy jestescie na ty?’ were his exact words. Puzzled, I asked him to explain what he meant. He asked me if I addressed my father-in-law by his name. Well how else should I address him?

To Pan or not to Pan? That is the Question

Being much wiser today, I now know very well what he had meant when asking me such a peculiar question. And now I also know that ignorance is bliss and fools live easier lives. At that time during my first few years, I could easily talk to people without worrying about their inner thoughts. Today when talking to strangers in Polish – my Polish – I have the feeling of a frog in my throat, being extremely careful not to address anyone with an abstract sense of disrespect. I try to say ‘Pan/Pani’ whenever and wherever it is required in each sentence, hoping and praying that I will not miss it out in case he/she had the slightest idea that I was disrespecting him/her and insinuated we were ‘buddies’.

‘Pan’ is still a challenge for me because depending on the context, ‘Pan’ can mean ‘Mr, sir, the man, the gentleman, you, he…’. I think I’ve got much better at this cultural game. Now I’m faced with the challenge of knowing who and who not to say ‘Pan’ to. I fully understand saying ‘Pan’ to a complete stranger or someone older as a sign of respect. However, for me, after awhile it just gets awkward. Once I cross that border of actually getting to know somebody, that word ‘Pan’ becomes a monstrous barrier for me in my thoughts and speech. It’s quite ironic that for an Englishman who says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ far too often, I’m the one who ends up appearing to be rude because of my failure to use ‘Pan’ appropriately.

Pan Pan Pan…

‘Pan’ doesn’t really exist in English so every time I say it, it feels like music played by a scratched CD. Polish people might be used to it, but every single ‘Pan’ I hear stands out in bold for me. “Hello Pan, perhaps Pan would like to have a seat and I’ll get Pan a drink while Pan is waiting, and I wanted to ask Pan if Pan doesn’t mind telling me if Pan would like something to eat because I’m sure Pan is hungry since Pan didn’t have lunch before Pan arrived.”

When I say or hear the word ‘Pan’, I’m either thinking, “Pan – because I respect you,” or, “Pan – because you are not my friend.” These two sides of the same coin always play on my mind. I wish that weren’t the case for me, and I’m trying my very best to conform to Polish culture and language, but at this stage I really  don’t want to call anyone ‘Pan’ and I don’t want to be called ‘Pan’. I naturally like and respect everyone – enough to want to feel and act like friends, with all due respect.

Call me Rob.


awful – straszny

carefree – beztroski

terrified – przerażony

wonder – zastanawiać się

father-in-law – teść

impression – wrażenie

somewhat like – nieco jak

tick – zaznaczyć

major fail – poważna porażka

may as well – można równie dobrze

notice – zauważyć

constantly – ciągle

crop up – pojawić się

paying extra careful attention – zwracając szczególną uwagę

peculiar phenomenon – osobliwe zjawisko

a dozen times – kilkanaście razy

short exchange – krótka wymiana

replace – zastąpić

puzzled – zdziwiony

how else should I address him? – jakże inaczej powinienem zwrócić się do niego?

much wiser – o wiele mądrzejszy

what he had meant – co miał na myśli

such a peculiar question – takie osobliwe pytanie

ignorance is bliss and fools live easier lives – ignorancja jest rozkosz, a głupcy żyją łatwiej

without worrying about their inner thoughts – nie martwiąc się o ich wewnętrzne myśli

strangers – obcy

a frog in my throat – żaba w gardle

whenever and wherever it is required – zawsze i wszędzie tam, gdzie jest to wymagane

miss it out – przegapić

in case – w przypadku

the slightest idea – najmniejsze pojęcie

insinuate – insynuować

buddies – kumple

challenge – wyzwanie

depending on – w zależności od

get much better – polepszyć

faced with the challenge – w obliczu wyzwania

a sign of respect – znak szacunku

after awhile it just gets awkward – po pewnym czasie staje się to krępujące

once I cross that border of actually getting to know somebody – kiedy przekroczę tę granicę poznania kogoś

a monstrous barrier – potworna bariera

thoughts and speech – myśli i mowa

exist – istnieć

scratched – porysowany

I wish that weren’t the case – chciałbym, żeby tak nie było

conform – przystosować

at this stage – na tym etapie

enough – wystarczająco

with all due respect – z całym szacunkiem


Rob Wolff


6 thoughts on “Hi, I’m Rob! Or Pan Rob? But Call Me Rob!

  1. Ogladam i ucze sie” you’r language” na YT . Tak sie zlozylo, ze Ty jestes w moim ukochanym kraju a ja w Twoim, wiec musze znac Twoj jezyk . Nauka z Toba to czysta przyjemnosc poniewaz wszystkie te bledy , ktore wylapujesz ja popelnialam a ktore teraz mam nadzieje popelniac nie bede dzieki Tobie. Z radoscia bede zagladac na Twoj blog i mam nadzieje, ze tu rowniez bede mogla sie uczyc 🙂
    Pozdrawiam Panie Robercie 🙂


  2. ‘Pan’ is sometimes a pain in the ass for me, and I’m polish. I try to stop calling people ‘pan’ as quick as possible, but sometimes you just can’t do that. Talking to my soon to be in-laws is a nightmare – I have to call them pan and pani, because I would be disrespectful otherwise. But as soon as I marry their son I will have to start calling them mama and tata. That is a crazy leap!


  3. I still find it hard to distinguish the ‘I’m calling you pan because I respect you’ and the ‘I’m calling you pan becuase I don’t really consider you a friend’. That always plays on my mind when I’m speaking to people. It actually affects my speech. I hope you at least get on well with your soon-to-be mum and dad 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s