The Individualist & The Collectivists

The English and the Polish are very different. It took me a long to time for my partner and I to truly understand each other. In fact, it took me a long time to understand anyone, and I’m sure others thought I was strange, too. Coming to Poland has taught me to be perceptive and judgmental, not necessarily of others, but rather towards myself.

What Will Others Think?

Looking back, I can recall a sunny day in March – here in Poland – when my partner and I went to the market. We had just left the house and were walking down the road when she noticed that I was wearing shorts. “Rob, why are you wearing shorts?” she said, “we need to go back, and you need to take off those shorts and put on some trousers.” I had no idea what the big deal was. It was a beautiful day, such a beautiful day, sunny, not a cloud in the clear blue sky, perhaps a little chilly, but that didn’t bother me. I asked her why I couldn’t wear my shorts. She said with absolute conviction, “because it’s March!” I tried to make a logical connection here. So let’s get this straight, I can’t wear shorts because it’s March, because it is a month,  never mind that the sun is shining brightly and I felt warmth on my skin, no, because it’s March. She went on to patiently explain using her rhetoric, “do you see anyone else around you wearing shorts? are you not the only one wearing shorts? what will others think?” That’s when I realised the issue wasn’t the simple fact that it was March or even that it was a little chilly, but rather it was against society’s expectation to be dressed in such a way at that particular time of year.

What it all boils down to is culture. The English are more individualistic, not caring at all what other beings perceive of them, having little or no shame in their appearance or behaviour. On the other hand, the Polish are more collectivist, thinking and acting as a community, and therefore the judgment of everyone around is taken into account, and nobody wants to be a black sheep. The Polish are obedient to society’s expectations and try to stay in line in want of acceptance by the masses. The English just simply don’t care about any of that. That’s why we are not afraid to be different, in fact, we embrace individuality. The downside of being individualistic is that we may seem to be more egotistical, more into ourselves and less helpful or caring towards others around us. Whereas the Polish might be afraid to express themselves and inner thoughts or desires, they are more interested in listening to what the community has to say, listening to a neighbour’s problems and really try to solve it, being more loyal in friendship, and working better as a team.

Disobedient Collectivists?

However, my conclusions are very contradictory.  Seeing the Polish as collectivist, I would have assumed that they were subject to conformity, but it is the opposite. The Polish are incredibly strong-minded and hold fast to their beliefs and standards. I thought the Polish, as a collectivist culture, would be very obedient in nature and easily follow rules and laws, but that certainly isn’t the case. The Polish like to ‘kombinować’ in every possible way. There is no real translation for ‘kombinować’ in English because we simply don’t do it. The Polish are as sly as foxes, always having another way around a problem, a trick up their sleeves for better or for worse. But most of all, the Polish do not like following rules, or as a matter of fact anything that is orderly systematic. I know this from experience in the classroom. When my students work in pairs and are given a task to ask each other the 10 questions on their piece of paper, they almost always avoid asking their partner question number 1. They have to go down the list and ask, for example, question number 7, and then number 3, even though they will end up asking all the questions anyway! Why not just start from number 1 and go down the list? I know why not, because that’s what I should expect them to do, but they want to do things their way, not to be told how to do it; they like to ‘kombinować’.

Here’s a joke that one of my students told me a few years ago, and this is how I remember it today:

A Frenchman was standing at the edge of a cliff, and the devil approached him and said, “jump!” The Frenchman said, “no!” The devil went on to say, “if you are a partriot, you’ll jump.” The Frenchman launched himself off the cliff screaming, “Vive la France!”

An Englishman was standing at the edge of a cliff, and the devil approached him and said, “jump!” The Englishman said, “no!” The devil went on to say, “if you are a partriot, you’ll jump.” The Englishman said, “this country isn’t what it used to be, no!” The devil said, “if you are a gentleman, please jump.” The Englishman recognised the devil’s good manners and jumped off the cliff.

A German was standing at the edge of a cliff, and the devil approached him and said, “jump!” The German said, “no!” The devil went on to say, “if you are a partriot, you’ll jump.” The German said, “this country isn’t what it used to be, no!” The devil said, “if you are a gentleman, please jump.” The German said, “me? a gentleman? hah! no!” The devil lost his temper and raised his voice, “it’s an order! Now jump!” The German obediently threw himself off the cliff.

A Pole was standing at the edge of a cliff, and the devil approached him and said, “jump!” The Pole said, “no!” The devil went on to say, “if you are a partriot, you’ll jump.” The Pole said, “no!” The devil said, “if you are a gentleman, please jump.” The Pole said, “no!” The devil lost his temper and raised his voice, “it’s an order! Now jump!” The Pole was equally angry and shouted back, “NO!” The devil was lost for words and didn’t have any more ideas, so the defeated devil said, “fine, in that case don’t jump!” The Pole hearing these words thought to himself, “what, DON”T jump?” And the Pole took a few steps back to prepare himself for a big run-up…

DON’T LEARN MY LANGUAGE…

Rob Wolff

VOCABULARY – SŁOWNICTWO

perceptive and judgmental – spostrzegawczy i oceniający

not necessarily – niekoniecznie

recall – wspominać

notice – zauważyć

big deal – tyle szumu

chilly – chłodno

bother – niepokoić

conviction – przekonanie

never mind – nieważne

patiently explain – cierpliwie wyjaśnić

issue – zagadnienie / problem

against society’s expectation – przeciw oczekiwaniom społeczeństwa

particular- szczególny

it all boils down – wszystko się sprowadza

perceive – dostrzec

shame – wstyd

appearance or behaviour – wygląd lub zachowanie

on the other hand – z drugiej strony

community – społeczność

taken into account – brane pod uwagę

obedient – posłuszny

embrace – pieścić / uścisnąć

downside – minusem

whereas – natomiast

inner thoughts or desires – wewnętrzne myśli lub pragnienia

solve – rozwiązać

conclusions – wnioski

contradictory – sprzeczny

assume – założyć

conformity – konformizm

obedient – posłuszny

avoid – uniknąć

the edge of a cliff – krawędź klifu

LEARN MY LANGUAGE

Rob Wolff

2 thoughts on “The Individualist & The Collectivists

  1. I think this Polish tendency to “kombinować” 🙂 is mostly the heritage of partitions, then the WWII and the communist period… Even today we’re still right in the middle of Europe, strategically placed, surrounded by strong foreign forces that were historically hostile against us. We’re used to thinking that the world is against us – that we as a culture have to be in a state of constant vigilance, because there’s always someone trying to push us into servitude. As a nation we have a strong distrust towards the state and any formal authorities in general, since we’re historically unaccustomed to seeing them as our representatives, but rather outside controlling forces. So if we rebel against any formal rules and popular opinions – that is an expression of pride and protecting our identity, protecting the community as a whole, even though it might look like just being sly or unruly on the outside.
    I think this trait will go away with time, if we finally have the opportunity to “calm down” and build some trust in the stability of our situation. I’m a millenial and I can see my generation has a bit of a different perspective already, is a lot more open (thanks, Internet!) and isn’t in this constant “survival mode”, so to say.
    Greetings 🙂

    Like

    1. Hi Ola! I had a good idea of what you have written and I totally agree with your comment. I could have mentioned something about that in my post, but I thought it wouldn’t be a good idea coming from me. You said it perfectly.And I can also see the difference within the generations. The kids I teach are too relaxed!

      Like

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