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10 colourful Polish phrases

One of the natural outgrowths of a more mobile and connected society is the exposure to new cultural ideas, customs, foods and language.

One country that provides an interesting example of this type of cultural exchange is Poland. Polish immigrants are numerous throughout the world; in fact, the Polish are one of the largest nationalities in the UK. At the same time Poland, due to its economic growth and entrepreneur friendly environment has experienced its own influx of migrants and expats over the past few years.

In addition to the surge in Polish restaurants in many countries, many Polish idioms are becoming popular.  

Here are 10 of the more colourful and fun Polish idioms.


“Not my circus, not my monkeys” – This colourful Polish expression that basically means “it is not my problem” has become popular worldwide. The idiom can be found on coffee and tea mugs and t-shirts and has even made its way into pop culture in television programmes such as Orange is The New Black.


“Do you have a snake in your pocket?” – This phrase may come handy the next time you wish to gently joke with a friend that is reluctant to make a purchase or fails to pay his share of a dinner or pub tab. Basically it is used to describe someone who is “tight-fisted” or “cheap”.


“Divide the skin while it’s still on the bear” – Parables, tales and anecdotes that urge patience and prudence date back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. This Polish expression which is the equivalent of “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” dates back to the time when bears were plentiful in Poland’s Tatra mountains. (Unfortunately, that number is now very low.)


“I was made into a horse.” – No one likes to be tricked or fooled. Almost all cultures have an expression that those who are fooled or taken advantage of use that is a bit less harsh than a straightforward admission of falling for a scam; this is the Polish version.


“When among the crows, caw as the crows do.” – This is the Polish version of another near universal expression which promotes the adoption of local cultures and fitting in when in a new place.


“Did an elephant stomp on your ear?” – This expression may come in handy during your next visit to a karaoke bar or open mic night. It’s the Polish expression to describe someone that is tone-deaf or incapable of carrying a tune.


“Has a fly up his nose.” – This is a fun way of describing someone who is brooding, sulking, or angry over a minor slight or incident.


“Stick you in a bottle.” – Most expressions from any culture are fairly easy to interpret. This Polish expression which means “I’m putting you on” is an exception.


“Looking for a hole in the whole.” – This expression may come in handy the next time you are looking for a new way to describe that friend that seemingly always looks for the negative or is overly picky.


“Wrap the truth in cotton.” – Sometimes the truth is harsh. This Polish expression is a way of saying that the truth was delivered in the best way possible.


The TransferGo Blog regularly publishes articles to help our readers navigate new places, find the best ethnic restaurants and discover new experiences. Our look at Polish idioms is the latest in a series that also includes colourful Spanish sayings.


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