Business lunches are a regular feature of Polish business culture and are conducive to building a good rapport between business partners. Thus, it is quite common in Poland to conclude a meeting by going to a restaurant together. Having said that, business discussions take a back seat during the meal, with conversation focusing on getting to know one other better on a personal level.
A real feast
A business lunch can easily last several hours. As extremely generous hosts, Poles relish the opportunity to present their national cuisine. You can expect to be served a great many different delicacies. A ‘no thanks’ will not be accepted without demur. Instead, your host will invariably endeavour to offer you an alternative dish to try.
This may be attributed to Polish dining etiquette, which holds that you should initially refuse when offered food. It is considered impolite in Poland to accept straight away. By the same token, however, a “No, thank you, I’ve done very well” will not be regarded as a final answer. The intonation makes a huge difference when deciding whether a guest has truly had enough to eat.
During the meal, your Polish host is certain to raise his glass more than once in a toast to excellent collaboration, or words to that effect. As his guest, you should respond to this toast by expressing your gratitude. You are advised to think up a few personal comments in advance, in Polish if at all possible. To get the ball rolling: na zdrowie means to your health, for example.
Topics of conversation
Poles have little time for small talk about the weather or the traffic. They regard this idle chatter as merely superficial. It is best to concentrate on specific topics. Listen attentively, show interest and ask questions. This is a much better method of getting Poles to open up than small talk. However, avoid political and historical topics wherever possible to ensure the exchange remains harmonious.
Family is always a safe topic of conversation. Feel free to show photographs and reveal a little about yourself. Moreover, football and sport are popular topics, particularly among men.
Paying the bill
Poles ask for a joint restaurant bill as a matter of course, taking it for granted that it will not be split. If you are a guest in Poland, your Polish business partner will take care of the bill.
After the meal, everyone expresses their thanks for the excellent food and pleasant conversation.
You are unlikely to be invited to someone’s house unless you know each other well. Ideally, you should accept this invitation and show your appreciation.
Under no circumstances should you arrive ahead of schedule as preparations are sure to be in full swing. Similar to a business lunch at a restaurant, your hosts will want to serve you numerous different dishes. It is best to arrive a quarter of an hour later.
Bring a gift for each member of the family. A word of caution: it is not unusual for three or more generations to live under one roof. Therefore, it is a good idea to ask beforehand who will be present. Stay on the safe side with a bouquet of flowers for the hostess, a bottle of wine for the host and chocolates for other members of the family. Children will be delighted to receive sweets or toys. Generally speaking, all gifts will be opened in your presence.
You should call or write to thank your host for their hospitality following a private invitation. In return, you can take your Polish hosts out for dinner at a local restaurant or invite them back to your home at a later date.
There is often no clear division between professional and private life in Poland. It is standard practice, therefore, to spend time with work colleagues and their families and go out together after work or at the weekend.
Accordingly, foreign guests are not left on their own in their hotel but are almost invariably invited to take part in a sightseeing tour or experience other cultural highlights. During longer stays, you can expect an extensive recreation programme that includes evenings and weekends. Looking after their guests properly is a top priority for Poles as a sign of their hospitality.